Saturday, 27 April 2013

Richard III: Life and Legacy

ANNE: Never hung poison on a fouler toad.
Out of my sight. Thou dost infect mine eyes.
RICHARD: Thine eyes, sweet lady, have infected mine.

William Shakespeare, Richard III (1592)

This month, the BBC announced that relatives of Richard III, England's last medieval king, are launching a legal challenge over plans to bury him in Leicester Cathedral. The mooted burial place of England's most controversial king have inspired furious debate amongst devoted Ricardians, academics, and the general public as a whole, following the sensational news that the body unearthed in a Leicester priory was really that of the defamed king, killed at the Battle of Bosworth in August 1485. The Plantagenet monarch's supporters commonly believe that Richard should instead be buried at York Minster, due to Richard's strong associations with the North - where he was much esteemed - during his lifetime.

In an article I wrote earlier this year for my university newspaper, which can be accessed here (, I explored the brief outline of Richard's controversial life and the sensational legacy he continues to exert today in modern Britain. How controversial Richard's life and legacy really are can be glimpsed in the March 2013 issue of BBC History Magazine, where academics differed wildly from one another in their judgements of Richard. Chris Skidmore, MP and historian, insists that Richard deserves a state funeral, in order for people to 'reassess' this maligned monarch. Nigel Saul, respected medieval scholar, suggests that the bones of the two sons found in the Tower should be DNA-tested in order to see if they really are those of Richard's nephews. Nigel Jones is especially vehement in wishing 'that the strange cult of this murderous little tyrant would also lie down and die', and insists that he should remained buried in a Leicester car park due to his status as 'a serial-killing child murderer', while Alison Weir agrees somewhat, noting that 'his bad press was probably well deserved'. Yet Phil Stone, chairman of the Richard III Society, strongly disagreed, instead hoping that 'people will start to read about this monarch who did much for this country'.

The sensational nature of Richard III's reign and comparatively short life have meant that he has left a long-lasting legacy in Britain today comprised of controversy and mystery, which ferociously divide those who believe he is a victim of cruel Tudor propaganda and those who, like Nigel Jones, view him as the epitome of evil. This conflict was witnessed during Richard's own lifetime. John Rous, a medieval English historian writing in the fifteenth century, praised Richard as a 'good lord' who punished 'oppressors of the commons', and insisted that he had 'a great heart'. Certainly, Richard's excellent reforms of the English legal system and his desire to provide aid for the poor are well recognised by medieval historians. But the bloody death of Richard at Bosworth Field, and the subsequent triumph of the Tudors, blackened Richard's name beyond redemption. Notoriously, Shakespeare depicted him as deformed, cruel, scheming and evil, stopping at nothing - not even poison and murder - to achieve his ambitions. Thomas More condemned Richard, portraying him as 'little of stature, ill-featured of limbs, crook-backed... hard-favoured of visage', while Polydore Vergil opined that he was 'deformed of body... one shoulder higher than the right'. For years, devoted Ricardians insisted that this was all nonsense, designed to tarnish the king's reputation beyond redemption, but the unearthing of Richard's body at Leicester goes some way to proving that these writers were truthful in their claims.

However, praise remained for Richard in the early modern period. The late Elizabethan historian William Camden praised his 'good laws', although remarking that he had 'lived wickedly'. Francis Bacon concurred, suggesting that he was 'a good lawmaker for the ease and solace of the common people'. Again, therefore, we can see that while Richard may have alienated nobles and the elites at court, he was popular among the common people for his successful reforms and desire to improve their lot. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, contrastingly, the depiction of Richard as evil and corrupt became the dominant description. David Hume castigated his 'fierce and savage nature'; he had 'abandoned all principles of honour and humanity'. Respected historian James Gairdner believed that Shakespeare and More's views of the king, while exaggerated, were essentially correct. Twentieth century historians have arguably become fairer in their assessments, focusing less on Richard's moral qualities, with Charles Ross believing that 'like most men, he was conditioned by the standards of his age'. Yet other writers, such as Weir, believe that he was highly corrupt and believe that he was responsible for the murder of his nephews, the 'Princes in the Tower', in 1483.

