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30 May 1536 – Tudor king marries third wife soon after dispatching second wife

Posted By on May 30, 2018

This “on this day in history” event always makes me see red! Yes, just eleven days after his second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn, was executed at the Tower of London on trumped up charges – I think most people would agree with me on that – King Henry VIII married for the third time.

The marriage took place at Whitehall Palace, formerly known as York Place, the very property that Henry had renovated with Anne Boleyn. The bride was Jane Seymour, daughter of Sir John Seymour of Wulfhall, in Wiltshire, and his wife, Margery Wentworth, and one of his second wife’s ladies. The couple had become betrothed on 20th May 1536, the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution.

It is not clear when Henry VIII started his flirtation with Jane, but it is clear that it was gossip by the end of January 1536 because Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, mentioned “the treatment shown to a lady of the Court, named Mistress Semel [Seymour], to whom, as many say, he has lately made great presents” in his dispatch to the Emperor regarding court gossip about the reasons for Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage on 29th January 1536. As the king began to doubt his marriage, the flirtation with Jane became more serious. In March 1536 her brother, Edward Seymour, was given an apartment in Greenwich Palace which the king apparently could reach via a private passage. Edward and his wife were obviously meant to play chaperones for Jane and her royal sweetheart.

Chapuys records that Henry VIII was paying court to Jane in April 1536, but as things began to unravel for Anne Boleyn, Jane was sent away from court, to Sir Nicholas Carew’s country home, to prevent gossip about her relationship with the king. Even though this was combined with the king entertaining other ladies, it certainly didn’t prevent gossip. The king wrote to Jane to let her know about “a ballad made lately of great derision against us”, reassuring her that the writer, if found, would be “straitly punished”. On 14th May, twelve days after Anne Boleyn’s arrest, the king sent Sir Nicholas Carew is to collect Jane and to install her in a property in Chelsea, within a mile of the king’s lodgings. There, Jane was treated as if she was already queen – she was “most richly dressed” and “splendidly served by the King’s cook and other officers”. Things moved rather fast.

Then, on 19th May 1536, the dastardly deed was done. Queen Anne Boleyn was beheaded at the Tower of London. Henry VIII was free to marry again and he chose to marry the woman he had waiting in the wings, Jane. It’s impossible to know what Jane thought about what happened in May 1536 and how she felt about her former mistress. It’s also unclear what Jane was like as a person. Was she a pawn used by those who wanted to bring down Anne or was she a willing participant? Did she view Anne as a usurper? We just don’t know. What is clear is that Jane was different, both in looks and personality to Anne Boleyn. On the Anne Boleyn Experience 2018, Gareth Russell gave an excellent talk entitled “Anne Boleyn: A profile in brittle brilliance” and in that he said that “going from Anne Boleyn to Jane Seymour is like going from a glass of champagne to a glass of milk” and I think that’s spot on. Is it harsh? Probably. But you can have too much champagne, can’t you? Sometimes you just want a comforting glass of milk. And I expect that Jane was like that for Henry.

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume X. 282, 908.
  • Halliwell-Phillipps, James Orchard. Letters of the Kings of England, Volume 1, 353.
  • Beer, B. (2004-09-23). Seymour, Edward, duke of Somerset [known as Protector Somerset] (c. 1500–1552), soldier and royal servant. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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20 thoughts on “30 May 1536 – Tudor king marries third wife soon after dispatching second wife”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    All I can say is that the optics look bad now and they certainly looked bad then. Look at the grief Catherine Parr got for not waiting an appropriate amount of time before marrying Thomas Seymour after the death of King Henry. Marrying Jane so soon after Anne’s death must have added to the suspicions some people probably had that Henry had Anne judicially murdered. For a man who wanted to be seen as a ‘victim’, Henry did a terrible job during the entire process of clearing the way to wife #3.

  2. Esther says:

    IMO, Henry was seen as a “victim”, not because people really thought that he was one, but because they realized that he wanted to be seen that way — and the people were too scared to see him as anything else. I can’t help feeling sorry for Jane … she must have been scared to death! Anne Boleyn (like Katherine of Aragon) would have thought of Henry as the chivalrous knight he was when they first met … Jane Seymour knew she was dealing with a monster who killed his friends and spouses.

  3. Louise says:

    I think Jane was eager to become Henry’s king. She certainly did not discourage his advances. Anne caught Henry with Jane on his knee. They were kissing.
    Ambition will often trump fear.
    Jane was a firm supporter of Katherine of Aragon and probably thought Anne got the punishment she deserved.

