The King’s Phoenix … Jane Seymour
by Mercy Alicea
Jane Seymour is a woman who has been demonized and admired — demonized because of her part in the bloody and disgusting plot against Anne Boleyn, and admired because she managed to give the King his most desired Prince and tried to bring peace between the King and his daughter the Lady Mary. She was considered by some as a peacemaker, while to others, she was just a greedy manipulator, who wonderfully, with the help of her family, stole the crown from Anne Boleyn. Historian Eric Ives pointed that: “Jane was willing to be used to oust Anne; Henry’s first marriage was dead before Anne came on the scene. Anne’s sexuality challenged Henry, but Jane dangled her virtue as a bait. Anne offered Henry marriage or nothing. Jane upped her price once the chance of a bigger prize appeared; Anne was no man’s creature, Jane was a willing tool whose personality it is more than kind to describe as ‘pliable’.”
But Jane Seymour, even with all that, is still a simple woman. During her short reign she accomplished almost nothing. Of course she gave a Prince to the Realm but in politics, religion, conquests or prestige on her behalf… there is nothing. Was Jane Seymour a silent thief? Was she an ambitious and cold social climber who celebrated the bloodbath of her predecessor? Or was she truly an innocent pawn in the game of her family to destroy the Boleyns and take their place?
Jane Seymour was born in Wolf Hall in 1508. Her father was John Seymour, and her mother was Margaret Wentworth. Jane’s father gave great service to the King in the battlefield and for that won a good reputation. The Seymour family was very large. This fact gave the King the hope of have a strong and long line of Princes with Lady Seymour. Jane Seymour enjoyed the pleasures of a simple childhood at home, and her education was not substantial like her predecessors Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Jane was only able to read and write her name, but she was an excellent embroiderer. Her talent with the needlework was outstanding, recognized even by the King himself. She could dance a little, was polite, even when she could be really shy. Jane was also really good in the household management, which was considered enough for a woman of her time and status.
It is believed that Jane Seymour served in the court of King Henry VIII in 1527, but rumors and facts about scandals in her family forced her sudden banishment from Queen Catherine of Aragon’s household. This is also disputed among historians, some say that she served Catherine in 1532 during her troubled times and that after a time she jumped to serve Anne Boleyn. What is a fact between these battles between historians is that Jane Seymour, during her long or short time of service, developed a great respect, friendship and admiration towards Catherine of Aragon, which gives a clear point of why she was so eager to make peace between the Lady Mary and the King. Besides, Jane was of Catholic ideology, another reason for the strong bond between stepmother and stepdaughter.
Jane Seymour is described always as a simple girl, with a childlike face, of short stature and very pale. According to Ambassador Chapuys, who at the time was her supporter and a hater of Anne Boleyn, strangely, considering he approved her as future Queen Consort of England, described her as “A woman with not much beauty”. But he also made high comments about her quiet and modest personality. John Russell however, pointed that she was “The Fairest of all the King’s wives”. Of course, then he made clear that he was referring to Jane’s sweet and humble character.
Jane was the opposite of Anne Boleyn. While Anne was vivacious, highly educated, charming, talented in arts and music, and with a temper strong enough to make a King boil in rage, Jane was quiet, modest, calmed, strict in her religious conduct and docile as a newborn kitten. Or at least that was the impression she gave to everybody, especially to the King. While she served Anne Boleyn and her family started to see the opportunities considering the tragedies of the tempestuous Queen, Jane started to learn what should be her demeanor if she wanted to get the crown. Jane was a simple girl, but she was not stupid. When the King started to pursue her, she knew she had to be different. Anne was tormenting the King with her constant recriminations, so she needed to be the sweet golden angel who would rescue him from the hell that Anne Boleyn was bringing upon him. She was aware also that imitating some of the good and gentle virtues of Catherine of Aragon would also give her great chances to succeed and eventually become Queen.
Jane also counted on the help of her father and brothers, who were indeed masters in the art of climbing socially. Jane’s sister Elizabeth married Thomas Cromwell’s son, a great step for the rising Seymour clan. The Seymours learned from the Boleyns that sometimes quiet moves work better than over shown strength and dominance. With gentleness, extreme flattering and demonstrations of honesty, the Seymours were winning the heart of the King. The Seymour men guided Jane in the right path. They basically explained to her what she should do to achieve the glorious goal of take the crown. “Never yield your body to the King, like Anne did, but be the antidote to her venom”.
By the time Jane arrived to court to serve Queen Anne as Maid of Honor, the things between the Royal Couple were bad but, Anne was pregnant again, and that was enough for the King to calm down, take a deep breath, and behave like a faithful husband to keep Anne away from stress and feelings that could make her miscarry his most wanted Prince. Henry made huge efforts to endure his marriage, even when it was obvious to everyone close to him that he was tired of Anne. One of the reasons is that when Anne was not around, the eyes of Henry followed Jane everywhere. In her household, the Queen noticed a potential enemy at hand. When Queen Anne fist met Jane she saw a simple girl, with a presence too low to compete with hers but, since the eyes are the windows of the soul, she could see the shine of rivalry in Jane’s. Besides, the rumors that the Seymours were secrets supporters of Catherine of Aragon and the Lady Mary increased her paranoia about plots against her. The Queen was more right than she ever imagined.