As proof of the controversy and passionate emotions Richard inspires today, I received several comments on my article insisting that Richard could not have been responsible for that heinous crime, the murder of his nephews - the disturbing event which has overshadowed all other events of his short but bitter reign. This has been disputed ferociously by historians, scholars, playwrights, novelists, film-makers, and a host of other professionals to this day. Katherine Emery, fellow student at Exeter, explored who may have been responsible for the murder of the Princes in the March 2013 issue of The Historian, sifting through a variety of evidence which could point towards the murderers being either Richard, Henry VII, the Duke of Buckingham, or Margaret Beaufort. But she concluded that evidence overwhelmingly suggested that Richard was indeed responsible for his nephews' deaths.

On a balance of probabilities, I agree that Richard is the most likely culprit for his nephews' deaths (but that is not to say that he physically killed them himself!) One of the most commonly raised arguments, but one that I wholeheartedly agree with, is that if the Princes were still alive after 1483, why did the King never produce them in London publicly to counter harsh criticism and increasing suspicion that he had murdered them? Henry VII was to do a similar thing during his reign with a pretender who challenged his throne. Rumours swirled in London during Richard's reign that he had 'put to death the children of King Edward, for which cause he lost the hearts of the people.' In Danzig, Caspar Weinreich's contemporary chronicle recorded that 'Later this summer, Richard, the King's brother, had himself put in power... and he had his brother's children killed'. The Croyland Chronicler, who was in fact a royal councillor at court, later wrote that 'the children of King Edward', were 'avenged' at Bosworth through Richard's death. The evidence is convincing.

Richard's reputation was blackened, it would seem, almost beyond repair by other disturbing allegations about him during his own lifetime. Following his queen Anne Neville's premature death in March 1485, it was believed that Richard had murdered her, perhaps by poisoning her, in order to marry his own niece Elizabeth of York. Richard was also condemned for his savage treatment of Hastings, executing him before his coup in 1483, and later ordered the execution of his most erstwhile supporter the duke of Buckingham for rebelling against him. While the rumours about Anne are almost certainly scurrilous, the other charges are correct. If Richard was not the poisonous, cruel, murderous tyrant immortalised in Tudor propaganda, he was certainly scheming, ruthless, and desperate to retain his power at all costs.

Richard's controversial life and sensational legacy will mean that he will always provoke fierce debates and bitter beliefs. But where should the king be buried? Since he was extremely popular in the North, and enjoyed considerable success there, perhaps it is only right that he should be buried at York Minster. The Queen has made it discreetly clear that she will not tolerate a state funeral in Westminster Abbey, which many people seem to agree with. But, although he remains tainted with the crime of murder (including of children), it seems clear that York Minster is the most fitting place for this king to be buried - particularly if it, finally, ends the tiring debates as to where his final resting place should be.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

The Creation of Katherine Howard


Tudor history enthusiasts will be excited to discover that a very interesting book has just been published, written by Susan Bordo: The Creation of Anne Boleyn. This is not a historical biography, but instead, Bordo explores how Anne has been ‘created’ throughout history by different people, according to their prejudices, beliefs and culture, through a variety of mediums including film, theatre and novels. As someone who has been researching the life of her tragic, but much less famous, cousin and fellow queen Katherine Howard, I thought it would be interesting to explore how Katherine herself has been ‘created’ over the years according to different beliefs and prejudices.

From the time of her execution in 1542 until the nineteenth century, unlike Anne (who enjoyed long-lasting fame due to her status as the mother of the Protestant queen Elizabeth I), Katherine was a non-entity, ignored and forgotten by almost everyone; even her own family had rapidly disowned her at the time of her death. However, with the rise of the study of history in the Victorian period, writers began to pay much greater attention to the reigns of Henry VIII’s queens, lamented by Jane Austen. The austere moral values and the condemnation of ‘fallen women’ in contemporary Victorian society, unsurprisingly, influenced understandings of Katherine’s story as a lesson in morality, as something to be learned from. In relation to Katherine herself, Victorian historians were either hostile, or viewed her with pity – Agnes Strickland, perhaps the greatest female biographer of the age, characterised her as ‘a sheep being led to the slaughter’, but shied away from her shocking career, due to her stifling moral values.

