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Jane Seymour – Guest Post by Lauren Johnson

Posted By on October 24, 2013

Lauren Johnson as Jane Seymour

Lauren Johnson as Jane Seymour

On this day in 1537, Jane Seymour died of puerperal fever at Hampton Court Palace. In this guest post, Lauren Johnson, a historian and author who regularly interprets Jane at Hampton Court Palace, considers how Jane ended up as Henry’s third – and many still argue ‘favourite’ – wife.

Over the past five years in my role as costumed interpreter at Hampton Court Palace I have played three of Henry VIII’s wives: Jane Seymour, Katherine Parr and Catherine Howard. Katherine Parr I admire immensely for her political savvy and intelligence; Catherine Howard is great fun to interpret and I feel a sort of older sisterly protectiveness for her; but Jane Seymour, whom I may have played most, is still, five years on, an enigma to me.

Here is a woman renowned for being meek and mild who we know argued with Henry about political and religious matters; who was famously virtuous, yet was betrothed to the King the day after he had killed his previous wife.

Jane is popularly remembered as Henry’s ‘favourite’ wife – the one who appears in the family portraits, the one he was buried next to. And it is interesting that Jane, just like Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, is often assumed to have been nothing but a pawn in the ambitions of her male relatives and allies. We imagine a poor shrinking pale figure, dangled in front of the King to bait him away from his previous wife. But this doe-eyed innocent is not the Jane that I have come to know. After all, we cannot forget that Jane succeeded as queen only on her predecessor’s death – as Agnes Strickland put it with a characteristic Victorian flourish, ‘she gave her hand to the regal ruffian before his wife’s corpse was cold’.

So what was it about Jane that enticed Henry VIII into marriage? And why, given what happened to her predecessor, was she willing to marry him?

It tends to be assumed that women had no choice in whether they married Henry VIII or not. Yet we know, from a surviving letter of Katherine Parr, that she viewed his proposal as an offer, not a command. She wrote to her last husband, Thomas Seymour, that she would have married him in preference to Henry in 1543, but that God had driven her to accept the King and ‘made me renounce utterly mine own will’. It was her conscience, not the prodding of her family or fear of Henry’s reprisal that drove her to become queen. She knew the influence that she could have over matters of religion and politics, and was willing to accept marriage to a man twenty years her senior as the price for it.

It is also worth bearing in mind that in 1536 Henry was not the bloated, choleric beast of a decade later. The famous ‘Holbein’ portrait of him – painted around the time of his marriage to Jane – shows a man broader than he once was, but still imposing, and still palely handsome.

I believe two things drove Jane to marry Henry: politics and vanity. The influence of the latter should not be underestimated when it comes to Henry’s wives.

It is impossible to imagine now – in this age where the royal family takes pains to appear to be ‘of the people’ and is constantly visible to us on TV or the internet – how it would have felt to be in the presence of a Tudor monarch. Henry was anointed king by God, had ruled the country since Jane was a child and, as the Great Bible that was issued in 1540 clearly showed, was second only to God in the grand scheme of power. Most people in England would only have seen their King’s face on the coins in their pocket, or if they were well-off perhaps in a portrait. To be in the six foot plus presence of the King, and receive his attention, must have been awesome, in the old sense of that word. Moreover, we should not forget that Henry was a true renaissance prince: a warrior hero and chivalrous knight, apparently just as happy to design naval bases as compose poetry and music. His subjects could hardly help being puffed up by his attention – and not just the women. Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, just like Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, may well have lost their lives out of a misguided belief that because such a man had adored them once, he would always do so. It would be astonishing if Jane, described by the imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys as ‘incline[d] to be proud and haughty’, did not have her head turned by royal attention.

Lauren as Jane Seymour

Lauren as Jane Seymour

However, even from the earliest appearances of Jane in surviving records, it was clear that there was more to her interest in the King than just vain gratitude. In April 1536 Chapuys wrote to his master, Charles V, about Henry’s attentions towards ‘Mrs. Semel’, and it is telling that he had received his information about her from the Marchioness of Exeter. Exeter’s family were long-time supporters of Princess Mary and thus implicitly opposed to the Boleyn marriage. Chapuys implied that Exeter and her allies were using the King’s affection for Jane to their cause’s advantage:

‘(She) has been well taught for the most part by those intimate with the King, who hate the concubine, that she must by no means comply with the King’s wishes except by way of marriage.’

Later that month, Chapuys explained that Nicholas Carew (another of Mary’s supporters) ‘continually counsels Mrs. Semel and other conspirators’.

In other words, Jane was no passive instrument during Henry’s courtship. She had a clear political agenda, and moreover a faction at Court supporting and promoting her. Even before Anne Boleyn’s arrest, when the King discussed their future marriage, Jane proposed the restoration of Princess Mary to the succession. Henry responded angrily that she ‘ought to study the welfare and exaltation of her own children, if she had any by him, instead of looking out for the good of others’. David Starkey has interpreted Chapuys’ reports to mean that Jane was nothing but a mouthpiece for Carew and Exeter, but Jane would not have been so successful if she had not personally been clever. Chapuys might have declared she was ‘not a woman of great wit’ but Jane clearly knew how to play Henry, and in this first potentially dangerous encounter, she acted her own part excellently. Jane told Henry that ‘in soliciting the Princess’s reinstatement she thought she was asking for the good, the repose, and tranquillity of himself, of the children they themselves might have, and of the kingdom in general’. She turned Henry’s argument right back around to appear once more the perfect future queen. Her concern was for him and England, not for herself. Even Chapuys was impressed.

