The Infamous Lady Rochford and the Enigmatic Jane Seymour
— Danielle Marchant —
Jane Seymour and Jane Boleyn – one was loyal to the Seymour family and the other was loyal to the Boleyn family, both coming from “rival” families. However, both Janes were also to an extent at the mercy of Tudor court politics, a focus of their families’ ambitions and have also been a focal point of blame for Anne Boleyn’s fall in 1536. While writing my new novella “Tourmens de Mariage”, Part 2 of The Lady Rochford Saga, focussing on the life of Jane Boleyn, I did gradually begin to realise that, despite both Janes coming from “rival” families, they actually had much in common with each other.
Both Janes were Roman Catholic. Jane Boleyn was of the Parker family who were devoted to the Catholic faith. However, she married George Boleyn and both George and his sister Anne were Evangelical. One thing that I have suggested in my novella is that I do believe it is possible that she may have felt uncomfortable with their beliefs and the new attitude that threatened the old ways. It was a frightening prospect. Similarly, when Jane Seymour became Henry’s third wife in 1536, Martin Luther had branded Jane Seymour “an enemy of the gospel”, seeing that her Catholic beliefs could be a hindrance to religious change.
They were also both loyal to Henry’s daughter Mary, as well as Catherine of Aragon. In 1535, Jane Boleyn was seen protesting for Mary in London. However, whether Jane had been present there or not is still an area of debate. Jane Seymour on the other hand played a major part in reconciling Henry with his daughter Mary and was very successful at this. Jane quietly encouraged Henry to bring Mary back to court in the autumn of 1536, but making sure at the same time that she didn’t put too much pressure on the King. Jane was successful and Mary returned to the palace, meeting Henry and Jane in the Chamber of Presence. Mary made a low curtsey to Henry, then walked over to Jane and Henry and curtseyed again before falling on her knees asking for Henry’s blessing. Her blessing was granted and he raised her up, kissing both Mary and Jane and welcomed Mary back. He then, to everyone’s horror turned around to the court and said “some of you weare desirous that I should put this jewell to death”. What possibly followed was an awkward silence, but Jane rescued the situation, saying “that had been great pittie to have lost your chefest jewell of England”. However, after hearing her father, Mary fainted and had to be revived by both Jane and Henry. She was reassured then by Henry – possibly after some encouragement from Jane – that she was completely safe.
Both Janes had families that had ambitions for them. Their families would have worked to get their position to serve Catherine of Aragon. Also, their fathers would have tried to arrange a suitable marriage. Jane Boleyn had a marriage arranged with George Boleyn from a family that was gaining much influence in the 1520s. In 1534, Jane Seymour had a possible marriage arranged for her with William Dormer. The Dormer family were prosperous wool merchants and William’s father, Robert, was gaining increasing influence at court as a member of parliament. It was a good match and Jane was by this point 25 years old and realising that she won’t have many other chances of a good marriage. However, the marriage never took place and William was quickly married off to Mary Sidney in 1535. A possible reason for the rejection was that Jane was not viewed as a great heiress and would not come with a great dowry; at the time, the Seymours were not enough of an important family to recommend Jane to any possible husband. This would have been quite a knock for Jane. However, as we know, in 1536, her life changed dramatically.
After Anne Boleyn’s execution on the 19th May 1536, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour eleven days later, and Thomas Cromwell had secured a position in Jane’s privy chamber for Jane Boleyn. To most of us, this would appear very tasteless. However, this does show another common ground between both women, that they had very little control over the court politics happening around them. One was of the Seymour family, the other of the Boleyns and both would have been used to help somehow bring about Anne Boleyn’s fall. We know very little about the thoughts and motivations of both Janes. We don’t know what Jane Seymour really thought of Anne Boleyn, but in reality this was probably irrelevant because she had no control over the events surround Anne’s fall in spite of what she may have felt. Jane was almost coached by Anne’s enemies including Nicholas Carew and Sir Francis Bryan on how to deal with the King and appear as the total opposite of Anne.