Anne’s jealousy was still not well based, but she decided to keep a closer look on Jane. Shortly, the rumors about the King being interested in her became more constant. The Queen, even in rage, decided to keep herself calmed for the sake of her unborn child. Following the counsel of her father and mother, Anne remained away from court. She was in her chamber most of the time to avoid temptations to fight with the King. What Anne did not know is that while she was away taking care of her pregnancy, the King was enjoying the delights of courting the sweet new lady of the court, Jane Seymour. Of course, the King was careful enough to keep things in secret, but since servants were not especially good in keeping their mouths shut, rumors were spreading like a sickness.
Early in January 1536, King Henry had a dangerous Joust accident that left him unconscious for almost two hours. Queen Anne was near five months pregnant, and she was desperate for the life of her King. This is what most historians believe was the cause for her miscarriage five days later but, the fact that Anne found Jane sitting in her husband’s lap in an empty chamber, both lost in the passion of a kiss and the rage that the event caused in Anne is more credible as a strong cause for the terrible loss. The same night that Anne found Jane and Henry in a romantic position, she lost her son. That night was painful for Queen Anne, not only for the tragedy of the death of her baby boy, also because Henry discharged all his disappointment, anger and bitterness with her, while she was barely strong to speak and replied to his accusations. He kept blaming her for the lost of the prince, while Anne kept her position that she was not the cause, but he was. She reminded him that she found him kissing another woman. She reminded him her despair when she thought he was near death after his accident. Back and forth they blamed each other but her fate was already sealed since the moment His Majesty heard that his wife miscarried again. “When you are up, I will speak with you”, the King said to Anne, after leaving her chamber to mourn his dead son in private, but that conversation never happened, not even after Anne was recovered. The death of the Prince seemed to be put aside. For Anne, this could be a positive sign, but the King could not deal with Anne Boleyn anymore. Jane was his solution, his refuge and his hope for a male heir. Anne had to go… once and for all.
King Henry was not willing to suffer the same Calvary he experienced in his past battle for a divorce with Catherine of Aragon, Rome and all the people what went against him that ended up executed by his orders. With the guidance of Thomas Cromwell, the King started to develop the malevolent plan to put Anne out of his life. In secret, he met with Lady Jane Seymour using Thomas Cromwell’s private chambers and other more discreet places in White Hall Palace and Hampton Court. He sent her letters, gifts and money. Wisely the young lady Jane Seymour returned them, just like a proper virtuous girl would do, coincidentally, just like Anne Boleyn did before her.
Jane was playing the same game.Sshe followed the steps of Anne, imitating her beginnings. She acted like the sweet damsel who dreams with the handsome King who suffers in the hand of his evil queen, like in a twisted fairy tale. Her innocent disguise started to fade, when in public, she smiled openly to the King while Queen Anne was present. Anne was looking in an old mirror, now she was suffering the same cold stabs that her former mistress Catherine of Aragon suffered when she was the beloved of the King.
Anne was losing her sense of self control. Many times she pleaded to her brother and father for a way to get rid of Jane Seymour, but they knew things were not good for them since the lost of the prince so, they once again ignored the wishes of Anne, and they kept trying to recover the King’s love and trust. The King on the other hand, was playing a double game with Anne. He was a gentle, kind but not too romantic husband, to the Queen this part of his treatment towards her was difficult to bear but at least he was not cold. With Jane it was a different story. They were living their own love story behind the Castle Walls. One night, Anne was in her chamber in the company of all her main ladies in waiting, Jane included. One of the Queen’s ladies told the queen that Thomas Cromwell gave his private Chambers to Edward and John Seymour. The Queen was upset and she was determined to discharge her bitterness with Jane. She stood up and walked towards her. Lady Jane Seymour curtsied as was her duty, but the Queen noticed a new jewel adorning the small neck of her rival, so she asked “What is that? There was a moment of silence and then the girl replied “A Locket your Majesty”. The Queen slowly approached her in rage, like a predator toward its prey and ripped the locket from Jane’s neck, so hard, that caused pain on Jane and also cut Anne’s fingers. Jane retired from the Queen’s chamber crying. Anne opened the locket and found the image of Henry in it. She was devastated. She needed to do something. She needed to warn her enemies that she was still strong enough to cause damage if she was attacked. So she went towards her first target, Thomas Cromwell.
The Queen invaded Cromwell’s private offices without even give the usher time to announce her. She was so angry that she threatened Cromwell in all the ways she knew. She even implied the possibility of crush him if he dared to betray her. Anne made a terrible mistake, in that moment she lost the last drop of pity that Cromwell could feel for her as his once good friend and ally in their dream to Reform England. Now Cromwell wanted Anne destroyed as much as the King.