In film, Katherine first appeared in the successful 1933 Oscar-winning The Private Life of Henry VIII, with Binnie Barnes presenting her opposite Charles Laughton as Henry VIII. The film centred around the relationship between the king and his fifth wife, marginalising his affairs with his other queens. The result was that Katherine was presented as a more influential and, in a sense, important wife to the detriment of the others than she had ever been in reality. This Katherine was worldly-wise, sophisticated, and incredibly beautiful, but her charm and qualities seemed far more nuanced than the real Katherine’s probably were.

The publication of the only academic biography of Katherine, written in 1961 by Lacey Baldwin Smith at a time of the beginning of rebellious feminist politics and swiftly changing views of women, was heavily critical of Katherine, condemning her as ‘a juvenile delinquent’ and a ‘common whore’ who was childish, rash and given to fits of hysteria. Again, we see how the context of the times shaped this interpretation – heavy moral values and the actual imprisonment of juvenile delinquents at the time for crime influenced this historian’s understanding of a queen executed for adultery.

Baldwin Smith’s interpretation was very influential in the next portrayal of Katherine in film/TV, in the television series The Six Wives of Henry VIII (BBC, 1970), where she was played by Angela Pleasance (top left). This series was very unsympathetic to Katherine, where she is depicted as a violent, manipulative, hedonistic teenager who threatens her cousin with poison and physical violence and acts in a cruel manner to her ex-lovers. 

Two years later, however, the most accurate presentation of Katherine emerged in the film of the same name, where the young queen was played by 18-year old Lynne Frederick (tragic in itself, since Frederick died at a very young age). The film perhaps represented growing sympathy to Katherine within England, in highlighting her youth, innocence and naivety, and her hysteria when imprisoned. Indeed, this can be seen as the beginnings of the ‘creation’ of Katherine’s status as victim, continuing into our own day. In David Starkey’s television series (2001), all six wives are presented with a label at the beginning of the program – Katherine’s is ‘victim’.

It’s not hard to see why this has happened. The rise of women’s history, feminist politics, and a greater awareness of domestic violence has shaped the creation of Katherine in modern times. Historians have suggested that she was a victim of sexual violence from ruthless predators at court. Her status as victim was exemplified in the British TV movie Henry VIII (2003), where Emily Blunt gives a poignant depiction of a sobbing and screaming Katherine on the scaffold – but again presents her as selfish and driven by her own pleasures. 

Most recently, in the successful Showtime series The Tudors, Tamzin Merchant (top right) gives a very modern portrayal of Katherine as a girl who just wants to have fun. We are encouraged to sympathise with her, but the series presents what people see as a problem in contemporary society – promiscuous girls who think of nothing but their own pleasures. This has shaped people’s views of Katherine. One person I know, who adores The Tudors and Anne Boleyn, once told other people that Katherine was the only ‘slutty’ wife, while defending Anne at every cost. But is this an accurate depiction of the real woman, or merely a view of how she has been presented in film and TV?

Monday, 22 April 2013

Angela Merkel: Kaiser Merkel?

This weekend, I read a very interesting article, published in The Daily Mail, entitled: Kaiser Merkel, written by the eminent modern British historian Dominic Sandbrook. According to Sandbrook: 'many dismiss her as a mousy hausfrau. But, with ruthless cunning, Angela Merkel has made Germany master of Europe in a way Hitler and Kaiser Wilhelm only dreamt of. The implications are frightening...' Compelling stuff. But do Sandbrook's fascinating claims stand up to scrutiny? At a time when strong female leaders are currently in vogue - consider the recent onslaught of celebrations for the powerful Margaret Thatcher, who passed away on April 8 - this is a provocative article to write, and the issues it raises are certainly worth considering in detail.