Similarly, we don’t know what Jane Boleyn really thought of Anne, although we do know that she was close to her and was a confidant. In 1534, when Henry turned his attention to another woman at court, Anne plotted with Jane to rid this woman. This attempt was unsuccessful and instead led to Jane’s temporary exile from court. The fact that they both plotted together shows closeness. However, again like in Seymour’s case, this too would have been irrelevant because she too had no control over the events surrounding Anne’s fall in Spring 1536. Like all of those in Anne Boleyn’s household, she would have been under duress to answer questions about the Queen’s behaviour, anything that could be used against Anne, despite the fact that this was her own sister-in-law. The questioning also sealed the fate of her own husband George, who was executed with a few days before his sister. As a lady-in-waiting, she would have seen everything and would have been a close confidant for Anne. During her struggle to conceive a son, allegedly, it was to Jane that Anne confided that Henry was impotent. In the events leading up to Anne’s execution, such a statement was treated as treasonous information that could not be withheld. Therefore, Jane had no choice but to admit what Anne had said to her, or risk being interrogated and put on trial herself.
Another thing that both Janes had in common is that they both knew how to survive Henry VIII’s court. They knew when to speak and when to keep silent. Jane Seymour as mentioned was successful at reconciling Henry with his daughter Mary. However, she still had to know when to remain a silent observer because her influence over the King was limited. The Pilgrimage of Grace of October 1536 was rebellion in response to the dissolution of the monasteries and other religious changes made by the King. The rebellion was the most serious crisis Henry had ever had to face, but Jane did sympathise with the rebel’s demands. Jane tried to speak to the King. She had succeeded with reconciling him with Mary and maybe she could make a difference here. She threw herself on her knees in front of the King in public and begged him to restore the abbeys. She told him “perhaps God permitted this rebellion for ruining so many churches”. However, Henry did not appreciate her protest, nor being told publicly that he was being punished by God. In anger, he responded “he had often told her not to meddle with his affairs” and then, to Jane’s horror, referred to Anne Boleyn and how her fate was linked to meddling. This was certainly enough to keep Jane silent afterwards.
Jane Boleyn also had to learn when to speak and when not to while serving five of Henry’s Queens. In addition to being questioned in May 1536, Jane was also later called to help with the annulment of Henry’s fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves. With two other senior ladies of the bedchamber, her aunt Lady Katherine Edgecombe and the Countess of Rutland, they had to speak openly about a conversation they had had with Anne, revealing that the marriage had not been consummated. While this was happening, Thomas Cromwell, to whom Henry took out his wrath on over the failure of the marriage, was in the Tower awaiting his fate. Cromwell had helped Jane get back into the court after Anne and George’s execution, but we don’t know how Jane now felt seeing Thomas languishing in the Tower. Whatever her feelings though, she was unable to help him even if she wanted to. She had to stay silent. Like others that had been close to Cromwell, she had to disassociate herself with him. Cromwell was then executed in July 1540.
Jane Seymour died 24th October 1537, just days after giving birth to Henry’s longed-for son, Edward. Jane Boleyn was executed 13th February 1542 as a result of her involvement in the affair of Henry’s fifth wife, Catherine Howard with Thomas Culpepper. I think both Janes led parallel lives and to an extent, were both victims of Tudor court politics and their families’ ambitions for them. Ultimately for both of them, it cost their lives and posthumous reputations.
Sources and suggested reading:
“Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford” – Julia Fox, Phoenix, 2007.
“Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love” – Elizabeth Norton, Amberley Publishing, 2009.
“The Lady Parker” – thought to be either Jane Boleyn, or her sister-in-law, Grace Newport. By Hans Holbein, around 1526 to 1533.
Jane Seymour – by Hans Holbein.
Danielle Marchant is an Independent Author from London, UK. She published her first historical novella “The Lady Rochford Saga Part 1: Into the Ranks of the Deceived” in October 2013. “The Lady Rochford Saga Part 2: Tourmens de Mariage” will be released on the 19th May 2015 and is now available to pre-order.
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