Today, I have a special treat for you! Author Danielle Marchant is here to celebrate the release of The Treacheries of Fortune, part 3 in her The Lady Rochford Saga. Marchant takes a much more sympathetic view of Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, and I’ve really enjoyed the previous titles in this series. You can expect a review on this new one in the coming weeks, right here on my blog. Now, over to Danielle:
Whatever Happened to Lady Jane?
Back in the 19th century, the historian Thomas Macaulay spoke of St. Peter Ad Vincula, the chapel inside the Tower of London. He described it as “In truth there is no sadder spot on the earth than that little cemetery.” A few years ago, I visited the chapel for the first time and Macaulay’s words are not an understatement. As soon as both my friend and I stepped into the chapel, we both felt this overwhelming and inexplicable sadness. It was no coincidence though, as the chapel is also the burial ground for Anne Boleyn, Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford, Thomas More, Bishop John Fisher, Thomas Cromwell, Lady Jane Grey and Catherine Howard, to name but a few, who were buried here after their executions.
After they were executed, they were then buried as traitors in unmarked graves. Then, in the 19th century, Queen Victoria visited the Tower. She was so saddened by the stories from the Tower’s bloody history that she ordered the bodies of the executed to be exhumed, identified and reburied properly. Today, when you visit the chapel, their remains are now buried under plaques. There is also a list on a wall plaque by the chapel door showing all of those buried in the chapel. All the names are on there. However, I couldn’t help noticing one name was missing in particular. There was no Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford.
Image courtesy of Dr George Roberts – Jane Boleyn’s resting place marked by a crest in the chancel area.
Jane Boleyn is a much vilified character in both fiction and non-fiction. The main reason for this disparagement is down to the alleged role she played in the downfalls of two of Henry VIII’s Queens – Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Jane has been accused of sending Anne and even her own husband George to their deaths on the scaffold based on an accusation of incest. Jane has also been accused of leading Catherine Howard astray and arranging her secret meetings with Thomas Culpepper, an affair that led all three to the scaffold. However, both Historians and Writers are now beginning to realise that this image of Jane is not wholly accurate, that there is two sides to the story and she has been a scapegoat.
Jane, who was executed on Tower Green on the 13th February 1542, is the only person missing on this wall plaque list. It does, however, list Catherine Howard who was executed on the same day as Jane, as well as Jane’s husband George, who was executed in 17th May 1536. Therefore, I couldn’t help but wonder due to her negative image, if those that had created that plaque at the time – which it is believed dates back to the 19th century – may have deliberately left her name off? As soon as I saw the omission of her name, part of me was not completely surprised and I immediately assumed this was just another part of the general campaign to malign her name.
I wrote to the Tower to find out some more background on this. I received some very useful feedback from Dr George Roberts, who was the Assistant Curator of Historic Buildings at the Tower and he confirmed the following:
“I had never actually noticed that this plaque fails to list Jane Boleyn, and while I’m aware of the fact that opinions of her are mixed, I think this may actually be due to an oversight. The plaque was installed in the late 1870s after restoration work in the chapel between 1876-77. It was during this programme of work that the chancel area was excavated and bodies were discovered under the altar. One of these bodies was identified as Jane Boleyn (See Doyne C. Bell, Notices of the Historic Persons buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower of London, (London, 1877), pp.19-31.). The bodies were re-buried and a marble floor was added to the area. Therefore, as she has been marked in the chancel area itself (unlike Lady Jane Grey for example, who does appear on this plaque), I don’t think she was purposefully being airbrushed from history and am inclined to suspect that this was more an oversight.”
Therefore, in this case, it is very possible that forgetting to add her to the wall plaque was just an error. Possibly caught up in the mayhem of having to exhume, identify and rebury with dignity some of the Tower’s many victims, adding names to a wall plaque list was probably the last thing on their mind.
Given Jane’s posthumous reputation, it is an easy assumption to make that maybe she was maliciously forgotten about. However, at least they all have a marked burial places now. Maybe in the future, if the chapel ever goes through further improvements, they may even modify the wall plaque and add even more information, to continue to make sure that the stories of these innocent people condemned once as traitors, will never be forgotten.
By Danielle Marchant
I am an Independent Author from London, UK. Parts 1 and 2 of my series of historical novellas based on Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford’s life,“The Lady Rochford Saga”, are available now. Part 3, “The Treacheries of Fortune” will be released on the 15th December 2017 and is now available to pre-order: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B077PRF6F9/ref=series_rw_dp_sw