Described as being a young woman “of the utmost charm” and “the fairest of all the king’s wives”; she had a “gentle and peaceful” nature and was skilled at household management and needlework – attributes greatly admired in a wife.
The new royal couple married in 1536, following the collapse of Henry’s second marriage to Anne Boleyn. However, their wedded bliss was short-lived, as tragedy struck when Jane died at the age of just 28, soon after the birth of their only son, Edward.
When Henry VIII met Jane Seymour, he was married to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon. Born in 1509, Jane had been maid-of-honour to Queen Katherine in 1532, after serving in her entourage since 1527. Later, she was promoted to lady-in-waiting to Katherine and held the same post with Anne Boleyn after the king’s first marriage was annulled.
Anne had been crowned Queen of England on 1st June 1533. However, her marriage to Henry VIII didn’t last long, as she was unable to bear him a son. As a member of the royal court, Jane had some powerful connections in her own right.
Her father, Sir John Seymour, was a member of a prominent English gentry family and was a Knight Banneret – a lofty position in the military. He was also a Justice of the Peace and a Knight of the Body – an Esquire who had been knighted.
Jane’s mother, Margery Wentworth, was also born into a regal English family and was a direct descendant of King Edward III. This royal connection was one reason why Henry VIII felt Jane was a suitable wife, as they were actually fifth cousins.
It is possible Henry had felt attracted to Jane even when he was married to Katherine. However, it was during his marriage to Anne that he made his feelings for Jane known. It was rumoured Anne was aware of Henry’s feelings for her lady-in-waiting and was concerned.
Marriage or nothing
In around 1535, the king visited Sir John Seymour at Wolf Hall and began to woo Jane, but she refused to become his mistress. The king was well-known for having had many mistresses throughout his marriages, but she was determined not to become one of them.
He even offered Jane a purse of gold, but her determination that it would be marriage or nothing was instrumental in Anne Boleyn’s downfall. Jane told Henry she had “no greater riches in the world than her honour”. He was touched by her virtue and met her only with a chaperone after this declaration to respect her wishes.
Soon afterwards, he had Anne arrested and found guilty of high treason, adultery and plotting to kill the king. Today, historians label the charges “unconvincing”. However, Anne was sentenced to death and executed on 19th May 1536. This left Henry free to marry Jane on 30th May 1536.
Did the public like Jane Seymour?
There has been much debate on the public perception of Jane Seymour and whether she was well-liked. There was gossip that Henry had cruelly disposed of his second wife on false charges just to marry Jane, although Anne had never been particularly popular having been blamed for the unceremonious removal of the much-loved Queen Katherine. It was rumoured that the king had given Jane riverside lodgings a mile away from the royal court.
Gossip abounded that as soon as Henry heard Anne had been executed, he went by barge to Jane’s home, riverside lodgings he was rumoured to have provided for her, located just a mile away from court, to share the news with her in person. They were married privately a couple of weeks later. Among the wedding gifts, he gave her a number of manors spread over four counties and also several forests.
There are no reports of public outcry against the new queen. Nor was there any open opposition in the royal court or among the English hierarchy. Jane was said to be an extremely likeable person, who managed to win the public over.
How did Jane make Henry happy?
Henry and Jane seemed very happy together and she exerted considerable influence over the king. She managed to restore Mary (Henry’s daughter with Katherine of Aragon) to favour in the royal court. While her motto was “bound to obey and serve”, historians suggest Jane was far less meek than she pretended.
She held conservative religious beliefs and was astute enough to realise that without a son, she was as vulnerable as Henry’s first two wives had been. Her pregnancy was announced in March 1537 and Henry became devoted to his wife.
A devoted husband, he stayed by her side and ordered her the finest quails from Calais when she fancied them. The future Edward VI was born on 12th October 1537 and it seemed the royal family was complete.
However, to Henry’s genuine sorrow, Jane fell seriously ill after a difficult labour that had lasted two days. She died 12 days later and received a royal funeral at Windsor.
How did Jane’s death affect the royal family?
The fact that Jane had given Henry a son put her above his other wives. Described as a gentle influence over the king (the complete opposite of her predecessor Anne), he had found some calm with her.
Henry was consumed with sorrow after Jane’s death. In a letter, the Duke of Norfolk described the king as being “in great heaviness”. He had stayed by his wife’s bedside during her illness until she died. After her funeral, he shut himself away at Windsor Castle, refusing to see anyone, even his ministers.
Although Henry went on to marry three more times, he requested that when he died, he should be buried next to Jane, the mother of his son. His health declined significantly after Jane’s death. Once a great sportsman, he had suffered a leg injury whilst married to Anne Boleyn which had left him considerably less active and which continued to plague him for the rest of his life. By 1540, he had gained 17 inches around the waist.
When Henry VIII died in 1547, his final resting place was next to Jane in St George’s chapel, Windsor. Their child succeeded as Edward VI, but died, tragically, at the age of 15. He was said to have a severe fever and cough that doctors today have suggested was probably bronchial pneumonia.
Whether their story was a royal romance, or a tragedy, the first meeting between Henry VIII and Jane Seymour helped shape Britain’s future.
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