Book Review: Readings
Court intrigue is hot stuff this season
Reviewed by Margaret Moser, Fri., Jan. 18, 2008
Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochfordby Julia Fox
Ballantine Books, 400 pp., $25.95
Julia Fox enters the field of historical biography on a path well-trod but littered with deadly dull tomes. For Fox, the story of Jane Boleyn came about by accident: Her intent was to write about Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, Henry VIII's wives No. 2 and 5, yet her attention was drawn to Anne's sister-in-law.
For hundreds of years, Jane Parker Boleyn, Lady Rochford, suffered a dreadful reputation, vilified for what was likely induced testimony that sent sister-in-law Anne and her own husband to the Tower of London for execution. Yet her unexpected tenacity, resourcefulness, and guile overcame that stigma enough to keep her head as lady-in-waiting to five of Henry's notorious wives. Undone by the accusations of royal wife Catherine Howard's slutty past, Jane followed her to the axe and ultimately joined the fate of so many others on the chopping block.
Jane Boleyn paints a portrait of the royal court with heavily researched details and heretofore unacknowledged documents that Fox uses cannily. In discovering a copy of Jane's marriage settlement, for example, Fox employed a very modern m.o. to determine the reasoning behind her reinstatement to court after her husband and sister-in-law's executions: She followed the money trail.
Fox is an English historian, an area that imbues her writing with rich detail and confident knowledge but sometimes falls short of personal style. That's not to say the story isn't engaging, only that historians such as Simon Schama (History of Britain) make those dusty pages less tedious with tricks such as referring to Mary Queen of Scots' husband as a "homicidal nitwit." But Schama is a pro, and this is Fox's first time at the galliard; her subject has been one-dimensional throughout history, and from that, she's given depth and character to Jane Boleyn.
With the much-hyped The Other Boleyn Girl hitting the screens this year, court intrigue will be hot stuff. After six centuries, the wronged Boleyn girl may finally be vindicated. And if, as Fox states, she's looking for another shadowy but crucial figure to excavate, how about the glorious Edith Swan-neck, common-law wife of the last Saxon king, Harold?