Jane Seymour by Lucas Horenbout
Jane Seymour by Lucas Horenbout
On 27th May 1537, Trinity Sunday, just under a year since her marriage to Henry VIII, Queen Jane Seymour felt her unborn baby move for the first time.

The ‘quickening’ of Henry and Jane’s baby was a joyous occasion and it sparked off celebrations across the country. In London, a Te Deum was sung in St Paul’s Cathedral, fires were lit and wine was enjoyed by the people. Here is an excerpt from Charles Wriothesley’s chronicle:

“Alsoe, the 27th daye of Maye 1537, being Trynytie Sondaye, there was Te Deum sounge in Powles for joye of the Queenes quickninge of childe, my Lord Chaunseler, Lord Privaye Seale, with diverse other Lordes and Bishopps, beinge then present; the Mayre and Aldermen with the beste craftes of the cyttye beinge there in their lyveryes, all gevinge laude and prayse to God for joye of the same, wher the Bishopp of Worcester, called Docter Latymer, made an oration afore all the Lordes and Commons, after Te Deum was songe, shewinge the cause of their assemblye, which oration was mervelouse fruitefull to the hearers; and alsoe the same night was diverse greate fyers made in London, and a hogeshead of wyne at everye fyer for poore people to drinke as longe as yt woulde laste; I praye Jesue, and it be his will, send us a Prince.”1

In Oxford, a sermon was preached:

“The last and greatest benefit, the special cause of their assembly, is “that our most excellent lady and mistress queen Jane, our noble and godly prince’s, King Henry the Eighth’s, wife, hath conceived and is great with child, and upon Trinity Sunday, like one given of God, the child quickened in the mother’s womb.” Exhorts them to give praise, and pray that it may be a prince.”2

And there were also celebrations in the English strongholds across the Channel. William, Lord Sandys, wrote to Lord Lisle, the Deputy of Calais, on 1st June 1537 regarding the news from England and the celebrations organised in Guines and Calais:

“I have this afternoon received from you the most joyful news ever sent me. No greater comfort ever came to my knowledge next to the prosperous estate of our Sovereign lord. You inform me that fires are to be made and Te Denm sung, and guns shot off at Calais at 4 o’clock. Too much honour cannot be done to the occasion, and I will do the same here, but this day is too far spent to do it publicly, and I have warned the curates of this county to meet at the parish church to-morrow morning and have a solemn mass with Te Denm after. There will also be a fire in the market-place and gun shot; so I trust the news will be known to all my neighbours, and your Lordship will perceive the doing thereof, if the wind suffer it to be heard.”3

And on 3rd June, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, wrote to Cromwell informing him of the preparations for celebrations in the city of York:

“Hopkins will report what he has done about the good news of the Queen’s being quick with child. This afternoon Te Deum shall be sung and this night bonfires made through all this city. Has ordered four hogsheads of wine out of his cellar to be laid abroad at night to be drunk in divers places freely.”4

Confirmation of Jane’s pregnancy was good news, it was something to be celebrated because England had renewed hope for an heir to the throne, a prince. However, as David Cressy points out in his book Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life-Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, quickening “also marked a new stage of anxiety” and points out that 16th century diarists “report quickening as the critical time of their wives’ pregnancies, when the risk of miscarriage was most acute”, so Henry and Jane’s joy must have been mixed with worry.5 Of course, we know that this pregnancy did result in the birth of a prince, the future Edward VI, on 12th October 1537.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1536 – Cardinal Reginald Pole sent Henry VIII a copy of De Unitate (Pro Ecclesiasticae Unitatis Defensione). In it, he criticised the King’s divorce and the trouble it had caused.
  • 1541 – Execution of Margaret Pole, suo jure (in her own right) Countess of Salisbury. It is recorded that she was beheaded by “a wretched and blundering youth… who literally hacked her head and shoulders to pieces in the most pitiful manner”. She was buried in the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula. Click here to read more about her execution.

Notes and Sources

  1. Wriotheseley, Charles. A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, p64.
  2. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XII, Part I, 1325.
  3. LP xii, ii. 11.
  4. LP xii, ii. 22.
  5. Cressy, David (1997) Birth, Marriage, and Death: Ritual, Religion, and the Life Cycle in Tudor and Stuart England, p45.

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14 thoughts on “27 May 1537 – The quickening of Jane Seymour’s baby”
  1. I wonder, did Katherine and Anne merit a “Te Deum” each time one of their children quickened?

  2. Henry had to rush to marry Jane so quickly after Anne’s execution because he knew he was getting old. He considered this his first real marriage so how fortunate that the baby was a boy to confirm he was right all along.

    1. Maybe she would have gotten more attention because no one would have spirited the girl away and then maybe Jane would not have died from the infection and lived to have a son next. A living Jane is an interesting idea to contemplate.

    2. It would have depended, I guess, on a second pregnancy. Henry might have been disappointed when Anne gave him another daughter, but at least it was a sign that she could bear healthy children. This would also apply to Jane. It did take her quite long to get pregnant though, and Henry wasn’t getting any younger. If there wouldn’t have been a second pregnancy or if she’d miscarry or give him yet another daughter, well… I’m not sure he would have had her murdered, but he would have found a way to get rid of her.

