After all the storm and drama of Henry VIII’s first two marriages, his third marriage to Jane Seymour seems almost serene. After a prolonged effort to divorce his first wife and a definitive, far reaching split from the Catholic Church to marry his second wife, Henry felt he deserved to settle down and finally have a male heir. He may also have felt time was running out for him to produce a child.
In early 1536, probably even before the death of his first wife, Henry’s attention was focused on one of Anne Boleyn’s ladies-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon was to die in January of 1536 and Henry and Thomas Cromwell began a concerted plot to destroy Anne Boleyn because she couldn’t produce a male child. In May 1536, this plot culminated in the arrest of Anne, her trial and her execution on May 19. Eleven days later, Henry married Jane Seymour at Whitehall Palace. Jane was declared Queen Consort on June 4, but she was never crowned Queen due to plague. The people of England, at the time, felt it was unseemly for Henry to marry so soon after the tragic beheading of Anne.
Jane was born, probably in 1508, in Wiltshire. Her father was Sir John Seymour and her mother was Margery Wentworth. Jane was not as well educated as Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. She was taught to read and write but she really excelled at embroidery and household management. She probably was sent to work as a lady-in-waiting for Queen Catherine around 1527.
When her services were no longer needed for Catherine, she went to work for Anne Boleyn. This is where she caught Henry’s eye. It is said that Anne walked in on Jane and Henry while Jane was sitting on his lap and she was not pleased. There is also a story that Henry sent Jane a small bag of money and she returned it demurely to Henry writing a letter, delicately refusing the gift. Henry was enchanted with how she handled the transaction.
Jane was said to have a child like face and modest demeanor. The Imperial Ambassador thought she was of middling stature and very pale. He did not feel she was a great beauty but other writers thought she was fairly attractive and had good character. Once she became the wife of the King, her household was run with strict decorum, unlike the lively and animated court of Anne Boleyn. Both of Henry’s daughters, Princess Mary and Princess Elizabeth, had been declared illegitimate and barred from the succession during the shambles of the first two marriages. Jane was instrumental in returning Mary and Elizabeth into their father’s good graces. They basically lived together as a family but they were still not given the right to succeed their father although Jane did try. Princess Mary, especially, was said to be grateful to Jane for restoring the love of her father.
Jane’s only foray into political affairs was in 1536 when she begged Henry to forgive the people who rebelled against him in an uprising called the Pilgrimage of Grace. Henry promptly reminded her to not interfere or she may come to the same fate as her predecessor. Jane was duly warned and never meddled again.
In early 1537, Jane was pregnant. On October 12, 1537, at Hampton Court, Jane gave birth to the son Henry so yearned for. The child was to become the future Edward VI.
Jane’s labor had lasted two days and three nights. It was clear soon after the birth that Jane was not well. Theories on her death included a torn, infected perineum, puerpural fever (a form of sepsis) and possibly a retained placenta. Whatever the cause, Jane’s death was due to complications of childbirth which was very common in the 16th Century.
Henry went into a deep depression. He had an elaborate funeral for Jane, the only wife he had buried as a Queen. She was interred at St. Georges Chapel at Windsor Castle. To show Henry’s deepest respect and gratitude for Jane having the desired son, Henry was buried next to her when he died.
Read about Henry’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves here.
Resources: “The Wives of Henry VIII” by Lady Antonia Fraser, “The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty” by G.J. Meyer