20 May 1536 – The Betrothal of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour EngravingAt 9am on 20th May 1536, the day after his second wife had been executed, Henry VIII became betrothed to Jane Seymour, daughter of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. Their betrothal was meant to be kept secret but Chapuys recorded that the news got out:

“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…”1

Jane is first mentioned in the primary sources, in relation to Henry VIII showing an interest in her, on 10th February 1536 in a letter from Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, to Emperor Charles V. In the letter, Chapuys was pondering the reasons for Anne Boleyn’s recent miscarriage (on 29th January) and one reason he gave was the King giving Jane Seymour “great presents”.2 The King’s interest in Jane, therefore, dated back to at least January 1536 but may simply have been a courtly love flirtation while Anne was pregnant.

On 18th March 1536, Edward Seymour, Jane’s brother, was appointed to Henry VIII’s Privy Chamber “to the intense rage of the concubine”,3, and then on 1st April 1536 Henry VIII sent Jane a gift. Chapuys wrote of how he’d heard that the King had sent Jane “a purse full of sovereigns” and that on receiving the purse, Jane had kissed the letter and begged the messenger to tell the King that she could not take the purse because “she was a gentlewoman of good and honorable parents, without reproach, and that she had no greater riches in the world than her honor, which she would not injure for a thousand deaths, and that if he wished to make her some present in money she begged it might be when God enabled her to make some honorable match.”4 According to Chapuys, Jane was being coached by Sir Nicholas Carew and the Catholic faction in how to appeal to the King and also to tell him how much the people of England “detested” his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

On 14th May 1536, while Anne Boleyn was imprisoned in the Tower of London, Henry VIII sent Sir Nicholas Carew to fetch Jane Seymour and to install her in a house in Chelsea, within a mile of the King’s own lodgings. Chapuys recorded that Jane was “most richly dressed” and “splendidly served by the King’s cook and other officers”,5 so, like Anne before her, she was being treated as the Queen-in-waiting while Henry got rid of his previous wife.

At some point between Jane’s arrival at Chelsea and Anne Boleyn’s execution, Henry VIII wrote to Jane regarding some pamphlets which were being spread around London deriding their relationship, so gossip about their relationship was obviously spreading. On the morning of Anne’s trial, Henry VIII arranged with Jane’s household that he would send “news at 3 o’clock of the condemnation of the putain”,6 so he was obviously sure that Anne would be condemned. Following Anne’s beheading, “the King, immediately on receiving news of the decapitation of the putain entered his barge and went to the said Semel [Jane Seymour], whom he has lodged a mile from him, in a house by the river.” Henry was not wasting any time, he wanted to move on with his life and marry a woman who could provide him with a son and heir. His betrothal to Jane on 20th May was followed by their marriage on 30th May.

Henry VIII’s courtship of Jane Seymour sounds distasteful to us today, and it is easy to paint Jane Seymour as a woman who danced on the grave of Anne Boleyn, but it is impossible to know what Jane thought about the events of May 1536. Chapuys tells us that Jane was coached in how to appeal to the King but we don’t know whether she was a puppet or whether she enticed the King willingly. Whatever her own private thoughts, once the King had chosen her as his consort she had to get on with things and be the best queen that she could be.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 926
  2. Ibid., 282
  3. Ibid., 495
  4. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2: 1536-1538, note 43
  5. LP x. 908
  6. Ibid.

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37 thoughts on “20 May 1536 – The Betrothal of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour”
  1. Isn’t it interesting that we have a document from Chapuys (who hated Anne) in which even he mentions that rumours of Henry’s relationship with Jane Seymour “sounds ill in the ears of the people”? So the general public may be alleged to have disliked Anne Boleyn for taking Henry from Catherine of Aragon yet when the news about Henry courting Jane seeps out, those same folk have some sympathy for Anne.

    Claire, I’ve heard the general public weren’t delighted when Anne Boleyn was executed – are there any actual documents/letters that mention how the beheading of Anne was received by say, Londoners? (I mean folk who aren’t members of the court/aren’t foreign diplomats).

    1. We don’t know the exact reaction of the common people, but George Constantine (Norris’s servants) said “there was much muttering at the Queen’s death” and Chapuys wrote “there are some who murmur at the mode of procedure against her and the others”. They may have been referring to those at court, rather than the general population of London but there must have been gossip spreading like wildfire.

      1. I read somewhere about Henry writting a note to Jane about a ballard regarding her circulating in the inns and taverns of London.

  2. I also think it’s all too easily for us modern ladies to judge women of the past by our own concepts of what is normal. I imagine that in those days a woman’s career was her marriage and just as Anne Boleyn wanted a great match for herself (as she states in one of her letters to Henry VIII during their courtship) so I suspect Jane Seymour would have believed that this marriage was her “job”, her duty to her family. I read somewhere that Jane Seymour had liked Catherine of Aragon a lot too and so I suspect must have hated the way Henry treated Catherine. The tragic truth is that women in those days had to do what they were told by their menfolk.

