JaneSeymourEngravingOn 20th May 1536, the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution and the day after Archbishop Cranmer had issued a dispensation allowing Henry VIII to marry Jane Seymour, the couple became betrothed. Chapuys recorded this betrothal in a postscript to a letter to Seigneur de Granvelle:

“Has just been informed, the bearer of this having already mounted, that Mrs. Semel [Seymour] came secretly by river this morning to the King’s lodging, and that the promise and betrothal (desponsacion) was made at 9 o’clock. The King means it to be kept secret till Whitsuntide; but everybody begins already to murmur by suspicion, and several affirm that long before the death of the other there was some arrangement which sounds ill in the ears of the people; who will certainly be displeased at what has been told me, if it be true, viz., that yesterday the King, immediately on receiving news of the decapitation of the putain entered his barge and went to the said Semel, whom he has lodged a mile from him, in a house by the river.”1

Henry VIII may have wanted the betrothal kept secret, but word had reached Chapuys quickly enough and, as Chapuys states, “everybody begins already to murmur by suspicion”. At some point between Jane’s arrival at Chelsea on 14th May and Anne Boleyn’s execution on 19th May, Henry VIII had written to Jane regarding some pamphlets which were being spread around London deriding their relationship. It is understandable that speculation and gossip were rife: the Queen was in the Tower awaiting trial and yet Henry VIII was having a relationship with Jane Seymour.

“My dear friend and mistress,
The bearer of these few lines from thy entirely devoted servant will deliver into thy fair hands a token of my true affection for thee, hoping you will keep it for ever in your sincere love for me. Advertising you that there is a ballad made lately of great derision against us, which if it go much abroad and is seen by you, I pray you to pay no manner of regard to it. I am not at present informed who is the setter forth of this malignant writing, but if he is found out he shall be straitly punished for it. For the things ye lacked I have minded my lord to supply them to you as soon as he can buy them. Thus hoping shortly to receive you in these arms, I end for the present your own loving servant and sovereign,
H. R.”2

It is no wonder that the King wanted to keep his betrothal to Jane secret when gossip about the speed of his new relationship was stirring up ill-feeling towards the King and sympathy for the late Queen.

Notes and Sources

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10 – January-June 1536,926.
  2. Halliwell-Phillipps, James Orchard. Letters of the Kings of England, Volume 1, 353.

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24 thoughts on “20 May 1536 – A Secret Betrothal”
  1. One always has to be cautious when dealing with Chapuys’ reports. The King, his Ministers, and the different factions at Court loved to lie to the Spanish Ambassador. It appears to be a game that continued beyond Chapuys and those who suceeded him up to at least Charles I. Espionage as a deadly game of “Chinese” whispers.

    That said, this report feels more genuine. Henry was unlikely to showcase anything that would reflect badly on him with the people. An instinct that his younger daughter had in spades is showing here. But there may be some false information as well.

    I’m not sure that Jane was a “romantic” choice as is often suggested. Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s much mistreated first wife only died in January. Anne had just been slain. No matter how you look at it. Henry had lost two Queens in less than six months. I doubt he was a prize on the international marriage market, especially after having been excommunicated. What King would want to risk a daughter on such a man?

    1536 was the year of three Queens.

    Jane, for her bloodline, may have been a political choice. The Tudors are only one generation from Bosworth. Henry may have needed to shore things up by co-opting another “Royal” bloodline as the Tudors would have been on shakey ground. There were too many other contenders with factions out there that might challenge for the Crown. After all, the Tudors themselves had only an ambivalent claim as it was. They suceeded by conquest, not true inheritance. This is about the time that Henry begins to be far more through in removing heirs of other bloodlines. Both he and his father made great inroads in wiping out the descendants of Edward III. With all this in mind, she might have been a very good choice, presented as meek and demure. Her father was unlikely to be able to garner the political capital of a Thomas Boleyn or be as much of a threat. The Bolyens were educated and cultured in spite of a Merchant background. Even Mary Boleyn would have had to be more than standard to survive the Court of France. The Seymours, while undoubtedly of royal/noble birth do not seem to have the broad education of the Boleyns. They could be brilliant but it was erratically. They do not seem to have been particularly loyal to each other and seem to have an oppertunistic streak a mile wide.