By mid April, Jane Seymour was not serving anymore in the Queen’s household. She was sent back to Wolf Hall. Henry and Anne appeared in public ceremonies, parties and worked together in their Royal Duties as they used to, but behind that “normal routine”, Cromwell was working hard on her downfall. The Queen’s closest ladies in waiting were called for interrogation at the Tower of London. With threats of banishment, punishments, public shame and even execution, one by one, they started to confess “things” about the Queen’s naughty behavior. “The Queen received men at night in her chambers”. “Sometimes the Queen flirts with them”. “We have seen her alone with her brother at night, hugging and kissing him”. Now the plot was set, Cromwell and his partners in crime had what they needed to establish a case against the Queen of England, adultery and incest, both major crimes, High Treason. But they needed more, they needed names. The interrogations continued. Jane Parker, wife of George Boleyn did not openly confirmed the accusations against her husband and her sister in law but… she did not defend them either. Her silence and her cold stare towards her interrogators was taken as a yes. Rumors of witchcraft were added to the list of accusations, and even the possibility that the Princess Elizabeth were not the daughter of the King but just fruit of one of her encounters with her “lovers”. During this stormy events surrounding the plot against Queen Anne, is where you can see the active part that Jane Seymour played. Lady Jane was not only following the advise of her family, she was also listening to the “wise words and counsel” of one of Anne’s most notorious enemy, Ambassador Eustace Chapuys. The Ambassador advised her to act against Anne by telling the King all about Anne’s heretical leanings, and that the people of England still not see her as their true Queen, less now that she had miscarry the prince and the rumors of her low conduct. Antonia Fraser established that Jane Seymour was constantly coached to tell the King that his subjects saw his marriage with Anne Boleyn as an abomination, more after the events that were developing against her. Jane reminded the King that his marriage to Anne Boleyn was taken as illegitimate by many courtiers and people from foreign countries. But, this also could be her own opinion, since the coming downfall of Anne was giving Jane more security in her actions, she knew she has no reasons to fear her anymore.
Queen Anne Boleyn was arrested on May 2nd 1536. She was tried and finally sentenced to be executed under charges of High Treason. With Anne locked away, sentenced to death and her family cruelly disbanded, Henry and Jane were free to show the realm how much they loved each other and their plans for the future. While Anne was making herself ready to face execution, Jane at home was making herself ready to meet the King, and have a wonderful time with him. At court, rumors of the King’s new love were spreading, and many courtiers were already lurking around Wolf Hall to have a closer look to their almost certain future Queen. Anne Boleyn’s household was already discharged, her closest ladies in waiting decided to leave court and return home, while others, had no choice to stay and hope to conquer the future Queen’s heart, and go on with their lives. Finally, on the morning of May 19th 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded. The King heard the sound of the cannons that announced the death of his once entirely beloved wife. His reply to his companions and attendants was: “”Ha, ha ,the deed is done. Uncouple the hounds and away!” . With that he headed to Wolf Hall, to continue with his plans of engagement and marriage with Jane Seymour.
A couple of days after the execution of Anne Boleyn, the atmosphere at court was divided. Jane’s supporters were rejoicing with the coming events, while others, were disgusted and badly impressed with the King’s actions. For many, it was difficult to think that while a poor woman was suffering and waiting to be executed, a royal wedding was already being in the process. It was awful to imagine that while Anne Boleyn was lying dead on the scaffold, the cakes, wedding clothes, and wedding dinner were designed and on the process of being prepared. Courtiers and subjects who owned an independent mind, full of reason rather than a desire to follow the current treand, started to see Jane Seymour as a dark figure. For some it was abhorrent to see a woman getting ready to be dressed as a bride upon the puddle of blood of her former mistress who died only a few days ago.
On May 20, 1536, just a day after Anne’s execution, exactly at 6 am, Jane Seymour was “secretly” taken from Chelsea by river to the King’s lodgings. By 9 am, Henry and Jane were formally betrothed, exactly the hour when Queen Anne was executed the day before. Ten days later, on May 30th 1536, King Henry of England and Lady Jane Seymour got married in the Queen’s Closet at Whitehall Palace. It was Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury the one who blessed the newlyweds. The Royal wedding was planned so abruptly that Anne’s falcon badges were removed only hours before the wedding, and quickly replaced by Jane’s new badges, showing a phoenix rising from a castle and Tudor Roses painted in red and white. The tasks of replacements in Hampton Court were going in such a hurry, that according to witnesses: “A’s were still visible under the J’s”.
