Boleyn [née Parker], Jane, Viscountess Rochford (d. 1542), courtier
by Catharine Davies
© Oxford University Press 2004–16
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Boleyn [née Parker], Jane, Viscountess Rochford (d. 1542), courtier, was the daughter of , gentleman usher to Henry VIII, and his wife, Alice (14861552), daughter of Sir John St John of Bletsoe. Her elder sister Margaret (fl. 15301536) married Sir John Shelton of Shelton near Norwich [see under ]. Throughout her life Jane was active at court, starting about 1522, when she played the part of Constancy in the pageant of the assault on the Château Vert which Henry VIII laid on to impress imperial ambassadors. Elaborate white and gold hose for masking would later be recorded among her belongings, along with sleeves and apparel made of rich fabrics, plate, and jewellery, indicating her high status and fashionable tastes. In 1526 she married , who became in 1529 Viscount Rochford; they had no acknowledged children, although was supposed to have been their son. There is no evidence that she shared either her husband's evangelical leanings or her father's literary interests and Catholic piety, though two books were listed among her possessions in 1536. During Henry VIII's visit to Calais in 1532 Lady Rochford appeared alongside Anne Boleyn in the masked dance staged for François I. But as the new royal marriage grew strained, Lady Rochford, who was lady of the bedchamber to the queen, was implicated: she was dismissed for conspiring with Anne to procure the withdrawal from court of the young lady whom the king has been accustomed to serve (LP Henry VIII, 7, no. 1257). Later, however, she turned against Anne, taking part in a demonstration against her by London citizens' wives in the summer of 1535, for which she and Lady William Howard were briefly sent to the Tower. She may even have been the source of the rumours of incest between Anne and her brother Lord Rochford, and also of the king's impotence, which were used as evidence in their trials. These stories suggest that sexual jealousy might have poisoned her relationships with the Boleyns. Although she wrote to assure him that she would humbly suit to the king on his behalf, her husband was executed on 17 May 1536.
Lady Rochford's return to court was surprisingly rapid, and a letter which she wrote to Cromwell might point to the latter's influence in bringing this about. Her husband's death caused her financial loss, and she put pressure through Cromwell on her father-in-law, the earl of Wiltshire, to increase her allowance, to which he grudgingly agreed, despite her childlessness. She was lady of the bedchamber to the next three queens, and bore Princess Mary's train at Jane Seymour's funeral on 12 November 1537. When Anne of Cleves described her eventless nights with the king, she expostulated, Madam, there must be more than this, or it will be long ere we have a Duke of York! (LP Henry VIII, 15, no. 850/14)critical evidence for the king's subsequent divorce, which she witnessed on 11 July 1540.
Remaining lady of the bedchamber, Lady Rochford quickly became the chief confidante of Katherine Howard, whom Henry VIII had married on 28 July 1540, and colluded with her in encouraging the advances of Thomas Culpeper. Katherine Tylney and Margaret Morton later described carrying messages between the three and being sworn to secrecy, and Culpeper blamed her for having provoked him much to love the queen (LP Henry VIII, 16, no. 1339). Katherine Howard entreated Culpeper to come and see her specifically when Lady Rochford was present, for then I shall be latest at leisure to be at your commandment (LP Henry VIII, 16, no. 1134). Her skill in arranging clandestine meetings was particularly evident during the royal progress to the north in 1541. When the queen's adultery came to light, in November that year, Lady Rochford made only feeble protestations of ignorance, and eventually she admitted the affair. When it was clear that she was to die, under an act of attainder which contemptuously described her as that bawd, the Lady Jane Rocheford (LP Henry VIII, 17, no. 28), she broke down, and the king sent his own physicians to ensure that she was well enough to die as an example. The French ambassador commented that all her life [she] had the name to esteem her honour little and thus in her old age hath shown little amendment (LP Henry VIII, 16, no. 1336). She was executed on Tower Green on 13 February 1542, after making a conventional speech of confession and prayer for the king's welfare, and was buried in the nearby church of St Peter ad Vincula.
LP Henry VIII, vols. 417 · L. B. Smith, A Tudor tragedy: the life and times of Catherine Howard (1961) · E. W. Ives, Anne Boleyn (1986) · J. G. Nichols, ed., The chronicle of the grey friars of London, CS, 53 (1852) · GEC, Peerage, new edn, 10.142 · DNB
BL, state papers relating to Henry VIII
TNA: PRO, state papers relating to Henry VIII