Was George and Jane Boleyn’s marriage really unhappy? Danielle Marchant, author of Tourmens de Mariage, the second book in The Lady Rochford Saga (out on 19th May), dispells the myths:
My new novella “Tourmens de Mariage” – which in French means “The Torments of Marriage” – is Part 2 of “The Lady Rochford Saga”, telling the life story of Jane Boleyn (née Parker), Lady Rochford. Marriage is a huge theme in this book. It was central to the society that Jane lived in. It was used for political alliances and to unite important families. Marrying Jane into a good family would have been expected of her father. However, the subject of George Boleyn’s wedding gift “Tourmens de Mariage”, a book which was a satire on marriage, has been often referred to as being proof that Jane and George had an unhappy marriage.
This was because George later on gave the book to court musician Mark Smeaton, leading to conclusions being made by historians such as Retha Warnicke that George and Mark were lovers. As a result, historical novelists and scriptwriters have embraced this idea of George and Jane having an unhappy marriage and in addition have even gone further to show him as violent and cruel to Jane. However, when looking at the facts, the fictional representation of Jane and George’s marriage couldn’t be further away from the truth.
One of the reasons why their marriage is viewed as an unhappy one is due to the lack of children produced. Jane and George were married for over ten years, but didn’t have children of their own. It would have been Jane’s duty to produce an “heir”, so this does suggest that one or both may have been infertile and this alone could have caused some strain and friction in their marriage. The difficulty Jane faces in conceiving is one of the areas that gets focussed on in my book. To be married to George for that long and still not have at least one child would have been very odd by 16th century standards. Unfortunately, there are no records of miscarriages. So, we can’t rule out the possibility that maybe Jane did suffer from fertility problems.
Of course, it is also equally possible that George may have had fertility problems. However, we can’t rule out the idea that George may have had children with another woman. George has been linked to being the father of another George Boleyn, who was the Dean of Lichfield in the reign of Elizabeth I. He also has been referred to as the great-grandfather of Elizabeth and Mary Boleyn of Clonony Castle, Ireland. However, these are still areas of debate. Therefore, the lack of children in George and Jane’s marriage does not necessarily mean they had an unhappy marriage.
Another myth about their marriage is that they hated each other. In the 16th century, it is true that marriage was not about love; it was about business, uniting families of the nobility together. Jane was married into what her father Henry Parker, Lord Morley, believed was a rising family – the Boleyn family. A match with George Boleyn would have been perfect for his daughter. However, even though Jane and George would not have been forced together either – the couple did have to at least like each other in the first place. Therefore, I do believe that they did genuinely like each other before deciding to marry.
Another reason why Jane and George’s marriage is viewed as an unhappy one is because of the much publicised – and false – belief that it was Jane that accused George and Anne Boleyn of incest. It was viewed as an act of revenge against him as a result of violence he used towards her, being homosexual and also out of jealousy towards how close he was to Anne. Allegedly, she was given reason to hate him so much that she wanted to put him on the scaffold. However, there is no evidence to suggest that he was particularly violent to Jane, nor that he was homosexual.
In addition, it is a fact that the accusation of incest may have come from another lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Browne, Lady Worcester. Lady Worcester has been described as the “first accuser of the Queen”. When her brother, Anthony Browne, who was one of the King’s privy councillors, reprimanded Lady Worcester over her loose, promiscuous behaviour – she had also fallen pregnant at the time with a child that was believed to be not her husband’s, Henry Somerset, but may have even allegedly belonged to Thomas Cromwell – she replied to her brother that she wasn’t really that bad.
She replied “But you see a small fault in me, while overlooking a much higher fault that is much more damaging. If you do not believe me, find out from Mark Smeaton. I must not forget to tell you what seems to me to be the worst thing, which that often her brother has carnal knowledge of her in bed”. From here Anthony had no choice, but to follow up his sister’s accusations discreetly as withholding such accusations would have meant terrible consequences for himself. Therefore, it is possible that somewhere along the line, historians have simply confused Lady Rochford with Lady Worcester over the incest accusation.
In fact, the main reason for interrogating Jane was not because of alleged incest, but due to a delicate conversation that she had had with Anne over the King’s impotence. Ironically, this in itself shows that Jane and Anne were actually very close, close enough for Anne to confide in her about the King. This also dispels another popular myth about Jane – that she hated and was envious of Anne. Anne had told her “le Roy n’estoit habile en cas de soy copuler avec femme et qu’il n’avoit ne vertu ne puissance”. Jane then went on to to repeat this conversation with George. Withholding this information would have been treasonous for Jane, so when she was interrogated, unless she wanted to join Anne and George in the Tower, she had absolutely no choice, but to give this information to Cromwell.
On the 4th May 1536, Jane sent a message to her husband, George, who was now in the Tower of London. He had been taken to the Tower on the 2nd May, on the same day as Anne. Jane was not allowed to send to him a personal letter, or even visit him, so instead had to send a message for Sir William Kingston, the constable of the Tower, to give to George. We know what her message was because Kingston reported this in a letter to Cromwell. The letter was found in a collection of damaged documents that had been thankfully saved from a fire at Ashburnham House, Westminster in 1731.