As for the wedding vows, the King swore first: ‘I, Henry, take thee Jane, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, and thereto I plight thee my troth.’ Then Jane replied: ‘I take thee, Henry, to my wedded husband’, followed by the same vow as Henry’s but with the promise to be ‘bonny and buxom in bed and board’. This for sure sounds romantic, but according to David Starkey these vows are recycled from Henry’s previous weddings. According to Allison Weir, Jane’s marriage with the King was marked by public celebrations afterwards but, Elizabeth Norton, Jane Seymour’s biographer states that that wedding was kept in secret for a few days, and there was not an official announcement either. We must analyze this mainly in the point of view of the King. He needed to erased as fast as he could the name and legacy of Anne Boleyn from the English minds and even farther than that. He executed his Queen and has no male heir, he had almost a civil war at hand thanks to his Reforms, so he needed to give them the Angelic Queen and hopes for the soon arrival of a Prince. This wedding for him meant the closing of a chapter and the beginning of other. He wanted his realm to share his view and desires and forcefully forget the past. But what was the people’s true reaction to the King’s sudden new marriage? Well, according to Elizabeth Norton, the marriage between King Henry and Lady Jane Seymour did not attract the anger of his previous marriage with Anne Boleyn but, it does not impressed them too much either. Even with the lack of impression, there is a report that a man, named John Eynsman was charged and arrested for saying publicly that: ‘the king, for a frawde and a gilte, caused Master Norrys, Mr Weston, and the Queen [Anne] to be put to death because he was made sure unto the Queen’s Grace [Jane] that now is half a year before’
After the wedding ceremony, a huge banquet took place at Whitehall Palace. There the King ravished his new wife with gifts, compliments, music and all the luxuries that her new rank demanded. The King gave his new bride a gold cup designed by Hans Holbein. The king and queen’s initials are entwined with a love knot and Jane’s motto ‘bound to obey and serve’ appears three times in the design. A drawing of the design of the cup is all that survived, as Charles I pawned the original in 1625 and it was then melted down in 1629. The drawing is now held at Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.
Within only a week of the marriage, The King openly said in council that “he was hoping for, speaking of ‘the Prince hoped for in due season’. With this it was obvious that for Queen Jane, pressure was starting to rise. That was her main goal as Queen of England. She knew that good behavior was not only the key to keep herself safe, she knew she had to give the King a son, because if nature was against her as it happened with Anne Boleyn… her crown and her life could be in a dangerous point.
Now that the wedding vows were said and the ceremonies celebrated, it was time for Queen Jane to take command of her household and her duties as wife and Queen. She was a very strict woman, of deep religious beliefs and high moral standards. Immediately she abolished the French Fashion that Anne established among her ladies in waiting. She ordered her ladies to dress discreetly, keeping decency at all times. No more flirtatious fashions, now, the strict English fashion of the times of Catherine of Aragon was the rule under Queen Jane’s command. Her Maids of Honor were ordered to dress in very expensive gowns, adorned with pearls. If those gowns were not used according to her desires, and the number of pearls was incorrect, those Maids of Honor were not allowed to show in her Royal Presence. The exact number of Pearls for each gown was of one hundred and twenty. Queen Jane also expected that her motto “Bound to always Serve and obey” was taken as a guide to follow by her Ladies in Waiting and all her servants. This extreme code of etiquette, dress and conduct can only show the careful measures the Queen was taking to keep her King away from temptations. She knew the nature of Henry… he seemed to grow tired of his Queens very easily, and the ladies at court were his greater weakness. In Jane’s mind, keeping her ladies under a strict religious yoke could keep the King’s desire low and herself, in the winning place.
Jane Seymour was a very quiet queen. She has not interest in pageants, dances or any kind of court entertainment, totally the opposite of Anne Boleyn. But on the other hand, Queen Jane managed to make the King happy and peaceful with her gentle behavior. He seemed pleased and for her that was enough achievement. She obeyed all his commands, and from her part, there was never a negative response. For many at court, she was like a “doormat” but, considering the fate of the previous queens, she was in the right course with her marriage. However, as Queen, she had a wish to grant herself. Using her peaceful ways and gentle words, the Queen managed to make the peace between the King and his eldest daughter, The Lady Mary. Queen Jane was pleased with this achievement. First, she made honor to the Queen she learned to love and respect, Catherine of Aragon, and of course, the reconciliation of the Lady Mary and her father the King, also gave the sense of hope for the restoration of the Catholic Faith in England, something she also desired, because her heart belonged there, in the Old Faith. It was good that she reunited father and daughter after a long time of neglect and threats, but what about the King’s younger daughter, The Lady Elizabeth? Queen Jane’s intentions were to be a peacemaker, so in some points she wanted to reconcile the King with both of his daughters, but for her it was most important to achieve that with the Lady Mary first, due to her own personal interests. The Lady Elizabeth was already an outcast. The King paid no attention to her considering the events with her mother so, maybe Jane did not want to upset the King by forcing a reunion between them. There are no formal records of Jane having close encounters with Elizabeth, but if she tried to help her or ease her needs, she did it then in private.
Even with her achievement of the Lady Mary back at court and reconciled with her Father the King, the reign of Jane Seymour is still opaque. In 18 months of regal life, Queen Jane said nothing that was honorable or important enough to preserve. The only official act of power that she made as Queen and was preserved is an order she gave to the park keeper at Havering-atte-Bower “to deliver to her well-beloved the gentlemen of her sovereign lord the king’s chapel-royal, two bucks of high season.” For this very trifling exercise of the power and privileges of a queen of England, she names the king’s warrant and seal as her authority, as if her own were insufficient. This shows how hard the Queen wanted to be the total opposite of Anne Boleyn. She openly showed herself as a woman of no strength to command as Queen, in that way, the possibilities of rise the anger of the King were none. In her mind, weakness meant survival, as long as he appeared to the King her lord as humble and inoffensive, her life as well as her title would be safe.
