Lady Jane Seymour became a maid-of-honor in 1532 to Queen Katherine of Aragon, but may have been a lady-in-waiting since 1527. After Queen Katherine's fall from favor in 1533, she then went on to become lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn. It wasn't until early 1536 that King Henry VIII took an interest in her.
We don't know how she felt when the king's favor fell upon her. Was she afraid of this man who had absolute power, knowing what was happening to her predecessors? Was she overjoyed that someone had finally noticed her? After all, she was 28 years old, which was over-the-hill in the Tudor era. Or, like Anne Boleyn, did she covet the crown like no other? Perhaps it was a combination of all three, or some, or none at all. What is clear: she was quiet and reserved, a strong contrast to the powerful and passionate Anne Boleyn. King Henry VIII wanted the exact opposite of what he had experienced for the last three years of his life. Within 24 hours of Anne's execution, she and King Henry VIII were married. I wonder if she felt badly about what happened to Anne Boleyn.
The New Queen
It would be over 2 weeks from her betrothal until King Henry VIII finally declared her to be the Queen of England on June 4th, 1536. She replaced the former queen who had been murdered by her current husband. I wonder if, in her mind, she asked whether her fate would be the same. I know it would definitely cross my mind several times if I were in her shoes.
One of her first acts as queen was to ban the French fashions once popular during Anne Boleyn's reign. She also required all of her ladies to dress very moderately, a stark contrast to what had been before. Looking at these actions alone, I can only conclude that she must have been absolutely terrified. "Kill, or be killed," was the slogan was the Tudor court.
Her chosen motto was "bound to obey and serve." To me, being "bound" implies being enslaved and forced against one's will. She was trapped in a marriage with a brutal tyrant who could explode at any moment. Talk about walking on eggshells!
Sympathies with Katherine of Aragon and the Lady Mary
It was no secret that Queen Jane sympathized with the Lady Mary and her deceased mother, Katherine of Aragon. She repeatedly worked towards the restoration of Lady Mary's former position in the line of succession. And, to that end, she was partially successful. She was able to reconcile the former princess with her misaligned father. Naturally, these actions made Eustace Chapuys a staunch supporter of hers.
These actions do not indicate any fear whatsoever on her part. She was risking the wrath of Henry by bringing up his rejected offspring, and working tirelessly in that end. One could argue that it was an act of love shown towards the late Katherine of Aragon, who Queen Jane had once served as lady-in-waiting. Maybe, then, keeping the Lady Mary close was also her effort to keep Katherine of Aragon's memory alive.
The fact that she didn't advocate in a similar manner for Anne Boleyn's daughter Elizabeth speaks volumes. Perhaps it was survival mode, as bringing up anyone affiliated with the convicted former queen was again risking his ire and wrath. Or, perhaps, it was an effort to get back at Anne Boleyn for having contributed to the downfall of Katherine of Aragon. We'll never know, as there is no record of her actions beyond the scarce few that have been accounted for.
The Pilgrimage of Grace
At this time, the common people in England were rising in rebellion due to the destruction and suppression of their monasteries. A religious revolution was sweeping through England following the nation's break from Rome. Queen Jane herself was a Roman Catholic, similar to the rebels. It so moved her heart that she pleaded with King Henry to pardon those who had participated in the rebellion. Infuriated, King Henry reminded Queen Jane of what happened to her predecessor who had also "meddled" in his affairs. A thinly-disguised threat of further retribution against her, Queen Jane quickly held her tongue. This is the last we hear of any involvement on her part with national affairs.
Her husband, who claimed he "loved" her, had subtly threatened her with murder. In this day, that would be considered a form of domestic violence. And unlike today, there were no options back then to escape this form of persecution. She couldn't just divorce or separate from the King of England without facing his derisive scorn.
Women in the Tudor Era had very few freedoms. Apart from Anne of Cleves, who had the best outcome of all his wives, women had no financial independence. They were only granted lands, estates, and the like upon marriage. And, when they married, all their assets were handed over to their husbands. The man, as the head of the household, had the legal right and the expected "responsibility" to beat his wife if she didn't comply.
Needless to say, violence was an integral part of Tudor life.
The Sought-For Prince
The court was overjoyed when it was announced that Queen Jane was pregnant with a child. She was likely thrilled, as well. If she delivered a healthy son and heir to the Tudor dynasty, her position would be secure. It was something that Anne Boleyn dreamed of accomplishing, but never was fulfilled.