Throughout her queenship, Jane attempted to use her influence on Henry to further her causes. Once married, she continued to pray and plead for Mary’s restoration, which did ultimately take place, and during the Pilgrimage of Grace – the Northern rebellion opposing the religious changes of Henry’s government – she went down on her knees before the King, begging him to reverse the dissolution of the monasteries and restore the abbeys. On the latter occasion, Henry demonstrated a bullying instinct, ‘reminding her that the last Queen had died in consequence of meddling too much with State affairs’. Understandably, we do not hear of any repeated political interventions on Jane’s part. However it is easy to imagine that, once buoyed by her status as mother of the heir to the throne, had Jane lived she would have been in a stronger position to argue for her political concerns.

Thus, Jane clearly had a political agenda in marrying Henry. Like Katherine Parr, perhaps she believed God had driven her towards this marriage – unlike Katherine, we unfortunately have no document that clearly states her motivation.
And what about Henry? Chapuys’ description of Jane on first learning of the King’s interest in her is far from flattering. She was ‘of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise’, ‘not a woman of great wit, but she may have good understanding’. As Starkey puts it: ‘What was there here – a woman of no family, no beauty, no talent, and perhaps not much reputation – to attract a man who had already been married to two such extraordinary women as Catherine and Anne?’

Lauren as Jane Seymour at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Lauren as Jane Seymour at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show

Most people tend to assume that Jane’s main attraction was her contrast to Anne Boleyn. Anne was dark, Jane was pale; Anne had a temper, Jane was pacific; Anne argued passionately with the King, like an equal; Jane played the ‘inferior female’ card. It is easy to imagine that after nine years Henry had tired of the sheer effort of a relationship with Anne. He might accept challenges – even a defeat – on the tiltyard, but in married life things were supposed to be different. A husband ruled his wife, and a king certainly ruled his subject. It is this fundamental truth that Jane, and probably Henry’s later wives, grasped. But Anne, who had been set up as Henry’s perfect partner from the earliest days of their courtship, raised to a rank no woman had ever previously possessed and given a coronation to match her new status – well, why should she view herself as inferior? Henry had done everything he could to create her in his image, and then decided he didn’t like the reflection talking back.

The characteristic that was often repeated in reference to Jane as queen, which must be key to Henry’s decision to marry her, is her gentleness. Sir John Russell reported her to be ‘as gentle a lady as ever I knew’ while Henry himself told Chapuys that ‘he imagined that (Jane) would do her utmost to obtain the title of pacificator (guardian of peace)’. She was the perfect Tudor woman, as she proved in her early dealings with Henry, going down on her knees and weeping when he sent her a gift of money. She begged that the King would not be angry, but also to remember that she was a virtuous woman and would not risk her honour ‘for a thousand deaths’ – she would gladly accept future gifts, as long as they were given after she was married (perhaps thinking of other women whose romantic attention was bought with hard cash). Jane put Henry in the position of pursuer, of romantic hero, while she was the willing – but clearly not too willing – object of his passion. It was a chivalric conceit that was bound to please Henry.

The real Jane Seymour

The real Jane Seymour

It is easy to imagine that Henry saw in Jane the opportunity for a little peace and quiet. And as with Anne Boleyn he responded angrily when his new wife spoke against him. Perhaps the crucial difference between Anne and Jane was that Anne saw no reason to fear Henry’s temper, while Jane – having watched the downfall of her predecessor – knew exactly where such displeasure could end. She also knew how to temper her own behaviour to avoid inciting that displeasure in the first place.

Perhaps it is so hard for me to get to the root of Jane’s character because the reports of her are so contradictory. Henry married her expecting a mousy, submissive wife – but even before he proposed she was clearly promoting one political faction at Court. To most modern minds, it is unthinkable to contemplate getting into bed with the murderer of the woman who was – to all intents and purposes – your boss. Agnes Strickland believed that Jane thus made herself a ‘slave’, forced into submission by a murderous husband. This is overstating the point, but it is hard not to imagine that Anne’s fate influenced Jane’s queenship. However, Jane’s choice to present herself as Henry’s ideal woman was just that – a choice. Whether she really was, as Chapuys suspected, haughty and proud or whether she was gentle and peaceful as Sir John Russell believed, she knew how to present herself to her future husband and the Court.

Perhaps we still underestimate Jane Seymour.

Brief Bibliography

  • Letters & Papers, Volumes X-XI
  • Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume V (Part 2)
  • Elizabeth Norton, Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love (Amberley, 2009)
  • David Starkey, Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII (Vintage, 2004)
  • Agnes Strickland, Lives of the Queens of England from the Norman Conquest, volume IV (T.K. & P.J. Collins, 1850)
  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
    Jane Seymour (Barrett L. Beer)
    Elizabeth of York (Rosemary Horrox)

About Lauren

Lauren Johnson regularly interprets Jane Seymour with Past Pleasures Ltd., for whom she is also Research Manager.
Her debut novel, The Arrow of Sherwood, is published by Pen & Sword Fiction, and can be bought from Amazon UK – click here or Amazon.com – click here.

You can read more of her work on her blog or follow her on Twitter:@History_Lauren.

Jane Seymour’s Death

You can read more about Jane Seymour’s death in my article 24th October 1537 – The Death of Jane Seymour.