Sandbrook begins by suggesting that, while Merkel may not look like a conqueror, due to her physical appearance and her small stature, he warns that it is dangerous not to take her completely seriously, which is something many leaders around the world, apparently, still do not do. Merkel has been at the pinnacle of power for eight years now - in 2005, she was elected Chancellor of Germany at the age of fifty-one, and has been the Leader of the Christian Democratic Union since 2000. It is intriguing to draw parallels between Merkel and her, sort of, contemporary Margaret Thatcher, who Merkel recently lauded as 'an extraordinary leader' who helped end the Cold War and 'set an example' for women in high office - probably most notably, herself. Indeed, it seems that Thatcher's infamous sobriquet, the Iron Lady, could powerfully be applied to Germany's Chancellor today.

Like Thatcher, Merkel has a background in chemistry. She was born in Hamburg in 1954, the daughter of a Protestant theologian, while her mother was once a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany. As a pupil, Merkel was a member of the Socialist-led youth movement Free German Youth, before being educated at the University of Leipzig. She later worked and studied at the Central Institute for Physical Chemistry, before being awarded a doctorate and working as a researcher. Merkel is therefore formidably intelligent, with a strong academic background. In 1989, she got involved in the growing democracy movement following the controversial fall of the Berlin Wall, joining the new party Democratic Awakening.

Merkel's policies are interesting to follow. Her foreign policy in the years immediately after her election in 2005 saw her intent to strengthen transatlantic economic relations, signing at the White House in April 2007 the agreement for the Transatlantic Economic Council. Spiegel, a German publication, wrote that relations between Merkel and President Obama were strong. Merkel has also played a strong part in deciding to participate in the liquidity crisis, where the German government helped assist the mortgage company Hypo Real Estate following major falls in worldwide stock markets in September 2008; German banks were to contribute 30 billion euros. There has also, since 2006, been a strategic Indo-German partnership, focusing future co-operation on the realms of technology, science, energy and defence. Intergovernmental consultations took place in New Delhi between the two countries in 2011. In 2009, Merkel was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the Indian government.

According to Sandbrook, a professor at the University of Munich, Ulrich Beck, has suggested that Merkel is no less than 'the uncrowned Queen of Europe'; a Kaiser, in fact, of the entire continent. Sandbrook notes that in countries like Greece and Cyprus, where the economic recession has been utterly abysmal and has, to an extent, ruined these countries, Merkel has become a public hate figure, with protesters drawing parallels between her rule and that of the war criminals of the Third Reich. Sandbrook also writes of how popular Merkel is in Germany, because 'the key to Mrs Merkel's appeal is her sheer dullness. Since no German can forget the dangers of extreme political idealism, many are drawn to the apparent banality of this quiet woman'. How true this is, of course, is debatable, since her popularity levels plummeted a few years ago and one could argue that it is her policies, rather than her personality, which has drawn substantial support from the German population.

It is compelling, as Sandbrook notes, that Germany is the biggest economy in Europe and the fourth biggest in the world; while it is the world's second largest exporter. Thus his claim that 'Germany stands relatively unscarred from the great financial crisis' makes perfect sense. Yet Professor Beck, and many others, darkly suggest that Merkel's power has been used for bad purposes, rather than for good, somewhat surprising coming from a German intellectual; surely the sort of man, according to Sandbrook's claim, who would respect her after the decades of turmoil Germany has experienced. Beck's claim arises due to the handling of the euro crisis, which has fundamentally damaged the economies of Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal - perhaps irretrievably - which has caused devastating unemployment; particularly for those aged 18-25 who are unlikely to ever get a job. Beck writes scathingly: 'entire regions have been plunged into social decline and countless people have been deprived of their livelihoods, their dignity, their future - and not least, their faith in Europe'. Europe is undeniably experiencing devastating political and economic turmoil, and it's not surprising that pessimists predict a continental war is on the horizons.

