20 May 1536 – A royal betrothal

The day after your second wife’s death is obviously the right time to become betrothed to your new woman, don’t you think? OK, so wife number 2 had just been executed for high treason for being unfaithful to her husband and plotting to kill him, but I don’t for a moment believe that Henry VIII thought she was guilty.

But, that’s just my view!

Whatever your view on Henry VIII’s part in the events of May 1536, it still doesn’t seem very appropriate to become betrothed to a new woman that fast. I don’t think Henry VIII cared what anyone thought by this point, though. Henry was ready to move on to a woman he hoped would give him a living son, and that woman was Jane Seymour.

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18 thoughts on “20 May 1536 – A royal betrothal”
  1. It says more about Henry’s character than it does about Jane Seymour’s. She was in the same position that Anne had been in 1529 when it was clear that Henry would (to use a quote from “Anne of the Thousand Days”) “I will marry Anne if it breaks the earth in two like an apple and flings the two halves into the void!”
    Henry had a character that would insist on whatever he wanted and he didn’t care what damage he did to anyone.

    Anne, despite trying desperately to remove herself from Henry, was backed into a corner. Once he made it clear his choice that Anne was his, no man would be able to rescue her. She could not escape for fear of the repercussions to her family and friends. We see how close his own daughter came to being destroyed by her own father, the King. He struck at her friends – executing a few on trumped up charges. Just as he did with Anne.

    In the case of Jane, I think the same thing occurred. Henry saw her as a different and more moldable character, one would be obedient and not fiery. Her family saw an opportunity, and encouraged it (maybe pressured her?). Whether Jane wanted to marry the King is not really known. But she too, as Anne before her, was backed into a corner. Neither had any chance to escape. Both women had to work with the cards that they were dealt with, as was Katherine of Aragon before them, and Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Katherine Parr.

    1. Yes, Anne and later Jane suffered on-the-job sexual harassment from Henry. There was no escape.

  2. Queen Annes death did not make Henry V111 popular and tarnished his reign for ever I believe, when he went down the same road and executed his young child bride several years later he really sealed the label of brute and tyrannical wife killer on himself, Catherine Howard’s execution was entirely different as she had not behaved with the decorum required of a queen but Anne was judged to be entirely innocent by many, Henrys courting of Jane made the whole affair look very suspicious and his flippant behaviour did not help, he thought he had managed to keep his affair with Jane secret and no one would know she was lodging near to him but news does have a habit of leaking out, and the court knew before he had intended it to know, that he had become rather hastily engaged to his dead queens lady in waiting, Chapyuis never having liked Anne as she had ruined his former mistress Queen Katherines life and very position, himself thought it was highly immoral the way the King was conducting himself and was busily writing despatches and sending them abroad, the Londoners never quiet when they thought injustice had been done were mumbling against their King whom once they had cheerily called bluff King Hal, for now that merry King had disappeared and in his place stood an increasing fat merciless sour faced King who had just killed his queen and seemed intent on marrying another, ballads have always been written about Kings and on the whole they couldn’t do much about them, but this one caused Henry much discontent, hastily he wrote to Jane informing her not to worry but she must have worried for her reputation, what did it look like when a king who had just executed his queen was seen out with another woman, and one a former servant of hers, Jane must have been anxious about what people thought as a certain amount of decency must prevail yet here there seemed to be none, was Jane thought of as a scarlet woman, she must have hated the situation she found herself in, I wish we knew what Jane herself thought about this strange affair, did she feel guilt over the queens death, had she ever sympathised with her when she lost her baby, we all knew what Katherine felt and Anne because they been involved in fighting over Henry so to speak, Anne was so vocal and we know how she began to hate Katherine for her stance over the divorce, she once yelled in front of everyone she wished all Spaniards were in the sea, she gabbled unwisely she may poison Mary when Henry was out of the country, all this was just her bitterness and anger
    talking but when it comes to Jane, whilst being the most unobtrusive of Henry V111’s wives, having the reputation of being meek in truth, what we would call today unexciting – she also appears the most baffling, what woman would readily marry a man over the dead body of his former wife, especially when that wife had just been killed by the same man, she appears cold and distant and I don’t think we will ever know the real Jane, linked by blood to Anne they had the same grandmother, there appears to have been no friendship between them and Jane was a supporter of Katherine and Mary, I believe her indifference to her former mistresse’s fate was down to Katherine and Marys suffering and she told herself Anne was to largely blame for it all, however after Annes death Marys suffering continued and Jane must have realised it was the King who was really responsible, as their relationship became public knowledge she knew that people suspected the queen had died just so the King could marry her, it must have made her feel very uncomfortable and I believe it did.
    D m

