The rise and fall of the Boleyns have been something that has fascinated those who study the Tudor dynasty for centuries. We often view these series of events from the immediate Boleyn family, but what might it have been like for someone who was married to a Boleyn, like Jane Parker Boleyn, the wife of George Boleyn? Jane is often portrayed in literature as a woman who had a tumultuous marriage who sold out her husband when she was interrogated, someone who helped Katherine Howard with her secret liaisons behind Henry VIII’s back, and a woman who suffered from mental illness while in prison. If you take a look at Jane Boleyn’s life from this lens, she sounds like a troubled woman, but what if there was a different side to her? What if she was a good person who loved her husband and his family? That is the Jane Boleyn that Adrienne Dillard wanted to portray in her latest book, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn”.
Adrienne Dillard explains how she views Jane Boleyn and why she chose to write this particular story:
When the traces of Jane’s humanity are washed away, it’s easy for later generations to demonize her actions. What could have been perfectly innocent behaviour is seen through the prism of her later behaviour and ultimate ending: death as a traitor to the crown. It is my goal in writing this novel to give Jane some of that humanity back. I want to put a face to a name that has been blackened by assumption for the last five centuries. I want to remind people that Jane wasn’t some spectre lurking in the corner, plotting the downfall of others. She was a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, and a loyal servant. She had hopes and dreams. She had flaws and quirks. And to further muddy the waters, we have to consider her mental state. The choices she made may be hard to understand now, but at the moment that she made them, they made sense to her. (Dillard, 350).
Dillard structures her story as a parallel narrative, which is unique and effective when telling Jane’s story as it allows the reader to see the parallels between what happened to the Boleyns during their fall and Jane’s own fall. We are first introduced to Jane as she enters the Tower of London, awaiting her sentence after being involved with Katherine Howard. While Jane is in the Tower, she has flashbacks to her time with Anne and George Boleyn. Jane’s father wanted her to marry well and so he chose George Boleyn as her husband. To say that Jane was reluctant to marry such a man was an understatement, but as their story progressed, George and Jane grew to love each other, even through the countless miscarriages that Jane suffered.
Jane acts as a perfect “fly on the wall” character as she is a servant in the court of many of Henry VIII’s wives. She cares for not only her sister-in-law Anne Boleyn, but for Katherine of Aragon and it is rather interesting to read how Jane viewed this complex time in English history known as “The Great Matter”. Another great matter discussed throughout this novel is how religion was changing with new, radical theological ideas. Though we are not sure where Jane exactly stood on these issues, it is interesting to see how she might have responded to them.
Adrienne Dillard brought Jane Boleyn’s story from the shadows and illuminates it. By showing Jane as a loving and caring wife, daughter, servant, and friend, Dillard gives her readers a different perspective towards this captivating woman who suffered from mental illness. I did not know much about Jane’s story before reading this novel, but now I want to know more about her. If you want an engaging and thought-provoking novel about Jane Boleyn and the Boleyns, I highly recommend, “The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn” by Adrienne Dillard.