14 May 1536 – Jane Seymour moves closer to the king
Posted By Claire on May 14, 2017
Before I go into details on today’s “on this day in history” event in the countdown to Queen Anne Boleyn’s execution, let’s set the scene…
Queen Anne Boleyn is imprisoned in the Tower of London awaiting trial for high treason; George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, the queen’s brother and a royal favourite, is also in the Tower awaiting trial; four courtiers, including the king’s groom of the stool, have been tried by a commission of oyer and terminer for high treason, for sleeping with the queen and for plotting to kill the king with her, and sentenced to death; two other men are also imprisoned in the Tower; writs for Parliament have been issued, and the queen’s household has been broken up and her staff dismissed. Things are not looking good for the queen and her brother. The queen has no chance of being found innocent at her trial, when four men have been found guilty of plotting with her and having sexual relations with her. Dark times.
But things are on the up for the king. His new sweetheart, his wife’s former lady-in-waiting Jane Seymour, had been sent away from court, to Sir Nicholas Carew’s country home, to prevent gossip about her relationship with the king, but the king now feels it is appropriate to send for her. Carew is sent to collect Jane and to settle her into a property in Chelsea, within a mile of the king’s lodgings. There, she is treated as a queen; she is “most richly dressed” and “splendidly served by the King’s cook and other officers”. How did Jane feel about this? We will never know. What did those who served her think of the situation? We don’t know.
In just sixteen days time, Jane would be Henry VIII’s official queen consort.
While Jane Seymour was being collected and brought to Chelsea, the king’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, was writing to the king’s ambassadors at the French court, Sir John Wallop and Stephen Gardiner, of “The Queen’s incontinent living” which “was so rank and common that the ladies of her privy chamber could not conceal it” and the “most detestable scheme, happily discovered”. He was, of course, referring to Queen Anne Boleyn. Cromwell was quick to reassure the ambassadors that they would benefit from what was happening and that the king was “highly pleased with the services of both”. You can click here to read the full letter.
It all sounds so unsavoury to us, doesn’t it? Out with one queen, in with another; the fall of some courtiers, the rise of others… Thomas Wyatt was certainly spot on when he wrote circa regna tonat, “about the throne the thunder rolls”.
12 thoughts on “14 May 1536 – Jane Seymour moves closer to the king”
The Holbein portrait shows a woman with a prim, cold set to her mouth and rather masculine features. Someone who wants to be taken seriously, and to be seen as virtuous. It is not a kind face. Fortunately, people often very different from the way they appear. Jane seems to have had rather a kind heart. She certainly was inclined to help those who had been injured by the Boleyns. One has to wonder how she felt about Cromwell, and how that situation would have gone if she had not died.
One thing we do know-she did not hesitate to marry the King rather hastily after Anne’s death.
Once Henry zeroed-in on a prospective bride there was little, if any, recourse for the lady but to bow to the inevitable. It’s hard to believe that Jayne would have felt any physical or intellectual attraction towards the King and unlike Anne had no thoughts of a personal agenda to compensate for the subservient role ahead. Jayne did her duty, delivered to Henry a legitimate son, and remained in his heart forever.
Cromwells letter stinks of lies and hypocrisy incontinent living indeed and how we quaked with fear when we saw the danger to the Kings life! All lies and slander, Henry and his chief minister were fooling no one, only the Boleyns enemies were rubbing their hands in glee, the vultures were descending over whom would have the rich pickings from the condemned men, Ann’s household had been dissolved and she was safe under lock and key, her fickle husband was carefully making arrangements for his bride to be and she was being wined and dined having the Kings personal chef cooking her meals for her, her every whim satisfied, she must have been in a state of euphoria unlike her tragic predecessor whose shoes she was going to fill, Henry had no doubt paid for her beautiful gown and the jewels she wore as once he had showered Anne with jewels, it’s this callous disregard for his second wife that has compared Henry V111 with that fictional much married monster Bluebeard, it is like a horror story the picture of one queen languishing in the Tower silently praying and weeping with fear and desolation, the other queen to be trying on her wedding dress and the jewels she would wear, at the ceremony you could imagine a gloomy spectre gazing from the shadows in her execution robes, her face now just a skeleton with sockets for eyes, her claw like hands pointing towards Henry and cursing his marriage for condemning her to death, Henrys desertion of his second queen and his hasty nuptials with his third has all the essence of the macabre, it’s the fascination that holds our interest nearly half a century later, a King has his queen charged and imprisoned and executed within a fortnight and just over two weeks later would marry another queen, it is true that Jane may not have had much choice in the matter, she seems to have been under the influence of her ambitious brothers, certainly they were very eager to fill the roles the Boleyns had, Edward Seymour would become Lord Protector during his nephews reign and his foolish younger brother would in a droll twist of fate try to seduce Anne Boleyns daughter and try to wed her against the councils wishes, he and Edward both lost their heads, just two more victims of ambition, Jane appears to have been the sensible one out of all of them, why did she allow herself to be thrust into the Kings path but if you are noticed by the King there is little you can do, she was at court as one of Annes ladies in waiting, so he would notice her anyway and no doubt thought she was charming enough, little by little his attraction for her grew, I don’t think it was a passionate love he felt for her, he just felt her company was pleasant as she was undemanding and here is another theory, she came from a large and fertile family, she represented good breeding stock to Henry, at first glance she looks rather plain with a large nose, but on closer inspection you can see she has a little face with a soft chin and slanting eyes, full faced I should imagine she looked pretty enough, her colouring appears to be tawny as her eyebrows look a shade of reddish blonde, and her eyes dark brown but they could have been hazel, her son Edward V1 looked very much like her, both Anne and Jane sadly never lived to see their children grow up, and they were both children to be proud of, being highly intelligent and charming, only Henrys first queen the formidable Katherine of Aragon had that luxury.
