Weird History
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Why Did Henry VIII Change The Law Just To Execute Jane Boleyn?

Updated July 31, 2019 121.9k views12 items

Everyone knows that King Henry VIII loved to chop off women’s heads. Anne of Cleves was probably thrilled when she escaped her marriage to the notorious Tudor with her head still on her shoulders. But most people don’t realize the history between Henry VIII and Jane Boleyn—the OTHER other Boleyn girl, Anne Boleyn’s sister-in-law, was another case of all-in-the-family execution.

Jane Boleyn married Anne’s brother, George, making her the Viscountess Rochford, and sent her sister-in-law to the chopping block when she claimed that Anne had an incestuous relationship with her own brother. Anne found out the hard way that Henry had a thing for gruesome executions.

But that wasn’t the end of the story for Jane Boleyn—she would have her own name added to the list of everyone Henry VIII beheaded only six years later, when she foolishly helped Henry’s young wife, Catherine Howard, have an affair behind the king’s back. Even though Jane went insane while she was interrogated at the Tower of London, Henry had the law changed just so he could execute her. Ironically, Henry was the one with hereditary psychiatric problems in his family, so he probably shouldn’t have promoted executing insane people!

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Jane Accused Her Husband Of An Incestuous Relationship With His Sister, Anne Boleyn

    Jane Boleyn claimed that Queen Anne was having an incestuous relationship with her bother, Jane’s husband George. The charges against Anne included adultery, incest, and conspiracy—and it was clear to everyone that Henry was done with his second queen. After he failed to annul the marriage with Anne so he could marry his mistress, Jane Seymour, Henry had his wife thrown in the Tower. 

    That’s when Jane played her starring role as witness against her sister-in-law. Henry’s advisor Thomas Cromwell was charged with convicting Anne, and he used Jane as a witness. Jane signed a sword affidavit that George and Anne were committing incest, knowing that the charge could kill both of them. The son of Anne Boleyn’s childhood friend, Thomas Wyatt, called Jane a “wicked wife, accuser of her own husband, even to the seeking of his own blood." And there was blood—a lot of blood. 

  • Photo: Jan Luyken / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Anne Boleyn Was Beheaded Because Of Jane's Accusation

    On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed. Jane’s testimony had sent her to the chopping block. As Anne waited for a French swordsmen to behead her, she gave one last speech. "I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul.”

    Anne knelt on the ground with a blindfold over her eyes. In one swing, she was beheaded. 

    Within 24 hours, Henry was betrothed to his mistress, Jane Seymour. Jane Boleyn’s husband, George, had been executed on May 17th. After playing a central role in the death of her husband and her sister-in-law, Jane retired to the countryside.

  • Photo: Hans Holbein the Younger, Michel Sittow and unknown artists / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Jane Worked For A Stunning Five Out Of Henry's Six Wives

    But that wasn’t the end of Henry’s ill-fated marriages—not by a long shot. And it also wasn’t the end of Jane Boleyn’s history as a snitch on Henry’s wives. After Anne’s execution, Jane lost the lands and titles that she might have inherited after George’s death. But the court was grateful for her help getting rid of Henry’s pesky wife, so Jane Boleyn was soon given a position with Jane Seymour, the new queen. 

    In fact, Jane served the next three queens as Lady of the Bedchamber. And once again, Jane found herself scheming to help Henry get rid of an unwanted wife. When Henry married a German, Anne of Cleves, he quickly decided that he wanted a divorce. Jane Boleyn testified that the marriage had never been consummated—an important point included in the divorce proceedings. Once again, Jane had shown how useful she was to the mercurial Tudor monarch. But things were about to go south for Jane very quickly.

  • Photo: Hans Holbein / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Jane Boleyn Helped Henry's Teenaged Wife Have An Affair

    In 1540, Henry married his fifth wife, the young Catherine Howard. Catherine was only eighteen at the time, and Henry was almost fifty. Catherine was also a cousin of Anne Boleyn, so she should have know better than to cheat on the king. But in 1541, Catherine began an affair with Thomas Culpeper, confident that she could hide the relationship and “meddle with a man” without falling pregnant.

    Jane Boleyn was one of Catherine Howard’s ladies in waiting—and she knew of the Queen’s affair with Culpeper. In fact, she even helped Catherine arrange meetings with her lover. In November of 1541, the affair became public, and Henry flew into a rage. He demanded a sword so he could execute his wife on the spot. Instead, she went on trial for treason. And Jane was arrested.