The Life of Jane Seymour – Third Wife of Henry VIII

Described by Polydore Vergil as “A woman of the utmost charm both in appearance and character” and Sir John Russell as, “the fairest of all his wives”. Eustace Chapuys described Jane as “of middle stature and no great beauty”.

Jane was of a natural sweet-nature, unlike her predecessor Anne Boleyn and had also been considered virtuous.

Before you continue reading, if you’d prefer, you can listen to a supplemental podcast I made about Jane with the help of Matthew Lewis:

Jane Seymour – Third Wife of Henry VIII

As you may or may not recall, Jane Seymour was at the very bottom of my list of Tudor queens – she has just always seemed so boring to me. To my surprise, while researching this article, I began to uncover a woman who was a bit more interesting than I initially suspected.

Jane’s Family Tree

We know her best as the third wife of Henry VIII but Jane Seymour, through her mother, was descended from King Edward III through his great-granddaughter, Elizabeth Mortimer, Lady Hotspur.

Jane’s father, Sir John Seymour was descended from of a man who travelled with William the Conqueror to England by the surname of St. Maur – and eventually that name transformed into the Seymour name we know today.

John Seymour, was a close companion of King Henry VIII and had been knighted in the field of battle by his predecessor, King Henry VII at the Battle of Blackhearth.

Portrait of Sir John Seymour by unknown artist.

John and Margery Seymour had ten children in all. Their eldest, John, was (as the oldest son) expected to do great things, but when he died years later his parents were devastated. Next there was Edward, who then claimed the prized position of eldest son, then Henry who was okay with a simpler life outside of court, followed by Thomas, another John (d. 20 July 1520), Anthony (d. young), then Jane, Elizabeth, Margery (d. young) and Dorothy. This order of children does not seem correct to me because it has always been noted that Jane and Thomas were close in age. If there were two siblings in between that would not be the case. Author Antonia Fraser gives a better account, from her 1992 book called “The Wives of Henry VIII”: John, Edward, Henry, Thomas, Jane, Elizabeth, Dorothy, Margery, Anthony and John. With no real evidence of who was older, Anthony or Margery – yet we do know the youngest three children (in this instance) all died young.

Jane, Thomas, Edward and Elizabeth Seymour. The surviving Seymour siblings minus Henry and Dorothy.

The Early Years

Author Elizabeth Norton says that Jane was too young to remember when her older brother died – I strongly disagree with that statement since she would have been about eleven years old at the time – a good age for recalling the death of an older sibling. Jane also lost her youngest siblings Anthony, Margery and John. Anthony and Margery are believed to have died young from the Sweating Sickness – the very reason why Jane was especially fearful of catching it herself in later years – because she had seen what it had done to her brother and sister.

In Jane’s early years she was witness (at about age four or five) to her father leaving Wolf Hall to fight at the Sieges of Thérouanne and Tornay in France. Around that same, the Battle of Flodden was taking place in the North of England – led by Queen Katherine as regent. One must wonder if Jane understood what was happening around her at this time and if she worried for her father’s safety from the security of her family home at Wolf Hall in Wiltshire.

Author Amy Aubrey Locke of The Seymour Family said that Jane Seymour probably had a quiet, humdrum childhood. That Jane spent little time with books but much at needlework. Some of her childhood needlework was still in existence up to 1652. What we do know about her education is that Jane was literate in English and that she did not learn Latin, which was the gateway to further learning.

Jane most likely shared a classroom with her brother Thomas since they were so close in age. As we’ve learned recently, Thomas had no interest in learning and it makes one wonder if that motivated Jane to be a better student. We also know that Jane enjoyed the outdoors – this was a very important part of her education as a country gentlewoman. Jane became an expert horsewoman and hunting was one of her favorite outdoor sports.

Nineteenth century author, Agnes Strickland believed Jane Seymour was educated at French court, as a maid to the English princess, Mary Tudor when she married King Louis XII of France in 1514. While there is no definitive proof of this, Strickland claimed that there was a portrait of a girl at the Louvre that she believed was Jane Seymour. I’m skeptical of this information since Jane would have been only five or six years old at the time and that seems very young to be a maid in any household, let alone the household of a queen in France.

