The Wives of King Henry VIII: Jane Seymour
A Quiet Life
Out of all of the wives of King Henry VII, Jane Seymour is matched only by Anne of Cleaves in her simpleness. She was not royal, she caused few problems, and she managed to die of natural causes rather than warranting execution or banishment. In fact, her one real acheivement was to produce a male heir, which was also her downfall. Let's venture down the road, however short, of Jane Seymour's life.
Life and Marriage
It is disputed, but Jane Seymour was thought to have been born in 1508, because there were 29 mourners in her train at her funeral. Traditionally the number of mourners in the train matched the age of the person at the time of death.
Seymour was born to Sir John Seymour of Wiltshire and Margery Wentworth. She was not highly educated as Queen Catharine and Anne Boleyn were. Instead she was taught all of the ins and outs of running a household, as well as skills like needlework. These were practical skills that were very popular for girls of the time.
In 1532 Jane became a maid-of-honour to Queen Catharine. This was the last year of Catharine's reign, and when she was disposed of Jane became part of Anne Boleyn's train. It was this proximity to King Henry that proved dangerous, for he married Jane Seymour just ten days after he his wife Anne Boleyn executed. It is disputed by historians, but some thought that she was part of the plot to have Anne executed. Certainly she had a lot to gain from it, having recently caught Henry's eye. Whether or not she wished Anne dead, once the Boleyn Queen was out of the way, Jane was free to take her place. Unlike Anne however, Jane was never officially crowned Queen. Some thought that Henry was holding back the privilege until she produced a male heir, as neither of his previous wives had done.
In contrast to the vibrant and sumptuous court of Queen Anne, Jane Seymour was a very conservative and demur woman. She banished the French fashions Anne had introduced, and restricted the dress of her ladies rigidly. She was quiet and obedient around her husband, in contrast to Anne who constantly threw fits around him. The only time she asked him for anything was when she asked for pardons for the participants in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion. His reply to her? Not to meddle in his affairs lest she end up like her predecessor.
In 1537 Jane became pregnant, and the court held its breath once more. She developed a hunger for quail, which Henry fulfilled by bringing in birds from as far away as France. She went in seclusion in September of the same year, and gave birth to the future King Edward VI of England on October 12th, 1537.
During the little Prince's christening on the 15th of October is became very clear that Jane was ill. It is likely that she suffered from puerperal fever, an infection that was often the result of unsanitary conditions during childbirth. During the time it was one of the most common killers of women of childbearing age.
Jane worsened rapidly and died on the 24th of October. She was buried in St. George's chapel in Windsor Castle. When Henry VIII died in 1547, he was buried next to her.
Henry mourned Jane deeply, and did not marry for another three years. It is said that much of his fondness for her stems from that fact that she delivered a boy for him when others had not. In fact this was to be Henry's only son, and certainly not the most significant ruler to spring from his loins. Nonetheless, Jane Seymour had a profound effect on the King, and one wonders what would have happened had she survived. Would she have persevered where others failed? In truth, we shall never know.
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