  4. PrincessinAZ76 says:

    I can see both sides to this….

    Women rarely believe that men will do to them what was done to their predecessor, especially when money, titles, and power are involved. Plus, I’d think most women of lower stature would be flattered by Henry’s attentions. At this point, he was still a good catch (though I very much pity his later wives that had to deal with his awful stench and temper)! You have to figure most everyone heard rumor of Anne’s hot temper, her haughty attitude, and her religious beliefs. Didn’t she even wear purple before being crowned? So, I think many people probably thought she did get what was coming to her, though shocked by the swiftness of it.

    Personally, I would be quite fearful of Henry, both of rejecting his advances and of marrying him, as at this point, he has now done three things no previous king had done… divorced his first wife, detached from the Vatican, and beheaded his second wife. He was unpredictable, a wild card!

    He was also a narcissist. He had to play the victim role. He couldn’t let history record him as being the defective one, hence the reason he blamed all his other wives for not producing a male heir. What kind of king would he be if he were the defective one??? Can you imagine what he’d think of his own image today???

  5. Christine says:

    Annes day was gone and now it was Janes turn to be Henrys queen and to take her place in the history books, Anne had been Henrys great love and I truly believe he never felt the same about any woman again, he came close to it with Catherine Howard but for Anne he was ready to risk absolutely anything to make her his, their relationship had always bordered on the tempestuous and it had ended violently, reminiscent of Henrys great passion for her, it does make you wonder how he could have wed so quickly after his wife’s death but then his behaviour had been lacking in decency right from the start, wining and dining Jane whilst Anne was locked up in the Tower, his cheerful countenance throughout the whole rotton affair in fact his whole attitude stunk, so when he married Jane Seymour I doubt if any were very surprised at court that is, the citizens of London would have heard rumours there was the unsavoury ballad that Henry came to hear of, and gossip would have passed like wildfire in the streets and taverns, the court now had to bow to a new queen and Annes ladies maybe rather resentfully had to serve a new mistress, one can imagine the scene in her chambers once occupied by Anne as the women stitched silently, making eyes at one another behind the new queens back, Anne had been very vocal everyone had known wether she was happy or sad, but with Jane I imagine she hid her feelings well, first thing she did was to order her ladies not to wear the French hood that Anne had worn and many of her women had also, Jane was later to plead Marys cause which did not go down too well, she took her place on the huge chair of estate next to Henry and smiled and was benign and Henry it was observed was beaming and full of joy, yet how could Henry find his third wife attractive after dazzling Anne, like Gareth said, Anne was champagne and Jane like milk, certainly she was considered so pale the complete opposite of his second fiery wife, but there lay the attraction, Jane would never argue with him in public and ridicule him, she would never berate him if he took a mistress, in fact she was perfect queen material and now all she had to do was provide her husband with a son and heir, how did she feel as she walked about the corridors of Hampton Court Whitehall and Greenwich? As she appeared people bowed and curtseyed before her yet when darkness fell did she see a face peering out at her from the curtains, a white white face that of the ghost queen who had died so she could marry the King her husband? If Jane was superstitious and had she any qualms over the way her predecessor had died then she would have been afraid, fear caused by guilt is very powerful and she had stepped into the same shoes her mistress had occupied, Anne was lying cold in her grave whilst in Henrys new queen the blood was warm in her veins, yet she must have thought with some discomfiture, ( one supposes) that if she also failed to give Henry a son what would her fate be? All of Henrys wives after the execution of his second wife must have seen the shadow of the axe, that dreadful sound of the guards feet outside the door, the ominous knock that foretold doom, Jane willingly married Henry that much we know, the Catholics supported her as she was from a Catholic family and she tried to help Mary reconcile with her father, I think Jane whilst kind and pious she fails in the fact that she appears unsympathetic to Anne Boleyn but then many had not liked Anne and Jane maybe thought she had brought nothing but trouble to the realm, Agnes Strickland says her conduct was shameless in receiving the King whilst her mistress was queen but Anne had done the same to Katherine and really, if the King was interested you was in a difficult position, she was always in the company of a chaperone when Henry visited her, and I don’t believe that tale about Anne finding her on his knee as Janes honour was always strictly guarded, her life as queen was only brief and she didn’t make much impact on the court but through her Mary was able to enjoy a warm relationship with her father again.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      Mary did enjoy a warm relationship with her father again with the caveat the she recognize him as head of the church. If she did not do this I fear Henry at this point in his life would have had her executed.

