I’m not sure if any of you noticed yesterday but I was rather distant in my analysis of Jane Seymour yesterday and it was a bit different to my usual articles in that it was “Alison Weir says…”, “Antonia Fraser concludes…” and “Chapuys reported…”, rather than what I personally think of Jane, apart from the short conclusion at the end. This is because Jane Seymour is my least favourite wife and I wanted to put together an objective analysis of her. I realise now that my article lacked passion and that it came across as a rather one-sided defence of her, which I’m not sure was my aim.
So, today, here is what I think of Jane Semour, Henry VIII’s third wife….
- A bit boring – I know I shouldn’t label Jane Seymour in this way but as someone who loves Anne Boleyn for her feistiness and passion, and Catherine of Aragon for her strength of character and conviction, Jane Seymour is rather a wet blanket in comparison. Elizabeth Norton1 writes of how “Jane is often seen as an entirely placid figure and has been described as lacking a self”, that she had an “ability to melt into the background”, that she was not as involved with politics as Catherine or as argumentative as Anne Boleyn, but that “this does not mean that Jane was either colourless or dull” and that it was actually “the response of an intelligent and shrewd woman to the difficult circumstances with which she was faced.” Norton goes on to say that it was clear that Henry now wanted “a domestic and passive wife” and so Jane became one, suggesting that it was all a clever act on Jane’s behalf. but I don’t see that at all. I think that Jane was rather colourless and dull, that she didn’t have to act and that she was naturaly subservient. Yes, she did stand up to Henry on a couple of occasion, but she was quick to back down. OK, I know that she had the hindsight of knowing what had happened to the feisty Anne but I can’t see Anne piping down whatever Henry threatened, can you?!
I’m always saying that there is something interesting about each of Henry VIII’s wives but Jane is definitely the least interesting in my eyes!
- Kind and virtuous – I stand by my conclusion in yesterday’s article, she seems to have been a quiet, kind, unassuming and virtuous woman. I don’t think it was an act, I think it’s just the way she was. She certainly did not deserve what happened to her. As someone who had a rather long labour, ending with an emergency caesarean, I so sympathise with Jane when I read of her 3 days and 3 nights in labour – ow!
- Not the reconciler – Yesterday, I wrote of Alison Weir’s opinion that Jane reconciled Mary and Henry, but I’m definitely with Antonia Fraser on this and I don’t think Jane can be seem as solely responsible for this, particularly as it was only Mary’s submission and obedience to her father’s will that brought about the reconciliation. For me, Jane cannot be seen as the peacemaker in this family when she could largely ignore the little girl who had just lost her mother.
- The innocent – I’m always surprised when I find people online, people who see themselves as “Team Anne”, arguing that Jane was a complete bi**h, that she plotted and trapped Henry and that she was part of the plot to bring Anne down, yet these are the same people who argue that Anne had no choice in her relationship with Henry and cannot be blamed and held accountable for what happened to Catherine of Aragon. OK, so Catherine of Aragon did not get executed, but I don’t think Jane had any choice in what happened or the date of her betrothal, she was a lowly woman, a lady-in-waiting, pursued by a great Tudor king, a man with immense power. Yes, I think she was coached by Carew and her brothers, but her behaviour was not an act, I think it was how Jane would have naturally behaved and it did not change once she had married Henry and got the prize. Like Anne, she refused Henry’s advances and, like Anne, the King warmed to the thrill of the chase and became determined to conquer this woman.
- How could she stand by and see Anne Boleyn die like that? – Again, I don’t think Jane had any choice in the matter plus, as a staunch Catholic and a supporter of Catherine of Aragon and the Lady Mary, she would have viewed Henry’s marriage to Anne as invalid and Anne as a whore and usurper. I’m sure that Jane was led to believe that Anne Boleyn had committed incest and adultery, although who knows what Jane really believed and felt in her heart. It is obviously hard for those of us with sympathy for Anne Boleyn and her story, to reconcile ourselves with the idea of Anne languishing while Jane partied and got ready for her wedding, but Jane was probably convinced that Anne was getting what she deserved.
- Did Jane set out to become queen? – Elizabeth Norton writes that “Jane acted in an entirely self-interested way and she deeply desired to be queen, working tirelessly towards it, but she was certainly no worse than Anne Boleyn”2 and that Jane was simply doing what she had learned from Anne. I’m not sure I’d go that far though, I don’t see any evidence that Jane was that ambitious and I think it was Carew and the Seymour brothers who learned from Anne’s behaviour when Henry was courting her, not Jane. Jane was like putty in their hands but she did rise to the challenge and I suspect that her view of Anne Boleyn made her indifferent to Anne’s feelings and subsequent fall. Once she realised that the King was seriously interested in her and that Anne was on the way down, I think Jane did put her all into keeping the King and proving that she could be the wife and queen he wanted, but she cannot be held solely responsible for Anne’s tragic end.
- Did she love Henry? – The difference I see between Anne and Jane is that Anne did passionately love Henry. I don’t think Anne loved Henry from the start, but I think she did fall for him and their passionate and volatile relationship was a result of that very strong love and a true meeting of minds, a real love match. Jane, on the other hand, was flattered by Henry’s advances and probably became fond of him, but I don’t think she had chance to fall in love with him and it was certainly not a relationship of passion. I think it was more like an arranged diplomatic marriage – Jane was the domestic, passive, submissive wife Henry wanted at that time and she fulfilled her role and duty.
Anyway, those are my own personal feelings and the thing with Jane is that there is little written about her, compared to the likes of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, so we are left with lots of questions:-
- Was she sugar and spice and all things nice or was it just a mask which would have eventually slipped?
- Would she have become more active in politics and religion?
- Would she have made Henry happy long-term?
- Was she suitable queen material?
- Would Henry have got tired of her?
and a lot of what-ifs!
Notes and Sources
- Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love, Elizabeth Norton, p79
- Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love, Elizabeth Norton, p65