In the letter, it says that Kingston reported to Cromwell that Jane asked how George was and promised that she would “humbly (make) suit onto the King’s highness” for him. George was very grateful for the message and his response was he wanted to “give her thanks”. The possibility of Jane petitioning the King and the Council, would have brought George some comfort. With his trial looming which eventually took place on the 15th May, George asked Kingston when he would see the Council.
He then broke down and then said “for I think I (may not) come forth till I come to my judgement”. This has been interpreted as meaning that if it wasn’t for Jane’s help, he knew that no one would listen to his side of the story before his trial; not even George’s own uncle, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and own father-in-law, Henry Parker, Lord Morley, who were both amongst the Judges at George’s trial. Also, in reality, Jane, no matter how much she would have wanted, would have not been able to have petitioned on George’s behalf to the King at this stage.
The information in this letter is quite extraordinary. The information in this letter gives a different image of Jane and George’s marriage. Unlike George’s parents, Jane did not abandon him when he was in the Tower. Likewise, in response to her message, he acknowledged it – he did not ignore it, or insult her in response, he was grateful and thanked her for it. I think this alone speaks volumes about their marriage and suggests that it may not have been the hateful union that it has often been portrayed as.
Another important area to consider is what George said at his trial. On the 15th May, George went to his trial in the Tower. Jane would not have been there, but her father Lord Morley was one of the peers chosen along with George’s uncle, the Duke of Norfolk. Jane was not called upon to give evidence in person and no other witnesses were called. George’s sister, Anne, had had her trial earlier and was sentenced to either being burned or beheaded on Tower Green, so this was already looking ominous for George. Despite this, however, George defended himself with great conviction. According to those present, George “had no difficulty in waging two to one that he would be acquitted”.
The evidence against him for committing incest was not convincing as it seemed to be based solely upon George spending a bit too long in Anne’s bedchamber. He condemned them for judging him also, as a result of the evidence of “one woman”. It is interesting how he says “one woman”. As we know, the accusation of incest has often been attributed to Jane herself. However, for him to say “one woman” indicates that it was someone else that had made the accusation, to be more specific, Lady Worcester. After all, if the accusation had come from Jane, would George have not have said as a result of the evidence of “my wife” instead of “one woman”?
One more fact that helps to dispel the myths about Jane and George is Jane’s execution speech. On the 13th February 1542, according to popular myth, Jane made references to Anne and George Boleyn in her final speech, indicating guilt in the alleged part she had played in their downfall. This is not true, however. According to an eyewitness Ottwell Johnson at her execution, these were her actual words:
“I have committed many sins against God from my youth upwards and have offended the King’s royal majesty very dangerously, so my punishment is just and deserved. I am justly condemmed by the laws of this realm and by Parliament. All of you who watch me die should learn from my example and change your own lives. You must gladly obey the King in all things, for he is a just and godly prince. I pray for his preservation and beseech you all to do the same. I now entrust my soul to God and pray for his mercy” (Julia Fox, 2007)
There is not one mention of Anne and George. Despite this, however, the treatment towards Jane at the time of her husband’s execution on the 17th May 1536 was appalling; not only was Jane was not allowed to send to George a personal letter, or even visit him, but she would also have had very little advance warning – or even no possible warning at all – of George’s execution because contacting the wife of a “traitor” was not considered important. In addition, William Kingston, the Constable of the Tower, would have told George the night before, but only confirmed the actual hour with George early in the morning of the day.
Therefore, I believe that the alleged meaning behind George giving the book “Tourmens de Mariage” to Mark has been drastically blown out of proportion and the portrayals of Jane and George’s marriage in historical fiction are very inaccurate. I believe in reality that their marriage would have been no different to any other marriage in this period. Jane may have been at first offended by George possessing a book that could be construed as mocking their marriage, but then again, she may have also seen the funny side of it too. Their marriage was just another typical Tudor marriage – and Jane was just another Tudor wife.
About Danielle Marchant And Her Book, Tourmens De Mariage
Danielle Marchant is an Independent Author from London, UK. She published her first historical novella “The Lady Rochford Saga Part 1: Into the Ranks of the Deceived” in October 2013. “The Lady Rochford Saga Part 2: Tourmens de Mariage” will be released on the 19th May 2015 and is now available to pre-order. To keep up with Danielle, visit her website and her Facebook page.
Sources and suggested further reading:
“Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford” – Julia Fox, 2007, Orion Books Ltd.
“Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions” – G.W. Bernard, 2010, Yale University Press.
“George Boleyn – Tudor Poet, Courtier and Diplomat” – Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway, MadeGlobal Publishing, 2014.
“The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” – Eric Ives, Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
George and Jane looking like a not-so-happy couple on their wedding. In addition, George is being reprimanded by Thomas Boleyn (as portrayed in “The Tudors”, played by Nick Dunning, Padraic Delaney and Joanne King).