Sunday, November 20, 2011

Queen Jane Seymour's Jewels

By on Sunday, November 20, 2011 4 Comments

c. 1536-1537Jane Seymour via Wikipedia
Jane Seymour (c.1508-1537) was the third of Henry VIII of England's (1491-1547) six wives.  She is the least known and least documented of all his queens.

Yet this quiet, outwardly unassuming woman earned Henry's undying love simply because she was the only one to bear him a male heir.  

Just when her position became secure, she tragically died due to complications following childbirth.  

As her birth date is unknown, most historians think she was just 29 when she died. This was based on the historical record of the 29 women who walked in succession at her funeral. It was customary to mark each year of a person's life in such a way back then.

Jane came from obscure rural gentry in Wiltshire. She was not particularly well educated but she excelled at embroidery, hunting and household management all of which suited the life of country gentlewoman.

Frenchman, Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador to England would later describe Jane's appearance as ".. of middle stature, and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale..."

Catherine of AragonCatherine of Aragon via WikipediaBut behind that unremarkable appearance was a strong determination to succeed. When she was in her late teens, Jane obtained a position in Queen Catherine (of Aragon)'s household with the help of some family connections. Jane shared the same deep Catholic faith as Henry's first wife and  became devoted to the long suffering Catherine and her daughter, the Princess Mary.

By the time Jane went to serve Catherine,  it was already clear to everyone that Catherine was never ever going to bear Henry the son he so longed for.

Over the years Catherine delivered a number of stillborn babies or those who didn't survive infancy except for Mary. Her disastrous childbearing history took a toll on Catherine's health and she looked far older than her age. The royal marriage was heading for an annulment, one which Henry wanted but Catherine did not. That would have made their daughter illegitimate.

Anne Boleyn was another of Catherine's maids of honor and was actually Jane's second cousin. But despite their common roots, the two women were total opposites. While Jane was quiet and fair, Anne was vivacious and dark.

Anne possessed an exotic and glamorous personality which easily captured Henry's attention. He was soon after her as a potential mistress. But Anne didn't want to be a short term king's mistress like her sister Mary Boleyn before her. She turned Henry down saying, "I beseech your highness most earnestly to desist, and to this my answer in good part. I would rather lose my life than my honesty."  That only made him pant after Anne even more.

Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn via Wikipedia

Henry's desire to secure an annulment became known as the King's Great Matter (1525-1533). He convinced himself that his lack of a living son was heavenly punishment for a marriage that shouldn't have taken place. He had married his older brother's widow after he and Catherine received a papal dispensation  as her first marriage to his brother was allegedly not consummated. He now had second thoughts and argued that Catherine's first marriage was consummated and therefore invalid.

Portrait of Charles V (1500-1558) with a BatonCharles V via WikipediaIn the end, no annulment was forthcoming.  The Pope then was in no position to grant it. He was being imprisoned by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, who just happened to be Catherine's nephew.

So a direct break with the Catholic church was the result with Henry set up as supreme head of the Church of England. It not only gave him the freedom to marry again but the opportunity to reform the church by dissolving the powerful and wealthy monasteries.

Jane was but an insignificant member of Catherine's household at the time. However, she was a witness to the deterioration of the marriage and Catherine's futile attempts to save it.

Catherine tried to keep Anne with her as much as possible to reduce the time the latter spent with Henry and even tried to draw attention to Anne's deformity (a sixth finger on one hand). Jane's sympathies were entirely with Catherine and Mary and not her own cousin.

Six years into the King' Great Matter, Henry decided to break completely with Catherine. He banished her to a remote castle. She was never to see their  daughter again. Anne was pregnant by then and Henry hastily married her.

Although there is no record, in all probability Jane also accompanied Catherine to her exile. But Catherine later lost most of her household when the new reformist Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, eventually pronounced Catherine's marriage to the King as invalid in 1533. Stripped of her queenly status, the reduction in her allowance meant most of her staff was let go, including Jane. Catherine died a broken woman in body and spirit 3 years later.

Jane returned home. By this time she was in her mid-twenties. Her one and only marriage arrangement came to nothing because she was deemed not socially good enough or rich enough for the prospective bridegroom. So after a couple of years, she returned to court as she had no other alternative. Her eldest brother Edward Seymour, an ambitious man, had already secured a spot there. He likely helped her get a post ironically in the new Queen's household.

Anne did not produce the son she was so convinced she was carrying but a daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Henry grew tired of his second wife pretty quickly once he attained the object of his obsession. He enjoyed her lively company before their marriage but Anne was not the subservient wife he expected.

