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Jane [née Jane Seymour]locked

(1508/9–1537)
  • Barrett L. Beer

Jane [Jane Seymour] (1508/99–1537)

by Hans Holbein the younger, 1536–7

Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Jane [née Jane Seymour] (1508/9–1537), queen of England, third consort of Henry VIII, was probably born at Wolf Hall, Wiltshire, the eldest daughter of ten children of Sir John Seymour (1476?–1536) of Wolf Hall, soldier and courtier, and Margery Wentworth (d. 1550), eldest daughter of Sir Henry Wentworth of Nettlestead, Suffolk.

Background and appearance at court

The Seymours were descended from Guy de St Maur, who is said to have accompanied William the Conqueror to England, although authenticated members of the family date only from the thirteenth century. Through the Wentworths, Jane claimed royal blood through descent from Edward III. She was one of ten children, of whom three sons and a daughter died unmarried. Her surviving siblings included Edward Seymour, later duke of Somerset (d. 1552); Henry (d. 1578); Thomas Seymour, who became Baron Seymour of Sudeley (d. 1549); Elizabeth, who married first Sir Anthony Ughtred, second, Gregory, son of Thomas Cromwell, earl of Essex, and third, William Paulet, first marquess of Winchester; and Dorothy, who married Sir Clement Smith.

Nothing is known of Jane's early life and education, but she was probably taught by her father's chaplain at Wolf Hall. While accounts of her beauty differ with the eye of the beholder, most contemporaries agree that she was above average in intelligence. The imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, described her as 'of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise' and added that she was inclined to be proud and haughty (LP Henry VIII, 10, no. 901). She first appeared at court about 1529 and served as a lady-in-waiting to both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII (1491–1547) honoured the Seymour family with a visit to Wolf Hall in September 1535. Although it has been suggested that this was the first meeting between the king and Jane, a letter from Chapuys dated 13 October 1534 refers to an unnamed young lady to whom the king was attached and says that her credit was increasing as that of Queen Anne declined. There is very little doubt that this was Jane. Chapuys adds that the lady in question had recently sent a message to Princess Mary telling her to take good heart because her tribulations would end very soon.

Courtship and marriage

On 10 February 1536 Chapuys reported that after Queen Anne's miscarriage in January 1536 Henry had sent 'great presents' to Jane, but he later reported that she refused a purse of money and a letter sent by him. On 1 April he recorded that Jane had fallen to her knees, begging a messenger to tell Henry:

to consider that she was a well-born damsel, the daughter of good and honourable parents, without blame or reproach of any kind; there was no treasure in this world that she valued as much as her honour, and on no account would she lose it, even if she were to die a thousand deaths. That if the king wished to make her a present of money, she requested him to reserve it for such a time as God would be pleased to send her some advantageous marriage.

CSP Spain, 1536–8, no. 84

Jane's response increased the king's affection for her, encouraging him to praise her virtue and promise to speak to her only in the presence of her family. Henry subsequently installed Jane's brother Edward, who was a gentleman of the privy chamber, and his second wife, Anne, in rooms vacated by Thomas Cromwell in Greenwich Palace so that he and Jane could meet more discreetly and conveniently. While Queen Anne was in the Tower awaiting trial, Jane stayed with Sir Nicholas Carew at Beddington, Surrey, and then at Hampton to be nearer the king.

Archbishop Cranmer issued a dispensation from prohibitions of affinity for Jane to marry Henry on 19 May (also the day of Anne's execution), because they were fifth cousins. The couple were betrothed the following day, and a private marriage took place on 30 May 1536 in the queen's closet at Whitehall. Coming as it did after the death of Queen Katherine and the execution of Queen Anne, there could be no doubt of the lawfulness of Henry's marriage to Jane. The new queen was introduced at court during Whitsuntide festivities and appeared before the Londoners in June when she accompanied Henry to the Mercers' Hall to watch the setting of the ceremonial city watch. No coronation followed the wedding, and plans for an autumn coronation were laid aside because of an outbreak of plague at Westminster; Jane's pregnancy undoubtedly eliminated any possibility of a later coronation.

