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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
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 old, rich, but relatively powerless (until Jane’s marriage sealed their royal connections), so they may have pushed her forward at court.
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.
Jane’s motto was, fittingly, ‘Bound to obey and serve’
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
Did the Tudors marry for love or for social advancement? We ask the experts.
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
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. But this doesn’t mean she was a guileless meek victim of Henry’s dynastic quest.
She may, just like Anne Boleyn, have skilfully managed the King’s courtship to achieve her own ambitions or to place her family on the centre-stage of Tudor court politics. We just remember her differently because Jane and Anne had very different fates.
Henry's attention to Jane gave the Seymour family the chance to play a greater role in Tudor court politics.
She quietly encouraged the Kings advance. The Seymour family would continue to play their part in the dangerous political word of the Tudors.
Both Jane's brothers would eventually be executed for treason.
A room with a noble tradition of royal and political entertainment, the Great Hall at Hampton Court Palace is a vast and splendid historic structure.
Step into the dangerous declining years of Henry’s VIII’s reign at Hampton Court Palace.
11 April - 31 August 2017