Jane Seymour

Henry's third and favourite wife

Henry's third and favourite wife

Jane didn’t last long, but she delivered! Jane Seymour married Henry 11 days after Anne’s Boleyn’s execution. She died giving him a longed-for son.

But was Jane a helpless victim or secret schemer? Probably a bit of both.

Image: Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger ©Bridgeman Art Library

Within a richly decorated Renaissance interior, Henry VII (1457-1509) and his son Henry VIII (1491-1547) stand to the left of a central sarcophagus inscribed with Latin verses celebrating the Tudor dynasty; their queens, Elizabeth of York (1465-1503) and Jane Seymour (1509-1537) stand on the other side.

Why did Henry marry Jane?

We don’t know much about Jane’s motivations. Like all of Henry’s wives, she has left very little personal testimony behind to tell us how she felt.

Her family were rich, but relatively powerless (until Jane’s marriage sealed their royal connections), so they may have pushed her forward at court.

Image: Henry VII, Elizabeth of York, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

No great beauty

Jane’s looks weren’t her strong point, if we choose to believe the Spanish ambassador. He described her as 'of middle stature and no great beauty'. He even speculated about her virtue, wondering if it had been Jane’s talents in the bedroom that had first attracted the King!

Henry apparently wrote affectionately to Jane, a lady-in-waiting at court, while he was still married to Anne Boleyn.

Did you know?

Jane’s motto was, fittingly, ‘Bound to obey and serve’

King Henry VIII, after Hans Holbein the Younger, oil on copper, probably 17th century, based on a work of 1536. Purchased, 1863, National Portrait Gallery, NPG 157.

A swift seduction

Jane first appeared at court as early as 1529, and served as a lady-in-waiting, probably to both Katherine of Aragon and afterwards Anne Boleyn. She would have witnessed many of the dangers and rewards of a relationship with the King at first hand.

Henry’s courtship of Jane may have started as early as 1534, and the King certainly wrote and sent her gifts the following year. Jane seems to have – demurely or tactically – refused the King’s advances.

But their relationship must have been established by the time Anne Boleyn was in the Tower of London: Henry and Jane married only 11 days after Anne’s execution.

Left: Henry VIII by Hans Holbein the Younger, © National Portrait Gallery

The Tudors: Love, sex and marriage

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Illustration of Jane Seymour (c1508-37), King Henry VIII's third wife and mother of King Edward VI. Jane married Henry in 1536 but died of postnatal complications following the birth of their son, Edward, in October 1537.

"If good prayers can save her life, she is not like to die, for never lady was so much plained [lamented] with everyman, rich and poor."

Hopes for Jane’s recovery expressed at St Paul’s Cathedral, 1537

Portrait of Edward VI as a child.  National Gallery of Art, Washington DC, USA / Bridgeman Images

Jane provided Henry with what he most wanted: a son.

Prince Edward was born at Hampton Court Palace in the early hours of 12 October 1537. Jane developed post-natal complications after a difficult birth.

She witnessed part of Edward’s elaborate christening procession at Hampton Court but her condition worsened. She died around midnight at the palace, two weeks later, aged 28. Henry was heartbroken.

Image: Portrait of Edward VI as a child, Hans Holbein the Younger © Bridgeman Images

Victim or schemer: Which was Jane?

Jane's marriage to Henry VIII advanced the fortunes of the ambitious Seymour family. Was Jane powerless to resist the King, or did she plot with her family to become Queen?

Victim

By dying at the height of her 'success' Jane left the impression of perfection; a loyal queen who dutifully provided an heir to the throne and sacrificed her life doing so. Perhaps she really was simply a meek victim of Henry’s dynastic quest. 

Schemer

On the other hand, Jane may have skilfully managed the King’s courtship to achieve her own ambitions or to place her family on the centre-stage of court politics, just like Anne Boleyn. We just remember her differently because Jane and Anne had different fates. 

An engraving of King Henry VII; King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, which was published in 1677.

Tudor line

The Seymour family would continue to play their part in the dangerous political word of the Tudors, however both Jane's brothers would eventually be executed for treason. Henry VIII's long-awaited son would succeed him to the throne as Edward VI.

Image: King Henry VII; King Henry VIII; King Edward VI, © National Portrait Gallery, London

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The Great Hall, looking east.
The hall was constructed by King Henry VIII to replace a smaller and older hall on the same site. It had two functions. First to provide a great communal dining room where 600 members of the court could eat in two sittings, twice a day. And secondly, to provide a magnificent entrance to the state apartments that lay beyond.
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The blue and gold vaulted ceiling of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace
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