Queenship

Henry VIII gave Jane not only jewellery but also a jointure of lands and lordships in several counties, including Suffolk Place, Southwark, as her London residence, in all valued at £938 6s. 3d. In July 1536 parliament inserted Jane's issue into a new Act of Succession (28 Hen. VIII c.7), which also provided for future wives and empowered the king to name his successor by either letters patent or by will.

Although Jane made no attempt to promote a faction, the Seymour family benefited from the marriage. Her brother Edward was created Viscount Beauchamp in 1536, earl of Hertford in 1537, and became a privy councillor on 22 May 1537. After his sister's marriage Thomas was made a gentleman of privy chamber and knighted in 1537. Both brothers received generous grants of land from the king. Jane's sister Elizabeth married Gregory, son and heir of Cromwell, who described the queen as the 'most virtuous and veriest gentlewoman that liveth' (LP Henry VIII, 11, no. 29). Jane promoted reconciliation between Henry and Princess Mary, but it was not achieved until after the marriage, when Mary (who was also under pressure from Cromwell, and indeed from Henry himself) made a complete submission to her father and in July 1536 met him for the first time in almost three years. Subsequently Jane befriended Mary as well as Elizabeth.

During the 1530s the Seymours were neither committed anti-papalists nor protestants. No surviving evidence shows that Jane patronized clerics of any persuasion, but Luther was informed that she was an enemy of the gospel, and her sympathy with Mary could suggest that she was conservative in religion. On the other hand, the reformer Miles Coverdale printed her initials at the head of the dedication across the name of Anne Boleyn in an edition of his English Bible. According to hearsay that has been widely quoted, Jane begged the king to save the abbeys during the Pilgrimage of Grace but was warned not to meddle in politics.

During her short reign, Jane enjoyed court life to the full. In July 1536 the royal couple travelled from London to Rochester, Canterbury, and Dover, where they met Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, and his wife, who had come from Calais. When Henry began the autumn hunting season, Jane joined him. She and the king rode in an elaborate procession through London in December accompanied by the nobility and the imperial ambassador. Streets along the route were colourfully hung with arras and cloth of gold. Jane suffered a great personal loss when her father died on 21 December, but there is no evidence that she went home for his funeral. She kept her only Christmas as queen with Henry at Greenwich with mirth and high celebration. Jane enjoyed a friendly relationship with Lord Lisle and his wife, a couple whose surviving letters illuminate social life of the early Tudor period. Lady Lisle sought preferment for her daughters at court, while her husband obtained plump quail for the queen at Calais, which his agent had roasted for presentation. The duke of Norfolk sought her favour with a generous gift of gold taken from a dissolved monastery. As her pregnancy progressed, Jane developed a craving for cucumbers, which were provided by Princess Mary.

Childbearing and death

The queen's pregnancy was made known in February 1537, and news of the quickening of her child was celebrated on Trinity Sunday (27 May). On 16 September Jane officially withdrew from court life to her chamber at Hampton Court to await the birth of the baby. An uneventful pregnancy was followed by a difficult labour that lasted two days and three nights, after which she gave birth to a healthy son at about 2 a.m. on 12 October. The king joined Jane on the evening following the child's birth. The infant's name, Edward, was chosen because of his birth on the eve of the feast of the translation of St Edward the Confessor. During the reign of Elizabeth the Roman Catholic historian Nicholas Sander popularized the story of Edward's caesarean birth, a fabrication that survived into the twentieth century. Sixteenth-century women were unlikely to survive caesarean delivery, whereas Jane not only survived but initially appeared to be making a normal recovery.

Prince Edward was baptized in the royal chapel at Hampton Court on 15 October. Queen Jane received guests seated in the antechamber of the chapel, but according to protocol neither she nor Henry attended the actual ceremony. The godfathers were Archbishop Cranmer and the duke of Norfolk while Princess Mary was godmother. The queen's brother Edward carried the four-year-old Princess Elizabeth, the infant's other half-sister, to the baptism. Although attendance was restricted, 300 guests were present. On 18 October Edward was proclaimed prince of Wales, duke of Cornwall, and earl of Carnarvon.

