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

Posted By on May 20, 2013

Jane Seymour Lucas Horenbout At 9am on 20th May 1536, just one day after the execution of his second wife, Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII became betrothed to Jane Seymour, daughter of Sir John Seymour, soldier and courtier, and of Margery Wentworth. Jane had served both of the King’s previous wives as a lady-in-waiting, having come to court in around 1529.

Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, wrote to Seigneur de Granvelle informing him of the betrothal:

“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

It is clear from Chapuys’ letter that the King’s relationship with Jane was hot gossip and that it had caused some suspicion because of the fact that it must have started before Anne was dead. Even Chapuys, who refers to Anne as “the putain” (whore) appears to disapprove of the King rushing to see Jane after he’d heard that Anne was dead. As to Chapuys’ views on Jane, here is what he said in a letter to Antoine Perrenot:

“She is sister of one Edward Semel[Seymour], … of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise. She is over 25 years old. I leave you to judge whether, being English and having long frequented the Court, “si elle ne tiendroit pas a conscience de navoir pourveu et prevenu de savoir que cest de faire nopces.” Perhaps this King will only be too glad to be so far relieved from trouble. Also, according to the account given of him by the Concubine, he has neither vigour nor virtue; and besides he may make a condition in the marriage that she be a virgin, and when he has a mind to divorce her he will find enough of witnesses. The said Semel [Seymour] is not a woman of great wit, but she may have good understanding (un bel enigm, qu. engin?). It is said she inclines to be proud and haughty. She bears great love and reverence to the Princess. I know not if honors will make her change hereafter.”2

Chapuys doubts that Jane is a virgin, thinks she is “proud and haughty” and lacking in intelligence, BUT she loves and respects Henry’s daughter, Mary. It’s not a very complimentary description, is it?

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x. 926
  2. LP x. 901

24 thoughts on “20 May 1536 – The Betrothal of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour”

  1. Laura says:

    Time and tide wait for no man, and no more obvious is this then at the Tudor Court. I have not researched Jane Seymour as much as I have Anne so know less about her. But, as proud and haughty as she may of been, she did provide Henry with the male son and heir he desperately wanted and needed, and if she had survived, that would of been more then enough to hold her in high esteem at court. However, looking at it from a emotional side, I believe the fact that Henry was paying her much attention during Anne’s final pregnancy, that caused Anne much distress, and could well be to blame for bringing on the miscarriage and Anne’s downfall. Her taunting of Anne, especially with the locket Henry gave her was cruel. That said, it’s no worse then how Anne herself treated Catherine, the previous Queen.

    1. margaret says:

      could not agree with you more laura.

      1. Laura says:

        Thank you Margaret.

  2. Jed says:

    Henry would have had no trouble in convincing Jane that Ann deserved everything she was getting, and everything she got. Another thing Jane was known for, was her piety, which is alarming considering she was dallying with a married man and worse, a murder. Indeed, in her portraits she appears poker faced, proud and haughty. One wonders if these so called good people where reading the Bible upside down. There is a saying ‘how you got him, is how you’ll loose him.’ She got him through death and lost him through death. And here’s another one, ‘Ask not for whom the bells toll – for they toll for you.

    I go now to put a jumper on – Goosepimples.

    1. Laura says:

      The attention from the King, it seems, would turn head and make these ladies blind to what he was. I expect neither Anne, or later on Katherine Howard, would expect things would end like they did, they must of felt powerful, like nothing would touch them, they were young and invincible, or so they thought. I doubt Anne thought too much about Catherine when she was plotting to marry the King, and probably Jane Seymour didn’t give much or any consideration to Anne. It’s all about rising up the ranks, but not much thought to what could be done to them if it all turned sour.

      1. Ingrid says:

        I completely agree with you Laura. Henry certanly had this power to made them all believe in his version of the history. And receiving all the attentions and ‘love’ from the king plus feeling the power of being a queen they couldn’t see what was really happening.
        Sometimes I usally think that even him was confused in all the ilusion of being a king and the head of the church. He certainly felt being guided by God. He just followed every crazy idea that was passing in his mind without any kind of control. Who would oppose the blessed king?

