Henry’s third queen, Jane Seymour, was publicly presented at court on June 2, 1536, one month to the day after the arrest of her predecessor, Anne Boleyn. Aware of the current mood of the public, Henry had delayed announcing his remarriage for a few days, hoping outrage would cool a bit.
Jane Seymour has always been presented by historians as the antithesis of Anne Boleyn. She was meek and sweet, and her sole hope was to restore a loving relationship in the king’s family. But a closer look at the records suggest Jane was not just a passive log, swept along in the currents of the day. Jane’s placid demeanor concealed an agenda. She was every bit as “ambitious” as Anne Boleyn - she was just better at concealing it.
Jane had been a minor courtier, a woman of good family name and moderate wealth, but she was still unmarried at age twenty-seven. She was a religious conservative who had been one of Katharine of Aragon’s ladies, and she was still loyal to her memory. (In her portrait by Holbein, she wears Katharine’s IHS brooch pinned to her bodice.)
In short, she was the perfect candidate Nicholas Carew and Gertrude Blount, Marchioness of Exeter had been searching for. The king’s attention was straying from Anne, and they needed only the right candidate to catch his eye. Not as a mistress, but as someone who could topple the queen they despised.
These two powerful people groomed Jane to attract the king, coaching her on his likes and dislikes. Once Eustace Chapuys caught wind of the plan to put Jane in Anne Boleyn’s place as queen, he informed the Emperor and suggested that they assist Jane, or at least not hinder her. Carew and Blount made sure Henry noticed Jane, and encouraged his interest. Their support came with a price. Jane’s mission was to get Princess Mary restored to being Henry’s heir.
What was Jane like as a person? She left so few traces on the records that it’s hard to tell. Agnes Strickland wasn’t a fan of Jane, but her summation was true:
[S]he passed eighteen months of regal life without uttering a sentence significant enough for preservation. Jane kept a low profile as a “meek and submissive” woman, doing her work behind the scenes.
We don’t know how she felt about toppling Anne and helping to send her to the block. Perhaps her loyalty to Queen Katharine made her feel that Anne deserved what happened to her, one usurper losing her place to another. Perhaps Jane felt it was her place to set things “right” again, urging the king toward more conservative policies and restoring his daughter to the line of succession.
But we cannot know how she felt about the events of 1536. All we know is that she took to her role of queen with aplomb.
Chapuys tried to be flattering when he said Jane was "not a woman of great wit, but she may have good understanding.“ He said she was inclined to be haughty and proud, and this is confirmed by the fact she once rejected a maid of honor because the girl didn’t have rich enough pearls in her girdle to be seen in the queen’s presence. She insisted her maids wear the English gable hood instead of the French hood Anne had favored; Jane was trying hard to draw distinctions between them.
Jane wasn’t particularly well-educated, nor active in the musical or literary circles of the day. Her chief talent seems to have been embroidery. Some of her pieces survived up to the 18th century, and were said to be fine and beautiful work.
Jane became pregnant after several tense months. The king was ecstatic, and Jane must have been extremely relieved. She also made some progress with the Mary situation, though it may not have been what her supporters wished.
After Anne Boleyn died, Henry increased the pressure on his daughter Mary to capitulate to his will. Mary had believed Anne Boleyn was behind the brutal bullying she had experienced. When it only got worse after Anne’s death, Mary finally broke. She signed the document her father demanded, “admitting” her father’s marriage to Katharine of Aragon was invalid, and that she was a bastard with no rights to the throne.
Jane begged Henry to accept his daughter back at court after her “capitulation.” Henry hesitated. I think he knew Mary’s submission wasn’t sincere, but simply because she wanted the misery to end. But he finally agreed. Mary came to court and was welcomed by Jane, whose belly was swelling with the king’s child.
Poor little Elizabeth wasn’t really included in this “family reunion.” Jane seems to have shown no interest in the girl. She showered Mary with gifts and signs of her favor, while Elizabeth’s nurse was reduced for begging for basic clothing for the child and a budget to run the household. Elizabeth came to court at Christmas, but was seated out of sight of the rest of the family.