Old Enough to be Married

Between John, his wife Margery and their son Edward, their connections at Tudor court ran deep – Edward had been spending much time at court and knew well who could help him find his sister a position at court. Once she arrived at court this would open a world of marriage prospects for the single Jane.

What is not doubted is that in 1529, before Katherine of Aragon lost the title of queen, Jane served in her household as a lady-in-waiting. It is likely that Jane was in the household of a notable lady prior to that of the queen since, as author David Loades states, a position like that “could scarcely have happened except from an established position within the court”.�

Jane Seymour arrived at court when she was eighteen or nineteen, but at what capacity is still unknown.

Some believe that Sir Francis Bryan, a distant cousin, had a hand in her placement in the household of Queen Katherine, as well as that of Queen Anne.

History says that at one time Jane was attached to the son of Sir Robert and Lady Dormer – a neighbor of Wolf Hall. Unfortunately, it is believed that Jane was of too modest of rank to marry a Dormer.

Author Janet Wertman of Jane the Quene said in an interview once that she believed Jane was desperate to marry and resentful of her siblings. It’s interesting when you see that Jane was 27 when she married, nearly a decade older than most women and both of her younger sisters had acquired marriages before her.

It says a lot that her younger sister Elizabeth married sometime before 1530 – most likely an indicator that Jane wasn’t perceived as a great catch – that her sister’s beauty was much greater. Being that John Seymour had so many children and three daughters to marry off this left very little in the way of a dowry for any marriage, yet with that being said Elizabeth married Sir Anthony Ughtred – of the prominent Ughtred family.

While in the household of Queen Katherine, Jane would have been expected to go to mass often and work on needlework, but she would not have been expected to have learned discussion. The most important role at court for Jane would have been that of a woman looking for a husband – in this, Jane was not versed in courtly flirtation. The modus operandi of single ladies at court, or in the household of the queen, was to play hard to get. Be unavailable. This was a skill that came naturally to Jane and may have been one of the reasons why she was still single in her 20s.

Jane Joins the Household of Anne Boleyn

Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn in secret around the beginning of 1533; That summer Henry redesignated Katherine of Aragon as dowager Princess of Wales and her household was reorganized. Jane was one of the ladies who had been removed from the household since she was suspected of sharing similar religious views with Katherine. From there she was sent to the household of the new queen, Anne Boleyn.

Jane Seymour and an older Anne Boleyn

By August of that year, Anne, heavily pregnant with her daughter Elizabeth, took to her Chamber at Greenwich Palace. Jane and the other ladies would have been there to tend to the Queen’s needs. Their duties, since men were not allowed in the Queen’s rooms during a lady’s lying-in, were to guard the door, wait tables and routine work such as lighting fires and keeping the place clean. The Queen’s ladies would have slept on pallet beds in the Queen’s Bedchamber in case something happened during the night, but once the big day grew closer it was the royal midwife who slept near the Queen in their place.

Princess Elizabeth was born on the 7th of September 1533 and the birth was reported as easy. Jane’s duties at this point would have been to bring water and wine when Anne was in need of them. Both the King and Queen were disappointed in the arrival of a daughter but were confident that sons would follow.

The tide began to turn for Queen Anne after her miscarriage in July or August 1534. Those who were against the marriage from the start used this to fuel their ambitions to have Anne removed.

Things Were About to Change

In the summer of 1535, King Henry and Queen Anne embarked on their annual progress across England. One of their stops along the way was the home of John Seymour – Wolf Hall, on the 4th of September.

Stops along their progress were generally chosen due to size and convenience, but it’s also possible that the king wished to visit the home of the woman he fancied – Jane Seymour. In addition, the King enjoyed the company of John Seymour, her father. At the moment Anne Boleyn was still safely secure on her throne and Katherine of Aragon was still alive – so Henry would not have been thinking about marrying since he would have had plenty of wives to go around.