56 thoughts on “Jane Seymour – Guest Post by Lauren Johnson”

  1. A beautifully written article Lauren. Thank you :>)
    I would love to see you in action at Hampton Court as you clearly put much thought into embodying each character.

    In the Holbein portrait above Jane is wearing the gable hood and necklace worn by Anne Boleyn, as seen in the Moost Happi anno 1534 medal, though with a different pendant. It is interesting to compare the body stances of both women in this costume – Anne looks considerably bolder. This expensive costume clearly an official part the Queen’s wardrobe, as it was worn by several of Henry’s wives in turn. It is possible that it originally belonged to Katherine of Aragon, though there is no evidence of this.

    How sobering it must have been to wear something so intimate that had belonged to your former mistress, and what an aide memoir; Contain your thoughts beneath this hood, and let this necklace restrain your voice, or you too will be beheaded. No wonder Jane looks somewhat restrained!

    1. Lauren says:

      Thanks so much, Lucy. Interesting point about the clothing – I knew the jewels were passed on and the royal wardrobe was legally the kings so could likewise be inherited by the next wife. Is there a particular source that suggests Jane’s hood in the portrait is the same as Anne’s? I’ve not come across that before.

      1. Hi Lauren,

        I was lucky enough to have access to the original medal in the British Musesum, and study it under close magnification. The proportions and layout of the jewels are quite visible, and even the distinctive diagonal weave of the headdress’s cloth.
        You can read more about my research here: http://lucychurchill.wordpress.com/2012/05/14/the-moost-happi-portrait-of-anne-boleyn-a-rec/

        1. Lauren says:

          Fantastic! I’ll give that a read. Thanks. How amazing to see the original.

        2. Lauren, anyone can see The Moost Happi medal though it’s not usually on public display. You just have to put in a request to the Coins and Medals department and they will book a slot for you (but it usually takes about a month). To hold The Moost Happi medal in ones (latex gloved) hands is a wonderful experience :>)

    2. Lynn Hogan says:

      How do I get a job as an interpreter at Hampton Court?!?!?

      1. Hi Lynn! Currently the In house interpretation for hampton court and the tower is done by Past Plesures – there’s a link to their website at the bottom of the piece. We’re not currently recruiting but if you’re interested do get in touch with the office to find out more.

  2. oops I thought I’d deleted te first post in response , so wrote it again from memory. Could you delete one of them Claire? I don’t think it is so interesting to have twice!! :>) thanks xx

  3. Joe Spencer says:

    Yes, I agree with Lucy. This was a very well written article. I read the book The Favorite Queen, which was indeed all about Jane Seymour. I have always been a fan of Queen Anne Boleyn and hope that one day she will be reburied in a place like any other Queen of England. Jane Seymour obeyed Henry which is what he wanted. Anne could’ve ran England without Henry and who turned out to be the best English monarchs? Both are women- Elizabeth & Queen Victoria. All Henry wanted was a make heir but he didn’t need one after all huh? This article is informative, catchy, and well written but after reading about who Jane Seymour was- she should’ve been executed like Anne! Sorry folks just my opinion!

    1. I am somewhat at a loss to understand why Joe feels that Jane Seymour should have been executed. There sems to be no reason to justify such a fate for her.
      He makes a good point that two of the most successful monarchs England have had were both women and a bigger irony that one of them Queen Elizabeth I should have been the daughter of Queen Anne. Obviously King Henry could not see into the future and all he could learn from the past was the civil wars when the Empress Matilda tried to succeed her father King Henry I.
      The final irony for Henry VIII is that despite his frantic efforts to secure the throne his line died out in 1603 and our present Queen is descended from Henry’s sister Queen Margaret of Scotland.

  4. CatalinadeAragón says:

    She well could have been both, haughty and gentle (sometimes introverted and shy people seem to be haughty) and maybe she could be also obstinate and political but in a more gentle manner than Anne was

    We all have different faces and can be as contradictory as Jane or Anne appear to us but I am sure that she was very intelligent (able to adapt to circumstances)

    1. Lauren says:

      Totally agree! I think key to understanding these women better is accepting their contradictions – Tudors were just as complex as we are now.

  5. Esther says:

    Great article. I’m not sure, though, that Catherine Parr’s attitude towards marrying Henry is a reliable indicator of what might have affected Jane. Catherine Parr was fairly well off widow; she would have been much less vulnerable to family pressure than Jane would have been.

    1. Claire says:

      Yes, I was always under impression that widows were more independent and had choice in future marriages, whereas a younger woman was expected to consider choices out forward by her family.

      1. Lauren says:

        Thanks for your feedback, guys. I see your point about Parr – and it’s worth bearing in mind she was slightly older than Jane and Anne when the King was pursuing them (although not much older). And Parr also had no surviving Parents while both Jane and Anne did. However she had a lot less experience of the court and queenship than Jane and Anne. I think the interesting parallel is that all three clearly had strong religious feelings, and tried to use their status as queen to promote them.

  6. GinneyB says:

    What a wonderful article! Thank you for sharing this!

    1. Lauren says:

      Thanks Ginney!

  7. Sherri says:

    I’m not a fan of Jane’s but in the last 6 months have come to view her differently. Anne’s fate was sealed by Henry probably even before he considered Jane as queen just as KOA’s fate was sealed by Henry and the wheels set in motion before Anne. I think that Henry would have still pursued his course with both KOA and Anne even without having a backup woman in place. Anne and KOA had much more in common then Jane had with either. Jane was so different than either or she played her part in being different very well. We probably will never know or have any hints of who Jane really was.

