This book is a new release and the first book by Charlie Fenton published by Chronos Books of John Hunt Publishing and retails at £6.99.
The author Charlie Fenton runs a blog called Through the Eyes of Anne Boleyn as well as studying Medieval and Early Modern history; this background knowledge and love for this era shines through in her writing, and you can tell she has a passion for this topic. This is a short book – at just under 70 pages, it is more like a long essay, really. However, the work is fully referenced and has been well researched, utilising any available original sources. This book is part of the Chronos Crime Chronicles series, which are short tales on murders, conspiracies and trials and so will interest those who enjoy either historical works or the true crime genre.
While sticking to the relatively low maximum word count of the Chronos Crime Chronicles series, I must say Charlie Fenton has packed a lot of information in without it feeling like she has missed out on anything important or cut corners. The book is written in a way that flows beautifully and is very easy to read, making it difficult to put down. Charlie has one aim with the book, and that is to try to clear the name of Jane Parker, and throughout the book, she reiterates this point and backs it up with different sources and references to other works.
Jane Parker was the wife of George Boleyn; when she married him, he was part of an important noble family, but he was not in the limelight, and Jane was happy at court serving Queen Katherine of Aragon. Over time though, Jane’s life was changed dramatically when her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn became Queen of England. For some time, we see how the Boleyn faction benefitted from this connection, but when Anne and her brother George were later executed for treason, this was devastating to Jane and her reputation. In a number of works published long after the events took place, Jane is often blamed for suggesting that George and Anne Boleyn were committing incest together and other such rumours. In this book, Fenton digs into this and questions why Jane would want to ruin her own husband’s reputation and cause his execution.
Many of the rumours about Jane seem to stem from her involvement in a much later scandal. In the book, we see how Jane served Anne of Cleves and Jane Seymour and tried to repair her own reputation at court. When King Henry VIII was married for a fifth time to the teenage Katherine Howard, however, Jane is yet again dragged into scandal. By this stage, Jane was living off money provided by her former father-in-law, she was forever known as the wife of a traitor, and her protector Lord Cromwell had been executed. Jane was no longer part of a powerful faction at court, and Charlie Fenton aims to show that while Jane did help Katherine Howard take part in an affair, she may have had little choice. Sources from later in the Tudor period blamed Jane for setting up the affair between Howard and Culpepper, but Fenton’s belief is that Jane found herself trapped in a difficult situation and had no way out.
At the end of the book, we hear the sad tale of Jane’s downfall and death, and the author goes on to say that she hopes in the future the myths surrounding Jane will be corrected. My only issue with this ending statement is that Charlie Fenton has just spent the entire book discussing and picking apart these myths, and so I wonder how else will the myths be corrected if this hasn’t done it? I’m not sure if this is a lack of self-confidence on the part of the author, or maybe she is saying she herself will one day write a longer book on the topic.
Fenton has put a lot of effort into backing up her idea that Jane Parker has been used as a scapegoat in the downfall of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, which does seem true to an extent from the sources and analysis available. The only real problem is that there are not that many sources available on Jane or in her own words, and the few that do exist do tend to prove that Jane did play an instrumental part in at least the downfall of Katherine Howard. However, it was unlikely to have been intentional. I do think that the author somewhat ignores or dismisses a lot of these sources and is biased towards Jane Parker; of course, much of what has been said of Jane is exaggerated, but her execution for treason was for a valid reason.
This book is a great overview of the downfalls of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard and gives great insight into the life of Jane Parker, a Tudor woman with a tragic and often overlooked life story. I’d recommend this to anyone who likes true crime stories or has an interest in the Tudor court, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for what comes next from Charlie Fenton after a good first book.