So much is unknown about that visit to Wolf Hall, especially if Jane was present. As a member of the Queen’s household, surely Jane would have been there…or would she? We do not know how the entourage for the progress was constructed since there is no documentation of it. Author David Loades states that it is just as likely that Jane stayed behind in London. No matter where she was Jane’s whereabouts in the summer of 1535 are unknown.

January of 1536 saw much change in England; On the 7th of January Katherine of Aragon died at Kimboltan Castle. Two days later, dressed in yellow, Henry and Anne triumphantly paraded to mass with their daughter Elizabeth. It is believed that the color yellow was the color of celebration. The couple wore the color to celebrate the death of the former queen…this is a subject that has been heavily debated.

At the time, Queen Anne was pregnant again and had good reason to be concerned with the sex of the child. If this child proved to be a girl, or if she miscarried, all would be lost. She understood that the tide had turned and many wished her removed as queen.

Because of the death of his first wife and pregnancy of his second wife, King Henry decided to stage a tournament. He was forty-four years old at the time and chose to participate in the jousting events, even though he hadn’t jousted in several years. It was on the 24th of January 1536, seventeen days after his first wife died that King Henry fell in the tiltyard during a joust. The King lay motionless for two hours and some thought all hope was lost.

It had been reported that Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk burst into the Queen’s chambers to tell his niece the King was dead. Anne Boleyn was visibly upset – she was pregnant with the King’s child but without the King she had no protection from those who wished her harm. Henry recovered from his fall and five days later Anne suffered a miscarriage of a male fetus.

Showtime’s “The Tudors” – Jane Seymour on Henry VIII’s lap. Photo: Jonathan Hession/Showtime

There was another story, told by Jane Dormer (a woman who served Queen Mary), that Anne had walked in on Jane Seymour sitting on the King’s knee and that is what caused her to miscarry the child. This tale is completely fabricated – this can be proven by the fact that Dormer was born in 1538 – two years after the events occurred. Jane Dormer claimed that she heard the story from one of Anne’s ladies, in old age, whose memory may not have been so good after so many years had passed.

The Rise of Jane Seymour

After this final miscarriage the door was left open for her enemies to hatch plans to have her removed. Some may have been planning this already and were interrupted when Queen Anne became pregnant again. It was clear to many that God did not smile upon the marriage as Anne could not provide the King with a son.

Even Cromwell and Chapuys had discussed the topic of Anne being replaced by another – quite a leap if you consider the two men were on opposite ends of the religion spectrum. It also appears that Chapuys was aware of Jane Seymour being a lady of interest to become wife number three. Shortly after that conversation it was reported by that Chapuys received a letter from the Marquess of Exeter and his wife Gertrude that said the lady had rejected a royal gift by the king.

After Jane had refused the gift from King Henry word spread quickly about the King’s interest in her. When he found out, Henry informed Jane not to pay attention to the rumors.

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger

Not long after, in March 1536, while the King was at Westminster and Jane at Greenwich the King sent her yet another gift – to which Jane fell to her knees and kissed the royal missive telling the messenger that she was “a gentlewoman of fair and honurable lineage without reproach”. Saying she had “nothing in the world but her honour, which she would not wound for a thousand deaths”. It was those words that made Henry realize that any time he was in the presence Jane that it should be done in front of family…to witness them. He wanted to make sure he did things right this time.

Eventually Jane had accepted a gift from the King, and Anne Boleyn had noticed something around her attendants neck. She asked her lady if she could look at her new necklace and Jane, knowing Anne would be livid if she saw, drew back. The Queen then snatched it from Jane and opened it to find a portrait of the King. You can about imagine the scene in your head.

In mid-April 1536, Edward and Anne Seymour moved into the apartments at Greenwich which previously had belonged to Thomas Cromwell. The fact that Cromwell was willing to give up his apartments to Jane shows that he had decided to join the charge against Anne. A secret passage joined the two chambers (Henry and Jane’s), so Henry could visit Jane without anyone noticing.