      1. Christine says:

        It’s difficult to say but Henry was determined to bend Mary to his will, would he have killed his own daughter is something that Chapyus was afraid of, as he knew the Kings temper and he would have executed anyone who would not bow to his commands, Mary had been wilful far too long in Henrys eye and after Annes death, Mary naively hoped he would welcome her back with open arms, in fact she had to write several letters to Cromwell and with some nudging from Jane before he would have her back at court again, and yes it was only on the condition that the signed the document stating that her parents marriage was invalid and Henry was head of the church, it was an awful thing to expect a loving daughter to do, and under great duress she signed yet it was something which haunted her to the end of her days as she saw it as a betrayal of her mother, but Chapyus was wise and advised her it was for the best, I feel sorry for Mary though having to do this.

        1. Michael Wright says:

          Henry could change his beliefs like a hat and assumed everyone else could too.

  6. Laura says:

    All Jane had to do was provide an heir. Well Jane achieved that. However I expect Jane was nervous about whether the child would be a son. Anne did know Henry was married but Henry himself declared his marriage to be invalid. Jane’s refusal to be mistress really sealed Anne’s fate. Henry couldn’t have another living wife whilst he married another. I expect advisors from the Catholic families told Jane how to act. Mary was a pawn in her father’s marriage’s.

  7. Sabrina says:

    I think it’s disgraceful of Henry to marry so soon after having his wife killed on trumped up charges, but I guess he was very concerned to get his male heir as soon as possible (also is it possible that he believed the charges against Anne?). Some people might say that Anne got a taste of her own medicine being cast aside and displaced by Jane after what was done to Catherine of Aragon, but I don’t think this is fair as Catherine’s ill treatment was not Anne’s fault. As for Jane, I wonder how she felt about marrying the king. After what happened to Catherine and Anne she might have been nervous for her own fate if she failed to give birth to a son. And it’s not like she would have had any choice in the matter.

  8. Laura says:

    I think that Henry believed what he wanted. Jane was a temptation. A new start. Jane in comparison to Anne was dull and moulded herself to please Henry. Jane was the complete opposite and was a breath of fresh air for Henry. Whether that was her true personality is is hard to tell.

  9. Globerose says:

    Short, plump, quiet, serious, deeply committed Conservative Jane came, for whatever reason at the time, to Henry’s attention; and the Conservative faction must have done a double-take! A Boleyn queen, whispering away in Henry’s ear, was an anathema and indeed, threat to them. Oh, if only they could find a quiet, serious, deeply Conservative substitute now that the King’s love and forbearance for his second wife was waning, one so pliable they could easily manipulate and control her, so that the wifely words whispered to Henry would be theirs. Jane did, it seems, adore Queen Katherine and Princess Mary. So they coached her – as if coaching were needed with this serious and honourable woman – and with Cromwell’s help, everything rolled out as they had dreamed. But then Cromwell would give them a lesson in political reality, and their speculating would come crashing down about them. Because their trump card Jane – just like Katherine and Anne before her – was only as good as her womb and her value dependent upon delivering one son and heir. What did the Conservatives and Princess Mary gain from the fall of one queen and the rise of another? Not so much, really. If at all.

  10. Carol-Ann says:

    I think Jane had only limited choices. The King’s eye had fallen on her and if she didn’t make the best of it, Henry could turn his anger on her family and their prospects and they would not have supported her had she angered the King. As Anne Boleyn found out there was nowhere to run or hide.

    What happened to Anne should never have happened, it was murder plain and simple but I don’t think anyone saw it coming (except Henry and Cromwell). I imagine most people thought she would be put aside and her marriage declared invalid as Katherine’s had been.

    As has been said we will never know what Jane truly thought about what happened but she must have been scared, everything depended on her giving birth to a son and that was only ever a 50/50 chance.

    I remember reading a quote about Henry VIII (I forget the author) that said ‘Compromise for Henry VIII, was everyone else coming round to his point of view.’ He had decided poor Anne was guilty now so must the world agree. This quote has always seemed to me, to sum up Henry VIII.

  11. Banditqueen says:

    I believe Jane Seymour was exactly what Henry wanted and needed now in a wife, a traditional Tudor gentlewoman with good family connections, a normal female education, good at needlework, good at running a household, preparing for marriage and motherhood, she was calm and a peacemaker, she looked as if she would be little trouble, was intelligent, not dim, shrewd, devout and compliant. She was the calm after the storm, not before and she was concerned about his family. For Henry she was the sort of woman who would leave him to rule while she nested and gave him children, just what he needed. However, there was more to Jane than that.