    I also think that Henry would have become bored with Jane in the end and even though she was the heir’s mother he would have put her aside somewhere and went on to the next woman – maybe Jane would have held her queenship but who ever Henry cast his eye on would have been queen of the court as Anne had been before they were married. Henry would have missed the passion, intellect and boldness of Anne in the end. KOA also had the intellect etc going for her.

    Henry was a complex but yet a simple man. He was a narcissist as well as having self esteem issues. He deviated between having the ideal wife and mother like his mother and having the boldness, intellect etc of his grandmother. He never did find the perfect balance in a wife and woman.

    But as for Jane as I try to read the bits and pieces that are out in the literary world about her I do understand more about her but still can’t forgive her for the part she played in Anne’s downfall and execution. On the other hand when Henry cast his eyes on her you played the game and won favour for your family. That time for women was so different from our time now. As a woman you were basically a breeding factory and were a chattel to your father, your brother and your husband. There were so few women in that time who chose their own fate and destiny. I don’t think that Jane was one.

    1. Tudor Rose says:

      Maybe Sherri just maybe! 🙂

    2. Sonetka says:

      As long as Jane was the mother of a living son, he would never have put her aside — anything that could cast the slightest doubt on his son’s legitimacy would be avoided carefully. Doubtless he would have had some affairs and maybe eventually lost interest in sleeping with her after she’d produced a few more boys, but that’s a long, long way from discarding her.

      As for Jane’s “part” in Anne’s death, I’m not with Strickland. That she played a part in dividing him from Anne, I don’t doubt (though of course timing was on her side — there had been other ladies who happened along at less politically fraught moments). However, I doubt very much whether she was contemplating Anne’s death. Putting aside an unproductive spouse was pretty standard for monarchs and of course, Catherine of Aragon had suffered that fate only a few years previously. Executing one’s spouse was almost unprecedented. If you believe Ives’s hypothesis, Henry himself wasn’t planning Anne’s death until about three weeks before it happened, and while Cromwell was allying himself with the Seymours, it’s very very difficult to imagine him sharing a plan that risky with them in the sense of “Let’s you and me frame the queen together.” The more people know about that kind of thing, the more can go wrong. If you don’t believe Ives, then Henry was the one in charge, and while he would certainly have been influenced by Jane, how crazy would she have had to be to suggest he do something that unprecedented and horrifying to the rest of the world? No, I’m pretty sure that, true to her motto, she let him take the lead — and of course, once he’d shown where he was going, turning him down would have been rather risky, not to mention very disappointing to her family.

      1. Dawn 1st says:

        I totally agree Sonetka, Jane would have been untouchable as the mother of his Son and heir, even if he couldn’t stand the sight of her she would be safe, and get his pleasure else where, as normal…this would have been true of any of his wives.

  8. Great article. And of course, given my historical interest, I mentally did a happy dance that she mentioned the Marchioness who regular appears as a source in this time period for Ambassador Chapuys.

    1. Tudor Rose says:

      Agreed Diane 🙂 My Lady Wilshere 🙂

  9. Anne Barnhill says:

    Thanks for this wonderful article, Lauren. Nicely done. Descriptions of Jane’s character do seem contradictory but that could also be said of Anne. Had she lived longer, who knows what she might have done? Or what kind of woman she would have been. Different from Anne did seem important to Henry. And I agree, he never quite found the woman for him…not that he didn’t try! Thanks again!

  10. I believe that, because Jane did give Henry a son and heir, had she not died, he would have just become bored of her. It is sad, absolutely. But I think Henry may have been completely self-centered. And all he longed for was a son. Jane was no threat to him in any way, as she was probably not very politically minded. If she was, she did not show that side of herself. So he goes from a wife that WAS extremely astute in matters that concerned England, and religion, to one that seemed to be pretty passive and easy-going.

    1. Lauren says:

      Ah – I see things slightly differently. I think that if Jane had lived she would have been more of a political force to be reckoned with. She was on decidedly shaky ground before she had Edward, but I think with the certainty of an heir to come she could have wielded more influence over policy. Katherine Parr was later regent for Henry when he was in France and I suspect Jane could have held a similar position, and of course when Henry died she still would have been reasonably young, and could well have acted as regent for her son… All speculation of course, and down to personal interpretation, but that’s how I imagine things playing out.

      1. Jillian says:

        I agree with you, Lauren – just because Jane appeared as quiet and obedient doesn’t mean that she was stupid, apolitical or lacking in character.

        Jane’s presentation had some similarities with Katherine of Aragon, and she may well have learned from Henry’s first queen. Until Katherine dug in her heels over the annulment, she had largely avoided confrontation with her husband but was able to influence him in more subtle ways. Jane would also have been aware that Anne”s behaviour had often been perceived as arrogant and even aggressive, and tried to appear meek and modest by way of contrast. But she was prepared to put her head above the parapet to stand up for what she believed in, such as the legitimacy of Princess Mary.

        As the mother of Henry’s son and heir, Jane would have been in a strong position and she might well have exercised considerable political influence had she lived..

      2. alex says:

        Of course, had Jane lived she would have remained Queen, and would have taken on some of the mantle of Katherine of Aragon. Henry would have been grateful for his son, and perhaps other children they might have had. His history with KoA indicates that there would probably have been mistresses, but men in the period did not cast off fertile, faithful and socially acceptable wives to marry their mistress, and wives did not divorce husbands for their affairs.
        Queen Jane would also have had some influence on the education of her son, who might not have ended up as such a severe protestant.
        However, once Jane was safely dead it was easy for Henry and others to idolise her and set her up with a character which exactly fits their masculine ideal of womanhood of the time. It was also easy for Henry to imagine that he had loved her probably a lot more than he really did.