During the trial of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour was noticeably absent from court. She spent time in the household of the King’s favorite, Sir Nicholas Carew “in almost regal splendour” – the Carew home was only seven miles from London. On the 15th of May it was noted that she was in a house looking onto the river within a mile of Whitehall. It was at this location that Sir Francis Bryan kept Jane in the loop. Jane’s reaction to Bryan telling her of Anne’s execution had not been noted.

The question remains – did Jane believe Anne to be guilty of the charges against her? At the time, when Jane caught the King’s eye, Anne was already in disfavor with Cromwell and a majority of English subjects had blamed her for the lack of papal authority in England.

On the 18th of May the Imperial Ambassador wrote to Cardinal Granvelle of Jane Seymour, saying:

“She is sister to Sir Edward Seymour, of middle stature and no great beauty…shis is over twenty-five years old and has long frequented the court…she is not a woman of great wit, but may be of good understanding. It is said that she is included to be proud and haughty, and has a good affection towards the Princess�”�Chapuys was, of course, referring to Mary.

On the 19th of May, the day Anne Boleyn was executed, Cranmer issued a dispensation for Henry and Jane to marry �although within the third degree of affinity�. What that affinity is is unknown but one can assume that the King was just covering his bases to make sure this marriage, his third, was completely valid.

Jane the Quene

The day after the execution of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour traveled to Hampton Court Palace and was secretly betrothed to Henry VIII. The King’s swift action was “ill taken” by many people seeing it as a marriage that was planned prior to the trial and execution of Anne Boleyn. Henry, aware of this, attempted to keep the betrothal secret for some time but it was a matter of hours and word had spread all over court.

When we think of Jane Seymour it is usually of that of a woman who was a pawn for her family…a sweet and kind lady who tried to bring Mary back into the King’s good graces…but what about a woman who knew that her placement on the throne would be at the cost of another’s life? What about that woman? There was a side of Jane Seymour that we don’t hear about…the side that was willing to take part in the events that placed her on the throne next to King Henry VIII. Think about that for a moment.

After the not so secret betrothal, some believe that Jane, and possibly Henry, went to her family home in Wiltshire – Wolf Hall.

On the 30th of May 1536, Henry and Jane married at Whitehall in the Queen’s Closet.

Wedding of Jane & Henry on Showtime’s, “The Tudors”

Henry’s personal wedding gift to Jane was a gold cup designed by Hans Holbein and engraved with their initials entwined with a love knot. Jane’s motto appeared three times on the cup. “Bound to obey and serve”.

Drawing of the cup Hans Holbein the Younger Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford
On the 1st of June 1536, Henry and Jane traveled by barge to Greenwich.

Only a week after the wedding King Henry was already talking about the  “prince hoped for in due season”. Henry was optimistic that soon he would have that legitimate male heir he longed for and lost two wives over.

June 1536

A lot happened at the beginning of June:

On the 2nd of June, Jane was shown to the court as Queen.

On the 3rd of June, Sir John Ruseell wrote a letter to Lord Lisle that said this about the new queen:

I assure you she is as gentle a lady as ever I knew, and as fair a Queen as any in Christendom. The King has come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness of this and the cursedness and unhappiness of the other…

Then, on the 4th of June, she was proclaimed Queen of England at Greenwich.

On the 5th, her brother Edward was created Viscount Beauchamp.

On the 7th of June the royal couple traveled by barge from Greenwich to Whitehall. As they rode down the Thames there was much fanfare – “every ship shot guns”  and Chapuys sent his trumpeters and musicians to float around the barge to play music for the newlyweds.

 

The Tower of London at this time was draped in streamers and banners in salute of the couple – must have been quite the site.

The King’s appearance at this time was not the marvel it had once been – Henry was still a tall man of 6’2 but had put on much weight with age. It was noted at the time that the king wore a hat to hide the fact that he no longer had much hair.

The following day, on the 8th of June, Parliament convened and passed an Act confirming that both Mary and Elizabeth Tudor were illegitimate which settled the succession of any child that may be born to Jane, or any future wife.