    For one thing she was experienced in service at Court and had served both Anne and Katherine, so she knew the protocols expected of her. She was also more or less a traditional Catholic, although her family had taken the Oath of Supremacy and Succession and her brothers were reformers. She was also very sympathetic to Princess Mary and set out to attempt to reconcile father and daughter. Like Henry and Anne Jane loved hunting and was an expert at it, probably a more natural one than the King and she spent three weeks with him hunting for their honeymoon, she danced, was modest and she was not prepared to give herself to Henry without a ring on her finger. Elizabeth Norton paints her almost on a mission when it came to Mary so this may point to a woman who was as much driven as Anne when she got her teeth into something.

    Jane was well coached on how to keep the King and how to act as Queen and she was the ultimate Queen in waiting, literally being treated as a Queen while Anne was in the Tower. She was orthodox in her religious observance as well and this could also have been part of her willingness to be Queen, maybe Henry would become more Catholic again. She saw herself as helping him to forgive Mary and bring her back into the Succession. She also learned or was wise enough not to push too far and to act as the obedient Tudor wife. She is seen as being demure, but I believe she was more careful and shrewd and handled Henry well by not troubling him too much or arguing with him. I don’t believe she was a doormat or a mouse but conventional. Let us remember, Anne was quite different to the majority of Tudor women and even she had to do as she was told in the end and was powerless. A wife had to obey, a woman was the property of her male protector, father or husband, end of story and although we might not like it, this was what people expected and how a sixteenth century Christian woman should be. Jane was the ideal Tudor Christian wife. Henry wanted a more quiet life after the excitement of Anne and seven years of fighting for an annulment and the Seymour family were ambitious enough to move into place as an alternative faction, with even Cromwell as an ally, in order to give the King exactly what he wanted. By nature Jane seems to have been gentle and comfortable with being obedient, but with the lessons from Nicholas Carew she learned to turn all to her advantage.

    I don’t believe Jane had anything to do with Anne’s death and I doubt that at the end of the day she could refuse Henry’s offer of marriage. Like Katherine Parr later on she saw acceptance as a religious as well as a personal duty. Although Jane failed to get Henry to return to her idea of orthodoxy, he did remain basically Catholic. Jane made contact with Mary virtually straight away and the Princess thanked her for her letters and offered to serve her. Jane, of course could not make progress without the King’s agreement and when she raised the idea of reconciliation he laughed but she said she only thought of his happiness and that of his people. She was clever in her choice of words, but Henry was determined that Mary should obey and submit to him in all things before he received her back into his life and favour. Mary wrote to Cromwell for help and Henry sent a delegation who made threats to her and she was forced to give in. Jane arranged for them to visit Mary and the Princess came back to Court. Jane also pleaded for the rebels in the pilgrimage of grace, but Henry warned her to mind her own business and recall what had happened to her predecessor. Jane complied but by now she was pregnant. She would eventually give Henry his son, Edward and die within twelve days of her triumph. She received a huge funeral and she and Henry Viii share a resting place in Windsor. In the middle of the tempest that shook his realm with violence and rebellion, Jane had provided a haven of relative peace and Henry practically fell apart after her death, withdrawing to mourn for several months.