        1. Laura says:

          I think that even in modern times, the attention of a Royal can make a woman make bad decisions, the perfect example being Lady Diana. She couldn’t see beyond the title and position and think about what life would be like. And like so many of Henry’s wives, she too led a unhappy life and died far too early.

          I agree also with you about Henry. It must of been hard to keep up with the ever changing court, religion and deal with other people’s agenda’s, which were normally selfish! Also the pressure to have a male heir, I think, led him to some terrible decisions.

    2. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Jed,How true your comment, I am a firm believer in ,What Comes Around Goes Around,not olny did ,Jane Seymour die,the kings son Edward V1 , a boy of 14 years,too bad Henry V111 was’nt alive to see his sons death.Queen Jane, most likely would have found herself,far worse off then Queen Anne.Henry really would have been in a RAGE with her. Kind Regards Baroness x

      1. Jed says:

        Here Here, Baroness. Well said X

  3. Melissa says:

    I swear I remember reading somewhere that Chapuys’ reference to Jane’s “bel enigm” was a double entendre, with “enigme” referring to a part of the female anatomy. Backhanded complement, aka, “she has no great wit but is good in bed”?

    1. Charlene says:

      “Enigme” and “enigma” were indeed euphemisms for the female antomy. Wasn’t it Terry Pratchett who pointed out that the Tudors had so many euphemisms for them that it’s hard to compose a sentence of any length that doesn’t contain at least one?

  4. H. Elizabeth says:

    I would expect no better of Henry. Celebrates after wife 1 dies and gets engaged the day after wife 2 dies. Sometimes I wonder if Jane knew what she was getting herself into. If I was in her shoes I would have been terrified. Henry VIII truely was a monster and then blamed his wives for his actions.

  5. Mickey says:

    I often wonder what Jane was thinking… to marry a man who discarded his first wife and executed his second? How blind could she have been? How completely influenced by her family (especially her brothers)? She must have had little “wit” as Chapuys intimated. Poor Anne… poor Jane…

    1. Catharine says:

      With respect, I believe that you are coming at this with a modern bias. Jane probably didnt have any more choice in her marriage than any other marriage at the time. The males in her family would do the choosing and the Seymour men were grasping. Xoxo

  6. Tudor rose says:

    Henry chose the opposite in contrast to Anne. I feel that he most probably did this deliberately. Just a day after Anne was executed he re-marries it did not take him long. I do not get the mentality of it all.

    1. BanditQueen says:

      Jane and Henry were not married the next day: they were engaged. They were married 10 days later.

  7. Liz says:

    I wonder what Henry was privately thinking/feeling about Anne’s death. After all, he could hardly be seen to be grieving for her in public after what she had been accused of. I don’t think he loved Jane Seymour that much, rather he was in love with the promise of a male heir and the fact that she played him by presenting herself as meek and mild when Chapuys says she was anything but with other people. Can he really have been so cold hearted? Could Jane? After all, we know her family became incredibly ambitious along with the pro-catholic faction at court when it became known Henry’s gaze had fallen on her. I think he went for her because he felt old, weary and worn out having endured two feisty wives previously and she looked and presented herself as a milksop but I do wonder if the fact that he hardly ever mentioned Anne again after her death was a sign of deep, deep guilt? Even today, many men when emotionally uncomfortable with something just shut down.. I don’t think Jane was as nice a person as history leads us to believe, to have stepped into Anne’s place so coldly through her blood, to have dallied with a married man with his wife pregnant etc. I know you can say she had much pressure from her family and Henry but if she really had been that virtuous wouldn’t she have refused Henry as was her right to do so? Or was she really thick as Chapuys leads us to believe and just didn’t think about any of it? I didn’t realise Chapuys and others thought Jane wasn’t a virgin either. Let’s face it, nobody who had a hand or connection to Anne’s death comes out smelling of roses and I also found it really telling that wanted to suppress the news of H/J’s betrothal/marriage because of what the people would think. They all knew it was wrong or why would they worry? To outrage the people’s sense of natural justice because they knew the people would be appalled by what had been done to Anne to clear the way for Jane and would have sympathy with Anne however unpopular she had been in life. The whole affair is just too awful. Anne wasn’t very nice to Catherine and she certainly reaped what she sowed there but the Henry/Jane actions immediately following her death are just plain sordid.