  3. During this whole fiasco I’m May 1536 Henry tried to play the wronged husband and king but his actions actually just made him look like the bully that he was. His betrothal to Jane the day after he murdered Anne just proved that he was not the one who was wronged.

  4. Many people were affected by Annes death, most of all her precocious little daughter who would grow up into a wary teenager in a world of danger, and whose name she never spoke, her parents who must have been grief stricken died a few years later, Thomas not long after his wife, Sir Thomas Wyatt mourned her and his grandson George Wyatt was to fondly recall his reminisces about his old sweetheart years later, her old love Harry Percy after fainting at the ordeal of her trial did not long survive her, Henry Fitzroy already afflicted with a disease at the time of Annes execution died not long after, the climate of England was changed forever there was a struggle between the old faith and that of the reformers, it was a divide that would last for many years, Cromwell not long after Annes execution later had the title of Baron conferred on him, no doubt a reward for services rendered, but he failed in his Kings fourth marriage and was executed for high treason himself, whatever guilt he may have had in the deaths of six people he atoned for in his own destruction, her women would go on to serve Henrys next queen Jane Seymour and life continued at court, Jane banned the French hood that had been so favoured by her predecessor and her maids were instructed to wear the rather unflattering gable hood, Jane Rochford had to write to Cromwell pleading for financial help and her father in law was ordered to help support her, meanwhile the queen whom Henry had forsaken and tried to forget lay in her mean little grave, unlike the magnificent tomb as queen of England she was entitled to, her daughters household to was in disarray as her servants did not know how to address her and Henry appeared to forget about her as he had the mother, she was growing out of her clothes fast and her governess Lady Bryan was forced to write to Cromwell asking for help, Henrys dream of marital harmony ended when his wife died not long after in childbed, giving Henry his longed for prince, it was his third venture in marriage but he told himself the other marriages had never existed therefore this marriage was the true and only one, whilst he cosseted his new born son his two daughters lived as bastards without any status but merely the illegitimate children of the father whose good luck they depended on, Annes old friend Archbishop Cranmer mourned Anne and on the day of her death he was joined by Alexander Ales, the Scottish theologian who had a nightmare about the queens death, some people now and then have a flash of sixth sense and it happened to Ales the night before she died, awaking in fright he had a dreadful vision of her bodiless head showing all the nerves muscles and tendons in all their gory detail, he then recounted the tale to Cranmer who told him the queen was now in heaven, he then burst into tears, all her life Anne had aroused strong feelings in people, her enemies loathed her and yet her friends loved and adored her, sadly the King was one who intense love for her turned to hatred, those who love deeply also hate deeply, Henry never felt the same about any woman again, her legacy to England was a country who had shaken of the shackles of Rome and a new church, her other legacy was a woman who was destined to be a great ruler, Anne died brutally so her husband could give England a son but it was her daughter who gave her name to an age and who is still regarded today as England’s greatest monarch of all time.

  5. IMO, the rapid marriage to Jane was proof positive that Henry wanted Anne dead. When the story that Katherine Howard’s past was less than ideal, Henry was broken hearted … and he waited a while before marrying Katherine Parr. (That he waited over a year after Jane Seymoour’s death to remarry shows that he was grieving her, also) That he was cheerful and remarried Jane so quickly shows that the charges against Anne were no surprise … and he wasn’t hurt by her alleged “betrayal”

  6. I seem to recall something about rogation days coming up before Whit which means Henry had to get betrothed or wait to marry Jane, but I can’t remember the significance. I think it is a period of preparation before a religious feast and formal betrothals and marriage are not possible, nor the bans as such during this time. This was one of the reasons behind the sudden betrothal rather than waiting till after Whit. The secrecy of everything of course was that Anne’s execution had caused a stir in the City and I seriously think Henry feared disorder would follow.