  3. I think Jane sounded lovely, it’s just a pity she got mixed up in such a horrid situation.

    But happy 478th engagement anniversary Henry and Jane 🙂

  4. I don’t think any popular dislike of Anne’s execution had anything to do with their feelings about Anne … I think it had more to do with the idea that Henry’s courtship of Jane showed that had a motive for getting her out of the way other than her alleged guilt. Also, I doubt that Jane was dancing on Anne’s grave. IMO, Jane probably did not have much to say about the matter …. if Henry chose her, that would settle it. After the way he treated Catherine and Anne, I think Jane wasn’t going to stand up against him.


  5. I have a hunch that pale Jane was one of those warm, comfortable women who just ooze maternity; a motherly sort, with one of those lovely, low, nursery voices. Do you know what I mean? But she can’t have been a patsy. Though ‘groomed’, she still had to have real guile and impress an emotional Henry that she had what it took to be his queen. What was the role of a queen in a tudor court, anyway?

    1. Ithink jane may have impressed henry with her quite easy ways and once when she was told to keep out of henrys business ,she did just that ,an intelledgence she is not always given credit for

    2. Most importantly, the role of a Tudor queen was to produce a male heir. Henry VIII had fallen in love with the beguiling, intellectual Anne but without completing her duty to bear a son she became expendable and a new wife was called for.

  6. I don’t think of Jane as a woman who danced on Anne’s grave, but I don’t think she was as innocent and virtuous as Henry liked to believe either. I always say I don’t think she’s to blame any more for Anne’s death than Anne is to blame for the annulment of the marriage of Henry and Katherine.

  7. Talk about being a bit hasty. I know Henry was anxious to marry Jane, was having her prepared for her marriage, but some sort of dignity of mourning should have been observed, even if he did now hate Anne. It is no wonder he had the betrothal kept secret. Ten days later they were married. There was some reason for him marrying on this date: something to do with having to wait longer to observe rogation days; cannot recall the exact reason. But I still feel he could have waited a few weeks at least and then got married again. But then Henry did seem to mix marriages with executions. He got married to Katherine Howard on the same day or the day after the execution of Thomas Cromwell. May-be he saw it as a distraction or a new start or did not believe that he owed Anne any real respect; whatever his reason; getting betrothed the next day is totally shocking. I know Jane was a lovely person, and they believed that now all would be well; but I am sure Henry could have and should have waited a bit longer.

    In any case congratulations and here here to a new start Henry and Jane.

    1. I get your point about it being a bit hasty but no more odd than henrys “marriage to anne while he still had Katherine as his wife and queen” that’s completely wrong to me ,fast as it was his bethrothal and marriage to jane ,he was free to marry her as a widower.

      1. I agree; and at least it was a private betrothal and this is a chance for a fresh start. Oh well, the understanding of Henry is a mystery. But all hapiness to them both and Jane does seem to have been more what Henry was looking for in a wife; she was also more clever and rounded as a person than is shown. She did also attempt to bring peace in his family. She also pleaded for the pilgrims; she may have failed but she showed that as a Queen she was prepared to take on that role; just as Katherine of Aragon had done.

        1. According to Chapuys it was Henry, and not Anne, who wore yellow, and he then paraded little Elizabeth to church accompanied by trumpets. The chronicler who puts Anne in yellow has her wearing “yellow for the mournyng” and makes no mention of her dancing a jig.

        2. I second Selina’s question. “Debating” requires research and accuracy. Not just the popular stories and opinions parading as fact.

  8. Jane was so soft and lovely and sweet, I can see why Henry fell head over heels in love with her.

    A new hope and a fresh new start. Congratulations to them both

  9. Well…..was Jane that “pale simpering girl”, or one who saw her advantage and took it? She could not have been both at the same time. Likely she was neither. Since the people under discussion have been dead almost 500 years, the only real resource we have outside of the words they left behind in being able to get “inside their heads” (and Jane left few), is our most honest and unbiased assumptions about human nature.
    As for me, I believe she was typical of the honorable woman of her time; nothing in any historical account allows us to think she was not. An honorable daughter would seek what was considered the good of her family (therefore ultimately herself) first. If it meant making a “goodly” match, taking into account the laws of God in regard of it, then so it ought to be. The joy of woman was that progeny is glory, and who dares to say it is or is not? She happened to have fallen into the enviable or unenviable position of making the match of all matches. There was no Church or civil law proscribing it after the former queen was dead. Records do say she was kind. I believe she fulfilled her destiny although she did not live to shape her son’s upbringing.

  10. Actually Claire it is documented by several historians
    That Anne wore yellow as well as what Alison Weir
    Describes as a “calculated insult.”