    1. Christine says:

      Henry in his later years would come to regard Jane as the perfect wife out of all of his other spouses, yes she was like the calm after the storm, the great tempest had withdrawn, those who say he had not really loved her are wrong as he did suffer very real bereavement after her death, I think with Jane he had come to enjoy a certain amount of marital bliss and she had also given him his longed for son, I think the bit where he told her to remember what happen to his predecessor was uncalled for, but we know Henry had had enough of Annes meddling and he did not expect Jane to do the same, even so those words must have filled Jane with horror, maybe than when he had threatened her life she began to see him quite differently, although I doubt he meant it but I thought he said that to Jane about the dissolution of the monasteries Bq? Wasn’t the rebels concerning the pilgrimage of grace when Catherine Howard was his queen? Anyway it was no such thing to say to a new bride and further enhances Henrys reputation as the tyrannical Bluebeard of legend, to her merit she was not the meek shadowy queen that history has painted of her, but the driving force behind Henry and Marys reconciliation, she was worried what the effect the destruction of the monasteries would have on the poor and sick and homeless who used them as places of refuge, I think underneath her meek exterior she had more gumption than she has been given credit for, her triumph lay in her son who sadly she never lived to enjoy, she is remembered today for being Henrys third queen who died tragically young in childbirth, the mother of King Edward and the wife who lies beside Henry V111 for all eternity in St. Georges Chapel Windsor, Jane was described as no great beauty and she certainly made no impact on those around her but she triumphed where all Henrys other wives failed, and yes after her sudden death which followed a very difficult birth Henry was quite bereft, it was Cromwell who urged his master to consider remarrying again but as we know that turned out to be a disaster.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Hi Christine, no the Pilgrimage of Grace and the other northern rebellions as well as the other one in Lincolnshire kicked off in October 1536 with a second wave in 1537 mainly because of the dissolution of the smaller monastic houses worth £200 and under as well as a whole host of economic and rumours about taxation. The two issues are linked and Jane wanted Henry to think again as well as be merciful to the rebels. As we know he gave a great show of pardons for the rebels and had Robert Aske as his honoured guest at Christmas 1536 with Jane and Henry making a great fuss of him. When Henry took the opportunity to change his mind after a second rising to order the rebels crushed Jane is believed to have asked him to reconsider. Now whether Henry said this about meddling about the monasteries or rebels, he obviously saw her as trying to move him from a larger plan, the reforms he had in mind, perhaps and he wanted money from the sale and he didn’t want to be distracted. The ironic thing is that due to the reopening of some monasteries such as Sawley in Yorkshire led to the rest of them being closed, the larger ones fell in 1538 to 1540. Henry is reported as behaving erratically during this period, losing his temper, calling able generals cowards, negotiating but building an army, threatening to lead the army himself, yet his leg would not allow it, making threats to utterly destroy those who don’t go home, but also ordering pardon and caution and moaning when Norfolk only hung those found guilty. It was in the middle of all this that negotiations took place in Jane’s apartment to spare one particular convent. I can well imagine that prompted Henry’s threats regarding Anne and if she also tried to ask for mercy for the rebels, I can imagine his temper got the better of him then as well.

        Fortunately for Jane she had the common sense to learn from this and didn’t press the issues. Although her intervention was really the role of a Queen to beg for mercy and try to move Henry to have compassion as an advocate as Queens did, this was far too dangerous a threat to his crown and the policy regarding the monasteries was one the crown wanted to benefit from. He had had enough of women begging him to rethink policy and poor Jane got the lot. Talking about Katherine Howard, however, she was successful in asking for the release and pardon of individuals such as Thomas Wyatt and a man sentenced to have his hand cut off, but then that wasn’t a political move and it was quite harmless. Henry appears to have mellowed by the time he married young Katherine who enchanted and besotted him and then he changed again after her death.

        Henry did mourn Jane truly I think and in the Tudors when they had Henry weep and tell her she was the light in his dark dark world, I think it sums her up nicely. These were dangerous and dark times in a restless Kingdom and Jane made him a haven in the middle of it all, a domestic home he could return to and find peace and retreat from the horrors of the decisions he took and the rebel armies. It was also to his great delight that in early 1537 Jane was able to say she was with child. Henry had something to look forward to.

        1. Christine says:

          Thanks Bq I often feel sorry for Robert Aske, I think he was treated as a scapegoat for the rebels and he lost his life because of it.

        2. Banditqueen says:

          Yes, although Aske was the lawman of the Earl of Northumberland and an ex soldier, his education was what led to him being the spokesperson for the rebels, but he was more of a moderator than a leader. Having said that he also had a less pleasant side and used it to force reluctant families into the cause. He didn’t approve of the second rebellion and didn’t take part in it either, partly because he thought to trust the King’s word. However, Henry and Cromwell had had him write an account of his reasons for the rebellion and he also wrote something else after the date of the public pardon and that was held against him. So as a leader, he was definitely a scapegoat. You have to blame someone I guess if you are the King as the focus of the trouble but his fate was particularly cruel. He hung for three days in chains from the walls of Clifford’s Tower at York Castle and probably starved to death. The King had given him a fine coat and he had been his guest for twelve days. It must have seemed a bitter betrayal when he returned and was soon afterwards arrested.

  12. Michael Wright says:

    Sadly, Jane is like Henry’s brother Arthur: neither was on the scene long enough for history to get to know them.

  13. Pamela Stith says:

    Jane did the two things which endeared her to Henry forever; she gave him a son and then died before he could get tired of her.

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