Only once Queen Jane dared to ask the King a favor that was related to important affairs in the realm. She asked for pardons for participants in the Rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace. King Henry rejected this and reminded Jane the fate of her predecessor, and with that he advise her to never meddle in his affairs. Never again Queen Jane tried to be the peacemaker in things that involved the main decision of the King.
Time passed, the peaceful marriage was going well, and to add more joy, by the early days of February 1537, it was confirmed that Queen Jane of England was pregnant. The King was happy, full of hope and willing to give the world to Jane for this amazing news. Since Queen Jane developed a sudden fondness for Quail eggs, the King made sure that those delicacies were always available for her. This pregnancy meant everything for Jane, and prayers for a son were already roaring among the Chapels in England. The King felt safe and secure now his wife was on the way to give him a child, surely a son, and for that, he wanted to reward her. A few days after the announcement of the Queen’s pregnancy, the King started to plan the ceremony for her coronation. He wanted something outstanding, something that the people of England would remember forever, even far greater than Anne’s coronation. The King was full of joy and high hopes.
The Queen had a normal pregnancy. There were not incidents reported. The Queen had no morning sickness and the only particularity that was recorded is that she was gaining weight, something unusual considering that nutrition was something very measured for pregnant women in Tudor Times, especially if that woman was the Queen of England. But in the case of Jane, limitations were out of the question. The King wanted Jane pleased and happy, so her word was law in her household during that time of her pregnancy. It is recorded that the Queen developed an anxious desire for sweets, and of course, her ladies in waiting had to obey and give her what she wanted. It is also recorded that in one day alone, the queen ate two dozens of Quail eggs. She refused to make any kind of exercise, for fear of losing her child, so she spent a lot of time in bed. There were times when her moods were challenging, and she became very upset if the King were only a few steps away from her.
Hampton Court, October 10th 1537, Queen Jane felt the initial pain that announces the imminent process of labor. Her waters broke and contractions began soon after. After five hours of labor when Jane was examined by her midwife and physicians, the baby was found to be head down, but the head was high and the cervix thick, long and only barely 1 cm dilated. Twenty four hours later little progress had been made, and Jane was perhaps 5 cm dilated, although the head had descended slightly. By this time the amniotic fluid had become stained with meconium, a sign that the baby was in distress. The Queen was dealing with intense pain, all her efforts to bring her child to the world seemed impossible. She was comforted by her closest ladies in waiting, but that of course was not enough. Fear mixed with pain, Jane was in a battle between life and death, and not only her own, also her child’s.
Hours passed and little progress was made, the Queen was using all her strength and yet, the baby was still inside her. The physical force that she was executing was making all even more difficult. The King was desperate, with almost little news and with the fear of losing both. The Main Physician of the Queen told the King about the dangerous situation, and even posted the possibility of the need of a craniotomy or caesarean procedure to at least have a chance to save them. What was the King’s reply to that statement? “Save the life of the child, for another wife can easily be found,” a horrible reply from a King who are supposedly in love with his gentle and peaceful wife, but considering Henry’s past behavior, this is not surprising at all.
In her bedchamber, the midwife tried her best to help the deliverance of the Queen’s child, but still nothing. The delay of the birth was getting dangerous. The uterus is the muscle used to deliver a baby, and it would have become seriously strained given the length of labor Jane experienced. This can cause extreme stretching and internal fissures that can get infected very easy. The Queen was weak, but even with that, she fought intensely for the life of her child, and finally, after hours of slow torture that she endured for two full days and three nights, Queen Jane delivered a healthy and chubby baby boy… who was named Edward. The entire Kingdom was rejoiced, their prayers were heard, and the King felt blessed. A pale and tired Queen had the chance to see and hold her little prince for a few moments. The physicians examined the Prince closely, and all seemed to be perfect. The baby was strong, healthy, precious like the prince he was and likely to survive and become King one day. At that moment, Jane became a heroine for Henry. She gave him a son, and she fought against death to deliver him, even when he was a tyrant that moment would live with him forever.
Even with the pain still alive in her body, Queen Jane of England still had a duty to fulfill. As the mother of the Prince of England, she had the obligation to face the King’s Privy Council and express herself. She dictated and signed a letter for them, announcing her pride and joy in the birth of her son:
Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well, and for as much as by the inestimable goodness and grace of Almighty God, we be delivered and brought in childbed of a prince, concieved in most lawful matrimony between my Lord the King’s majesty and us, doubting not but that for love and affection which you bear unto us and to the commonwealth of this realm, the knowledge thereof should be joyous and glad tidings unto you, we have thought good to certify you of the same. To the intent you might not only render unto God condign thanks and prayers for so great a benefit but also continually pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life to the honour of God, joy and pleasure of my Lord the King and us, and the universal weal, quiet and tranquillity of this whole realm.