    Contrary to what Henry hoped Anne’s execution was not as popular as one might suppose. Yes, Anne had replaced the very popular Katherine of Aragon and her role in the divorce of that Queen hadn’t been generally popular but Anne had herself not done too bad a job as Queen. She had tried to reach out to the public and be as gracious as possible. She was very generous, gave much to charity and increased her giving on Maundy Thursday to double that of Queen Katherine and intervention for ordinary women helped people to warm to her. She promoted education and reform and had an influence on Henry’s decision to appoint certain Bishops of the New Learning. Anne didn’t appoint them but she recommended them. Anne also intervened to help many in prison. She was starting to make her Queenship count.

    Henry wanted to keep the fact that he was getting engaged to wife no three before wife was cold in her grave because he knew his actions were inappropriate. He may have believed he was a bachelor but that didn’t change what had just happened, the execution of a woman he had once loved. There must have been concern in the country, shock at what had happened, fear and discontent, amazement at how this could happen after three years of marriage and even disbelief. Nobody would have approved of this hasty beyrothal, no matter how they felt. Henry was very image sensitive and he kept it secret because his image was being questioned and would suffer if his actions appeared inappropriate. He was also meant to be an innocent victim of his wife’s treason and adultery so marrying so soon or his engagement the next day pointed to his own deceit and involvement.

  7. There have only ever been two English Queens executed, although one or two have been imprisoned, most notably Eleanor of Aquitaine ( sorry three if you count Jane Grey) and both were wives of Henry Viii. Personally I blame the Supremacy. It gave him more power than any monarch before or since and quite frankly it went to his head. Add to a powerful and power hungry King one bang on the head and several years of serious pain and weight gain to come and you have a dangerous and toxic mix ready to explode. In May 1536 the mixture boiled over into dangerous paranoia. Henry used his power to find a quick fix to his unhappiness and got rid of his wife, permanently. Now the neurological/mental flaws may have already been buried and emerged as a result of both a long messy annulment and seven years has got to be something of a record, opposition to his divorce, but things sure went downhill very quickly after that jousting accident, compounding what may or may not have been lurking beneath the surface. Whatever the explanation, there are not too many monarchs who killed noble women let alone their wives. I can think of plenty of lovers who bit the dust and we now know at least two high born ladies were unfaithful because of the psrental DNA from Richard iii. The only example I can even think of from Europe is Maria of Branbant, who in the thirteenth century aged just twenty one was beheaded by her insane husband, Louis ii of Bavaria, to whom she had been married for just two years, because he was given a letter intended for a knight and concluded she was having an affair. As she was the daughter of Henry ii, Holy Roman Emperor, the consequences could have been dire had the Pope not intervened and ordered her husband to found a monastery and do penance. There have been high born ladies accused of hesesy, treason and witchcraft but few have been killed. Henry Viii is unique, particularly as he had two women executed for the same thing, more or less, both of them cousins, the second, Katherine Howard being very young. The more power he accumulated the easier it was for him to act in such brutal ways and I don’t believe anything really sums up these terrible events in a way to understand them. Yes, Henry may not have wanted another Katherine of Aragon, hanging around and being defiant while he was married to Jane Seymour, but that doesn’t excuse his swift and terrible trial and execution of his wife and the woman he had tried so hard to get all of those years. It was all rather senseless.