She went into labor on October 9th, 1537. It was a painful and arduous labor, likely due to bad positioning of the child. There is a rumor that at one point, King Henry VIII was told he would have to choose the queen's life or the child's life. Choosing the child's life, the doctors then performed a risky Cesarean section procedure to remove her son. This is likely just a rumor, as the queen was healthy after the delivery for a few days. Three days later, on October 12th, Prince Edward VI was born.
The queen had did it! She had delivered a healthy son! The joy must have been overwhelming. He was christened on October 15th, 1537, after which point the queen's health took a direction for the worst.
How devastating for both King Henry and Queen Jane. The king had finally achieved his heart's desire, and as queen of England, Jane had fulfilled her role dutifully as wife and mother of the prince. It must have been heartbreaking for everyone involved.
Death and Legacy
Queen Jane died in the early morning hours of October 24th, 1537. Her cause of death is unknown, but it was likely from either a retained placenta or puerperal fever. Childbirth was an all-too common cause of death in Tudor England, in an age before we understood the necessity for proper hygiene.
She was buried in November of 1537, with a procession of 29 mourners at her funeral. It was customary in Tudor England for there to be one mourner for every year of life. Therefore, we can conclude that Queen Jane was just 29 years of age. It's a bit spooky, as I am also 29 years of age.
If Jane Had Lived
There are several possible outcomes to this story:
1. Jane lives and Edward lives. Jane goes on to deliver 2 more healthy children, a prince and a princess. After his father's death in 1546, Jane continues to live at court and guide Edward. As a result, Edward becomes a strict and moral king of England. Rules about decorum and behavior sweep the English countryside, causing an uproar. Jane encourages him to marry for love, and as such, Edward marries a lesser noble from court. The people are outraged by both of these actions. Following his death, the nation is plunged into a bloody revolution. Neither of her other two children get to see the English throne, as they are sacrificed during the Dark Days of England (as it comes to be called later). As for Jane, she seeks sanctuary during the civil wars and hides in Westminster Abbey. When she emerges, the nation is in ruins. Jane dies shortly after from a broken heart, in the year 1559.
2. Jane lives and Edward lives. She produces no more living children; instead, she experiences a string of miscarriages (like her predecessors before her). King Henry becomes bored of his wife, who has become increasingly insistent on national matters. Since she has delivered the male heir, he cannot divorce her. Instead, he selects the young and pretty Catherine Howard as his head mistress. She bears him 3 sons. It creates a further rift between Jane and Henry. The nation is plunged into war when a Protestant insider assassinates Jane in 1544. Henry, grief-stricken, quickly marries Catherine and legitimizes his male sons.
3. Jane outlives her husband, who dies in 1546. She mourns with the nation when her son, Edward, dies in 1553. When Mary takes the throne, she has apartments set aside for her and she is a beloved member of the English court. She tries to encourage Mary not to persecute English protestants, to no avail. When Elizabeth takes the throne in 1558, she allows her to remain in court. However, Elizabeth always secretly hates Jane for what she did to her mother. As a punishment, Elizabeth employs Jane as her principal lady-in-waiting, giving her the most tedious of tasks and making Jane's life difficult. Jane dies in 1571.
3. Jane outlives her husband, who dies in 1546. She mourns with the nation when her son, Edward, dies in 1553. When Mary takes the throne, she has apartments set aside for her and she is a beloved member of the English court. She tries to encourage Mary not to persecute English protestants, with remarkable success. When Elizabeth takes the throne in 1558, she allows her to remain in court. However, Elizabeth always secretly hates Jane for what she did to her mother. Jane dies in 1567 from a plague-like illness.
Which outcome do you like the best? Vote below!
Helena Doherty on May 21, 2016:
It is interesting to read about the rebellion against the destruction and suppression of the monasteries. It is difficult for us to understand how women in Tudor time had no rights and Jane married Henry although she must have been afraid of him
Mona Sabalones Gonzalez from Philippines on November 30, 2015:
This is the first time I read about Jane. You place such an interesting perspective in her life, entering her mind as she assesses her circumstance, the intrigues of the court, and how as Queen she tries to do good but realizes her husband is a mean guy. I always wonder about Lady Jane, and enjoyed reading this thoroughly. Wonderful article:)
Charles Linn on November 29, 2015:
In the first paragraph it says Jane was lady in waiting to Katherine of Howard. I hope you mean of aragon.