Beck believes that Merkel has seized control of this situation in order to restructure Europe and strengthen Germany's power. Protesters in Madrid have attacked her, accusing Germany of desiring to control Europe once more through imperialist-like policies, but ironically countries like Spain are forced to comply with Germany due to the dire state of their economies. Sandbrook concludes, perhaps a little sinisterly: 'In much of Europe, she inspires more fear than any other leader for decades'. Drawing links between her policies and those of Hitler are quite disturbing, particularly due to the darkness of the Nazi past still pervading German society. But Sandbrook notes how popular Merkel is in Germany, largely due to the success of these policies and how they have strengthened Germany's position as an economic superpower. But, he writes, 'Mrs Merkel's project carries the seeds of a terrible danger... the 'demons' of nationalism and war are stirring in Europe'. This makes for frightening reading.

Merkel's policies have been undoubtedly successful, and Sandbrook's essay makes for compelling reading. It is, however, sinister to read that some are predicting that war could well take place, partly caused by the impact of Merkel's decisions in other countries. Last week saw the funeral of the 'Iron Lady' Margaret Thatcher, yet it seems undeniable that it is the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, who is the 'Iron Lady' of the twenty-first century.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The Real Lady Rochford

Above: Sheila Burrell as Lady Rochford in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1971).

Is it ever possible to really understand someone who lived in the past, particularly when it was as far back as almost 500 years ago? Whatever the case, history has not been kind to Jane Boleyn nee Parker, Viscountess Rochford. From the moment of her sister-in-law Queen Anne Boleyn's downfall in the early summer of 1536, when dark rumours swirled that Jane had played a crucial role in the queen's demise, right up until the present day, Jane has been demonised, condemned and detested. I'm certainly not the first to tackle Jane's tale and attempt to separate myth from reality (check out Claire Ridgeway's excellent articles on Jane and Julia Fox's biography published in 2007), but since I have been extensively researching Katherine Howard's life, writing a post on Jane seems logical.

The daughter of Henry Parker 10th Baron Morley and his wife Alice St John, Jane's birth is unknown (like most English gentlewomen), but she is recorded as having been at court from 'a young age' and since she accompanied Katherine of Aragon as a maid-of-honour to France in 1520, she must have been aged at least thirteen, the minimum age for a maid-of-honour, and so must have been born by at least 1507, probably in 1505. Jane's birth and early appointment at court placed her in a position of prestige and enviable social wealth. What we know of her is very uncertain - her appearance, qualities and duties at court are completely unknown. Since she appeared in a masque in 1522 alongside the likes of Mary Tudor queen of France and Anne and Mary Boleyn, it has been suggested that she was attractive in looks; added to this, Queen Katherine was probably aware of Jane's suitability to participate in the masque and had had some role in her selection. Jane's father was a fairly remarkable man, with a strong interest in culture and education, and his printed works still survive today.

At that masque (the Chateau Vert), one of numerous Jane probably participated in, she almost certainly met her future sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn, for the first time, a graceful and educated gentlewoman perhaps four years her senior. Anne's elder sister, Mary, also participated. Her relations with the Boleyn family were cemented at the end of 1524 when, aged about nineteen, she married the youngest surviving Boleyn child and heir George. Most historians, commentators and novelists have concluded that the marriage was unhappy, cold and unloving, particularly in light of the events of 1536. In Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl, George openly voices his disgust and intense dislike of Jane, taking male lovers behind her back, while in the Showtime series The Tudors he does the same thing and anally rapes her, for good measure. Even historians such as Alison Weir conclude that the marriage was loveless, although Julia Fox romantically imagines the two 'snuggling up' together. Whatever the true nature of this mysterious marriage, it was unremarkable and usual for the time. Highly placed families at court arranged prestigious alliances with one another in order to strengthen their positions and increase their prestige - love did not play a hugely important part in these negotiations. Since Mary Boleyn was King Henry VIII's mistress around this time, and his desire for her sister Anne would develop a year or two later, it was a momentous time for Jane to join the rapidly prosperous Boleyn family.

