Jane Parker, daughter of a courtier to King Henry VIII, grew up in the midst of royal pageantry and court life before she married George Boleyn, whose two famous sisters, Mary and Anne, would play significant roles in the king's life. As the Viscountess Rochford, Jane served Anne after her sister-in-law married Henry, and she has been largely presented by historians as Parliament described her: that bawd, the Lady Jane Rochford. In Jane Boleyn, her first book, English author Julia Fox does not take this description at face value, and, despite an appalling lack of evidence (only one of Jane's letters survives), manages to piece together a believable portrait of a woman embroiled in scandal after scandal.
Her defense of Jane regarding the downfall of Anne and George is particularly well done. Jane is remembered for giving testimony that helped form the case against her husband and sister-in-law after Anne had fallen from Henry's good graces. However, Fox argues that it does not stand to reason that Jane would have been quick to send up her husband, whose death would leave her in dire financial straits, nor Anne, to whom it appears she was extremely close. (Fox's own husband, John Guy, is a fellow Tudor historian and author of Queen of Scots and Tudor England.)Following the executions of her husband and Anne Boleyn, Jane managed to remain in the inner circle of the court, continuing to serve Henry's queens until the fifth, Catherine Howard, asked for her help in arranging romantic encounters with Thomas Culpepper. Once caught, Jane, along with Catherine, was found guilty of treason and beheaded.
Seamlessly weaving in details of life in the Tudor court, Fox's well-told story reads like meticulously researched fiction. Although it's impossible, perhaps, to prove much about Jane's true character, Fox does a magnificent job drawing reasonable conclusions from the existing sources and has written a book that is a delight to read. Tasha Alexander is the author of A Poisoned Season and Elizabeth: The Golden Age.