  11. Conor Byrne says:

    Excellent article, Lauren, thank you. Antonia Fraser suggests that Katherine Howard is the greatest enigma of all Henry’s queens but I think this article suggests it was truly Jane who was.

    I agree with your compelling point that Jane must have been clever. Perhaps we do underestimate her. Just because she didn’t receive a Renaissance education doesn’t mean that she can’t have been intuitive, insightful, even manipulative. I certainly get the impression that played a much greater role in Anne Boleyn’s downfall than most historians give her credit for.

    Whereas Katherine Howard, of Henry’s wives, was the one who was truly manipulated as a pawn by her scheming family, it seems likely that Jane’s agency was much more apparent. She actively schemed to become Henry’s consort, and appears to have been somewhat ruthless in doing so. I think she – very successfully – preserved a peaceful, gentle, bland exterior, but the reality probably is that she was manipulative and cunning. This does not necessarily have to be negative. It shows that she was an opportunist who grabbed the best chance she’d ever get in life.

    Maybe, for some modern feminists, she’s something of an icon.

    1. Lauren says:

      Thanks Conor – glad you enjoyed it. I have to say, although I really try to understand Jane and interpret her as non-judgementally as possible so visitors can form their own opinion, I’m not sure I would’ve liked her if we’d met in the sixteenth century. You’re right, I think manipulative might be the word (and as you say, it’s not intrinsically negative!).

  12. Tudor Rose says:

    Interesting article 🙂

  13. Tudor Rose says:

    Even though Jane and Anne were opposites I feel like that she as well as the Seymour’s tried the Boleyn tactic by copying her somewhat. I also feel like that she personally had been a cross between the two previous Queens. That being Katherine and Anne.

  14. Helen says:

    What an interesting view! I’ve always disliked Jane – I’m with Agnes Strickland on the marriage – & although this is very subjective, she looks unpleasant & mean in her portrait. Thanks for opening my mind.

    1. dorika says:

      I have always liked Jane she is my second favourite with Katherine of Aragon my number one. I do not agree with Agness Strickland view on the marriage. Jane’s role in Anne’s down fall has been over exagerated particularly by the pro Anne writers like Strickland. Jane was no fool, she was no saint but she certainly was not evil. The problem with some writers is that in order to make their heroin and hero look good they have to make others look bad. Agnes Strickland was very sympathetic towards Anne while with Jane it was the opposite. If a historical writer or author has positive things to say about Anne i have no problem with it my only problem is when the writer makes the other queens especially Katherine of Aragon and Jane look bad then i have issues with that author.

      1. Tudor Rose says:

        People are like that though not all but some can be quite stereotypical!

      2. margaret says:

        my thoughts are if jane was blamed for anne downfall then anne was the cause of katherine of aragon being ousted out and then you have to consider catherine howard she stepped in {or caught henrys eye }even though anne of cleeves got away safely ,the lucky one,the we have catherine parr coming into the picture ,did all of these wives think they would be “the one” and that they could change henrys mad way of living i dont think so!.

    2. alex says:

      Yes, I’ve always tended to dislike Jane, but probably this is due to that portrait with its mean little folded mouth and her representation in fiction and films as a doormat with her submissive motto Bound to obey and serve, for God’s sake! The real woman will have been a lot more complex. It’s unlikely she was stupid, and her son was a very smart lad, though it’s hard to say if he was cleverer than his sisters, because a boy would always be given the edge. Because she died so soon we really don’t have a lot of idea what she was really like, but we do know that she tried to reconcile Henry to his elder daughter and to behave in what she doubtless saw as a virtuous way, in line with her religious beliefs. She may well have been at least in part a pawn of her family, who certainly benefitted enormously from her rise. She is a better candidate for pawn of her family than the much more spirited Anne Boleyn.

  15. margaret says:

    what i find quite creepy is the fact that jane is wearing anne clothes and hood ,i know it was the thing back then but it still astounds me,imagine that sort of carry on today with the current wife being told by new husband to get into ex wifes apparel ,i cant understand how any woman could not be freaked out by that even 500 years ago.

    1. Sherri says:

      Margaret

      I find your comment interesting. It is quite creepy isn’t it ??? Wearing not only a dead woman’s clothes but one that was executed. Very unsettling that Henry would even want that.

      1. margaret says:

        now the other bit i thought was,after anne was executed did henry not have all anne portraits and possibly personal items done away with maybe hidden ,because he could not look or be reminded of her with her face staring down at him ,so how just how could jane be seen to be dressed up in annes clothing and hood ,jewels ect and not send henry into some sort of fit,i understand they had to somehow recycle these very costly items but i thought everything of annes was done away with ,like for instance no could even mention her name withuot incurring henrys wrath and possibly end up with a trip to the tower.

    2. Tudor Rose says:

      They would get passed down from person to person or melted down and remade into something else but like you said I agree quite scary especially if you knew that the previous owner had died or was executed!. There was always a reminder it seemed and it was most probably done deliberately as the “Tudors” were quite superstitious but obviously not when it came to wearing another’s belonging dead or alive that did not count!