  8. Joelle says:

    I think that Jane Seymour, like Anne Boleyn before her, developed a case of tunnel vision once she made it her goal to become Queen. All that mattered was achieving that ultimate goal and securing her position with the longed for male heir. As a spectator to Queen Catherine’s downfall, Jane may have also felt it her duty to somehow clean up what she percieved as Anne Boleyn’s mess. Jane may not have been a person of great wit but she could percieve what Henry truly wanted in a wife and proceeded to present those desired qualities to him. Since Anne Boleyn’s rise to power wasn’t without casualties, Jane must have known that her own rise would acquire its own body count. She could have rationalized Anne’s execution as a necessary evil and seen it as a fitting end to a woman Jane would have seen as a heretic. Jane may not have been as academically intelligent as Anne but she certainly had an impressive amount of common sense and quiet cunning. I think that Jane Seymour’s true character is grossly misrepresented in history and the media. I think that if she had survived Jane’s efforts to further the interests of her son, step-daughters, and supporters would have been more bold and noteworthy.

    1. Liz says:

      Great points Joelle! She could well have become the mouse that roared!

  9. BanditQueen says:

    First to say I am looking forward to the documentary on the last days of Anne Boleyn tomorrow evening.

    Jane was not the pure innocent that she is often portrayed and neither is she the simple minded uneducated mouse also seen in some films. She is a woman of a gentle family, a close supporter of Mary and Katherine of Aragon, and she was clever enough to learn not to make the mistakes of her second mistress, by being submissive and obedient. She is coached by Sir Nicholas Carew in how to behave around Henry and how to win his heart and not just his bed. Jane was also modest, as Anne was meant to have been, but she was also prudish and so may have been afraid to express herself sexually until after her marriage. All this contributed to her behaviour during the last few months of Anne’s life.

    It may have been foolish and thoughtless to have a locket given to her by Henry on clear display so as Anne would find out that she was having an affair with her husband, but Jane I do not believe did not intend any hurt or cruelty by it. I do not believe she was capable of such an emotion. In contrast to Anne Boleyn and the ill treatment towards Princess Mary caused by her, Jane begged Henry to be reconciled to his two children for the comfort of his soul and the peace of the kingdom. She loved his children and brought the family back together again. Anne wanted Mary and Katherine dead.

    Jane also showed that she was concerned for the welfare of the Queen as she begged Henry to send her from the court least she do the queen more harm when she almost miscarried. It was days later that Anne did miscarry. Jane is not to blame for the fact that once Anne had miscarried Henry refused to have any more children by his wife. She may have consented to have become his new Queen once she knew that Henry wanted a new wife, but she did not cause the death of Anne Boleyn or rejoice at her downfall. On the contrary she was concerned about the harm she had caused her, and she protested about it. It was only at the time of the trial that she. as many others was able to be convinced of the guilt of the Queen.

    Jane in the Tudors is seen in the last few days as getting ready for her betrothal party in sharp contrast to Queen Anne preparing for death in the Tower in prayer and conversation with her ladies. The mood of the two women could not be more different. But Jane must also have felt some guilt and sadness at the circumstances of her elevation to Henry’s Queen. Whether she believed Anne to be guilty or not is not clear, but Henry could easily have persuaded her of that ‘fact’ in his own mind and assured her that she had nothing to feel anxious of guilty about. Anne’s fall was not her doing: it was Henry’s and to some extent Anne was to blame for her own fall. She was not guilty of unfaithfulness but she did not behave in a Queenly fashion and was a bit of a nag if the truth be told. Anne by her own admission did not submit to Henry on state matters and did not show him respect. She did not make the transition from mistress to Queen very smoothly and still behaved as if she was Henry’s equal and made demands of him. He became annoyed by the way this carried on and her failure to produce living children did not help her situation. A fed up Henry looked elsewhere.

