Historical Reads: The Marriage Of George And Jane Boleyn

Although there is no proof that the marriage of George and Jane Boleyn was unhappy, the myth persists. Clare Cherry, over at the Anne Boleyn Files, explains why. To quote:

So if there is no direct evidence to suggest how they felt about one another, then what is the assumption of an unhappy marriage based on? I think there are two premises that have created the assumption:-

George’s reputation as a womaniser.
The largely accepted view that Jane provided Cromwell with the evidence he needed to accuse Anne and George of incest.

Dealing with the first, the sole piece of evidence we have to suggest George was a womaniser comes from Cavendish’s ‘Metrical Visions’, and Cavendish is hardly an unbiased source. No other source mentions it, meaning there is no corroboration. That doesn’t mean I’m dismissing Cavendish. However much I admire George I’m not daft enough to think of him as a paragon of virtue. He was a typical sixteenth century man, when extra-marital affairs (on behalf of the man, of course) were an accepted part of marriage. Although ‘Metrical Visions’ was written twenty years after George’s death, Cavendish would have personally known George, and there’s no reason to suppose he was lying. I think it’s highly likely that George was unfaithful to Jane, just as many men were unfaithful to their wives, including Henry VIII. However, it doesn’t mean that they hated their wives, or that their wives hated them. It doesn’t mean their marriages were unhappy either. Jane, like Anne and many other wives, may not have been happy with any infidelity of her husband, but it certainly wouldn’t have surprised her.

The difference in George’s case is that, due to the extremity of the language, Cavendish’s verses have been used to argue he was a ‘notorious libertine’ to a greater degree than the average courtier. However, there was never any scandal surrounding George during his lifetime, and no rumours regarding his marriage. He was the Queen’s brother and one of the highest profile and influential of Henry’s courtiers. If his behaviour with other women had been ‘bestial’ then surely someone would have picked up on it other than Cavendish twenty years later? No one felt his behaviour was base enough to comment on, including the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who would have loved to demonise the young Boleyn brother had the opportunity arisen!

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