His attention started to wander again which both infuriated and terrified Anne. He had cast away one wife. He could do it again especially if she failed to bear him a son.  Anne was never popular at court so the faction loyal to the Catherine and Mary eventually decided on Jane as a prospective mistress the King - a ploy to tempt Henry away from Anne.

Edward Seymour, Brother of Queen JaneEdward Seymour by lisby1
Edward Seymour was all for it as being the brother of a King's mistress has its advantages. Was Jane consulted in the beginning?  Probably not but she went along with it because such a role was considered an honor in Tudor times.

Henry's attraction to Jane was largely because she was so different from Anne. Here was a maiden, sweet and gentle, totally unlike his increasingly shrewish and quarrelsome wife.

When Henry first courted Anne, he gave her a portrait of himself in a bracelet to remind her of him at all times.  Henry also gifted Jane with his portrait in a locket early in his courtship. Anne therefore recognized the significance when she saw the locket. The ever volatile Anne physically attacked Jane and snatched the locket from her to look at. It only served to confirm that Henry's affections were shifting to Jane.

Jane was a lot tougher than she looked because she stood her ground in what must have been a very awkward situation in the Queen's chambers for several months. According to a contemporary, "there was often much scratching and bye blows between the queen and her maid." For Jane and other observers, it was sweet revenge to see Anne suffer the same way Catherine had.

Catherine's many supporters also thought it a just punishment when Anne miscarried a son on the very day of Catherine's funeral. Anne laid the blame on Henry's unkindness saying, "See how well I must be since the day I caught that abandoned woman Jane sitting on your knees."  Wrong thing to say to a king who could never stand criticism. Henry was so angry, he declared he would have no more boys by her.

While Anne's words must have stung, Jane was no slut. She knew from watching Anne for years that the way to inflame Henry's love was to withhold intimacy until after marriage. Jane also received advice from her supporters on how best to handle Henry's advances. She played her cards perfectly.

When Henry sent Jane a purse of gold sovereigns and a letter, she returned both unopened declaring that she  had no greater riches than her honor and begged him to gift her money in the event she ever married. This clever woman demonstrated her own virtue and suitability as a wife and that she was husband hunting all in one masterful move!  From that point on, Henry made sure that Jane was chaperoned whenever he was with her.

Jane had many strong supporters including her two ambitious brothers, Princess Mary and Henry's chief minister Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell  hated the meddlesome Anne who once viciously threatened to have his head.  So knowing that Henry wanted to marry Jane, Cromwell's immediately launched an "investigation" when he received vague reports about Anne's unchaste household and premarital life.

Anne Boleyn in the TowerAnne Boleyn in the Tower of London via Wikipedia

In the end, 5 men, including her own brother were accused of being her lovers and executed along with Anne.  All but one, protested their innocence. The sole confession, most likely extracted under torture, came from the hapless Mark Smeaton, a young musician in her household.

Anne was hysterical during her first few days in the Tower of London. But calmed down and eventually viewed her impending death as a welcome end to her troubles. She even joked about being Queen Lack-a-Head. She went to her execution with courage and dignity.

Jane knew what was going on but had nothing to do with the way Henry got rid of wife no. 2. She must have had some qualms though watching how easily it all came about.  Henry's cheerful conduct while Anne was in the Tower of London also caused some mutterings of discontent even from people who never liked Anne. Many knew the accusations were false.

It took Anne 6 years to marry Henry.  Jane accomplished the same goal in 6 months.  Henry got his people to accept Jane with far less hostility than they had with Anne by stating that he was remarrying to secure the succession for the sake of his people and kingdom, not himself!

While she may have appeared docile, Jane was intelligent enough to know her survival as queen and wife depended on being totally subservient to Henry. She largely stayed out of politics and stuck to her motto, "Bound to Obey and Serve".  She instead concentrated on domestic matters.

UK, Hampton Court Palace, Knot Garden of Tudor...Tudor Knot Garden, Hampton Court Palace via Wikipedia

She took a keen interest in Hampton Court Palace and its gardens. She oversaw the building of a new Queen's Gallery and refurbished the many rooms assigned to her. She even had a jewel chamber. Jane loved  jewelry and had a goldsmith employ 6 servants to help make "juells, works and dyvyses" just for her. "Dyvyes" or devices were bejeweled objects such as crosses.

