EDITOR’S NOTE: I am delighted to welcome QAB’s dearest friend and supporter Alison Weir to the website to celebrate the release of her third novel in the Six Tudor Queens novel series Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen. As always, Alison’s answers to our questions are comprehensive and thought-provoking.
While here at Queenanneboleyn.com, please do enjoy our review of this wonderful novel HERE.
1. You begin Jane Seymour’s life story during her childhood and in doing so craft throughout the novel a beautiful persona for Jane’s mother the Lady Margery Wentworth Seymour. Were your interpretations of the Lady Margery’s personality and relationships with her children based on research, your best guess, or both? Just how did she come to be immortalized in the poetry composed by John Skelton?
We don’t know a lot about Jane’s mother. After being an admired beauty in youth, commemorated in verse by the poet John Skelton, she took to a life of domesticity and child-rearing after marrying Sir John Seymour. It’s likely that being of gentle birth, she wanted to see her children achieve success and good marriages. Much of my portrayal of her is, of necessity, fictional.
In his poem, ‘The Garland of the Laurel’ (originally written around 1495), Skelton describes a visit he made to Sheriff Hutton Castle as the guest of Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. The Countess of Surrey, Elizabeth Tylney, was so impressed with Skelton’s poetry that, at her behest, her daughters, Lady Elizabeth and Lady Muriel, with some other ladies – among them Margery Wentworth (later Lady Seymour) – made for him a laureate’s garland of silk, gold and pearls in honour of his talent. No one could then have dreamed that these two young ladies would give birth to future queens of England – Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn.
2. In the early plot of the novel, Jane’s father John Seymour betrays the trust of his wife and oldest son by engaging in an affair with Edward’s first wife, Catherine Fillol. Historians disagree on whether the relationship actually took place. What are your thoughts?
The only written evidence for an incestuous affair is in two seventeenth-century sources: a marginal note in Vincent’s Baronage in the College of Arms, which states that Edward repudiated Catherine ‘because she was known by his father after the nuptials’; and an assertion by the historian and theologian, Peter Heylin, who, in 1674, claimed that a magician had conjured a ‘magical perspective’ for Edward, enabling him ‘to behold a gentleman of his acquaintance in a more familiar posture with his wife than was agreeable to the honour of either party. To which diabolical illusion he is said to have given so much credit, that he did not only estrange himself from her society at his coming home, but furnished his next wife with an excellent opportunity for pressing him to the disinheriting of his former children.’ It seems that Edward did have suspicions about the paternity of his sons by Catherine, for he disinherited them both, at his wife Anne Stanhope’s instigation, in 1540. I tend to the view that there is often no smoke without fire. The affair, of necessity, would have been hushed up, and after Jane became queen, there would have been even more cause for suppressing all evidence of it. Ultimately, we just don’t know – although surely those seventeenth-century writers had something on which to base their assertions.
3. History teaches up that Jane Seymour served Queen Katherine of Aragon several years. Do we know with any certainty whether or not the two women enjoyed a warm relationship? What would lead you to this conclusion? Also, did Lady Jane serve the Queen once she was banished from court?
We don’t know that Jane enjoyed a warm friendship with Katherine. There would, at least to begin with, have been a distance between queen and maid. But, in exile, after Katherine’s ladies were dismissed, she would have relied on her maids for companionship and support, and Jane may have become closer to her then. Given Jane’s championing of Katherine’s daughter Mary, and her plea to Henry to spare the monasteries, we can only infer that she held to the conservative religious views that Katherine had defended so staunchly and that she had admired and respected Katherine and felt sympathy for her.
Through Jane’s intercession, Mary was received back into favour. She met privately with Henry and Jane at Hackney, soon after their wedding, and they visited her at Richmond and Hunsdon, but, due to her poor health and an outbreak of plague, she was not received back at court until October. After this, Mary was often at court. She grew close to Jane and was accorded precedence over all other ladies, being ‘first after the Queen’. She was made godmother to Prince Edward and was chief mourner at Jane’s obsequies.
4. Most historians believe that Jane Seymour held firm to traditionalist beliefs and values. How do you suppose that she was able to navigate the hornet’s nest of Henry VIII’s court, particularly when many surrounding her, including ultimately even her brother Edward and his second wife Anne Stanhope, held Evangelical beliefs and priorities?