    Most portrayals of Jane perpetuate the myth of the “Little Nun”. Jane was no innocent little thing trapped in a web of fate. Her behavior shows her to have a calculating mind, if an uneducated one. She’d had the opportunity to observe both Queens and to have learned from their examples as well as the pale echo of Henry’s beloved mother. Elizabeth of York. Building herself in the image of Henry’s mum would definitely would have been something Henry in his unstable situation would have battened on to. Elizabeth of York was never a threat to Henry VII, though she could easily have been.

    It shows most tellingly in the letter quoted above. Henry wrote to Catherine as an equal partner, to Anne as a faithful Lover. To Jane, he writes as a Sovereign first.

    1. Loved to lie?

      If Henry and his ministers had lied all the time, nobody would have believed them. That would mean that no matters could be deal between the states.

      Of course lies were used when they were deemed necessary but they could be believed only from the one who was usually trustworthy.

      There was also common rules that both parties understood that what was said was meant to be quite the opposite, as between some discussions between Chapuys and Cromwell.

      The reason why Chapyus’ reports must be dealt with caution is rather that he reported personal matters of Henry and Anne on the basis of the hostile second- and third-parties told him and he also shared that agenda.

    2. I cannot understand how Jane could be a political choice, and least of all for her bloodline. What mattered was the descendants of Edward III’s son, not descendants of earlier kings who must have been many.

      Before all, one made political alliances in order to get allies and Seymours could not compete with dukes and earls, let alone foreign monarchs.

      In many times, the simplest answer is best: Henry married Jane because she was available when he needed to wed and beget an heir so soon as possible after Anne’s execution. He may also have been in love with her, but one can doubt whether she could have keep his fancy for years.

      1. I don’t think Jane was a political choice, but she was indeed a descendant of Edward III’s son Lionel of Antwerp.

        Many people at court were descendants of Edward III. Henry could hardly have executed all of them!

        1. Jane’s family is definitely a political choice. One needs to look very closely at the Seymour family to understand. Anne’s family and kinship circle are one set of relations to the Crown. Yes Anne was a cousin to the King, Jane was too on a different line. There weren’t a lot of foreign princesses available to Henry right at the time. Many royal houses were waiting on events.

          As for the line of Edward III, both Henrys did a very good job of wiping out by death or marriage to lower status as many of the family that could threaten them. Elizabeth of York’s own sisters were married to barely gentlemen or entered a convent. If her family, as powerless as it was after Bosworth, was pruned that carefully no other household in England could be truly safe.

    3. Sorry, didn’t notice the typo back then. Charles V not Charles I. Also threat of excommunication not actual excommunication as that was still in the future.

    4. Jane Seymour wasn’t uneducated. She couldn’t have served as a lady in waiting if she was uneducated. I am sorry but I am really sick and tired of reading in comments that Jane Seymour was uneducated.

      What are your original contemporary sources for that piece of misinformation? Sure she didn’t have the best tutors in Europe like Katherine of Aragon and Mary or the reserved privilege of being educated at the French Court, like Anne, but then neither did most English gentle women. She was educated to run a household and to make a good marriage and run an estate. Her French was as good as Anne’s and she understood enough to use her intelligence to avoid Anne’s mistakes. She was ambitious and had her own agenda. She was able to observe and to calculate. She was a fine horse woman, an expert huntress, an expert needlework lady, she was commended for it, she was diplomatic and she was bold. Her mind was every bit as calculated as Anne, but she certainly wasn’t uneducated.
      Nor, by the way was Kathryn Howard or Anne of Cleves.

  2. This post reminds me of the BHO link you provided yesterday to Alexander Alesius’ letter to Elizabeth I that mentioned Cromwell’s servant talking about what others could not believe “when the Queen was being beheaded, the King was enjoying himself with another woman”. Henry loved Anne’s intelligence and strong opinions while they were courting, but once they were married, she could not provide an heir, and her strong beliefs grew even stronger, he had enough. He was ready to move on to another.

    In honor of Anne, I watched the Cate Blanchett version of Elizabeth yesterday, I found it quite fitting 🙂

  3. This was obviously an intended secret for several good reasons; the unseemly haste of being betrothed just after the execution of the Queen would not have done Henry’s now tarnished reputation any good, even if Jane turned out to be the most perfect wife and queen you could wish for; the rumours and talk already flying around the court and capital cannot have been favourable; the rogation days ahead during which Henry and Jane could not marry, and I have heard that stories went around that Jane may have been with child; although this was unfounded.