Jane the Quene
Three days after the extremely difficult birth of her son, the Christening Ceremony was ready to be celebrated. The Queen was still weak but somehow willing to be part of the event, was helped and dressed formally for the occasion, of course she was still in the comfort of her bed. The day of the Royal Baptism started with a procession from the Queen’s apartments to the chapel where Archbishop Thomas Cranmer performed the baptismal rites in front of three to four hundred people. Prince Edward’s half-sister Mary stood as godmother while his other half-sister, the 4 year old Elizabeth, bore the chrisom cloth, helped by Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour. Thomas Cranmer, The Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk stood as godfathers of the Prince. Here is an official description recorded by letters of Ambassadors of how the Baptism was celebrated:
Sir John Russell, Sir Francis Bryan, Sir Nicholas Carew and Sir Anthony Browne surrounded the front, equipped with aprons and towels while a procession of gentleman carrying torches, children and ministers of the King’s chapel (with the Dean), gentlemen esquires and knights, chaplains, abbots and bishops, King’s councilors and lords, the comptroller and treasurer, ambassadors, lord chamberlains, Lord Cromwell, the Duke of Norfolk and the Archbishop all processed, two by two, into the Chapel. The Earl of Sussex, supported by Lord Montague, carried a pair of covered basins, Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wiltshire, bore a “taper of virgin wax”, and a salt of Gold was carried by the Earl of Essex (Cromwell). Behind these gentlemen came little Elizabeth with the crysome richly garnished, supported by Edward Seymour, Viscount Beauchamp.
The baby prince was carried under a canopy by the Lady Marquis of Exeter, Gertrude Blount, supported by the Duke of Suffolk and her husband. The Earl of Arundel carried the train of the Prince’s robe, helped by Lord William Howard, and the canopy above them was supported by Sir Edward Nevyll, Sir John Wallop, Richard Long, Thomas Seymour, Henry Knyvett and Mr Ratclif, all of the King’s Privy Chamber. The Prince’s wet nurse and midwife walked alongside the bearers of the train and torchbearers surrounded the canopy. After the canopy processed the Lady Mary with Lady Kingston carrying her train, followed by the other ladies of the court.
Then, Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury performed the Baptismal rituals on the newborn Prince. When he finished, all the torches were lit, and the Garter Knight of Arms proclaimed the Prince’s name and Titles: His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Chester. The Te Deum was then sung, spice, hippocras, bread and sweet wine were served and then the torchlight procession made its way out of the Chapel and the little prince was taken back to his parents, King Henry VIII and Queen Jane Seymour.
The Prince received many gifts from the highest nobility of England. His godmother and half sister Mary, gave him a Gold Cup, three bowls and two pots of silver and gilt from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the same from the Duke of Norfolk, and two flagons and two pots of silver and gilt from the Duke of Suffolk. Fires were lit in the streets of London, and church bells rang across England in celebration of the christening of Henry VIII’s son and heir, Prince Edward.
All was joy and celebration, the Queen seemed to be in a process of good recovery, and she received courtiers and Ambassadors in her bedchamber. The Queen smiled with pride and responded to the many compliments made by the nobles. A day after the Christening, the Queen still showed signs of recovery, she was not allowed to leave her bedchamber, but at least she was strong enough to sit, to see her son and even stand up for a few minutes. She also started to eat as she usually did, in other words… all pointed that she survived the nightmare that her labor was.
Sadly, this sudden recovery would not last. Two days letter, Queen Jane woke up with high fever. She had deliriums, and she also had pains in her stomach. By October 17th, the fever was really high, and she had an intense attack of diarrhea. It was thought that she would not survive it, so the last rites were given to her by her personal confessor, but suddenly it came down and that gave hopes that she had beaten the illness. For the following days there were ups and downs in her health, while she was under this difficult time, the King her husband was busy celebrating the birth of his son, and giving noble titles to her brothers. But on the same day that her brother Edward was entitled as the New Earl of Hertford, she had a collapsed and the King ordered the bishop of London to celebrate a Mass asking for her recovery at Saint Paul’s.
For three days, Queen Jane suffered from extreme high fever and delusions. The King decided to spend those hard days in Hampton Court with her. By Monday, October 22nd, things went from bad to worse. The Bishop of Carlisle visited the queen and pronounced with certainty that she was going to die. However, the King’s physicians gave hopes to the King. They thought that the queen was still young and strong enough to fight for her life and win. But by eight o’clock in the morning of the next day, they changed their minds, and solemnly asked the King to be ready to say goodbye to his queen. The whole day passed in silence in Hampton Court, the Duke of Norfolk wrote to Cromwell: “to be early here tomorrow to comfort our good master, for as for our mistress there is no likehood of her life, the more pity, and I fear she shall not be on lyve at the time ye shall read this’”.
Jane was loosing the battle. Her ladies in waiting remained on her side, as well as the royal doctors. The entire realm was praying for a miracle that could save her from the cold hands of death, but the fact was… that the Queen was fading away.
