1536, 1537, 16th century, anne boleyn, britain, catherine of aragon, childbirth, coronation, dissolution of the monasteries, divorce, edward vi, england, greenwich, henry viii, history, jane seymour, john seymour, mary i, mary tudor, monarchy, pilgrimaage of grace, pregnancy, prince edward, puerperal fever, reformation, religion, robert aske, royal baby, royal family, royal wedding, st george's chapel windsor, tudors, uk, whitehall, windsor
Henry VIII declared Jane Seymour was the most beloved of all his wives—she provided the desired heir. Jane’s quiet dignity hid a strong will and determination to succeed.
Her father, Sir John Seymour, was knighted at the Battle of Blackheath in 1497 by Henry VII. He enjoyed royal favour during the next reign. Her mother, Margery Wentworth, was descended from Edward III, so Jane was Henry VIII’s fifth cousin. The Seymours were a respectable family from Wolf Hall, near Marlborough in Wiltshire. They produced ten children, including Edward, Thomas and Jane (born c 1508).
A family priest, Father James, gave Jane basic lessons with her brothers. She learnt to read and sign her name, but she also acquired the necessary feminine skills including household management, needlework and cooking.
Jane began her career from as a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon.
Henry VIII sought a divorce from his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn. Jane transferred to Anne’s household in 1536 after Catherine’s banishment from court.
Henry also tired of his second wife, who also failed to produce an heir, so he turned his attentions towards Jane.
Her family coached Jane from the start to encourage the King’s interest whilst creating an impression she was a modest and virtuous gentlewoman. Her brother Edward and her sister-in-law Anne became chaperones to protect her reputation.
However, Jane accepted expensive gifts but she refused to accept money. She begged the King to remember she was a “gentlewoman of fair and honourable lineage without reproach”. Henry was not deterred by her rejection.
She was the complete opposite of Anne—a plain, submissive blonde of medium height, with a pure white complexion.
Anne was beheaded on false charges of adultery to make way for Henry’s third wife.
Henry and Jane were secretly betrothed at Hampton Court on 20 May, twenty-four hours after his wife’s execution.
Jane the Queen
Henry married Jane at Whitehall on 30 May. The King showed off his new bride during the Whitsun festivities in London. Henry believed he made the right choice. Jane was proclaimed Queen on 4 June at Greenwich.
The Seymour family benefited as Edward was created Viscount Beauchamp and Thomas was made a gentleman of the Privy Chamber.
Henry had every intention to crown his new queen. Jane’s coronation was postponed at least twice—after a severe outbreak of plague and the royal finances were so low he couldn’t afford another one.
She modelled her behaviour on Catherine of Aragon but her court was also splendid and decorous. She was strict regarding her ladies’ dress. No “French apparel” was permitted as they were reminders of Anne.
Jane was instrumental with reconciling Henry to his eldest daughter Mary and restored her rightful place in the succession, after she was declared a bastard.
Robert Aske led a rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, as northern subjects wanted their old religion back, including feast days; the monasteries’ restoration after the Dissolution; Mary declared the heir to the throne and all heretical bishops burnt to death.
Jane pleaded with her husband to restore the abbeys, but Henry told her not to meddle in his affairs.
The rebels were eventually defeated and their army disbanded. However, some started a new revolt. They were arrested, tried and condemned.
Henry VIII was not an ideal husband but his third marriage was a success. He rapidly became enormously fat and he was often irritable— with his daughter Mary’s refusal to admit her parents’ marriage was illegal, or recurring leg pain.
He genuinely loved Jane for herself, as he remained faithful, but he was convinced he loved her most of all his wives. Henry considered Jane his first lawful wife. Jane was equally contented with her new husband.
Jane led a relatively quiet life, once she was pregnant, with no public engagements. She had royal physicians and the best midwives attending her. The doctors were academics, experts in medicine, but none had practical experience delivering babies.
The Queen took to her chamber in September. Jane went into a prolonged and painful labour lasting three days and three nights. A healthy son, Edward, was born on 12 October 1537, around 2.00 am.
Henry wept when he held his son. He felt God had finally blessed his marriage with the much-desired heir.
Citizens celebrated with bonfires, free wine and beer.
Jane collapsed in a high fever three days after her son’s christening, and she received the last sacrament on 19 June.
She died from puerperal fever on 24 June 1537 caused by a bacterial infection.
Henry fled to Windsor after Jane’s death to grieve, leaving the Duke of Norfolk to organise her funeral.
Jane was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. She was the only one of Henry’s wives to receive a Queen’s burial. Henry was later interred beside her in 1547.
Fraser, Antonia, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1992 (Seventh Impression 1993)
Lacey, Robert, The Life and Times of Henry VIII, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1972
Plowden, Alison, Tudor Women: Queens & Commoners, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2002 (Reprinted 2007)
Starkey, David, Six Wives The Queens of Henry VIII, Vintage [Random House], London, 2004
Weir, Alison, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Pimlico, London, 1991 (Reprinted 1992)
© 2009 Carolyn Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 4 August 2009.