    Considering Anne’s comments about preferring Katherine be hung
    Rather than have to acknowledge her as her (Anne’s) mistress,
    I am going with the historians on this one.

    And yes, Henry wore yellow, too.:-)

        1. jane ,I agree with some of judiths comments because ,I agree with what she says ,if I see a post which is of the same opinion as myself I usually agree with it .everyone is entitled to form their own opinions on what they read and should not get a bashing over it .

    1. I think it’s more important to look at the primary sources, which is what historians base their ideas on, and other historians disagree with Weir. I outline the primary source accounts in my article https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/8-january-1536-king-clad-yellow/ – Hall has Anne wearing yellow, Chapuys has Henry in yellow, The Spanish Chronicle has Henry in yellow and other contemporary sources make no mention of either of them wearing yellow, so it’s impossible to tell who wore yellow. That is Alison Weir’s opinion and is not based on fact.

      1. Spot on Claire. Thankyou for sharing your incredible knowledge. Even if Anne was wearing yellow(and that’s IF), I read that in Spain, the home country of Catherine of Aragon, yellow was the colour of mourning, in addition to black.

    2. JudithRex, Weir is not a historian and her work is not properly referenced. If you want to know about Anne Boleyn then Eric Ives’s work is the stuff to read.

      1. Thanks. I have read several books over the years – including ives’ original as well as the updated.

        Weir’s “the lady in the tower” was tremendous in my opinion as she went over line by line and let both the reader and herself interpret in more than one way. It is my favorite book, aside from Schofeld’s re Cromwell, and a blueprint for the kid of book I want to see more of. More scholarly approach I mean.

        not a dig at anyone, I have not read Claire’s books.

    3. There is nothing in any of the primary sources about either Henry or Anne dancing a jig. There are divisions as to if Henry wore yellow or Anne; but it is clear that both showed some relief at Katherine’s passing for one reason or another and it is afact that Elizabeth was paraded about and carried to church by her father. There are also views that both may have worn yellow, but nothing about anyone dancing jigs or going wild with delight. Anne was now confident that she was Queen by right and that there was no-one to challenge her and probably did feel or exclaim delight. Anne had ranted about Katherine and Mary when she was upset and not in her right mind; but had been warned to be careful as her words would upset the King. However, this was at a time of stress as she was worried about not being able to have any more children and long before her final fatal pregnancy. Henry expressed relief at the death of Katherine as he was relieved that the two foreign powers of Spain and France would not threaten him with war. He now made moves towards a new reproachmant with Spain. Henry also is siad to have wept over Katherine’s last letter and he did in fact order proper mourning for her and sent royal members of the family: Lady Eleanor Brandon and others to her funeral in Peterborough Cathedral.

      Jane may not have delighted in the death of Anne and certainly did not dance on her grave as some people today accuse her off; but she did busy herself with the full preparations for her wedding. It was time to move on; for a fresh start; yes it may be a quick time after the death of the late Queen, but Henry did not hang around and he wanted his new life to start as soon as he was permitted. It was at least a discreet engagement and not a public one and his marriage was also discreet, with Jane and Henry being presented as the newly married King and Queen a few days after this. They were married<I think on 30th May and presented formally a couple of days later.

      Jane conforms more to what was expected of a sixteenth century woman; she was discreet and obedient, not docile as is often claimed, but she was not a woman to argue with the King if he took a mistress as Anne had done. Having said this, there is no evidence of him being unfaithful to Jane Seymour. Jane also had ideals and hoped that she could persuade the King to those ideals: that of harmony in his family life and peaceful family life. She was obviously a woman who had a great feeling for the wellbeing of his children and hoped that this was would make her husband happy. She braved his anger twice to raise the subject of bringing Mary to court, he called her a fool the first time, but she was astute enough to point out that she only asked as it would make him happy and his realm at peace. She asked again but Henry would only accept if Mary made a submission to him on all the points concerning his divorce and her own status. When she did so, after some abrupt persuaion from his delegation to her, seeing she had little choice, Mary was accepted back at court and Jane befriended her. She also took pity on Elizabeth and helped her as well. She took the role of peace-maker; a traditional Queenly role and following the example of other compassionate Queens before her; she knelt to intervene for the rebels at the Pilgrimage of Grace. Henry did not want her intervention and told her not to meddle in his affairs as she should recall what had happened to Anne. Jane learnt not to meddle and was astute enough to obey the King and to concentrate on her domestic duties and giving him his son, which she ultimately did. She had many good qualities that commend her and she did bring the King a brief period of happiness. He seemed to be content with Jane; and her luck in giving Henry a son, made him more devoted to her. Sadly Jane lost her life soon after the birth; and Henry honoured her for all time as the mother of his heir. He chose to be buried next to her at Windsor when he himself died 10 years later.