Jane's position at this time was excellent; not only was she highly placed at court, serving Queen Katherine on a regular and intimate basis, but she was allied to an increasingly successful family. It must have been an exciting time for her. At this time, her husband became Viscount Rochford as a result of the king's favour for the Boleyns, and she became the Viscountess. The couple were awarded beautiful residences including Beaulieu Palace and Grimston Manor. However, even though they were living in lavish quarters and were enjoying ever greater wealth and fortune, many have assumed that Jane and George's marriage was very unhappy. Retha M. Warnicke suggests that this was the case because of George's homosexuality - something which, as an identity, did not actually exist until the 19th century, but which has been utilised in The Other Boleyn Girl, The Tudors and other works of fiction to create greater scandal. This is unlikely, since contemporary evidence compellingly suggests that George was a noted womaniser at court. However, it may be significant that the couple never had children. Perhaps Julia Fox's position is the safest one - although there is no evidence that the couple's marriage was blissful, there is equally little documentation to indicate that it was as unhappy and a failure as so often assumed.

Above: Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard. Jane would feature heavily in both queens' downfalls.

Anne Boleyn's marriage to the King in the summer of 1533 strengthened the Boleyn family's power immeasurably, and Jane was at the centre of their glory and triumphs. She played a prominent role in Anne's coronation, and served her at court as queen. The exact nature of their relationship is, again, controversial. Jane helped Anne in 1534 to be rid of the king's mistress, and the Spanish ambassador reported that Jane had been dismissed from court as a result of her meddling (although, as has been noted, whether Jane left court for other reasons or whether she even left court at all is unknown). There is evidence dating from these years that Jane was something of a meddler, at least, although as with all historical evidence caution and scepticism is essential in using them to interpret the past. George Cavendish, who loathed the Boleyn family, offered a damning portrayal of Jane:

Withouten bridle of honest measure,
Following my lust and filthy pleasure,
Without respect of any wifely truth,
Dreadless of God, from grace also exempt,
Viciously consuming the time of this my youth.

The impression from this spiteful passage is, clearly, that Jane was not only irreligious and sinful, but that she was lusty - perverted even -, a failure as a wife, dishonest and vicious. Bearing in mind Cavendish's spite for Jane's family and the ever-present misogyny at the time, how accurate is such a description of Jane? Scandalous reports of her only surfaced in 1536 with the downfall of her husband's family. But other evidence suggests that she was involved in some murky matters - already the involvement with the Queen in 1534, and the possibility that in the autumn of 1535 she demonstrated alongside Lady William Howard in support of Princess Mary, thus setting herself up in opposition to her Boleyn relatives. Whether Jane had become disaffected with Anne and her relatives, possibly because of her own unhappy marriage, or whether the theory that she was involved in the demonstration is incorrect, is again unknown. The likelihood is that Jane had become disaffected with George, and by extension the Boleyn family, not because George was involved in homosexual relations as Warnicke believes, but because of religious differences. Jane was a traditional Catholic, as was her family, whereas the Queen and her relatives were noted evangelical reformers. It was religion, not sexual practices, which divided Jane and her husband's family.

Since Jane's father supported Princess Mary, it is possible that Jane transferred her support from the Boleyn family to Princess Mary and her supporters sometime in 1535-6. Certainly the situation at court may have influenced her, with Queen Anne's more uncertain position and the eventual rise of the Seymours. That has been the thinking of some historians, including Weir. Others, including Warnicke, downplay this, and suggest that Jane's scandalous reputation occurred only due to her involvement in Katherine Howard's downfall, not because of any involvement in Anne's, and argues instead that she turned against her husband because of the fact that he enjoyed sexual relations with other men (which cannot be proved).

Is it correct that 'the surviving evidence convincingly shows that Jane did testify to her husband having committed incest with his sister, and that she also confided to her interrogators some highly sensitive - and probably false - information'? (Weir) Fox, despite supporting Jane, thinks so, but insists that this only occurred because of the horrific environment Jane found herself in. In both The Other Boleyn Girl and The Tudors, once again, Jane plays a central role in her family's downfall. But whether or not this is historically correct is controversial.