What a tragic comparison, between Anne and Jane’s situations. The scene in the Tudors paints it best, Anne alone at prayer, abandoned and alone, watched by the ladies, in sober pursuits, while in comparison Jane prepares for dinner with the King, with the dress, laughter, the shoes, the hair, her sisters and friends around her as she gets ready, totally oblivious to events in London. (She may not know the news or may have put it out of her mind, we don’t know, but she was wrapped up in the moment). The mood cannot be starker as Jane wears a beautiful dress compared to Anne who is dressed simply and plainly coloured. There is hope for one woman and a bright future, darkness and death for the other. There is a macabre feel to it all, as Christine says, a horror story. There is the victim in the cell, awaiting their gruesome fate or rescue as the high and mighty feast in their castles. However, it’s all too real. There will be no rescue and Anne and five men can now only wait and prepare for death.
Cromwell has set out to shock with his letter to the Ambassadors about the happening in London and as if to back up the salacious accusations he has succeeded in bringing against the Queen he makes the same horrible indictments all over again. Whether Cromwell, Henry or gremlins are to blame for the fall of Anne Boleyn, Cromwell was responsible for making the charges stick, as the letter says ‘strengthening the case’. The people in her household had clearly been questioned for more information and the Lisle letters contain verification that Lady Elizabeth Worcester, Nan Cobbam and another lady provided information about Anne’s sexual exploits. Anne is painted as dark and as sexually corrupt as possible to protect the King’s honour and justify the trials. I don’t know how many here have read the detailed allegations, but the document is something out of a porn magazine. The details are very shocking and had Anne actually done half of this stuff you would have some sympathy for Henry’s wanting her gone. To add to the horror and to justify the capital crimes (adultery is a sin, not a crime, although the men could be executed for sleeping with the Queen under a treason act of Edward iii) there is a conspiracy to kill the King and Anne is at the centre of it.
What do I think? Damn cheek!!!!! The entire thing is a load of rubbish. I dare say a few things have been forced out of half a dozen frightened women, probably threatened with dire consequences if they didn’t talk, there was the gossip of Lady Worcester and a few unfortunate conversations with Henry Norris and Smeaton gave fuel to Cromwell and the King’s case. Well you need something to make a treason trial sound convincing or the juries won’t convict even with enemies of the accused on them. Cromwell had Smeaton’s confession and had heard of Anne talking to Norris who was named by Smeaton as the basis of his case and authorised to dig further with Fitzwilliam and Audley had teased other false testimony from others. The rest, including, dates and places he invented along with details. Now he had four convictions. So he could write what he liked and the case for the Queen being guilty and a whore was made in order to shock the foreign ambassadors who must have been pretty bemused by the events of the last two weeks so they would report the same abroad. It’s now Cromwell’s job to send a message that the case against Anne and her alleged lovers is very strong, that King Henry has been greatly wronged and his honour insulted by a wife who is sexually out of control. Thus his case is righteous and just and as a just King God will free him from this terrible woman and bless a new pure union.
