The Rise and Tragic Fall of Henry VIII’s Third Queen : Jane Seymour

In the spring of 1536, the falcon was falling and the phoenix was rising. I am, of course, talking about Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, their badges being the white falcon and the phoenix.

Anne Boleyn was just about to fall from power and her place as Henry VIII’s queen consort would be taken by one of her ladies, Jane Seymour, but who was Jane and when did Henry VIII become involved with her? Let me tell you…


Jane was born in around 1508 and was the eldest daughter of soldier and courtier Sir John Seymour of Wulfhall in Wiltshire and his wife, Margery Wentworth. Like Henry VIII’s other wives, she was descended from Edward III and she shared a grandmother with Anne Boleyn. Jane had nine siblings, although not all of them survived, and these included Edward Seymour, who later became Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector in his nephew Edward VI’s reign, and Thomas Seymour, who’d become Baron Seymour of Sudeley and marry Catherine Parr.

The Seymours were members of the gentry class and Jane had an education fit for a girl of her standing, learning to read and write, and learning a bit of French and Latin, as well as needlework, music, riding and hunting. Jane was sent to court somewhere between 1527 and 1529 to serve Queen Catherine of Aragon. However, her service to the queen was cut short when Henry VIII banished Catherine in 1531 and reduced her household. It is likely that Jane returned home to Wiltshire.

At some point, her parents negotiated a marriage match between Jane and William Dormer, son of Sir Robert Dormer, but William’s mother was not keen, seeing Jane as not good enough for her son, and William was quickly married off to Mary Sidney.

In the summer of 1535, Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn, paid a visit to Wulfhall on their royal progress and Jane was appointed to join Anne’s household, and it wasn’t long before the king noticed his wife’s new lady. On 10th February 1536, Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, reported that the king had “lately made great presents” to Jane and on 3rd March 1536, Jane’s brother, Edward, was appointed to the king’s privy chamber and he and his wife were given apartments in Greenwich Palace which the king could access through a private passage. This surely must have been so that the king could secretly court Jane while her brother and his wife acted as chaperones.

On 1st April, Chapuys reported how he’d heard from two separate sources that the king was “paying court” to Jane and he went on to explain that she was being “well tutored” on how to behave with the king by courtiers who hated Anne Boleyn. These courtiers were advising not only to copy Anne Boleyn’s example and “not in any wise to give in to the King’s fancy unless he makes her his Queen” but also to “to tell the King frankly, and without reserve, how much his subjects abominate the marriage contracted with the concubine, and that not one considers it legitimate.” Jane took this advice on board and when the king sent her a purse of money, she told the messenger to return it to the king unopened, for “there was no treasure in this world that she valued as much as her honour, and on no account would she lose it, even if she were to die a thousand deaths.” She went on to say, “That if the King wished to make her a present of money, she requested him to reserve it for such a time as God would be pleased to send her some advantageous marriage”.

It sounds as if Jane was nothing more than a courtly love flirtation at first. Courtly love involved a knight wooing a lady, flattering her, giving her presents etc. and perhaps Henry VIII considered taking Jane as his mistress while Anne was pregnant. I think things changed for Henry VIII after his jousting accident, which reminded him of his mortality and the importance of having a legitimate male heir, which was followed soon after by Anne’s miscarriage. Henry was already obsessed with having a son, but now it looked as if his wife wasn’t going to give him one and that his second marriage was as cursed as his first one. Perhaps it was time to move on and Jane went from being potential mistress to potential wife.

But what was Jane like? Well, she seems to have been the polar opposite of Anne Boleyn. While Anne was dark haired and dark eye with an olive complexion, Jane was fair-haired and pale-skinned. While her colouring was that of the English rose standard of beauty of the time, Chapuys wasn’t impressed, describing her “of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise”. He also stated that she was inclined to be “proud and haughty” and that she was “not a woman of great wit.” He also doubted her virginity, but her saving grace, in his eyes, was that she did bear “great love and reverence to the Princess [Mary]”. Perhaps it suited Henry VIII for Jane to be so different to Anne, perhaps he thought he’d have a far easier life with her and that she wouldn’t be quite so divisive as his second wife. Who knows? But at some point, and we don’t know precisely when, Jane became wife material, queen material.