In the early hours of October 24th, after days of an agonizing battle between life and death, Queen Jane of England received the last rites from the Bishop of Carlisle and passed away.
The King was devastated. The woman who gave him the Prince he desired for a long, long time was dead. He felt abandoned, and in his own way heartbroken. But Henry was still Henry… his pathological fear towards illnesses made him run to the safety of Richmond Palace. There he placed himself in seclusion, to mourn the death of his beloved Jane. Of course he was in mourning, but that does not meant that his mind was already working in the good purpose of his own benefits and the political course of his realm. In his sadness the King was already asking his councilors to seek new prospects for Consorts… this time, it seems that he wanted to search far from England. Now that he had a Prince, it could be proper to conquer more lands and realms.
It is difficult to understand Henry the VIII during this process. He reacted in many different ways in the end of his two previous relationships. His attitude after the death of Catherine of Aragon was cold. Of course, he gave her the proper burial of Dowager Princess of Wales, but he never, ever again considered her Queen of England, not even after all the love, conquers, devotion and loyalty she gave to him and his realm. Then we have the case of Anne Boleyn, after years of battles against his opponents, after breaking his alliance with Rome and the Pope, after he moved the world to be with her; he sent her to death, because of her strength as a woman and because of her inability to give him the son he wanted. He swore he loved her deeply… and in her death he showed no mercy; he even left her without and order of proper burial, a guard had to find a simple arrow chest to place her remains. And now Jane Seymour dies. Indeed she was special for him, now more than ever, in a way he saw her death as a sacrifice, she died after the birth of his Prince, that made her a heroine, his ego as King is filled with emotion, but as a man… he probably felt abandoned for the first time. A queen he thought he could love and live in joy and peace for the rest of his life, a woman willing to obey him no matter the order, his “perfect match” was gone. This time God had the last word. Henry did not sent her away to die alone, nor ordered her death by the sword…She died and he had no control over it. That I am sure made him more vulnerable and perhaps weaker than ever in his life.
But whatever his true feelings, now it was time to mourn and bury his Queen with all the honors. Shortly after she was pronounced dead, Jane’s body was embalmed. This process was extremely important, since it was the protocol and the order of the King that her body laid in state for over a week. And then after that…her Chamber Maids and Maids of Honor had the duty to dress the Queen for her last appearance on her realm. Jane was dressed in the formal and official robes of Queen of England, her hair loose and a small crown resting close to her hands. Then the Queen’s corpse was leaded soldered and placed in a luxurious coffin by the plumbers. After that, ladies and gentlemen in mourning, with white kerchiefs hanging over their heads and shoulders, kept a perpetual watch around the royal hearse in a ‘chamber of presence’ lit by twenty-one wax tapers until the 31st of October, the Vigil of the Feast of All Saints, when the entire Hampton Court Chapel and the great chamber and galleries leading to it were hung with black and ‘garnished with rich images’. The hearse, after being incensed, was then processed by torchlight to the Chapel itself where Lancaster Herald, in a loud voice, asked all present ‘Of their charity’ to pray for the soul of the Queen Jane. The Procession was followed by twenty nine damsels, representing a year of her life. (This is what it is believed, and for that it is believed as a fact that Jane was twenty nine when she died). The Lady Mary, who developed a kind and loving relationship with the queen, acted as Chief Mourner on Jane’s funeral. She also took charge of the Queen’s household and of her servants.
The priests watched over the Queen in the Chapel by night, and the Queen’s ladies did the same during the day, until November 12th, when the Queen was taken on a hearse, chariot by six marvelous horses and surrounded by nobles and priests. The Lady Mary lead the funeral procession. She rode on a horse that was adorned with black velvet trappings. The poor people who watched the funeral procession was rewarded with alms and the children around were seen taking their hats off and some bent their knees in honor of their Queen. Finally the coffin was accordingly installed within St George’s Chapel, and the next day solemnly buried in a vault beneath the center of the choir’s altar. By noon, the burial ceremony was finished… and again, the Kingdom of England was left without a Queen. Her epitaph, wrote by order of the King, read:
Here lieth a Phoenix, by whose death
Another Phoenix life gave breath:
It is to be lamented much
The world at once ne’er knew two such.
After her death, Henry wore black for the next three months. He put on weight during his long time as a widow, becoming obese and swollen and developing diabetes and gout. His temper was worst than before. In other words…he was not the same…but he was not better either.
For days after the funeral of Queen Jane, there were still rumors about how and why she died. Thomas Cromwell blamed the attendants of the Queen, because they never took proper care of her. He insisted that the indulgence they practiced on her was the trigger to her death. This could be a reason, but I think her death came directly on the process of childbirth.