Mary I of England, at the time the Princess Ma...Princess Mary via WikipediaIn her quiet way, she was able to reconcile Henry with his eldest daughter Mary, whom Jane dearly cared for and wanted back at court. The reconciliation was celebrated with a special gold ring showing the portraits of Henry, Jane and Mary with a Latin inscription. Henry presented it to Mary himself.

Jane did not have much to do with her other step-daughter, Princess Elizabeth who was only a toddler then. The tot was just too awkward a reminder being Anne's daughter.

Unlike Anne who was interested in religious reforms, Jane was a traditionalist. She was deeply troubled by the dissolution of the monasteries as were many of his subjects. She did appeal to Henry privately to try and save some of them but failed.

So much change so quickly resulted in rebellion which Jane was convinced was a sign from God. Fearful for Henry's sake, Jane did take a stand with the only public appeal she ever made. She threw herself at Henry's feet and begged him to restore the monasteries. Henry roared at her for daring to interfere in his affairs and warned her what had happened to Anne who did meddle. Jane never again took any political action.

The only function required of her was the bearing of children, preferably a son.  But she didn't conceive for nearly a year, which must have been worrying. Her coronation was supposedly postponed on account of the plague in London but there were those who believed the real reason was that she hadn't yet gotten pregnant and thus not proven herself worthy to be a real queen.

When she finally did get pregnant, what a relief that must have been. Henry and his subjects were overjoyed.  Henry was particularly kind and caring during her pregnancy by indulging in her every whim. When she craved for quails, Henry had some sent over all the way from France.

Her pregnancy went smoothly but the delivery did not. Jane labored for 2 days and 3 nights before delivering the much wanted prince. There was great rejoicing. Henry promptly named his new son, Edward, Prince of Wales. He rewarded both Jane's brothers, Edward with an earldom and Thomas with a knighthood and a place in his Privy Chamber.

But within a few days of her son's birth, Jane began to sicken with fever and was soon delirious. She died just 12 days after childbirth. She most likely succumbed to puerperal or childbed fever, caused by a bacterial infection.  Such complications were common then - an estimated 1/4 to 1/3 of women died in childbirth in that era.

Henry deeply mourned the loss of Jane. But Mary, who adored her stepmother was particularly devastated. She was Jane's chief mourner at many of the funeral ceremonies.  Henry made sure Jane's jewels went to Mary and Jane's ladies. Jane would have been pleased.

Jane was queen for less than 17 months. No one will ever know if Jane could have kept Henry's love had she not died so young. He was fickle as far as women were concerned. In dying though, Jane remained his one true love for the rest of his life. He even had the artist include her in a family portrait posthumously with his three children (detail below). She was the only one of all his queens to be buried beside him in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Detail of The Family of Henry VIII, now at Ham...Prince Edward, Henry VIII and Jane Seymour via Wikipedia


St. George's Chapel, Windsor Castle, Windsor, ...St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle by nikoretro

Their son grew up to be King Edward VI although he never really ruled.  He died at age 15 most likely from tuberculosis or complications from broncho-pneumonia. He was succeeded by his cousin, Lady Jane Grey known as the Nine Days' Queen, and then one after the other, by his half-sisters Mary I and Elizabeth I.

Portrait of Edward VI of EnglandEdward VI via Wikipedia

Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour, by unknown arti...Thomas Seymour via WikipediaJane's ambitious and power hungry brothers continued to lust after wealth and prestige after her death. Edward Seymour led the Regency Council during the boy king's minority but was ousted from power and executed for felony after he was found to be a grossly incompetent and overly greedy Lord Protector.

Edward's younger brother, Thomas Seymour, sought power through women. He first married Catherine Parr, the 6th wife and widow of Henry VIII. He also tried to seduce the future Elizabeth I when she was just 14 and living with them. He, too was executed for plotting a coup during his nephew's short reign.

Reference
Elizabeth Norton (2009) JANE SEYMOUR: Henry VIII's True Love

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4 comments:

  1. It is such a great story! I used to watch "The Tudors" on HBO and loved it. Of course their version of Henry was much "hunkier" than the real one, but the story was pretty accurate. I loved learning about it. The royal family seems so boring now!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Glad you enjoyed my mini-bio! I am not a fan of The Tudors because there are so many historical inaccuracies.

    I much prefer the BBC production from about 1970 which starred Keith Mitchell. The acting was far superior. Mitchell "aged" and looked obese just as the real Henry did later in life.

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  3. Thank for sharing that history. Did any of her jewels survive.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I don't know if any of her jewels survived. Her embroidery work didn't though.

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