Adrienne Dillard, author of “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” is a graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies with emphasis in History from Montana State University-Northern. She has been an eager student of history for most of her life and has completed in-depth research on the American Revolutionary War time period in American History and the history and sinking of the Titanic. Her senior university capstone paper was on the discrepancies in passenger lists on the ill-fated liner and Adrienne was able to work with Philip Hind of Encyclopedia Titanica for much of her research on that subject. Her previous works include best-selling novel,“Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey” and “Catherine Carey in a Nutshell” for MadeGlobal’s History in a Nutshell series. When she isn’t writing, Adrienne works as an administrative assistant in the financial services industry and enjoys spending time with her husband, Kyle, and son, Logan, at their home in the Pacific Northwest.
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Q&A with Adrienne Dillard
Your other books are about Catherine Carey, what made you focus on Jane Boleyn this time?
You know, I’ve always kind of had Jane on my mind. Something about her story just didn’t sit right with me, but it was so murky, I actually tried to avoid delving too deep into her story. I wanted to present her as sympathetic in my first novel, but there was just some part of me that kept thinking hat perhaps Jane truly wasn’t a very nice person so I kept her portrayal fairly superficial. The idea to really focus on her came when I was recovering from surgery in January 2015. I’d had a hysterectomy and I found that I was just overwhelmed with sadness that I couldn’t have any more children (we have only one). The anniversary of Jane’s execution fell during that time and, of course, I read all the articles posted about her. I started wondering what it might have been like for her to be childless during a time period where fecundity was so revered. I really started to empathize with her. I started to think that exploring Jane’s experience could, perhaps, be very helpful as I navigated this new territory.
What would Jane Boleyn’s life have been like before she came to court?
Jane would have probably had the usual upbringing for a daughter born into the minor nobility. She would have been taught how to properly run a household and perform menial tasks such as sewing and embroidery, maybe even gardening. These would have been accompanied by the skills she would need to serve at court, like dancing and music. Jane’s father, Lord Morley, was known to be very intellectual and prized learning above all else, so Jane would have had a tutor to teach her how to read and write. Her days would have been very full with the learning of all these tasks, but she did live out in the country, so she probably engaged in outdoor pursuits as well.
You’ve done a lot of research on Jane. Were there things you found that you changed in the novel or does the novel support the facts?
For the most part, the novel is supported by the limited facts we have about Jane’s life. I didn’t change the things we know for certain, such as her participation in the Chateau Vert masque, her banishment from court in 1534, or her involvement in Katherine Howard’s downfall, but I did have to interpret the details surrounding these events and her internal motivations regarding them. Unfortunately we don’t have much information, so I did have to fill in the gaps, but I kept those within the realm of plausibility. For instance, Jane is beset by a series of miscarriages in my novel. We don’t have any proof that happened, but we do know that she cohabitated with her husband and, for all intents and purposes, they should have been attempting to build a family. Because they were unsuccessful in their attempts, I assumed that Jane experienced at least one miscarriage, if not more. Another example would be Jane’s interrogations. We do have a record of her interrogation in 1541, but we don’t actually know what, if anything, was said during the downfall of Jane’s husband and sister-in-law in 1536. I used her behavior and responses from the later interrogation as a guide for crafting the earlier one.
What do you think the relationship between George and Jane was like?
I think their relationship was probably very unremarkable. In fact, no one said a word about it until long after both were dead. Even the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, was mute and we all know how he loved his gossip! George was a very busy man during his sister’s rise at court, so it’s likely that they didn’t spent much time together during the later part of their marriage; however, there are a few pieces of evidence that point to a happier union than has been suggested. 1) Jane never remarried though she had ample reason and opportunity to. The fact that she wore black for the remainder of her life shows that she not only held on to her status as a widow, she also openly mourned her husband, a convicted traitor to the crown. I like to think that every time the king saw her in her dour clothing, he was reminded of George. 2) Jane successfully lobbied for the return of her marriage bed and plate after it was confiscated. Even through the lean years of her fight for her marriage jointure, she never sold those possessions. Perhaps the bed, with its hangings decorated in Rochford knots, and the plate, stamped with George’s initials, were a comforting reminder of her late husband. 3) During George’s trial, we find out that Jane shared confidences with him regarding his sister’s fear about the king’s virility. 4) George was named as a godfather to one of the younger Henry Parker’s children. The fact that Jane’s brother bestowed this honor on her husband shows that the Parker family accepted and respected him. And finally, 5) Jane was the only one to attempt to reach out to George after his incarceration. She was not allowed to write to him, so she wrote to the constable of the Tower instead to ask how he was and offer comfort. She promised to intercede with the king on his behalf. Now, none of these things PROVE that they had a good marriage, but I think they at least support the idea that the union was not one full of misery.
How was she affected by George’s execution?