      1. Dawn 1st says:

        The furs, materials and jewellery were very expensive and precious, even for the royal coffers, plus they were so time consuming to manufacture then fashion into garments, you can see in a practical view why this was done. 1500’s recycling 🙂
        I think us modern folks get freaked out by death a lot more than people in those days.

        if you think about it rationally, how many of us wear something that has been left by a relative who has past away…how many of us wear clothes bought from charity shops, I buy plenty from these places, they is a chance these could be clothes from some one who has died….crikey I better stop, I’ll end up creeping myself out here, lol…

        1. margaret says:

          ha ha dawn1st couldnt stop a laugh at your reply about creeping yourself out ,in fact i go and buy in charity shops also now im creeped again ,never for one minute thought about where charity stuff comes from,it just dosent enter your head but it will now!!!

        2. Dawn 1st says:

          Ooops!! sorry there Margaret, bout the clothes, lol, but most of my wardrobe is made up of charity shop buys, so if I gave them back I would be a little cold not to mention naked :)…but hey!! as my lovely old Gran used to say “It’s not the dead you have to be scared of, it’s the living”..so true.

  16. CAC says:

    I think that it’s dangerous when we think of these individuals as Icons rather than human beings. Each had multiple levels of motivations and understanding based on a mind set we do NOT have. Even the best re-enactor can’t get fully or completely into the head of their subject. They have to make up the deficit of understanding with what they think or feel the person might have been like. This is true of individuals closer in time to us, the Tudors themselves are an alien culture. No I don’t mean from outer space, but that they thought in ways that we wouldn’t even consider. Jane most likely would have been under considerable pressure from family and faction to win Henry. She would have perhaps viewed it as a double sacred duty. First to “Save” her king from the errors that had been made, ie Mary’s bastardization etc, Second to be what her king needed. The people of the time did not have the idea of “Independence” that we do. They would have thought of themselves as ‘slaves’ to the king. Their duty was obedience. Anne’s behavior is instructive here. She appears to have believed that Henry wanted an echo, a challenge, some one to help remake the world. In her private life she seems to have been more moderate than challenging, especially in religion. But Henry put her up against the rest of the world with the attitude of challenging all perception. This ‘experiment’, if you would, failed. Henry needed to restore himself to a type of order. Jane made herself, by the contradictory nature of the information that we have, exactly what was needed for a ‘reboot’ of the court. Henry was fairly conservative, but he was also a Renaissance prince needing challenge and display to fulfill his function. The splendor of his reputation would have been advanced or lessened by his court, especially the Queen. I do think that Jane was not the passive “little nun” that we are constantly told of, but I’m not sure that she was a master manipulator either. It would be nice if there were more individual biographies out there to review what little we do know about Jane in the light of our own understanding of the context of her life, world, role, and the changing views due to partisanship.

  17. BanditQueen says:

    Thank you, Lauren for a great and in depth article. I am reminded of Philippa, the wife of King Edward I (think it was I and not III) who went down on her knees to beg for mercy for prisioners and to intercede and Katherine of Aragon, and the two sister Queens Mary and Margaret Tudor who went on their knees in public to beg for mercy from Henry for the lads who rioted in London in 1517. Jane was putting herself in a very traditional role as Queen to beg for mercy for the pilgrims and for Henry to look with pity on the religious houses. She may have been taking a big risk also as the latter was an important political change that was taking place in the country, the closure of religious houses; quite shocking to many of the people at the time, even if Cromwell and the King and some of his advisors thought it was a good idea and needed the money. I do not see Jane as a pawn or a fool or a doormat: I actually see her as courageous but wise enough to take heed of the warning and to work quietly instead.

    Anne Boleyn was not a typical Tudor woman: she did not fit into that traditional role of submisive wife and help mate very easity as she had been Henry’s mistress for a long time and had been used to having much of her own way. Jane had been taken aside by friends such as Nicholas Carew, a supporter of Princess Mary and had been given advice on how to handle the King and make herself attractive to him through her behaviour and approach to him. She had probably well observed how both her mistresses Queen Katherine and Queen Anne had behaved and handled things and taken some examples to heart of how to behave with Henry. But she was still an individual and she had her own ideas. Jane I think was fond of the old religious practices and did not want to see them ended; I think she made up her own mind to try and intervene with Henry on this point. She may have failed, but she was brave for trying and wise not to try again.

    Jane comes across as a family minded woman and a compassionate woman who also had a loyalty to Queen Katherine and felt sorry for Mary. Her first attempt to get Mary reinstated failed, and there is some suggestion in the sources and historians that many of Mary’s friends at court were questioned about this. They were wise to wait for the right moment. But she did not give up and even though it was only the total submission of poor Mary and the denial of all she held dear that got her accepted back at court, I still believe Jane had a hand in helping Henry to reconcile with both of his daughters. Her family may have had some movement in being in the right place at the right time and helping Jane into the King’s attention, but I think it was Jane herself that attracted Henry and her kindness and compassion.

    Thank you again for a wonderful post.

    Lyn-Marie

    1. Lauren says:

      Thanks for your kind words, Lyn-Marie. Philippa was Edward III’s wife, but Edward I’s two queens, Eleanor of Castile and Margaret of France, behaved exactly the same. A queen was expected to intercede so the King could be merciful without losing face – but even this traditional role seems to have angered Henry in 1537. Maybe it was easier for a foreign princess, with greater status from birth, to persuade a king. Or perhaps Henry was simply too angry about the Pilgrimage of Grace. He certainly behaved extremely harshly towards the pilgrims.