By the end of April 1536, Henry VIII was worried about gossip and so sent Jane away from court. She was sent to Beddington, the country estate of Sir Nicholas Carew, one of those apparently involved in coaching Jane on how to behave with the king. It also got her out of the way, while the machinery for Anne Boleyn’s fall was being put in place and while the arrests were being made. But Jane wasn’t away for long. On 14th May, the same day that Anne’s household was broken up, Carew was sent to fetch Jane and take her to a property in Chelsea which was located within a mile of the king’s lodging. The king was willing to risk gossip now, Anne was nearly out of the way. At Chelsea, Jane was, according to Chapuys, “most richly dressed” and “splendidly served by the King’s cook and other officers”. She was now the queen-in-waiting, just as Anne Boleyn had been in the late 1520s and early 1530s. Jane, however, did not have to be as patient as Anne, for just five days later, she received news at Chelsea that Anne had been executed. The following day, she became betrothed to the king, but the wedding was postponed as this new relationship “sounded ill in the ears” of the English people. Pamphlets were published deriding Jane and the king, but nothing was going to stop Henry VIII. He reassured his bride-to-be and they got married on 30th May.

On 2nd June 1536, she made her first public appearance as queen at Greenwich and two days later was proclaimed queen there. According to Charles Wriothesley, she “went in procession, after the King, with a great traine of ladies followinge after her, and also ofred at masse as Queen, and began her howsehold that daie, dyning in her chamber of presence under the cloath of estate”. Jane was queen. There was no question of her legitimacy as queen, she was England’s one and only queen, both of her predecessors were dead.

There’s no evidence that Jane was pregnant in the spring of 1536, but I often wonder if they couple had consummated their union before their marriage on 30th May. Anne’s fall was so very quick, just 26 days from the legal machinery being set up to Anne’s execution, whereas Catherine Howard’s fall took 104 days, by my reckoning, between Archbishop Cranmer telling the king about the allegations made against Catherine and Catherine being executed. Was the need for speed solely because Henry wanted to move on quickly, to have the best chance of having a son, or was it because there was a risk that Jane was already pregnant? We just don’t know.

Sadly, Jane was only queen for 17 months, but it was enough time for her to give Henry VIII what he desperately wanted and needed. The couple’s son was born at Hampton Court Palace on 12th October 1537 and Jane died on 24th October. Her heart was buried in Hampton Court’s Chapel Royal, while the rest of her remains were laid to rest at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, where she was joined by her husband after his death in 1547.

Jane has gone down in history as Henry VIII’s true wife, and she was to him. She’d given him the greatest gift and made the greatest sacrifice. Despite the fact that he’d had to reprimand her twice for trying to involved herself in things that didn’t concern her – the Lady Mary and the monasteries – After being reminded of the fate of her predecessor, she never spoke out of turn again. She submitted to her husband. She’d been the ideal queen consort in Henry’s eyes and done her duty, and for that he’d remember her. In 1545, Henry ordered a painting of his family. The king is the focus, being in the centre and he is flanked by his queen and his son, then, further away, are his daughters and the court fools, Jane the Fool, and Will Somer. The queen, though, is not Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s wife at the time, instead, the artist has painted Jane Seymour. That seems odd to us, and I do wonder how Catherine felt, but the painting was about the Tudor dynasty, and Jane was part of that as the mother of Henry VIII’s son and heir.

Jane’s legacy was, of course, her son, Edward, who, on the death of his father in January 1547 became King of England, King Edward VI. He never reached his majority, dying in July 1553 and sparking a succession crisis, but his reign is known for its religious legislation which began the Protestant Reformation in earnest.

Jane Seymour’s motto as queen was “Bound to obey and serve” and she definitely did that in her short time as queen.

Related Post