As I said poppycock. Cromwell has to justify everything. He probably knows much of this is nonsense, but having four convictions, he has to make out a case which is convincing and hope it’s believed. He is the King’s man in this, whether the instigator or not and cannot act contrary to the King’s needs in this matter. Henry needs to look like the victim so Cromwell obliged his master. The letter may be one of the biggest forms of hypocrisy ever found, but Cromwell has to make a strong case, either to back up himself or to underpin the King’s wishes. Of course the allegations and the trials are a miscarriage of justice, but they cannot be presented as that.
One woman preparing for death, the other preparing for her nuptials, one kneeling at prayer for a quick and merciful death, one dancing round the room in her wedding dress, if ever the phrase jump in my grave could describe anything, it would be that scenario, imagine the talk amongst Annes former household, now they would have to get used to a new mistress, new rules, the court would have to get used to bowing before a new queen, to see a new face next to the King, the whole country in fact instead of praying for Queen Anne in church would have to pray for Queen Jane, their allegiance would have to be for her, it was too sudden to take in and the ordinary people would have been the last to know, in London news travels fast yet in the suburbs and countryside, in seaside coastal regions the meanest of Henrys subjects would have been in the dark for a number of weeks, on their wedding day did they give any thought to the headless woman lying cold in her grave, a feast for the maggots as they exchanged vows and accepted the light hearted congratulations from the company? Did they as they sat at their wedding feast see a reproachful ghost in the candlelight, did Jane when she looked at her newly wedded husbands ring winking on his hand also see a hand stained with blood, more importantly did Henry suffer with remorse when he climbed into bed on their wedding night, and instead of seeing his new brides calm pale face on the pillow see a different one with long dark hair twisting like snakes, the eyes mocking him, the mouth moving wordlessly, blood draining from the stump which had been its neck, a long slender neck he had loved to kiss, if ever the ghost of Anne Boleyn visited Henry V111 on his wedding night to Jane Seymour it was his guilty conscience that was responsible, in fact I wouldn’t be surprise if she continued to haunt him all his life.
In all of my reading about Anne Boleyn I’ve seen many references to the list of charges brought against her, buy have never seen the actual document in an index, bibliography or footnote. Where can one read it?
Yes, the Baga de Secretis has been transcribed in the Appendix of Charles Wriothesley’s chronicle – see page 201 onwards at https://archive.org/details/chronicleengland00wriouoft. A lot of it is in Latin though. You can read the indictments in document 876 in Letters and Papers, Volume X, at http://www.british-history.ac.uk/letters-papers-hen8/vol10/pp349-371.
Hope that helps!
I do think that Jane must have been terrified deep down inside……she would have known about Anne, but (I feel) was made to marry Henry, she may have also felt flattered, after all she is presented as a serious woman, and after the ‘lively Anne’ she may have come over as calming for Henry. All this aside, she did give him Edward, but as she then died due to post chilbirth complications, she left Henry distraught as he had lost the ‘mother of his son’.
what did Jane really feel during her time with Henry and did she ever think of the ‘trumped up’ charges against Anne and hope it wouldn’t happen to her if she didn’t have the needed son?
That is true she was in a sense putting herself in her two predecessors situation with all the worry that went with it, it must have been wonderful being called Queen Of England but Henry V111 was not the most easy of husbands and now the onus was on Jane to produce the much desired son and heir, had she failed she to could well have gone the same way as Anne Boleyn, maybe she felt confident she could succeed as Anne herself had once, comparing herself to Katherine Of Aragon, Anne had been certain she would give Henry a son but there she was unfortunate which led to her tragic death, Katherine had been cast off into the wilderness and had too died a most miserable death, now Jane was stepping into the lions den, she must have been made of quite strong mettle, she did however succeed where Henrys first two queens had failed and gave Henry a prince, he was healthy and grew up to be a very precocious little boy, Jane was the triumphant queen out of all Henrys five other wives yet fate decreed she would not live to enjoy it, she did however pass away peacefully in her bed, which was a blessing!
Dying of infection after giving birth qualifies as ‘dying in one’s bed,’ but it was not peaceful. She died after raging fever and wracked with the agony of systemic infection.
It could be that Henry was attracted to Jane because she seemed to be totally the opposite of Anne. Not only in the physical sense but also in demeneour. Her family was quick to parade her under the nose of the King as soon it became clear that Anne fell from favour. Did Jane fell in love with Henry? Maybe not, but go against the wishes of Henry was not something you got easily away with.
The speed of the betrothal and marriage make me feel as tough Henry gave Anne yet another execution. We will never know what Jane felt but I think the fate of her predecessor loomed over her in de shadows constantly. I for sure think that she must have been extremely nervous in her pregnancy.