Now when we look at the relationship between Queen Jane and the Lady Mary it is often showcased as Jane pushing Henry VIII to bring his daughter back to court and reinstate her in the line of succession. While Jane was determined to bring the King’s daughter back into favor it wasn’t necessarily her doing.

That same month, the Lady Mary finally appeased her father by declaring herself illegitimate and recognized him as the Head of the Church of England – both things were required for her survival.

Jane’s gentle pushes with Henry in regards to his daughter may not have been what got her back in the King’s good graces, but it did show Henry what a good heart his new queen had.

Only a couple of weeks after the King received the letter of submission from his daughter, he and the queen traveled to Hunsdon and visited with Mary for the day. It was this visit that the Queen presented the Lady Mary with a “very fine” diamond ring and Henry gave his daughter 1,000 crowns and told her if there was anything else she needed that she need only to ask.

Queen Jane;s first couple of month’s in her new position were a whirlwind of activity. After their return from Hunsdon, Jane had her first reception with an ambassador when King Henry planned a moment for the Imperial ambassador (Chapuys) and Jane to talk. During their conversation Chapuys told Jane that he wished for her to be the all-needed peacemaker. He used the term, “Pacific” for Jane. When Henry returned and heard what the ambassador had called Jane he agreed and said that Jane wished for peace – “besides that her nature was gentle and inclined to peace, she would not for the world that he were engaged in war, that she might not be separated from him”.

It appears that the King and Queen were very happy with one another at this point of their marriage. The only thing that could have made it better was if Jane became pregnant, something she was all to aware of.

Henry and Jane went on a summer progress and traveled east to Rochester, Sittingbourne and Canterbury all the way to the coast ending at Dover Castle. They had many hunting expeditions and were said to have killed 20 stags on the 9th of August alone.

While they were on progress plans were being made for Jane’s coronation – initially there were plans to hold the coronation on the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, on the 29th of September, which would have been perfect to coincide with all the festivities that were already associated this day. Eustace Chapuys reported that Henry would “perform wonders” for his new queen and no doubt wipe-out any memories of the last, disgraced queen’s coronation.

Then there was an outbreak of plague that put a halt to all plans for a coronation. Maybe by the time the plans resumed the queen would be with child. But, as we now know, the coronation never happened.

The Happy Couple

The King and Queen returned to London in December of 1536, and on the 22nd of that month the couple rode through the city in great state.

According to Agnes Strickland, there was a record that indicates the severity of the weather that winter. It was said that the King, Queen and the whole court rode across the Thames on horseback to Greenwich Palace.�

In early spring 1537, Jane discovered she was pregnant. Henry had great reason to rejoice, for he believed she was carrying the son he had desired for so long. The pregnancy was announced in April when Henry relayed the great news to the Privy Council.

Jane’s life changed immediately after she realized she was pregnant. As always, when a Tudor queen was pregnant she could longer be intimate with the king – for fear of harm to the child. Jane’s life would have included a great lack of excitement from what he had experienced previously. Her biggest concern was to protect the child she was carrying.

By late May at Hampton Court, it was announced that the child had moved in her womb. One courtier wrote, “God send her good deliverance of a prince, to the joy of all faithful subjects.”.

The Birth of a Prince

On the 16th of September, Jane took to her chamber at Hampton Court in preparation for the birth of what was hoped to be a prince. Lady Mary had been with Jane for the last few weeks and would also be present in the chamber with her step-mother. By early October it seemed obvious that the birth was imminent. Then on the 9th of October the Queen.s labor began. Jane’s labor lasted three days and three nights. It was rumored that she would have to be cut open to secure a safe delivery of the child. There is no evidence of a cesarean since that procedure was not known at the time, and no proof that Henry had to choose between Jane and the child if one had to be saved.

At two in the morning on the 12th of October an exhausted Jane delivered a healthy, fair-haired boy. Her labor was long and painful but she had survived the delivery and so had the child.