Jane continued to work on restoring Mary in Henry’s favor, and tried to get mercy for Catholic rebels. At one point, she made a grand show of begging him on her knees in front of the court. On this occasion, Henry told her to take heed of what happened to the last woman who meddled in his affairs.
Jane never got her coronation, either. It appears she and her supporters worked for one, but the king kept rejecting the plans. First he used the excuse there was plague in the city in the summer of 1536 - as there was every summer - and then the next year it was because Jane was pregnant. One wonders if Jane remembered Anne Boleyn was heavily pregnant at her own coronation.
If Jane had not died immediately after delivering her prince, we may have seem more of her assertiveness, and our image of her might be different. But because she made so little of a public mark, she is presented as the sweet, soft, passive alternative to the aggressive Anne. She ended up being Henry’s “favorite wife”, but that’s likely a combination of the fact she did her duty by giving him a prince and was polite enough to die before he could grow tired of her.
This is Princess Elizabeth I's only surviving letter to King Henry VIII
“Matchless and most kind father.” ~ Young Elizabeth I’s address to King Henry VIII.
The studious and pious twelve year old Princess Elizabeth I of England dearly loved her father King Henry VIII. The most concrete proof of this was a trilingual epistle she wrote for her father as a New Years present in 1545. The book demonstrated how she was one of the best educated women for her generation.
Inside are Elizabeth I’s perfectly handwritten words: not an error, not even a single mistranslation.
(Scanned photos from Elizabeth I: Her Life in Letters By Elizabeth I (Queen of England))
The book also has her stepmother Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditation which she translated into French, Latin and Italian. Katherine Parr was the queen consort of England and was the one who educated and influenced Elizabeth I, showed her how a woman is capable of excellent independent thinking and ruling.
Katherine Parr was the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and his wife Maud Green, who lived at the English royal court in the early years of King Henry VIII’s reign. Maud was lady-in-waiting to the queen, Katherine of Aragon, and named her first child after her. Katherine Parr married King Henry VIII thirty-one years later.
Anne Boleyn was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536 and second wife to Henry VIII of the House of Tudor. The relationship between Henry and Anne tore apart England, as Lady Anne Boleyn refused to have a carnal relationship with the King unless she was his Queen which thus meant that Henry would have to set aside his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Henry was infatuated with Anne, and sought an annulment from his first wife, who hadn’t secured the throne with the birth of a son - instead presenting him with a sickly daughter born in 1516 who would become Mary I. Henry argued that due to Catherine’s past marriage to Henry’s brother, and that the marriage had been consummated (a claim Catherine always denied), he sought an annulment from the Pope. However the Pope never granted the annulment, and thus England separated from papal authority and Henry VIII became the head of the Church of England.
Anne Boleyn was at the heart of the reformation, and held great influence over the King. She received diplomats and influenced favour, while also introducing the King to materials that had once been considered heresy, such as Tyndale’s work. She was also the Marquess of Pembroke in her own right, making her the most powerful woman in England before she was even Queen - it was the first hereditary title granted to a woman. When she became Queen of England in 1533 after a secret marriage ceremony, Anne was quick to produce Henry with an heir but it was a girl born in September of 1533. Not the son Henry risked everything for, Anne attempted to give the King a son twice afterwards but both pregnancies ended in miscarriage. However, her daughter would one day become Queen Elizabeth I.
In 1536, Thomas Cromwell began to plot the downfall of Anne after her interference with Church revenue - arguing that the revenue, which Cromwell was taking a percentage of, should be redistributed to education and charity. Anne would be soon be charged with adultery, incest and treason - charges that are now considered products of injustice - and she, along with four men (including her brother George) were sentenced to death. While waiting for her executioner to arrive, Anne had exclaimed: “I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck.”
On May 19th, 1536, Anne Boleyn was beheaded by a French swordsman.