In 1536, Anne Boleyn fell from power, caused largely by another miscarriage and the king's increasing disillusionment with his second marriage. She brought down five men with her, one of whom was her younger brother George, Anne's husband. As has been noted, Jane has traditionally been noted as being an essential part of these six people's deaths. George Wyatt, Anne's biographer, wrote of Jane as being a 'wicked wife, accuser of her own husband, even to the seeking of his blood. What she did was more to be rid of him than of true ground against him', while Bishop Burnet backed up this claim by writing how Lady Rochford 'carried many stories to the King... that there was a familiarity between the Queen and her brother beyond what so near a relationship could justify'. Another anonymous reporter wrote about 'that person who, more out of envy and jealousy than out of love towards the King, did betray this accursed secret, and together with it the names of those who had joined in the evil doings of the unchaste Queen' - although this evidence is particularly problematic since some writers have credibly argued that it doesn't refer to Jane at all, but another lady-in-waiting who supplied crucial evidence. However, the evidence against Jane is damning.

Julia Fox, however, who sees Jane as being a scapegoat, notes how Chapuys did not mention Jane as being the witness involved against Anne and George; the anonymous writer did not refer to 'that person' as Jane; Jane's eventual confession that she had lied about her husband and Anne was a forgery created years later; and other evidence, can counter the traditional belief that Jane, in a sense, was the 'particular instrument' in the Boleyns' downfall. That she was involved is certain. But what her role actually was is impossible to discern. I agree with the likes of Fox and Ridgeway; Jane has been unfairly demonised in the case of the Boleyns' downfall in 1536, and she probably wasn't the one who ensured their deaths as many people have believed. But I also caution against going too far in the opposite direction, and completely exonerating her from any guilt. She did play an important role, and I still believe that she was, at the very least, meddling.

George's execution severely crippled Jane, and she was forced to write to Master Secretary Thomas Cromwell for financial assistance, which he graciously provided her. She was further helped by being appointed one of Queen Jane Seymour's ladies in late 1536, thus enjoying social security and prestige at court once more. However, it is entirely possible that Jane had acquired a notorious reputation by now, although it is very unfair to present her as loathed by men and, in fact, insane, as Philippa Gregory has done. Jane's position became more prosperous still when her jointure was confirmed in 1539; she was later granted two manors in Warwickshire by Henry VIII. Following the queen's death in childbed, Jane served Anne of Cleves, and it has been conjectured that, once more, she played a prominent role in Anne of Cleves' divorce, providing crucial evidence that the marriage was never consummated. This, again, is uncertain. Warnicke suspects that the evidence was made up entirely. Jane probably supported Katherine Howard's cause because she came from a prominent Catholic family - since Jane was known to favour the Catholic religion, she probably viewed Katherine as a more acceptable queen than Anne of Cleves.

The winter of Jane's life, in a sense, began in the summer of 1540 when Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves' maid-of-honour, Katherine Howard, a relative of Jane's Boleyn relatives. The relationship between Jane and Katherine is entirely unknown. In Gregory's fiction, Jane manipulates and controls the young queen, largely due to the age difference between them, and manoeuvres her into working solely for the benefits of the Howard family at whatever cost. Conversely, in The Tudors (where they are much closer in age), the two seem to become close friends, and confidants. Certainly it's mysterious. Jane was at least eighteen years older than Katherine, and Katherine had other female relatives whom she might have felt she could have better trusted, including her sister-in-law and the women she had known from her childhood, including Katherine Tylney. I suspect, however, that the queen actually disliked these childhood companions, of whom Joan Bulmer was the most infamous, and only employed them at court in a naive attempt to keep them quiet. It is therefore plausible that she became involved with Lady Rochford because she quite literally had no-one else, and Jane Rochford was, by virtue of having served four queens already, an experienced courtier.