    Jane was literally being kept on tap; waiting in the wings until poor Anne was dead; not her fault, but Henry was not behaving with much honour being promised to wife number three without any gap. Of course somewhere in the King’s mind Henry was a bachalor, never legally married in the first place and his council were begging him to ‘venture into marriage another time’. Jane may have been somewhat unseemly by getting ready for her wedding day; but she was ordered to do so via the King; but it was Henry who was being hasty and it is not a surprise that people talked. Poor Anne, barely cold in her grave and Henry has moved on already; not even mourning his late wife; no matter what his feelings; surely seven years of passion and three years of marriage deserved some outward sign of passing.

    1. When men go off you they don’t care about the history you have had together, Katherine was treated shamefully and she had been an exemplary wife to Henry for over twenty years, holding the country together at Flodden they seem to have the knack of moving on so easy of course Henry was besotted with Anne which explains his treatment of Katherine a little but he was able to hop from Anne to Jane so easy within just a few years of his marriage to the former, I’d love to know more what Jane really felt but sadly we have no idea of her feelings because she kept them all to herself, she isn’t really the favoured topic of many authors either as there is only one known biography of her and that only tells you about her early life, her family connections, where she lived , then her marriage and subsequent early death, but not the real Jane, she filled Anne’s shoes for just a few years then she was gone and the only impact she made was giving Henry a son and heir but he was as insignificant as his mother and died young.

      1. Edward was not quite that insignificant. He made an impact on the direction of the English Church. He was an ardent reformist of the Church

    2. Henry had a more important task than playing a mourning husband: after George Boleyn had read the sentence aloud that the king was impotent, Henry had to prove that he was not and that was best done to beget an heir so soon as possible.

      However, there is a clear difference how Henry reacted to Catherine Howard’s affair: he could not firs believe and when there was no doubt, was mad with grief.

      1. Yes I think he had an older mans infatuation for Catherine Howard and was very upset when it was proven she had deceived him, with Anne he knew the charges against her were too ridiculous to be true therefore he wasn’t grief stricken over her, but he had to act shocked and happily married Jane Seymour, I think Henry was foolish marrying a young girl although he was probably thinking of the sons he may have with her and youth is in an expectant mothers favour, but seriously though he was about thirty years her senior and only a man with such a puffed up ego as Henry thought she couldn’t look at anyone else, looking is ok of course but actually deceiving the King with another man was extremely dangerous as she found to her cost.

        1. with Anne he knew the charges against her were too ridiculous to be true therefore he wasn’t grief stricken over her

          This is just your opinion, of course. One could just as easily opine that Henry was devastated because he never saw it coming with Katherine. But he knew Anne for 10 years.

      2. Hannele,

        Yes, that is the position Alison Weir offers in her 2009 book, which I think is quite persuasive. Henry might not have had to act simply because it was read in court, but because Henry had heard of it before the trial took place, and was one of the reasons it actually took place. Making jokes like that was treason without question and there may have been more they just didn’t want to make public. But who knows, we don’t have the evidence.

        And don’t forget the great fall he had recently suffered which was frightening.

        Someone is writing a fresh new look at Henry and I am looking forward to it.

  4. The takeaway here is that Chapuys appears to admit that Anne was not as unpopular as he would have had his imperial master believe. Nor were Henry’s doings as regards this queen liked any better than his actions with the first.

    Plainly he did not express the same passion for Jane as he had done for Anne. He was older, or perhaps Jane discouraged him from expressing himself indiscreetly.

    On the subject of a foreign marriage, I continue to believe Henry never really considered it, other than at Cromwell’s urgent behest, after Jane’s death. I do not believe he could relate to a stranger easily, and this put him off. Henry married for happiness, not reasons of state.

    He may have had real feelings for Jane, as the period after her death was the longest period of his reign where he remained single. It may be that he simply found no one during that time he wanted to marry. Cromwell may well have attempted to keep it that way in order to forward his alliance with the German Protestants.

    Jane certainly had he own agenda, and had she lived, might have exercised more influence as the mother of the heir.

  5. Claire, I could not help but chuckle over how, even though you have written about this multiple times, it still, “Makes me cross.”

    I don’t blame you. The injustice done to Anne and those five men (as well as the ones who somehow missed being executed) is mind boggling.