      Henry and Jane simply wanted a fresh start and hoped for happier times. It may not have been respectful to marry after only 12 days of mourning but these were very different times; people did marry shortly after a death of a partner, and it has to be remembered that as Henry had his second marriage annulled he believed he was free to marry in any event; his marriage to Anne had never been and he also tried to wipe out her memory.

    4. I am referring to Hall here as the source of this – a source Claire quotes on other topics –

      1. But Hall does NOT have either of them dancing a jig and I think that’s the problem some people are having here with your comment. I do quote Hall, his chronicle is very interesting and a great source, but he says nothing about them celebrating by dancing a jig.

        1. Here is what Hall says of that day:

          “And the VIII day of January folowying dyed the princes dowager at Kymbalton and was buried at Peterborough. Quene Anne ware yelowe for the mournyng.” p818

          He then changes the subject completely and talks about Anne’s miscarriage.

        2. I really think that Anne and Henry was one of those chapters in History that has everyone wanting to passionately debate because of the nature of that relationship and its tragic end, but I do not think that even Anne would be so silly as to dance a jig in any event, and I have read Hall and everything else, especially over the last few weeks and couple of months as I had a sudden revised interest in the downfall of Anne and if it was a plot ot not: I have not found anything suggesting her doing anything other than wearing yellow. As you have correctly said Claire other sources have Henry putting on yellow and taking Elizabeth to church and her being shown about with pride. Anne and Henry had good reason to be relieved at the passing of Katherine. For Anne it meant her rival was no more and she could truly now see herself as an undoubted Queen; for Henry it must have been more complicated.

          Katherine was his wife for many years and he still had some feelings for her at the time of their seperation in 1531. A source (excuse me I cannot remember which one) suggests that he wept over her last letter and when reading it; I am not surprised; it is deeply moving and full of love and care for him and their daughter. But he also must have felt that now he could breathe again and move on. He also had reason to be cheerful. His present wife Anne was pregnant and it seems that all was well with her and the child: which we now know was a son. Henry went on to mourn Katherine formerly, but also to order celebrations, one which was to prove fatal for Anne, the joust at which he fell from his horse and Anne lost her son a few days later. Henry also ordered a proper funeral for his wife and I have been to Peterborough and honoured her there. It is now a mch plainer stone that marks her place; and the Victorians have placed lovely brass rails that state Katherine the Queen; her status restored in death.

          Anne was more vulnerable after the death of her son and as time went on, an opportunity came along to enable her fall from grace, and hence the sad events of the 1st-19th May, and her death as an innocent woman who suffered a grave miscarriage of justice. Jane did not dance on her grave either. Jane may even have been shocked to hear what was to become of her former mistress; but what could she do about it? Nothing and now she could only move on as Henry, impatiently wanted to move on. It may not have been tactful, getting married so soon, but he felt confident enough to betroth to Jane and set a marriage date.

          I feel that Jane may have even have had some sympathy for Anne but now she had her own future to think about, may have seen her marriage to Henry as her duty and her calling and could only accept his proposal with happiness and grace. She was kind and would bring him the brief hope of domenstic peace that he craved. Anne is seen as being more fiery than Jane, but we have to remember she was unusual in what could be accepted as a Tudor wife. Jane was no doormat; she was not a firecracker either; no Jane was a normal Tudor noble-woman and her qualities those that would have been expected of a Tudor Queen and wife: grace, kindness, obedience and somberness, a peacemaker and a helpmate. For Henry it was his ideal coming true; in his soul at least.

  11. I am not surprised Henry married Jane within a short period after Anne’s execution, he married Anne while he was still married to Queen Katherine. He did as he pleased, if he was interested in a woman and wanted to make her his wife then he did regardless of what was going on. Henry was King with absolute power, that meant doing anything he wanted.
    I don’t think Queen Jane was a fool nor was she evil, and she wasn’t boring like milk toast. She was smart and ambitious. For her to attract the king’s attention shows she was interesting in her own way.
    Jane so what had happened to Katherine and Anne, and knew that the king could easily ruin her like the other two. She was taking a risk by marrying Henry, just like Anne was and even Katherine.

    1. To be a Queen must have seemed like a dazzling prospect to those in the Tudor Court after all you more than just a figurehead in those days, not like today so of course Jane must have been really flattered when the King started paying attention to her, but what I can’t understand is how her family thought she had a chance anyway? She was plain and very quiet the original wallflower, she must have had something else though for the Seymours to think she could attract the King, maybe she wasn’t as plain as what every one thought she was, she must have had an inner charm but I think Henry was so desperate for a son any woman would have done, from Janes point of view he had treated one wife disgracefully and was about to kill another, wether she thought Anne deserved it or not he was still going to order her execution and she knew Anne had been the love of his life so she was either very brave or very foolish to even consider marrying Henry.

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