    1. Yes the act of supremacy did I think go to Henrys head a bit I believe, combined with his head injuries which may have contributed to his increasingly bad temper and paranoia it was a dangerous and highly volatile situation for anyone that served him, he began to see himself as untouchable in a sense, unanswerable to anyone except the almighty, who Henry saw as approving of anything he did, a few days after his second queens death there was a dinner party hosted where the guests expressed concern over the way the late queen had been treated, and the Kings behaviour which showed more joy than sorrow was commented on, before her death he had been making trips in his river boat to the Seymour’s residences and had been seen in the company of gaily dressed courtiers, his whole behaviour showed indifference and glee over his wife’s alleged betrayal and yes, years later over Catherine Howard he really was distraught and it showed, he wept in front of his council when her infidelities were confirmed and he showed both anger and sorrow, the genuine behaviour of a betrayed husband, his behaviour with Anne was entirely different so no wonder people muttered against him, he acted like he was glad she had betrayed him, now with her dead he told himself he could marry again but all impatient he could not wait a year or even six months, Jane must be his queen this hasty wedding to his third wife iv often pondered about was it because Jane actually pregnant ? Or did he believe she was, they had been seeing each other in the months leading upto Annes death and maybe this was the reason for their wedding, her son must be born in holy matrimony, he must be legitimate, if Jane had caught a fever and felt sick a few times, Henry could have thought she was carrying his child, that’s if we believe they were sleeping together whilst Anne was alive, but she was accompanied by her family whenever the King came to visit her so unless they made secret assignations she could not have got pregnant, Jane was no doubt unsure what the public were saying about her as she knew there was sympathy directed at Anne but Henry growing ever more tyrannical over the years was probably not that bothered, although he did try to keep that sense of decorum over their secret engagement, but for any husband to re marry within two weeks of his previous wife’s death showed that he had no regard at all for the normal conventions of the age or indeed any age! In fact to our eyes in the 21st c it looks absolutely disgusting, people had to button their lips and serve the King and his new queen as well they could yet I doubt that Jane was a very popular queen, people’s affections can change and for those who had disliked Anne, they no doubt felt sympathy for her, then there were Annes ladies who had loved her, they who had witnessed her bloody death and carried her bleeding body to her little grave not long before, they must have felt resentment at having to serve this very pale prim faced woman who Henry paraded before them as his new queen, but life had to go on and gradually peoples mumblings ceased, Anne was treated as if she had never existed and there was a new queen at court, and she was in direct contrast to her successor, where Anne had been slender and dark, Jane was white faced and she is described as plump, Anne was noted for her style and the distinctive French hood which flattered the face and showed the hair, Jane wore the much less attractive gable hood and maybe dressed in more subtle colours, there were no shouting or wild bursts of laughter no arguments with the King, no handsome young men flocking to her private apartments, the sound of music and chattering and laughter, she must have appeared dull after Anne but that’s not to say her court was dull, she must have liked dancing and music and being of a mild nature, no doubt her ladies became fond of her, she was an expert needle woman and is said to have encouraged Henry in this womanly persuit, some examples of her work is on display today, she had long been at court so she would have taken part in hunting and no doubt archery, through Jane Mary was at last reconciled with her father and they enjoyed a warm relationship right upto his death, her premature death in childbirth was tragic but in the 16th c people knew childbirth was highly dangerous for both mother and child, she gave the King his longed for son for who he had discarded two wives for but he lost the mother, this one wife of his he chose to lie beside for all eternity and unlike Anne Boleyn he did not marry for another year until after her demise.

      1. I’m not even sure at this point Henry really believed he was answerable to the Almighty. Think of the illustration in The Great Bible. Henry is the large figure handing out the word of God and Jesus is a tiny figure at the top. I have a hunch this is how he saw himself. If true that would make him even more dangerous than he already was.

        1. This may also explain his apparent lack of conscience in executing six innocent people.

      2. Other people have speculated about Jane being pregnant but I doubt she had slept with the King before their wedding, her modesty would not allow it. Henry was really ignoring everything and every convention and his conscience was definitely not troubling him this time. He saw Anne now as the ultimate betrayal of everything he had fought for and he wanted to forget her and place her from his mind. He now swung from one extreme to the other, Anne, dark eyes, some dark shade of hair, (black, brown, red, brunette) lively, sophisticated, tempestuous, well educated, intelligent and his intellectual equal to Jane, traditional, modestly educated, a good huntress though, a supporter of the old faith and both Katherine and Mary, a typical English rose with a pale fair complexion and hooded wiley green eyes, obedient, if determined to try and help the Princess and risk Henry’s wrath during the Pilgrimage of Grace, a typical Tudor wife. The world must have been clean amazed. Yes, Jane was a peacemaker and brought calm to the Court and yes, she danced and enjoyed the pastimes of the Court, she was also more inclined to needlework and settling into the modest role of a traditional Queen and Consort, but she also must have seemed as an odd contrast to the vibrant Anne Boleyn.