      1. Maybe the reason she did take quite long to get pregnant was because Henry was impotent after all, and he was besotted with Catherine Howard yet after two years she still hadn’t got pregnant, really three womens lives were ruined because of Henrys need for a son, Katherine’s Anne’s and Janes, all of these women were involved with Henry V111 and it brought them nothing but misery.

  3. This was a great day for Henry and Jane, having survived and dealt with the greatest challenge to his reign, having dealt with the northern risings, this must have been a wonderful sign that the danger was well passed but that God had protected and delivered the realm by securing its future. Henry had also expressed private concern that he may not have more children. The Te Deum which was the normal way to mark the movement of the child in the whom, the public way to give thanks for the living child, although of course the pregnancy would have been confirmed and celebrated by the King and Queen, doctors, friends and so on for some time. Anne and Katherine both celebrated in this way at this point in their pregnancy. Katherine carried at least four children to term or near time, she had a Te Deum a few times. Remember that there was no way to tell the sex of the child, it was always assumed to be a boy, but the Te Deum was for the living child, no matter the sex. In hindsight Henry would have mixed feelings, thanks for the safe delivery of his son, terrible sorrow for the death of Jane, who he clearly cared dearly for. Henry was desperate during the long almost three days of labour, he was as worried about her as his child, perhaps because this may be his last chance of a child. Henry himself expressed concern that he may not have any more children, his desperation is a matter of record. The Te Deum on this day would take on a very special meaning.

  4. I read that poor Jane was in labour for three days and two nights, how absolutely dreadful, and she had no modern pain relief medicines to help her, what did they use instead I wonder, did they give her brandy , that were me I’d have drunk the whole bottle, on tv when they show royal births from years ago they show the women mopping her brow and the mother to be is gripping their hands and just having to put up with it, in Wikipedia it said that possibly the reason her labour was difficult was because the baby was positioned properly, maybe it was a breech birth? My sister was one and the midwives just put their hands in and turn the baby round in the right position, had they had knowledge of that it wouldn’t have been so arduous for her poor woman.

  5. Quickening I assume meant the baby kicked. I don’t buy the assumption of male modern historians that women didn’t know they were pregnant before this as we have been having babies for over a million years. Women passed the knowledge on. It was male doctors who conplicated child birth. Anne didn’t have a fantom pregnancy in 1534_she miscarried. Jane knew before this that she was pregnant, but this was her public confirmation of her living child. Yes, of course some women were deceived by certain symptoms, like Mary who had stomach cancer, not a fantom pregnancy. However, her midwives and doctors had their doubts, but didn’t let her believe anything else as she was desperate for and so confident of having a child. This was particularly good news as Henry had feared he may not have any more children and with the rebellions the previous year, it had been a terrible time. Henry was forty five and desperate for a son and some good news was needed. It must have been a great relief. Thanks Giving and Praise Deo indeed.

  6. Jane must have had very mixed feelings on this day. Triumph for her pregnancy, but also fear for the childbirth to come, and its outcome. How afraid she must have been of not going to term, or not having a healthy son!

  7. I think that Henry the VIII was almost impotent when he finally did have a child ,a boy,, it could have been a girl ? And he would indeed have been furious ….it is often said that very fat men ,that have slow digestions …..have also very poor erections ….so it was almost a miracle to get Jane Seymour to conceive ….with Katherine Howard ,she probably knew all that was needed to exite the king …..and not get pregnant in the process ….

    1. Henry may have been putting on weight after his accident, but he wasn’t nearly as fat as he was by the time he came to marry wife no four and five. He could still have had low motility and occasional impotency for other medical reasons. As he grew in size this would certainly increase. He had other problems as well, although for a short time with Katherine Howard he had a good sexual experience. This ended in March 1541 when Henry became depressed and his leg opened up. After that things were good only at times. As he continued to be inactive and to gain weight, this affected his performance more.

      The pregnancy of Jane Seymour may have been a miracle and that she had a son, certainly was but that makes it even more praise worthy.

    1. Can you please state a reliable contemporary source to confirm this, Karissa? I have read that Jane may have believed she was pregnant in the Autumn of 1536, when is about the time Mary came to court and Henry patted her body and said: Edward, Edward, but there is nothing in the records to confirm she was pregnant. However, Natilia Richards in her well researched novel “Falcons Rise” about Jane Seymour speculated that Jane may have had a couple of miscarriages. I have never found a source to support this and it is contradicted by Henry when he says several times before Jane’s pregnancy was confirmed that he feared he would ever have children with Jane, due to his age. This suggests Jane, despite hostile claims that she was already pregnant, for which we have no reliable evidence, had a hard time conceiving during her first seven months of marriage. There were unsettled times with rebellious threats and the difficulty with Mary and Henry was unwell for a time, which put too much pressure on her. However, when she did finally conceive the country went wild and now Henry had something to celebrate.

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