Queen Jane received the last rites of the church two days after the christening. A rally gave false hope of her recovery, but the king cancelled a hunting trip to Esher. On 24 October the queen's life was in danger and her almoner, Robert Aldrich, bishop of Carlisle, administered extreme unction and notified the king. Most historians have assumed that she developed puerperal fever, something for which there was no effective treatment, though at the time the queen's attendants were blamed for allowing her to eat unsuitable food and to take cold. An alternative medical opinion suggests that Jane died because of retention of parts of the placenta in her uterus. That condition could have led to a catastrophic haemorrhage several days after delivery of the child. What is certain is that septicaemia developed, and she became delirious. After being queen for less than eighteen months Jane died just before midnight on 24 October, aged twenty-eight. It is not known whether Henry was at her side when she died, but he was at Hampton Court. The grief-stricken king writing to the king of France told how 'Divine Providence has mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness' (LP Henry VIII, 12/2, no. 972). As many as 1200 masses were said for Jane in the city of London alone.

Memorials and images

Queen Jane was the first English queen to die in 'good estate' since the death of Henry VII's consort Elizabeth of York in 1503. Burial required an elaborate ritual in which the queen's body was purged and then eviscerated and embalmed. Encased in lead and sealed in a wooden coffin, the corpse remained in the presence chamber at Hampton Court until 31 October. Throughout this period a vigil was maintained by ladies and gentlemen of the household. On 1 November, All Saints' day, the bier on which the coffin rested was carried by torchlight to the chapel where a new watch was mounted. The funeral procession set off for burial at Windsor on 12 November. She was interred in St George's Chapel on the following day. Since by tradition the king did not appear, Jane's chief mourner was Princess Mary. The period of mourning at court extended until Christmas, and Henry did not cease wearing black until 2 February 1538. The king planned a great monument in Jane's memory, but it was never built. Her image is, however, preserved in a number of paintings, including a sketch and a finished portrait by Holbein.

Jane's motto, 'Bound to obey and serve', which in its submissive tone resembled the mottoes of Elizabeth of York and Katherine of Aragon, sheds light on her personality and consequent success as queen. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Jane was docile, represented no ideology, led no court faction, and conspicuously deferred to the king in public, although she was the unchallenged mistress behind the closed door of her household. Jane further separated herself from Anne both in her style of dress, by rejecting the French hood, and in favouring other more traditional English usages. Perhaps Jane's greatest strength lay in what one historian called her 'good-natured imperturbability' (Loades, 95). She left posterity an indelible impression of perfection and was remembered by Henry as the wife with whom he had been uniquely happy. When Henry died in 1547 he was buried with Jane at Windsor.

Sources

  • P. M. Gross, Jane, the quene: third consort of King Henry VIII (1999)
  • D. Loades, Henry VIII and his queens (1997)
  • A. Fraser, The wives of Henry VIII (1992)
  • W. Seymour, Ordeal by ambition: an English family in the shadow of the Tudors (1972)
  • LP Henry VIII, vols. 7–13
  • CSP Spain, 1534–8
  • GEC, Peerage, new edn, 12/1.59–65
  • E. W. Ives, Anne Boleyn (1986)
  • J. Loach, Edward VI, ed. G. Bernard and P. Williams (1999)
  • J. J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII (1968)
  • R. Michell, The Carews of Beddington (1981)
  • N. Sander, The rise and progress of the English Reformation (1827)
  • M. St C. Byrne, ed., The Lisle letters, 6 vols. (1981)

Likenesses

  • H. Holbein the younger, oils, 1536–7, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna [see illus.]
  • portrait, 1545 (The family of Henry VIII), Royal Collection
  • N. Hilliard, miniature (after H. Holbein the younger), Royal Collection
  • H. Holbein, chalk sketch, Royal Collection
  • H. Holbein the younger, oils, Mauritshuis, The Hague; repro. in Scarisbrick, Henry VIII
  • Hornebolte, miniature
  • Van Leemput, group portrait, Royal Collection; repro. in Gross, Jane

Wealth at Death

£938 6s. 3d.: Gross, Jane

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