Key Facts & Summary
- Jane Seymour is considered to be Henry VIII’s true love: in fact, before dying, he had chosen to be buried right next to her.
- Jane was the only one out of the king’s six wives to bear him a son, the future Edward VI.
- She is described as a kind-hearted and humble woman.
- Jane died prematurely, after giving birth to her son due to puerperal fever. She was buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Jane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII and the only one to provide him with what he most desired: a male heir, the future king Edward VI.
Jane was born around 1509, and was the daughter of the wealthy Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. Moreover, she descended from Edward III and owned one-hundred manors across nineteen counties as well as five castles.
The future queen of England did not receive a great education: in fact she could only write her own name. Rather, she was more versed in activities relating to the household such as music, needlework, and other ‘traditional feminine accomplishments’ (Ridgway 2011; citing Norton). According to Eustace Chapuys (one of Anne Boleyn’s enemies), Anne Boleyn was ‘not a woman of great wit, but [had] good understanding’ (Ridgway 2011). Therefore, although she was uneducated she was not unintelligent.
Jane Seymour was the lady-in-waiting of Catherine of Aragon, and of Anne Boleyn, therefore, she must have been very aware of the tumultuous relationships of the king. Whereas his previous wives had a strong personality and were outspoken, Jane, on the other hand, was timid and shy. According to some, exactly such qualities attracted the king to her. Eustace Chapuys describes her as a woman ‘of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise’ (Ridgway 2011; citing LP), and according to Weir, ‘it was not Jane’s face that had attracted the King so much as the fact that she was Anne Boleyn’s opposite in every way. Jane showed herself entirely subservient to Henry’s will; where Anne had, in the King’s view, been a wanton, Jane had shown herself to be inviolably chaste. And where Anne had been ruthless, he believed Jane to be naturally compassionate. He would in years to come remember her as the fairest, the most discreet, and the most meritorious of all his wives’ (Ridgway 2011; citing Weir).
It is speculated that Henry VIII started being attracted to Seymour after Anne Boleyn’s second miscarriage.
In fact, when Queen Anne noticed Jane wearing a beautiful ‘jewel’ on her neck, Anne attempted to look at it, yet, Jane ‘blushed and drew back’ (Lancelott 1858). However, the suspicious, jealous queen abruptly grabbed her necklace and upon examination, she discovered that ‘it contained a miniature of the king’ (Lancelott 1858). Moreover, Anne Boleyn had already surprised Jane sitting on Henry’s lap ‘receiving his caresses with complacency’ only ten days after Katherine of Aragon had been buried (Lancelott 1858).
However, Anne Boleyn was eventually executed on the grounds of ‘adultery, incest, and plotting to kill the king’ (Pettinger 2017), he married Jane only after eleven days. However, Jane did not receive a grandiose crowning celebration: in fact, both the plague that was afflicting London and her pregnancy did not allow time for the ceremony. Jane’s crowning never happened since she died soon after giving birth.
In May 1537, the consorts announced Seymour’s pregnancy, and Jane gave light to Edward VI on October 12, 1537. Whilst giving birth, the queen’s physicians reported that she was enduring ‘severe’ and lengthy pain: when the doctors warned Henry about Jane’s precarious conditions, they asked the king whether he would rather save his wife or the child, to which Henry VIII replied ‘if you cannot save both, at least let the child live, for other wives are easily found’ (Lancelott 1858).
The birth of Edward VI and Jane’s death
Henry’s first and only male heir was born at Hampton Court Palace. When Edward was christened three days alter. Notwithstanding her weak her health and lack of physical strength, the queen was forced to attend her newborn’s christening.
Edward’s christening took place at midnight in the presence of Sir John Russell, Sir Francis Bryan, Sir Nicholas Carew, Sir Anthony Brown, the Queen’s brothers, Princess Elizabeth, Anne Boleyn’s father, the Duke of Suffolk, Princess Mary, the Duke of Norfolk, and the Archbishop Thomas Cranmer (Lancelott 1858). A great festive atmosphere populated the court, with processions, ‘trumpets and other musical instruments’ (Lancelott 1858). On of the observers claims that ’when they reached the Queen’s chamber, the door was thrown open, and the nobles entered; but the trumpet and the horns remained outside, where they made such a loud and goodly noise that the life thereof I have never heard’ (Lancelott 1858).
The long ceremony took several hours, and, as a ‘consequence of all the noise and excitement’, Jane’s unhealthy condition grew worse each day, until she died of puerperal fever (i.e. a uterine infection) only nine days later following her childbirth.
At her death, she was buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.
When Jane died, Henry endured a period of profound sadness: in fact, the loss of the queen ‘was felt by none in the realm more heavily than by the King’s majesty himself, who retired to Windsor, where he moaned and kept himself alone and secret a great while’ (Lancelott 1858). Moreover, Henry wore black until 1538, and did not marry for two years.
Although Henry remarried, he always considered Jane as his ‘true wife’ and ordered to be buried next to her in St. George’s Chapel at his death.
Jane Seymour’s Personality
According to historian Antonia Fraser, Jane was ‘naturally sweet-natured’ and rather submissive in her personality (Ridgway 2011). In fact, whereas Catherine of Aragon had a fiery personality, Jane was admired for her ‘virtue and common good sense’, in essence, she ‘was exactly the kind of female praised by the contemporary handbooks to correct conduct; just as Anne Boleyn had been the sort they warned against’ (Ridgway 2011; citing Fraser). Her personality was soothing and knew how to calm the king down when he lost his temper or became moody. Although she is described as being mild, she was able to stand up for herself, impose strict rules within the home, and speak her mind when she thought it was appropriate.
Moreover, although she lived in a scandalous court, when Jane married Henry VIII she was still a virgin.
Also the king was struck by her kindness, and in a letter that Sir John Russell wrote to Lord Lisle in June 1536, he states: ‘The King came in his great boat to Greenwich that day with his privy chamber, and the Queen and the ladies in the great barge. I assure you she is as gentle a lady as ever I knew, and as fair a Queen as any in Christendom. The King hath come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness in this and the cursedness and the unhappiness in the other. You would do well to write to the King again that you rejoice he is so well matched with so gracious a woman as is reported’ (Ridgway 2011; citing LP).
Jane was well regarded by everyone and was considered genuinely humble and kind-hearted.
Jane’s Religious Beliefs
Whilst Edward and Thomas Seymour (Jane’s brothers) were Protestants, the queen was a conservative Catholic. Some sources claim that -since she was worries for the fate of Catholicism in England – she encouraged Henry VIII to become closer to his Catholic daughter Mary and make her his heir to the throne. In fact, in a letter to Charles V, Chapuys wrote: ‘I hear that, even before the arrest of the Concubine, The King, speaking with mistress Jane [Seymour] of their future marriage, the latter suggested that the Princess should be replaced in her former position; and the King told her she was a fool, and ought to solicit the advancement of the children they would have between them, and not any others. She replied that in asking for the restoration of the Princess she conceived she was seeking the rest and tranquillity of the King, herself, her future children, and for the whole realm for without that, neither your Majesty nor his people would ever be content’ (Ridgway 2011; citing LP).
[1.] Lancelott, F. (1858). Jane Seymour. In: The Queens of England and their Times. Vol. I. New York: D. Appleton and Co.
[2.] Pettinger, T. (2017). Biography of Anne Boleyn. [online] Available from: https://www.biographyonline.net/women/anne-boleyn-biography.html
[3.] Ridgway, C. (2011). Jane Seymour: The Meek and Mild One? The Anne Boleyn Files.