The King’s Phoenix … Jane Seymour, by Mercy Alicea
Jane Seymour was in labor for almost 60 hours. Pain, struggle, pressure and fear can be serious killers, and more in a time when medical care was even more dangerous than illnesses. But when we analyze Jane’s scenario, we can take as a fact that there was not only the physical damage that caused her distress and weakness. As human beings we know when something is wrong with our bodies, surely for Jane having this baby meant a lot more than only the joy of motherhood. She was aware of the cost of losing a baby… or worst, the consequences if this baby ended up being a girl instead of a boy. During the agonizing hours of her labor, for sure her mind was wondering… what if this baby die? What if it is a girl? What if it comes alive but ends up death in hours or days? There was much at risk for her… too much pressure. Fear can cause an intense weakness, one that not even the best doctor can deal with all that stress to my view was a point of decision in the way Jane’s body reacted to the infection that eventually killed her. And we can see this in the facts of her life until that moment. Jane Seymour was a healthy, strong young woman. Her pregnancy had no problems but… she made mistakes in her health for fear. She fell for cravings that were harmful for her. She gained a lot of weight. She made no exercise and even it was reported that she was afraid even of taking a simple bath, only because of the stress of the thought that if she dared to make a rough move, she could lose the baby. Stress was a cause for Queen Anne’s miscarriages… so in the case of Jane Seymour…could be the same, only that for her, stress and fear claimed her life instead of the life of her child.
But for the physical causes of Jane’s death, we can describe many. Is natural to believe that for her elevated social position, Jane had the blessing of being surrounded by the best midwives, physicians and the proper nourishment that she needed, and in part that was true… but it did not safe her life. Dr. Turkey, a 31 year old physician from Australia, a blog writer and with knowledge in obstetrics gives us an explanation of what exactly could have led Queen Jane Seymour towards her death: First, Jane was in labor for a long time. Her contractions simply weren’t strong enough to efficiently dilate the cervix. Secondly, the notation that the baby’s head was high perhaps points towards a not well positioned baby. Thirdly Jane’s membranes were ruptured for between 55 and 60 hours prior to the birth of Edward. Dysfunctional labors can be dangerous for both mother and baby. Long labors place stress on the baby, and they are more likely to become distressed. This can be seen here clearly with the mention of meconium in the waters. Fortunately Edward survived his birth, although many other infants at the time would not have been as lucky. Long labors also can cause problems for mothers, increasing the risk of infection and post partum hemorrhage. In this day and age this problem is generally assisted by the use of synthetic oxytocin, a medication that mimics the hormone that causes contractions. This increases the strength and regularity of contractions and can often mitigate the problems of a long labor.
Edward’s exact position is difficult to guess at. We know he was head down. However the fact that his head was so high at the onset of labor gives some clue. It is possible he was either in a occipital posterior position, lying spine to spine with Jane, which tends to slow labor down, or he was in a deflexed position, possibly face or brow. All of these positions contribute to dysfunctional labor, particularly in a woman in her first labor as prior to the cervix dilating contractions need to move the baby into an appropriate position to be born. The smallest head diameter and therefore most advantageous position is occipital anterior, where the baby has his neck flexed and is facing the mother’s spine.
We know Jane’s waters broke prior to the onset of contractions, and were therefore broken for between 55 and 60 hours before birth. This is termed prolonged rupture of membranes. The amniotic sac surrounding the baby is specifically designed to keep infection out. After just 24 hours of broken waters the risk of infection to both mother and child increases in high levels. With a 60 hour labor and the no sterile conditions of medicine in the 16th century, Jane never stood a chance.
Finally it is possible that a small amount of placenta, or afterbirth, was retained in Jane’s uterus. Over time this would again lead to infection. These days this is dealt with by taking a patient to an operating theatre and removing the placenta under general anesthetic. This was obviously not an option for Queen Jane.
Given the duration between birth and death the most likely cause seems to be an infection, known as puerperal sepsis, although Jane may first have been weakened by a hemorrhage following birth. Unfortunately this was not an uncommon situation prior to the advent of modern obstetrics.
The hard life of a century that was still young and lost in the path of medical knowledge, sent people to death as easy as it is to breathe every day. Jane was Queen of England, but her crown did not place her above the needs of a simple woman in a world when life was always in the balance, and in her case… the life of her child was indeed even more important than her own, especially for her husband, who desired a male heir… perhaps above his own happiness. It is true that Jane was the successful woman who gave the King of England the prize her predecessors failed to give… but is also true that she left this world with no regal legacy. Her son is her the only achievement we can remember her by, she left no mark. She did nothing for England, not in politics, not even for the people. She tried once but the King’s threats stopped her in a second.
Jane Seymour, the phoenix that ruled after the fall of the falcon, left this world with the honors of a Queen, but with the silence of a lamb that always feared the roar of the lion.
The Queen’s Last Lullaby
By Mercy Alicea
Bless thy baby, bless thy son, God send an angel, to watch him at dawn, He is so tiny, he is so pure, a blessing that a mother will always keep secure. There is pain; there is sorrow, all that a mother will endure, all that in the name of her son.
Bless thy baby, Bless thy son, God Send an angel, to watch him at night. He is so sweet, he is so bright, a blessing that a mother will always hold tight. There is the distance, there is a goodbye, but a mother will always stay close to sing a lullaby.
Norton, Elizabeth. Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love, 2009.
Starkey, D. Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII, 2003.
Weir, Allison. The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 2007.