        I think Henry had chosen Jane because she was a more conventional Queen, one who would not argue and debate with him because Anne had gone too far at times, such was her independent sense of being and ideas and they had disagreed on many important issues. Anne never really made the adjustment from a mistress who could influence Henry in matters of policy and theology to a wife who should support her husband and not contradict him. They rowed in public and she couldn’t look the other way when he had the odd mistress. Anne’s main job was to provide sons and unfortunately she was unable to do this, even though it was not her fault. Without the desired son Anne’s influence waned and Henry was fed up. His conscience was being a nuisance again and he had new doubts about the legality of his second marriage. But why kill her? I agree there was something going on in Henry’s brain that was fatal for poor Anne and five innocent members of his Court. Nothing of all this makes any sense and I even think his hasty and inappropriate rush into a third marriage within days shows his thinking to be totally self absorbed and focused on erasing the past.

        1. Yes it was her calm nature that Henry found soothing understandable really, Annes argumentative nature must have wearied him, how many men today have sought the pub in favour of sitting at home with a nagging wife? Of course the wife would say they have plenty to nag about but in Henrys situation it was intolerable, Annes tragedy lay more in her very character than her failure to produce a son I believe, her very behaviour made him hate her, her sarcastic comments, the vitriol she showed towards his daughter Mary, she owed her position to him but berated him when he took a mistress, she had strove to be queen without having the understanding of what that entailed, it meant be humble and obedient, give your husband children sons especially, preside over court functions and be gracious act the part and never ever complain when he took a mistress, that was the lot of queens and has been through history, this Anne failed to realise and it was to do with Henry as well, theirs was not a normal relationship, Anne was not a grand princess married to Henry as was the norm, if she had she would have understand but she was not, she was a gentlewoman from a good family who had been found a place at court in the service of his queen, Henry persued her with frightening ardour, thus she was used to having him as a passionate lover, not as a husband and after seven long years when she finally married him and became queen, she continued to act as she always had – a demanding mistress whose lover was in thrall to her, she could not understand why their relationship had changed it was the shifting in their positions, Anne was now his wife and queen which meant she was subservient to him and her duty lay in giving him an heir, after having him to herself for so long she felt wounded and betrayed when he took a mistress, she had not the wisdom to keep silent which is what Katherine or Claude of France or any other queen would have done, we do not know if she ever loved him, I don’t think early on she did, she would leave court to evade him not to make him more ardent but I feel she found her position intolerable, whenever she was not with the queen he must have sought her out and he must have made her feel rather troubled by his very passion for her, she had plenty of admirers and knew how to flirt she was a sophisticate, but here was the King who declared undying love for her and wished to make her his mistress, aware of her charms she no doubt felt flattered but knew he must have said the same things to her elder sister who he had later discarded, she knew of Bessie Blount who had his illigitemate son, she did not want to go down that road and be only known as the discarded mother of another of his bastards, we do not know if she told him she would only sleep with him if he was her husband, which meant of course she would be queen, or wether he proposed marriage to her knowing it was the only way he would get her in bed, Henrys need for a son was fuelled by the passion he felt for Anne and so the idea of marrying her looked more desirable, he also knew himself and how he wearied of women, it says a lot for his ardour that he must have thought he would always love Anne, he had never known any woman like her, people blamed Anne for Henry discarding of his first wife but Katherines marriage had been over in the physical sense for some time and she was now menopausal, he knew she would never be able to give him a son, thus Anne appeared much more attractive as she represented fertility, early on I believe he had only thought about sleeping with her but the more she held out, instead of losing interest he only became more besotted, and his barren marriage (as he only had a daughter) became a burden that he longed to escape from, Katherine did not know but he had been discussing remarrying before Anne appeared on the scene, Wolsley was in secret negotiations for a French marriage, when the King fell in love with Anne she became the catalyst for the ending of Katherines marriage, but she was not really responsible for it, the tragedy with Anne lay in her own volatile character, she did not treat Henry with the reverence he was due as King but still as her lover, had she been much more retiring and curbed that tongue of hers, her marriage would still have ended, as she could not give Henry a son, but I believe she would have escaped with her life, no need of a trial but just an anullment, maybe she would have entered a nunnery, if Anne of Cleves gave Henry no trouble and she done quite well out of it, that’s just my opinion.

