THE WIVES OF HENRY VIII: Jane Seymour
An article by Lauren Leonard
She lived a life of innocence as the daughter of a respected courtier, so much so that she was able to serve two Queens of England. Little did she know that when the king was in desperation trying to get rid of his second wife, his eyes would set on her, and she would become the next woman to wear a crown.
Jane Seymour is considered by many the wife that Henry VIII loved most. It was true that many said she had a charming personality, but she had the strict, regal air that was required of a Queen of England. She was as different as different could be from her predecessor, Anne Boleyn, who had such a whirlwind life she lost her head for it, and you could say that Jane was much more suited for a royal role than Anne, who lived her best when she was the famous mistress of Henry VIII. Jane’s proper morals, her love, and her respect put the icing on the cake when she gave birth to the boy Henry had wanted for over two decades. Unfortunately, Jane died less than two weeks later from puerperal fever, and some say that she could have been Henry’s wife for the rest of his life if she had not died. Moreover, Jane Seymour had all that Henry had ever wanted, and when he lost her, he was never the same.
Jane’s birth was probably in 1508, and she was the daughter of Sir John Seymour of Wiltshire and his wife, Margery Wentworth. Jane was a fifth cousin three times removed to Henry VIII, and a second cousin to Anne Boleyn. She did have a very good education, especially in comparison to Henry’s two previous wives. Not much at all is known about her early life, but sometime in 1527, during the last years of Catherine of Aragon’s marriage, Jane came to court to be Catherine’s maid-of-honor. Unlike Henry’s flamboyant relationship with Anne Boleyn, Jane was never a talked-about mistress, and was a very respectful lady-in-waiting during her years with Catherine. Jane probably had absolutely no involvement in the annulment between Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, since it is known that Henry VIII had no interest in her at that time.
When Catherine was banished in 1531, and Anne and Henry were married in 1533, Jane became a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne as well. She was apparently of Anne’s favorites before Henry VIII took an interest in her. Although I believe that Henry might have begun to love Jane in 1534 or 1535, the first proof of Henry’s interest in her was on January 29, 1536, when Henry wrote a letter to one of his friends, Ambassador Chapuys, calling Jane “a new love.” This was also around the time that Anne Boleyn suffered a miscarriage of a child that was presumed to be a boy. Henry was once again letting his infatuation ruin the life of his current wife. Surely, Anne must have felt a deep resentment to Jane, as well as the fact that it was no secret that the Boleyns and the Seymours were political rivals at the time.
Henry VIII began to make plans to get rid of Anne and marry Jane in her place. We do not know the feelings Jane had about the false charges of adultery against Anne. All we know about Jane’s thoughts was that she and Henry were engaged to be married before Anne was to be beheaded for adultery and high treason, and that she was not as innocent as she appeared, because she had even flirted with Henry while his wife was in the middle of her pregnancy. Eleven days after Anne Boleyn’s execution, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour were married on May 30, 1536.
As the next Tudor wife, Jane could be described as a much better queen than Anne Boleyn. She had a strict and formal role, but her personality was anything but. She was described by her stepchild, Mary (the daughter of Catherine of Aragon) in a happy and positive light. This made sense, because during her reign as Queen of England, she helped Henry reconcile with his two illegitimate daughters, Mary and Elizabeth (daughter of Anne Boleyn and was declared illegitimate shortly before her mother’s execution), during 1536. In fact, Mary’s social standing was transformed into the unimportant nuisance of a Spanish princess into a beautiful and young socialite again, and her father’s favor of her drastically rose. This made Mary probably love her second stepmother a great deal more than her first.
Jane’s life as Queen was mostly eneventful until she became pregnant by Henry in 1537. On October 12, 1537, Jane gave birth to the boy Henry had always dreamed of, perfectly healthy and radiant. However, Jane contracted a puerperal fever several days after the birth and by the next week was expected not to live. On October 24, 1537, Jane Seymour died to the grief of her husband and his daughters. She was buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Palace, and she is known for being the only one of Henry’s wives to receive the funeral due for a Queen.
Jane, like Anne Boleyn, is portrayed in so many different ways. She could be the horrible woman who stole Henry away from the only wife he ever loved (this would be the perspective of those who thought Anne was a mourned martyr for her inability to have a child), or she could be the beautiful and comfortable girl who restored Henry’s daughters and gave him the greatest desire of his life. Whatever you think of Jane, she was perhaps Henry’s true queen, and maybe even the only wife he ever loved.