  18. Dawn 1st says:

    A great post Lauren, thank you, it inspires lots of thoughts. And a good one to follow on from the post before ‘Was Anne Boleyn Nice?’ Claire…

    At the end of the day I reckon all of his wives had hidden depths, contrary to the clear cut views we have been led to believe though time, it seems that along the way the Human element gets forgotten in the determining of who these people were all those years ago and we end up with a simplified, and misleading at times, conclusion, even with the ‘Man’ himself…I enjoy reading articles like yours who try to put back that missing element.

    What a smashing job you have there too, my sister and I were at Hampton Court at the 500th year of succession in the August, and watched a re-enactment of Katherine Parr being dressed for her wedding, and later being presented in the court yard as our ‘New Queen’, could it have been you? was you working there at this time?
    It was a wonderful day, made more so by all those of you dressed in costume, and ‘talking the talk’, honestly it was brilliant….will never forget it, and I so wanted to put on one of those gowns…. 🙂

    1. BanditQueen says:

      Hi Dawn: I was also there for the 500th anniversary and for the flower show that year and ended up going back at least three more times as Hampton is so big. They had a wonderful Six Wives display during one of the visits with rare documents and all the portraits of the wives. They also did the council chamber as it would have been and where debating who should care for the Prince as the heir in 1545. I also saw the wedding of Katherine and Henry and a wonderful talk by David Starkey that month as well. The costumes and dresses were absolutely beautiful. I also remember they had the rooms where Henry and his wives, inclding Jane’s birth chamber and death room, and other things to do with the wives and younger King open with many wonderful items on exhibition boards shown. A lovely way to remember the 500 years of our greatest King.

      I also recall looking over the courtyard from the window of Jane’s room and thinking that it was so sad that she may have died in that room. Someone was giving a tour at the time, but I could only tune into the presence of Jane Seymour and still feel that she was there in that room. I do not mean as a ghost, but as a recalled, recorded memory; the room seemed to hold that moment of her loss in it. It may sound weird, but I could really imagine Jane in the room and felt very sad.

      It was also very lovely to meet some of the guides walking around in costume and the flower show was the best I have seen if a bit over the top; but people have great imaginations and the work in those designs was excellent. I could visit Hampton Court every day and still get a buzz from it; probably would if I lived or stayed close to it. We stayed a few miles away so could not go all the time. In fact the palace so stayed with me that in a review I marked it down as the best attraction in England. Jane, Henry and all of the wives that were lucky enough to live at Hampton Court must have fallen in love with it, even if a couple did come to a more sad and tragic end here. For example Katherine Howard was arrested and held here and made her dash down the long gallery to attempt to reach Henry in the chapel there. She was desperate and terrified as no-one had given her any information about her arrest and believed she would convince Henry to forgive her, and almost made it. It is still a frightening thought that she was dragged screaming back to her rooms.

      Anne was meant to be involved with Henry of the re-design of Hampton Court after they took it from Cardinal Wolsey after his fall. But unfortunately most of her presence was destroyed, save under the gate, her arms are still on the ceiling. It is also a pity that William III did not like most of the Tudor palace and had the place altered to a more intimate and corridored ceremonial palace, but we have uncovered some of the old place; including as you probably will recall from your own visit the wonderful Thomas Wolsey chamber with its wooden pannels and its lavish paintings. What I did find fascinating though was that William liked the Tudor fabrics and tapestries and had some moved to his part of the palace. That was another wonder of the visit; seeing that marvallous triumphant tapesty restored through modern science of putting the colours onto it by laser and it was all golden and vivid. A great visit and a great atmosphere. It must be a wonderful place to work.

      Thank you Lauren for the wonderful article again and for the great part you and the company play in bringing these ladies and gentlemen to life in our Tudor palace. Keep up the good work.

      1. Dawn 1st says:

        It sounds as though you visited on all the right days over the 500th anniversary.
        I had been to Hampton 4 times before as I lived only a 3 hours away then, once during the flower show, on the way I visited Leeds Castle, have you been there? its a beautiful moated castle, didn’t go into the Palace that time though, I was lost in the wonder and the vastness of the show, horticulture being my other passion, though I must admit it peeved me not having the time to venture in. It’s true you could go into Hampton once a week for years and still see something you never noticed before and be overwhelmed by its history.

        My sister and I had to fly down from Inverness this time, when commitments allowed, and sadly those ‘extras’ weren’t on then, but we did go to Hever Castle (4th visit for me there too) on our 3 day break. We walked from the little railway station as the weather was lovely, about a mile I think, through the lovely country side where Anne and Henry must have rode, you could feel the history around you, that walk really made the visit to Hever even more special.

        I would have loved to have able to see Jane’s room. and I know where you are coming from about feeling the emotions of the past in a room. I’m a great believer in that the fabric of a building soaks up the events of time, a bit like a video camera recording.
        Although we missed most of the events you speak of, we did see the one on those wonderful Great Hall tapestries lit with those special lights that you mentioned, how bright they would have been in Henry’s day, it was unbelievable, the Hall must have been alive and glittering with colour when new, they must have taken the people of that time breathe away, they did ours! Tudor Bling… 🙂

        I agree all his wives must have found the Palace a wonderful place to reside in during happy times. Henry did quite a lot of what we now call up-grading and modernisation to the Palace, he had one of the first plumbed in baths installed here.