  8. Good to re-read Claire’s chapter ‘Who was responsible for the Fall of Anne Boleyn?’ in which she shifts through the suspects, looking at their motivations and the various opinions about each of them that are currently mooted.
    I was drawn to Claire’s comment, headed Revenge, (being one of Henry’s motives) and the alleged ridiculing of the king’s sexual problems. Also drawn to Suspect 3 – Jane Seymour and the Catholic Conservatives as responsible for the fall.
    But most of all, Claire writes of a ‘combination’ and quotes Pamela kaputska, on the ABFacebook page, describing Henry VIII, Cromwell and the Seymour faction as all coming together to form ‘the perfect storm’, which she says is ‘spot on’.
    I can’t dismiss the influence of the Conservatives, with their properly coached JS, fiddling away behind the scenes, their melodies of discontent and disillusionment, as Lady Worcester’s plaintive solo emanates from their quarter too, she of the first ground of accusers. Is this provocative music we hear the last hurrah, final throw of the dice of the Plantagenet rump in England? If they are the prelude, then the symphony begins with a thunderous drum roll as Cromwell is summoned to execute the orchestra of state and play out this bloody Fall to its bitter conclusion.

    1. Yes, the traditional parties at Court definitely made a come back now and I can’t help but feel yes, Cromwell is the ultimate Mr Fixit, King’s servant not Queen’s, but he is also the ultimate survivor, at least until the big blunder in 1540, shifting with the wind to the next new favourite at Court. He was an ally of Anne one minute, then for reasons already speculated, he breaks with Anne and then suddenly by March 1536 is moving towards a new star, the Seymour family. I love your description of it being like a thunderous symphony, it is certainly something which plays out towards a tragic and dramatic conclusion. It is little wonder Anne’s life was made into a dramatic opera. I have seen Anna Bollena twice, live and on Sky Arts, which was the first time I actually understand it with the subtitles and it choked me up each time. One book I would recommend with the Fall of Anne Boleyn by Claire or The Lady in the Tower is Anne Boleyn A Life of Controversy by the late Lacy Baldwin Smith because he looks at all of the main theories and the four main historians, Weir, Ives, Bernard and Warnicke on Anne’s life and her fall with a critical eye and good neutral analysis and sums them up very well. If you can’t get all of the books, this is one book which brings them altogether. The debate has raged for 500 years, it will rage for another 500, but at least all but one of those mentioned believe Anne was innocent.

      One thing Hilary Mantel said is very true: We are eves dropping on history, straining to get in and listen. We can’t just get close enough so are missing parts if the conversation. In other words, we have enough information to reason people are being set up, but we don’t know why or by whom. That is the drawback of history, we don’t have enough information. We have no records of any of the conversation Henry and Cromwell must have had in secret to put all this into motion. Henry was in charge so he is ultimately responsible, but who suggested what to whom? That is the unanswered question? That is also the joy of reasoning and debating human history.

      1. Yes iv got that book I found Smiths analysis of Anne and what his fellow historians make of her fall very good, he doesn’t agree with Warnickes view and finds Ives fascination with Anne quite amusing, with Weir he calls her the apple out of the oranges, I watched Anna Bollena on sky arts also, I wasn’t sure what I would make of it only really liking Carmen but I really loved it, I found the scene with her daughter very touching.

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