Henry was over the moon with glee that he finally had a son, a legitimate heir to the throne of England. They named the child Edward, Duke of Cornwall from the moment he was born. Church bells tolled and fires were lit throughout the city to celebrate the birth of a prince.

By ten in the evening on the same day Jane was sitting in her bed having someone write a letter to Cromwell (for her) to inform him that they had delivered a son, a prince. Her letter was signed, “Jane the Quene“.

On the day of Prince Edward’s christening the guests had gathered beforehand in the queen’s apartments. Jane was lying on a bed of crimson lined with cloth of gold. Around her she wore a crimson mantle edged with ermine. Her blonde hair flowed loosely. Beside Jane sat the King. When the little Prince was brought to Jane she gave him her blessing.

In the Annals of the Seymours, the author states that at the time it was required for the queen to attend the christening, and that the Queen was carried from her room to the chapel on a pallet or sofa – she was propped up with cushions and wrapped in a crimson velvet mantle. It also states that King Henry sat next to her during the entire ceremony. While this makes for a great visual there is no evidence to corroborate the story.

The following day Jane suffered a bad attack of diarrhea, which left her very ill. By evening she was feeling better.

The Death of a Queen

That night she fell ill again and early the following day her health was of growing concern. At that time it seemed obvious that she was suffering from childbed fever.

Jane’s conditions continued to worsen and Henry was called to be by her side. In the early hours of 24 October 1537, the queen slipped quietly away. Queen Jane was dead. Henry was destroyed by the death of his wife – his favorite wife, for she gave him a long desired son.

The people of England shared in their King’s grief – this is evident by a ballad that was written about her and was published in the popular, Ancient Poems of the Peasantry of England. We’ll end this podcast with this beautiful, yet historically inaccurate ballad.

Queen Jane was in travail
For six weeks or more,
Till the women grew tired,
And fain would give o’er.

O women! O women!
Good wives if ye be,
Go, send for King Henrie,
And bring him to me.

King Henrie was sent for,
He came with all speed,
In a gownd of green velvet
From heel to the head.

King Henrie! King Henrie!
If kind Henrie you be,
Send for a surgon,
And bring him to me.

The surgeon was sent for,
He came with all speed,
In a gownd of black velvet
From heel to the head.

He gave her rich caudle,
But the death-sleep slept she.
Then her right side was opened,
And the babe was set free.

The babe it was christened,
And put out and nursed,
While the royal Queen Jane
She lay cold in the dust.

So black was the mourning,
And white were the wands,
Yellow, yellow the torches,
They bore in their hands.

The bells they were muffled,
And mournful did play,
While the royal Queen Jane
She lay cold in the clay.

Six knights and six lords
Bore her corpse through the grounds;
Six dukes followed after,
In black mourning gownds.

The flower of Old England
Was laid in the cold clay,
Whilst the roy al King Henrie
Came weeping away.

Sources:

Fraser, Antonia; The Wives of Henry VIII (1994)
Locke, Amy Aubrey; The Seymours (1914)
Loades, David; Jane Seymour – Henry VIII’s Favourite Wife (2013)
Loades, David; The 6 Wives of Henry VIII (2014)
Loades, David; The Seymours of Wolf Hall (2015)
Licence, Amy; The Six Wives & Many Mistresses of Henry VIII (2014)
Scard, Margaret; Edward Seymour – Lord Protector (2016)
Skidmore, Chris; Edward VI – The Lost King of England (1981)
Weir, Alison; The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
Bell, Robert & Dixon, James Henry; Ancient Poems, Ballads and Songs of the Peasantry of England (1857)
Pollard, A. F. (Albert Frederick); England under Protector Somerset : an essay (1900)
St. Maur, Richard Harold; Annals of the Seymours (1902)
https://archive.org/stream/genealogicalhera03burk#page/200/mode/2up
Ives, Eric; The Live and Death of Anne Boleyn
Doran, Susan; The Tudor Chronicles
Wertman, Janet; Jane the Quene (2016)

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