I am not suggesting, however, that Lady Rochford became involved with Katherine in order to allow the queen to commit adultery. Finding Warnicke's arguments compelling, along with my own research, it seems plausible that in the spring and summer of 1541 a situation at court which had haunted the reigns of Henry's earlier queens began to stifle Katherine - that of fertility politics. Almost certainly, she was made well aware by her family of the need to provide the king with a second son, and with his illnesses in the spring, she probably became increasingly anxious for her own future. The example of not only Anne Boleyn but Anne of Cleves was clear for her to see. So why did Katherine meet with Thomas Culpeper, an individual who was very possibly violent and manipulative, a rapist in fact? The answer lies in this situation, too often misunderstood by historians. Since Culpeper was the closest courtier to the king, attending to his most intimate needs, the queen probably began communicating with him in an effort to understand what was going on with her husband, in effect, to protect herself. It is inconceivable that, with this going on in the background, she would have rashly decided to embark on an adulterous affair.

The evidence seems to suggest that Jane initiated these meetings, perhaps out of goodwill to the queen. Not all writers have suggested this. Baldwin Smith damns Jane as being 'a pathological meddler with the instincts of a procuress who achieves a vicarious pleasure from arranging assignations' has been highly influential in fiction (above all Gregory's book), while the queen herself later accused Jane of having 'a wicked imagination'. Jane, according to the interrogations later, promised Katherine that she would never reveal her meetings with Culpeper, while the queen was reported to have been skittish and afraid during these encounters, perhaps because she was aware of what these meetings looked like. Unfortunately, a host of factors instigated both women's downfall that autumn. Rumours had swirled menacingly since the queen's marriage that she was unchaste, and this worsened in the summer when one of Katherine's former confidants, Mary Lascelles, reported to her brother that the queen was a woman of evil reputation. He consequently informed the Archbishop, who informed the king. Bearing in mind Katherine's sexual relations during her childhood were probably characterised mostly by force and manipulation, perhaps even rape, it's difficult to work out why Mary suddenly confided this. This is, in fact, the greatest problem with the evidence. If Katherine's ladies found it so strange that she was staying up until the early hours of the morning with her doors locked, only Jane for company, it is weird that they never reported this to the king or anyone else until three or four months later. Quite plausibly, the evidence was exaggerated, if not invented. Both Katherine and Culpeper insisted that they had never had sex, although Jane reported otherwise. She perhaps did so in an attempt to save herself, believing that, although the queen might suffer death, she would not.

Unfortunately, it was not to be so. Jane was imprisoned in the Tower while the queen was confined at Syon Abbey, and she was condemned to death in January 1542, aged probably thirty-six. Jane suffered a nervous breakdown, and it is possible that she lost her sanity. An Act of Attainder was specifically passed in order to allow her execution to take place, and she was executed with the young queen on 13 February. The notion that she admitted her guilt for her husband and Queen Anne's death on the scaffold is a myth. A contemporary observer reported that she merely expressed her sinfulness and the fact that she deserved her punishment, although another felt she spent far too long speaking. Following the trembling queen's end, Jane was executed, and was buried in the nearby chapel.

George Cavendish remarked that her 'slander for ever shall be rife' and her sin would ensure that she would be remembered as 'the woman of vice insatiate' has proved to have been the case. One Victorian historian even opined that 'the infamous Lady Rochford... justly deserved her fate for the concern which she had in bringing Anne Boleyn, as well as her own husband, to the block'. Many have interpreted her execution as being a case of what goes around, comes around. This is probably unfair; it seems likely that her role in the downfall of the Boleyns was much smaller than has usually been assumed.

I am not convinced that Jane was as guiltless as some have suggested. I think it's plausible to argue that she instigated the meetings between Katherine and Thomas Culpeper; why she did so, we cannot know. She certainly did provide damning evidence against her husband and Anne Boleyn. But was she the monster of television series and Gregory's The Boleyn Inheritance? Certainly not. At the very worst, Jane was meddling and probably hostile to her husband's family; maybe she instigated Katherine Howard's meetings out of a desire to help the queen in a desperate situation. It's hard to say. But her brutal end is certainly something to shy away from.