QAB Guest Writer: HOLBEIN’S THE LADY PARKER , by Danielle Marchant

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Jane Parker Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford
“The Lady Parker” (Hans Holbein the Younger)

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To this day, no one really knows what Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford looked like. The sister-in-law of Henry VIII’s famous wife Anne Boleyn is often portrayed in most TV dramas and films as a blonde. In the dramatization of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, she is portrayed as a brunette. However, these are just assumptions – there are not based on any definite evidence that we have of Jane Boleyn’s looks.

There is only one piece of evidence that may indicate what the real Jane looked like. This is in Hans Holbein’s chalk drawing called “The Lady Parker”. It is now part of the Royal Collection and has no corresponding oil painting. The real identity of the sitter of the portrait, however, has not been established. The drawing shows a young girl with blonde hair, blue eyes and she does appear to be around seventeen to twenty-six years of age.

Some believe it to be Jane Boleyn. However, some also believe it to be one of Jane’s sister-in-laws. It could either also be Grace Newport, the first wife of Jane’s brother Henry Parker, or Elizabeth Calthorpe, who then married Henry after Grace’s early death in 1549. To have a portrait from the Parker family would not be totally unexpected. Jane’s own father, Henry Parker, Lord Morley, was sketched in 1523 by Albrecht Dürer. Henry Parker was in Germany at the time as an ambassador sent by Henry VIII to present the Order of the Garter to Charles V’s brother, Ferdinand. This, together with Jane’s marriage to George Boleyn, which took place around November 1524 to early 1525, shows how close the Parker family were to the throne.

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Henry Parker, Lord Morley
Henry Parker, Lord Morley (Albrecht Durer, 1523)

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Holbein is likely to have created this sketch in either one of his two visits to England which would have been taken place between 1526 to 1528, or between 1531 to 1532. As the girl in the sketch does appear to be around seventeen to twenty-six years of age, whether the sitter is either Jane, Grace or Elizabeth does seem to mainly depend on when Holbein had drawn the sketch.

If it was sketched between 1526 to 1528, it could be Jane, as the woman in the sketch looks like the same age that Jane would have been at the time. However, by this period, Jane was married to George Boleyn, so to call her “The Lady Parker” wouldn’t make any sense and would make the sitter more likely to be Grace. Grace by that time was married to Jane’s brother Henry, so would have been Grace Parker. However, Grace was ten years younger than Jane, so in this period, Grace would have been too young to be the sitter of this drawing. So, it does make Jane the more likely candidate if the sketch was drawn in this period.

If it was sketched between 1531 to 1532, as Grace was Grace Parker by this time and would have roughly fitted the age of the girl in this portrait, the sitter is definitely more likely to be Grace. It definitely would not have been Jane, as the sketch would definitely not have been named “The Lady Parker” to refer to Jane, who by this time was not only now a Boleyn, but had also become Lady Rochford. Jane was also a lot older by this time – older than the girl in the portrait.

Another factor to be considered is the colour of the paper used. On Holbein’s first visit, his drawings were on white paper. From the 1530s onwards, however, he used pink-primed paper. As “The Lady Parker” is on pink-primed paper, this dates the drawing to his second visit in the 1530s. So, based on this, the sitter is Grace.

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Hans Holbein Self-Portrait, 1542
Hans Holbein Self-Portrait, 1542

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Another factor to consider is that Holbein’s relationship with the court was ambiguous, because his record as an established court artist, responsible for royal portraits, cannot be definitely confirmed in the period before Henry VIII married Jane Seymour in 1536. After 1536, his work was then in more demand. Before 1536, Holbein did do private work, so this opens the possibility that Jane may have been drawn between 1533 to 1536. However, the clothing that the girl wears in the sketch hints at a later date. If that’s the case, this again makes it unlikely to be of Jane. This is because as a result of the Boleyn family’s fall in 1536, Jane fell out of favour, she was a widow, definitely was still a “Boleyn” rather than a “Parker” and would have been a lot older than the girl in the sketch by this time. Therefore, if the sketch was drawn after 1536, this does make it more likely that the girl in the sketch is Grace.

If the drawing was sketched a lot later than 1536, it maybe Elizabeth Calthorpe. However, Holbein died before Grace in 1543. Grace died later around 1549 and her widower Henry Parker then married Elizabeth. So, even if Elizabeth had been sketched before 1543, she was not a “Parker” by this time.

Therefore, it does appear likely that the sitter is Grace Newport. However, there’s one final, important factor that needs to be considered and that doesn’t totally rule out Jane Boleyn as the sitter. It’s also possible that the drawing was simply labelled incorrectly as “The Lady Parker”. John Cheke, who became Edward VI’s tutor in 1544, provided the identities of many of Holbein’s drawings as Holbein didn’t provide them himself. He didn’t know all of the names of the drawings, so some did remain blank. Also, Cheke could be unreliable, so some drawings were labelled incorrectly. Therefore, this does open a real possibility that maybe “The Lady Parker” was incorrectly labelled and it is in fact a drawing of Jane. Therefore, the real identity of “The Lady Parker” still to this day remains a mystery. For the time being, all of us, along with those producing TV dramas and films, will still have to unfortunately use our imagination in deciding how the real Jane Boleyn may have looked.

Sources and further reading:
Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford – Julia Fox, 2007, Orion Books Ltd.

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Danielle Marchant
Danielle Marchant

Danielle is an independent author from London, UK. She published my first historical novella, The Lady Rochford Saga Part 1: Into the Ranks of the Deceived. It is available to download worldwide via Amazon. It is part of a series of novellas. Part 2 is scheduled for release in Spring 2015! Facebook highlights the novella series at Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford on facebook. Visit Danielle’s blog featuring Jane Parker Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford at Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochord: The Real Story Behind the Infamous Lady Rochford

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the lady rochford saga

To Purchase The Lady Rochford Saga — Part I: Into the Ranks of the Deceived,

Click the Link Below!! 

The Lady Rochford Saga — Part I: Into the Ranks of the Deceived

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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of QueenAnneBoleyn.com. The author of "Thomas Cranmer in a Nutshell", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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