You may fear, from the title of this book, that they've found yet another 'Boleyn girl'. The subject of this biography has already been fearlessly minced into fiction by the energetic Philippa Gregory. But there is no sign so far that another inert and vacuous feature film will be clogging up the multiplexes. In reworkings of the Tudor soap opera, Jane Boleyn is more often known as Jane Rochford, wife of George Boleyn, sister-in-law to Anne the queen. There are some lives we read backwards, from bloody exit to obscure entrance, and Jane's is one of them. She was beheaded in 1542, with Henry VIII's fifth queen, Catherine Howard. She was one of Catherine's ladies, and for reasons which remain inaccessible to us, she had helped the dizzy little person carry on a love affair with a courtier, Thomas Culpepper. She passed on letters and misled and misdirected Catherine's other attendants; while the lovers got down to business, she snoozed in a chair. Whatever emotion she felt when she found herself sentenced to death, it can't have been surprise. Why did she do it? Stupidity? Perversity? For some voyeuristic thrill? Historians and novelists have enjoyed speculating.
LRB 24 April 2008 | PDF Download