I think Jane had a mind of her own, wisdom, and strength of character. For all her brother’s reformist leanings, she stayed true to the Catholic faith. Her recorded utterances are few, but they suggest a humane and sympathetic personality. Her daring plea to Henry to save the monasteries speaks volumes for her moral courage, for it was made at a time when the Pilgrimage of Grace was on the march, and effectively she was siding with the rebels who were opposing the King’s reforms and demanding that the Dissolution of the Monasteries be halted. On this evidence, we see Jane as a thinking, caring woman who was not afraid to speak out on principle. Although he angrily rebuffed Jane and expected obedience and conformity from her, Henry VIII was protective towards her, being aware of her inexperience. She did not involve herself in politics, and the Imperial ambassador, Chapuys, noted that she would not be drawn into a discussion about them. I think she very wisely kept her head down and confined herself to the domestic sphere.
5. Jane Seymour enjoys an interesting and primarily positive rapport with Thomas Cromwell. With such divergent beliefs, how do you suppose that happened? Do you believe that she supported and approved of her sister Elizabeth’s match to Cromwell’s son Gregory? Or did she simply accept the match as politically advantageous?
I wouldn’t say she had much of a rapport with him. To begin with, she probably saw him through Katherine of Aragon’s eyes, as ruthless, and ‘ready at all things, good or evil’. As a Catholic, she could not have approved of his reformist policies. She would have been wary of his power too. In the novel, when she meets him, she finds him charming, and she hears a much more positive opinion of him from her brother Edward. Yet still, she thinks Cromwell is meddling too far in religious matters and is angered by that. She is his uneasy ally in the coalition that unites against Anne Boleyn, but eventually, she hears something that she cannot countenance, and all is changed. I think that coming from an ambitious family, and despite her antipathy to Cromwell, she would have seen her sister’s marriage as advantageous, especially given Lizzie’s difficult circumstances at the time.
6. Without giving away any spoilers, the novel explains why Jane Seymour so quickly married King Henry VIII after the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn. Do you believe the brilliant plot move, which seems delightfully plausible, actually was the case?
Henry’s haste to marry Jane – they were betrothed on the morning after Anne Boleyn’s execution and married ten days later – could be explained by his urgent need to beget a son and by his desire to be seen as triumphing in the face of being cuckolded by Anne. The previous year, Henry had considered ending his marriage to Anne but had been deterred by advice that it would be an admission that he had been wrong to put away Katherine, and would be expected to take her back. But now Katherine was dead, and there could be no awkward consequences of an annulment. Yet Henry dithered. Possibly ridding himself of Anne would still have looked like an admission that he had been wrong to marry her. The violent haste of Anne’s removal reinforces the argument that Henry was shown evidence of her ‘crimes’ and bounced into a decision. Yet, why did he immediately marry a nobody? Why did he not seek a royal bride? There was barely any preparation for the wedding, a rush to replace Anne’s initials – not quite everywhere – with Jane’s, no official announcement of the nuptials, and scant ceremony. Did Henry really have to marry Jane at once? Was there another reason for it? I’m not saying that the theory on which my book is based is founded on fact, for the evidence is too slender (although there are two strangely corroborative sources) – only that it should be considered as a possibility.
7. Did Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour actively dislike each other? Was it common in 16th-century court life for Maids of Honor to be placed in a Queen’s household even when the families involved were rivals of one another?
I think the evidence strongly suggests that they did violently dislike each other! Jane probably hated everything Anne stood for, while Anne was wildly jealous of Henry’s pursuit of Jane. But not at first. There is no evidence that, in 1533, when Jane entered Anne’s service, the Seymours and the Boleyns were at odds with each other. In fact, Edward shared the reformist views of the Boleyn faction, so might well have been politically aligned with them. In 1533, there was no reason why the families should have been rivals, and it would have been seen as advantageous for Jane to serve the new Queen. Generally, many were prepared to compromise their principles for the sake of preferment, royal favour, and patronage.