    However, I think you should take some schaudenfreude (sp??) in the Karmic retribution that hit many of Jane’s supporters, including those who definitely pushed her into Henry’s sights:

    1. Edward Seymour, Jane’s (older?) brother – He became Duke of Somerset and was just about THE King of England during Edward VI’s minority. Was stripped of his powers, imprisoned, and beheaded at the orders of his nephew.

    2. Thomas Seymour Jane’s other brother (older? younger?) – Married Henry’s one and only widow, then foolishly tried to marry Elizabeth (Anne’s daughter). Tried to take Edward (Seymour) place as regent of England. Failed, was caught in the midst of trying to kidnap King Edward, and was beheaded for treason.

    I believe Nicholas Carewe and Francis Bryan, both related to Jane in some way, were also executed for treason or other high crimes. Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk also came close to being executed.

    Funny, all those people who plotted against Anne in such a magnificent, backstabbing manner ended up coming to sticky ends, isn’t it?


    As for Jane herself, she died because of childbirth related complications, after managing to become the mother of the son Henry wanted so badly.

    Whether Jane “deserved” this is entirely up to the individual’s interpretation of the known facts of her part, however large or small, in Anne’s downfall and execution.

    I do agree with Karen Lindsey’s interpretation, that there are two major differences in Jane’s usurpation of the place of a wife in Henry’s life, that are different from Anne’s situation, and neither is to her credit:

    1. Anne (unlike Katharine of Aragon) was young enough to conceive again when Henry cast her aside.

    2. Jane held out for marriage, knowing that Anne was not to be merely discarded/divorced, but KILLED by Henry.

    1. There is no evidence to support your idea that Jane knew before May 1536, that is after Anne was arrested and accused of adultery and treason that there was a plot to be rid of Anne. Henry at first appeared to be looking into an annulment and in any case Jane had been sent back to Wiltshire before these arrests. Jane had no idea Anne was going to be killed before anyone else, which was after her trial. Henry wrote to Jane on 14th May, after the four men (George was tried with the Queen) had been found guilty, indicating Anne would be too and she was moved nearer to Greenwich to prepare for her wedding. Jane had to have agreed to marry the King before May, when an annulment seemed possible. They had been an item since March at least. There is no evidence that Jane was involved in the coup to bring down Anne and the blame lies with Henry Viii and Cromwell, nobody else. There is nothing I have read to support the theory that Jane waited to know that Anne would be killed before agreeing to marry Henry. Jane carried with her the hope of the Conservatives at court that she would help promote the Princess Mary and was strongly promoted by that party and her brothers, but there is no contemporary evidence of anything else.

      Karma is a load of nonsense and to suggest that the Seymour family suffered political revenge because of their promotion of Jane as payback is ridiculous. Jane died of complications in childbirth because the male doctor brought in for this birth didn’t deliver the afterbirth and she got an infection. A midwife would have had more contact and noticed. Jane died from infection and neglect, a hazard of the times, not because she replaced Anne Boleyn. The Seymour brothers were executed because of their own ambition, not karma.

      By the law of karma people also argue that poor Anne was executed because she was cruel to Mary or replaced Katherine. Again rubbish.

      Jane probably had very little choice but to marry Henry once everything was set in motion and agreed because she could see a way to move him towards Mary. She was coached and had her own agenda, but didn’t push him to kill Anne. As far as she was concerned he was going to divorce Anne. Anne had enemies and fell because of their influence, but it was Henry Viii who was in charge and he arranged all of this, with the help of Cromwell. Jane was as innocent as Anne was, even if her family were not so innocent. Blame the real villian or the way life was, not karma, some unproven rubbish.

  6. It should also be noted that by this time, Henry must have been aware that the chances for any legitimate son to succeed without a regency were rapidly dwindling. Clearing out the last Plantagenet heirs was his way of preventing the fate of his maternal uncles from falling on his own heir.

    He was also rather emotionally dependent. Much of his grief for Jane came from her unexpected death at a time when there was no lady waiting in the wings. Jane’s death left him alone for the first time in his adult life, and at a time that was otherwise joyful, having finally got his legitimate male heir.

    Henry called the tune with Jane. This was new for him, and he liked it.

  7. Jane Seymour’s character may not be known by us, but certainly her family was known for its ruthless ambition. Perhaps Jane Seymour was an innocent flower who sprang from a garden bed of dangerous climbers, but it doesn’t pass the smell test for me. Families were brutally self-promoting in the sixteenth century. At the very least she was coached about her behaviour in order to attract a king and she went along with the program. Sounds complicit to me. . .

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