        Love or hate Wolsey, we definitely have him to thank for the Hampton as we know it, and the odd ‘tweaking’ by Henry, it was only a ‘humble’ dwelling before. It is a great shame most of the Tudor lodging were lost by the remodelling of later monarchs, as you said. If Christopher wren had got his way everything except the Great Hall would have been ripped down!! the saving grace here being the cost was unaffordable, phew!
        I think if I had the privilege of working there, I wold hardly be at home..if ever, lol.
        I would love to go there at Christmas and join in the special events they have then.

        Did you know that there are 2 holiday lets within the grounds of the Palace, which enable you to walk round the grounds after ‘kicking out’ time of the public, how fantastic would that be, I have also read about the strange sightings that some of the guests have witnessed when staying there… its on the net, but can’t what site it was.

    2. Lauren says:

      Thanks! It may well have been me, as I was KP for some of that event (as it range neary 2 years we did switch roles a bit to allow days off!). Glad you enjoyed it!

    3. Lauren says:

      Thanks! It may well have been me, as I was KP for some of that event (as it ran for nearly 2 years we did switch roles a bit to allow days off!). Glad you enjoyed it!

  19. Tamar says:

    Great, thoughtful article. I always appreciate nuance, and this piece is full of it–as well as the necessary admission that we will never know what went on in Jane’s head.

    I suppose my own feelings about Jane have changed a bit; though I never saw her in control of the process of breaking up the marriage with Anne, I did find it quite creepy that she could stand by, watch the grisly process of her predecessor’s judicial murder, and then get in bed with the man who ordered it. I still find the whole situation creepy, but I am less sure how to interpret Jane’s role. One thing I would really love to know: how Jane felt when Henry told her on the morning of Anne’s trial that Anne would be condemned. It was so obvious at this point that the outcome had been planned beforehand. Did Jane’s blood run cold? Did she try to convince herself of Anne’s guilt? Did she tell herself it was necessary for Anne to go, guilty or not, if the Catholic faith were to be restored in England?

    One common way of representing Jane is to portray her–as they did in The Tudors–as sweet and loving. This always has, and still does, annoy me, because Jane could scarcely be at the same time sweetly innocent and–in some way at least–politically calculating. But I always loved the episode on Jane Seymour in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, even if it did perpetuate this reading of Jane as sweet, gentle innocent. What was so brilliant about the episode, however, was what it did with this image. This Jane is utterly horrified when she realizes that Anne was framed, and it destroys her sense of innocence, and, with it, all peace of mind. There’s a great scene where she tells one of her brothers about her loss of grace (in a religious sense), and her terrible sense of complicity in this crime. Beautifully done, even if probably not accurate. But who, of course, knows?

  20. Sheila says:

    Hi Lauren,

    I’m not sure if you will receive this as it’s 8 months since your post. There are 3 things I had heard about Jane Seymour and I wonder if you are aware of them, and if any of them is true:
    1. She banned French hoods at court and permitted only English gable hoods;
    2. She suffered a miscarriage at some point in 1536 (after all, she was married for 7 months before becoming pregnant with Edward);
    3. Henry asked how he could get out of the marriage before it had taken place.
    Given how readily he could get out of a marriage that had taken place I should not think he needed any advice.
    I doubt if there is really any information on Jane’s character and one will have been created for her by commentators.
    Regarding the recycling of clothes it was the norm that formal wear would be worn by the present incumbent of a role, and I doubt if very much thought went into it in the way we nowadays would think of wearing another’s clothes.
    I loved the article.

  21. Banditqueen says:

    I very much doubt Henry would have become bored with Jane Seymour, given his decline in health during his last years. In fact, he would have appreciated her as a family minded woman and found contentment. He grew fed up with Anne Boleyn and she was exciting in more ways than one. Yes, her inability to provide a son had something to do with this, but her demands on him also for more involvement in his power. Jane would have had more children and Henry settled down as a father. His daughters would have been brought more to Court as well and he would have learned to warm to them once more. Jane would have had more influence as the mother of his heir. Yes, Henry would have had the odd mistress but no husband put his wife aside when she gave him a son. They may have had a separate household but she would still be his Queen and be with him in public at least and on state occasions. Her position would be secure no matter how many dolly birds flaunted themselves around the Court. He probably wouldn’t be interested anymore anyway as his health declined. We can’t assume that because we find a conventional wife boring that Tudor husbands did. I respectfully disagree either that Jane Seymour was dull and boring or that Henry would find her so. She was the wife he wanted after the tempest of Anne Boleyn. She was the wife every Tudor man would be proud to have. She was certainly politically aware as she tried to beg for mercy for rebels and for the monasteries. She wanted a genuine relationship with Princess Mary and peace in the household and country and her husband’s wellbeing. A boring wife would not care. It’s the fault of the Tudor historians that we don’t know much more about her. One thing we do know she had in common with the King was her love and expertise of hunting. In fact she was a more skilled huntress than Anne Boleyn or Henry Viii. How do I know this? It is highlighted by Elizabeth Norton who wrote a much more enlightening biography of Jane Seymour than others have done. Some historians sadly dismiss Jane and can’t be bothered to look deeper into her background. We are dependent on such historians as David Starkey and Eric Ives because they have widely respected reputations and they generally do their homework, but for some reason in their minds Jane is overlooked as dull and pale and mousy and we have come to accept their words. However, maybe in this case we need to challenge old notions and reassess Jane Seymour and the other misrepresentations of Tudor women, such as Katherine Howard as a brainless bimbo with a wild sexual appetite. This article is a really good start to addressing the balance, but there is a long way to go.

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