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I've been decorating just lately and as painting isn't on my list of favourite occupations I decided to borrow an audio book from the library to help take my mind off tackling the hall, landing and stairs. Unfortunately, I think I chose the wrong book. It not only didn't distract me but at times made me rather annoyed.
Though I'm not a huge fan of the Tudors I was intrigued by the fact that this biography professed to have fresh new evidence that would exonerate Jane Boleyn, the wife of Anne Boleyn's brother George, a woman who history states gave evidence not only against Anne but also against her own husband which ultimately led to both their deaths.
The audio book is unabridged and lasts for 13½ hours but is quite expensive at just over £26 although it can be downloaded for free from Audible via their 30 day free trial offer. It's also available in paperback for £6 new or 1p for used copies. The narrator is Julia Barrie.
The book begins with a description of the funeral of the first child of Henry VIII and his wife, Katherine of Aragon and even after listening to the first chapter it was clear that this was going to be more like a fictionalised account of events rather than a serious historical investigation. The dramatic description of the sad procession of the infant prince and the subsequent funeral were merely a precursor to what followed which is little more than regurgitated information and seems to bring absolutely no new evidence to light. In fact, many of the statements the author makes about Jane Boleyn and the events which led to her husband's and sister-in-law's deaths and also later her own execution for her part in assisting Katherine Howard's infidelity are prefaced by the words 'It's possible' or 'It's believed' rather than 'It has been proved beyond a shadow of doubt.' The wording alone made me doubt the veracity of many of the statements in the book.
The top and bottom of it is that there simply doesn't appear to be enough documented evidence around to give more than a brief sketch of what Jane Parker, later to become Jane Boleyn, was truly like and although she was a primary witness in the case against her sister-in-law, she isn't really interesting enough to warrant a book of her own and as a consequence, much of the story revolves around Anne Boleyn's marriage to Henry.
Much of the early part of the book about Jane's early years is fictionalised, largely because nothing much is known and this really sets the tone for the rest of the book. As an account of the turbulent years of Henry VIII's reign, the story is interesting enough and Julia Fox certainly captures a sense of the age. However, she can't get away from the fact that Jane Boleyn definitely did accuse her husband and sister-in-law of having an incestuous relationship and Ms Fox's attempt to exonerate her fail miserably. Her claim that the marriage of George and Jane was a happy one, flies in the face of what history tells us. Ms Fox seems to feel that simply saying the marriage was happy, makes it so and she doesn't produce any evidence to back up her theory. Likewise, her claims that Jane and Anne Boleyn were close friends, again, isn't confirmed.
I rather get the feeling that the author decided that Jane Boleyn was innocent of the charges levelled at her and set about writing a book to that effect, leaving out any pieces of evidence which didn't tally with her theory. The writing style is very descriptive and quite frankly is more suited to fiction writing than serious biography with many of the opinions expressed so obviously coming from the author's mind rather than being attributed to primary sources. To my mind this is factual fiction rather than a true biography and it's written along the lines of authors such as Alison Weir or Philippa Gregory. After the first few chapters, I decided to take what followed with a huge pinch of salt and just enjoy it as a novel. Unfortunately, it failed to impress as a novel either.
By the time I'd listened to about half the book, I was rapidly running out of patience with both Jane Boleyn and Julia Fox. The alternative title to this book is 'The Infamous Lady Rochford' but would have better been described as the infuriating Lady Rochford. Even allowing for Ms Fox's partiality, Jane Boleyn comes across as a rather silly woman. Not only does she give evidence against her husband and sister-in-law, for which she was paid, after a suitable period away from court, she returned and began meddling in the affairs of the King yet again. Firstly, she gave evidence against his current queen, Anne of Cleves, to enable the king to get yet another divorce, but also helped the next queen, the equally silly Katherine Howard, conduct a less than discrete adulterous affair. The excuses Ms Fox comes up with as to why Jane Boleyn acted the way she did as specious to say the least.
I can't really recommend this audio book, certainly not as a biography at any rate, as the author failed to convince me with her arguments . It works much better as a piece of historical fiction, despite the fact that the central character is not someone I could sympathise with. There are better Tudor biographers out there, such as David Starkey, who manage to dramatise events whilst maintaining credibility. Ms Fox did not do so.