Jane Seymour

Henry's third and favourite wife. Tragic victim or ruthless schemer?

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

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 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.

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

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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. 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.

Schemer

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.

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