    Jane and Henry may have become betrothed very quickly, but in the eyes of King Henry he was not married to Queen Anne in any legal way and that justified his quick engagement. The marriage was only delayed by 10 days as Henry had to observe Rogation Days after the death of the Queen. Otherwise I would not have been surprised if they had not have got married the very next day. Henry was now doing things as he wished and this would have been made possible by some means. In any event Jane and Henry were betrothed in undue haste as far as I am concerned, as Anne was not yet cold in her grave. In consenting to this Jane did show that she had some cold feelings as well as warm ones as I am sure she could have asked Henry to wait a couple of weeks before becoming engaged. But Henry wanted to get the memory of Anne out of the way as soon as possible and that included replacing her as Queen.

    1. Azaria says:

      A lovely, well-balanced and thoughtful account, BanditQueen. The tendency to jump onto ‘Team Anne’ or ‘Team Jane’ and subsequently categorise the two women as heroines or villainesses is quite irritating. People seem to forget that these were real, three-dimensional human beings, as much as you or I. None of us can say that we’ve lived an entirely ‘sinless’ life, but we all have our redeeming qualities and moments.

      From my research, my own opinion of Jane is that she was a clever woman. Not clever as in learned, or full of courtly and witty repartee, but a clever manager of people. She knew when to push Henry and when to back off. I think this is what Chapuys meant by ‘not great wit… but good understanding’. She had been around for a few years and knew how the courtly game worked.

      She seems to have been skilled at reading social situations and reacting accordingly to show herself to her best advantage. I think it would be misleading to call her cold, as she showed real warmth and loyalty to those she cared about (e.g. Mary / pleading for the rebels), but she certainly did some things that could be called reprehensible.

      1. Baroness Von Reis says:

        Azaria,I think that your comment is very well said,Jane new how to play the King in her way,smart enough too see the mistakes ,Q’Anne had made with the King,and to keep a cool temper.Yes these were very real feeling humans,but I do have too say that ,Jane should have stayed away from the King,at least until the child the Queen was going too have,perhaps it would have lived minise the stress of another women,be it Jane or someone else.Just my thoughts. Regards Baronees

  10. mandy1536 says:

    I am keen to research Jane more as out of his wives to be honest shes probabley the one who has interested me least. I think like most women of that era she was used as a pawn by her family for their own gains. Anne Boleyn has always been my favourite maybe thats why I have never shown much interest in Jane, I wonder would Henry have tired with Jane had she lived. Yes she produced his only son BUT he was a sickly weak son if only Henry could have seen what a great queen his and Annes daughter was.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      mandy1536,Yes Henry V111,used all women Queen,mistress or what ever he saw any kind of gain for himself,weather it be the getting of a son or just sexual,he was a true womenizer.I too have been doing some research on ,Q’Jane aswell,she was really not his fav, too easy won!!Henry Loved the hunt,chase,conqoure,I truely think in time,had Q’Jane lived he would have board with her,and too he warned this Queen too stay out of the Royal BIZZ,or else.It meant heed Henrys warnning,do your job ,and that was the getting of Sons!Had Henry and Q’Jane lived to see ,Edwards death, would have put him in a rage for this Queen,as I do not think she would have been able too bear anymore children at all,she was far to sick from the birth of Edward, by c-section,Also Jane was not the olny women too bear Henry a son Bessie Blount also had a bastard,The Duke of New Richmond,he too was a very sickly child,Annes sister was a maybe?? it was Henrys son,but she was also married,I think it was the Kings son and he did live longer then any of the males from Henrys gene pool.Just my thoughts. Kind Regards Baroness x

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