George’s execution left Jane unstable financially. Most of the properties guaranteed in her marriage contract, were actually owned by Thomas Boleyn’s mother so she couldn’t claim them until after she died; at the time of George’s death, his grandmother was very much alive. In addition, when the marriage contract was signed, Lord Morley had only been able to fund part of her jointure; the King contributed the remaining amount. When the time came for Thomas to pay out her annuity, he based the payment on the percentage of only the portion contributed by her father. Jane sought help from Cromwell to remedy this issue and it is for that reason she is often accused of giving testimony against her husband and Anne. Cromwell’s assistance is seen as some sort of payment for services rendered. However, the king’s most important minister was known for giving his assistance to widows; Jane would have been expected, perhaps even encouraged, to seek out his help. We don’t really know how Jane was emotionally affected by George’s death, but I suspect, based upon her later actions, that she suffered some trauma from the event. I think it’s quite possible that she experienced a mild form of Post Traumatic Stress. The events of 1536 must have been quite scary for her.
What exactly was Jane’s role in the downfall of Catherine Howard?
All we know for sure is that Jane accompanied Catherine on her meetings with Thomas Culpeper. That’s it. Everything else is hearsay. The interrogations of all three are riddled with accusations, each suspect trying to point the blame on someone else. We don’t know who instigated the meetings and we don’t know why she participated. We don’t even know what she did while the meetings went on, except for one instance where she claimed to have fallen asleep during.
Jane spent considerable time in the Tower of London. What would her daily life have been like there?
Though Jane was a prisoner, her daily life wouldn’t have changed all that much. She would have been housed in the royal apartments with at least one maid attendant. Most of her possessions had been confiscated, but she would have been allowed the simplest garments she owned as a courtesy. In most cases, her days would have been spent marking the usual religious rituals and entertainments to pass the time. There would be no singing and dancing, of course, but she could read or sew. Because Jane is recorded to have had a breakdown three days into her incarceration, her experience no doubt deviated during that time. As soon as those symptoms were evident, the constable would have immediately sent for a physician. Initially, they would have attempted to curb the symptoms using remedies of the day, but when it became apparent that she wasn’t recovering, she was removed from the Tower. Because of Jane’s madness, it’s impossible to say what those first three days were like. We know she was interrogated on one of those days, but that is about it. The constable would have tried to maintain a sense of normality for her, but really anything could have happened. I imagine that the days she spent in the Tower after her “recuperation,” just before her execution, were very subdued.
Jane appears to have had a nervous breakdown in the Tower. What do you think caused that?
I truly think that Jane was traumatised by the events of 1536 and her interrogation and imprisonment in the Tower brought up all those memories. Jane’s surroundings in the Tower were comfortable, but there would have been no doubt in her mind how much trouble she was in. As a member of the nobility, Jane would not have been tortured, but her interrogation would not have been easy. I think her involvement with Catherine’s affair shows that she was already a bit unstable; throw everything else in and it was enough to pitch her right off the edge. I’m sure she feared what was to come. Much has been made about whether or not Jane was faking it, but I think the fact that Henry VIII changed the law to execute her with a clear conscience shows that he took her illness very seriously.
Jane Boleyn has received quite a bad reputation from history. Do you think this was just?
I don’t at all. I think that every heroine needs a villain, and in an effort to rehabilitate both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, she has become the foil. It’s really easy to pin their downfall on Jane, but the evidence has had to be twisted to support that view. One of the biggest misconceptions about Jane is that she and Anne hated each other, but the facts just don’t support this. During Anne’s coronation processional, Jane rode in the favored position directly behind her, far above her rank as Lady Rochford. In 1534, Jane worked with Anne to get another lady dismissed from court when she caught the king’s eye. In 1535, Anne confided in Jane the king’s troubles in the bedroom. I would say they seemed more like allies than enemies. Jane’s story is littered with events like this, yet she is always portrayed in the worst way possible.
Jane was executed together with Catherine Howard. What would that day have been like?
The executions were set for early in the morning so the constable of the tower would have been to the royal lodgings around day-break to make sure that both Catherine and Jane were awake. I would imagine that neither one of them would have still been asleep by the time he arrived; I doubt either of them had been able to find any rest. Jane’s maid would have dressed her in a simple gown, her hair tied up in a coif underneath an unadorned hood. At this point, Jane would have been given an opportunity for a final confession and prayers. She may have even been offered a final meal. Being of higher rank, Catherine would have been taken to the scaffold first. After her execution, the blood would have been washed away and new straw would have been laid out for Jane. The constable, Sir John Gage, would have gone back to the royal apartments to fetch his second prisoner. He would have led Jane through the Coldharbour gate and around the White Tower to the area in front of what is now the Waterloo Barracks. Jane would have handed off her hood to a maid and then paid the executioner with a bag of coins. We know Jane made a final speech before her execution because of an eyewitness named Ottwell Johnson. Johnson states that she gave the standard execution speech, confessing her sins and praying for mercy, as she extolled the virtues of the king. Once she was finished, Jane would have knelt down in the straw and whispered a few words of prayer before her world turned black.