8. Do you think Jane Seymour believed Anne Boleyn to be guilty of the charges lodged against her? Why or why not?
Frustratingly, we don’t know. She had been involved with the coalition that had united months before to unseat Anne and was delegated to remind the King of Anne’s shortcomings, putting gentle pressure on him to divorce her, as he had Katherine. This is the only part she is known to have played in Anne’s downfall. Henry had not then gained a reputation for beheading his wives, so there is no reason to suppose that Jane anticipated any worse outcome than an annulment. She probably felt no scruples about bringing Anne down. Most of Christendom held the view that the King’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon was valid, and that his nullity suit was unfounded, a view that an examination of canon law supports. Jane clearly adhered to it. She would have seen Anne as no more than the ‘other woman’ who had usurped Katherine’s place and been the cause of her troubles. Almost certainly, she did not regard Anne as the King’s lawful wife, and that view doubtless underpinned her encouragement of his advances. As she did not recognise his marriage, this would not have seemed like adultery to her. In fact, she probably saw Anne as the author of many of the ills that were blighting the kingdom and welcomed an opportunity to help rid Henry – and England – of a pernicious influence. Given Anne’s reputation, Jane may not have been surprised or shocked to hear the charges. Significantly, there is no evidence that she assisted in the investigation of Anne’s alleged offences, or laid evidence against her. It seems that Henry presented Jane with a fait acompli. Once someone was accused of treason, the most heinous of crimes, which – in this case – touched the King’s sanctified person, and his honour, so nearly, the outcome was inevitable. Nothing we know about Jane Seymour suggests that she tried to compass Anne’s death.
9. Are there other reasons beyond providing his longed-for heir to the throne that led Henry VIII to consider Jane to be his true and favorite queen and wife? Was he in love with her?
All the evidence shows that the marriage was happy and that Henry genuinely loved Jane, and was protective of her. She, in turn, seems to have come to depend on him. Jane was what Henry needed at this time, for she was the direct opposite of Anne. As one courtier observed, ‘The King hath come out of hell into heaven for the gentleness in this, and the cursedness and the unhappiness in the other. He is well matched with so gracious a woman as she is.’
10. The scenes highlighting Anne Boleyn’s lost pregnancies and Jane’s ultimate illness and death were absolutely gut-wrenching. Did you extensively research how to so plausibly detail such tragedy? What brought you to a place to be able to craft such raw emotion?
I’ve known women who have suffered miscarriages, and I read up a lot on what can happen. I should stress that not all women suffer as Anne does in the novel. As for Jane’s experience of childbirth, I myself was in labour for a similar time with my first child, and Jane’s experience in the novel mirrors mine (except I had pethidine, not a Tudor herbal infusion!) There’s no evidence that she suffered complications during labour and delivery, yet she died twelve days afterwards. Traditionally, it has been assumed that she succumbed to puerperal fever, yet there is no mention of fever in the sources; and when I studied them and examined the chronology, it looked as if she actually suffered two distinct illnesses. I showed the historical evidence to a registered nurse with over thirty years’ experience focusing on critical care and emergency medicine; she, in turn, showed it to three doctors, while I asked for the opinion of a midwife with decades of experience. I am enormously grateful to these five medical experts for their ground-breaking theories and opinions, which shed new light on why, and how, Jane Seymour died, and which inform the final pages of my novel. As I suspected, there were almost certainly two distinct illnesses, and the first was probably food poisoning. In regard to the second illness, as there was no report of fever, puerperal sepsis or endometritis (which have similar symptoms) seem unlikely. On the evidence we have, death was probably due to a combination of dehydration and embolism, leading ultimately to heart failure.
11. Alison, I understand that A Tudor Christmas, co-authored with Siobhan Clarke, will be published by Jonathan Cape on 4th October. How exciting! Would you and Siobhan accept our invitation to visit again to talk about how the holidays were celebrated in Tudor Era England when you book releases? We would be thrilled to learn how the Tudor Kings, Queens, Consorts, and their courts enjoyed their festivities.
We would be delighted to talk about our book, which encompasses not only Christmas at court but also how it was celebrated in more humble homes. Thank you for inviting us!
12. Are there other projects you would like to tell us about?
Yes! I am not far off finishing Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets (Anna of Kleve: The Princess in the Portrait in the USA) – and I can guarantee that it is going to be controversial!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Alison Weir is the United Kingdom’s most popular and best selling female historian. Alison’s first published work, Britain’s Royal Families, introduced the world to the now recognized genre of “popular history”, and her sales tell the story. Readers purchased more than 2.3 million books, over 1,000,000 in the United Kingdom, and more than 1,300,000 books in the United States. Rich in detailed research, Alison’s engaging prose captured the interest and imaginations of countless people, instilling a love of history that influenced the career paths of historical fiction writers, historians, and teachers, while also greatly increasing knowledge of medieval English history among people throughout the world. For more information on Alison Weir, visit her websites at ALISON WEIR: U.K. HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR and ALISON WEIR TOURS.
BOOKS BY ALISON WEIR
QAB Interview with Alison Weir #4 May 2017
QAB Interview with Alison Weir #3 May 2016
QAB Interview with Alison Weir #2 December 2015