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Jane Seymour portrait

9 little known facts about Jane Seymour

Image: Portrait of Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger | Public Domain

Third wife to Henry VIII, and mother of Edward VI, it’s easy to see why Jane Seymour played such an integral part in the history of the Tudor dynasty. But who was this otherwise unassuming woman and how did she find herself married to one of the most infamous lady killers in British history? Here are nine facts about Jane Seymour that you might not have known.

1. She wasn’t very well-educated

Born in 1508 in Wolf Hall, Wiltshire, Jane was the daughter of Sir John Seymour, a lesser knight, and Margery Wentworth. Descended from royalty on her mother’s side, Jane received all the benefits of being born into a wealthy family. However, Jane didn’t show much interest in learning and she received very little formal education.

Opting instead to enjoy her time outside, she was said to have only been able to read and write her own name. Despite this, she was skilled in other tasks considered more suitable for a lady of her stature at this time, including household management and needlepoint.

2. She served both of Henry’s previous wives

The first record of Jane arriving at the Tudor court is in 1529 when she served as maid of honour for Catherine of Aragon. The position, which was one below the lady in waiting, meant she would have witnessed a lot of the fallout in the divorce and been well aware of the king’s frustrated endeavours for a male heir.

Catherine wasn’t the only wife of Henry’s that Jane attended. She served her second cousin, Anne Boleyn, alongside her younger sister, Elizabeth. This led to some awkward encounters between Jane and Anne, who was aware that Henry’s attentions had already begun to wander.

3. She was one of nine children

Jane was one of nine children, including six brothers and two sisters. Henry was good friends with Jane’s brothers and it’s believed that she first caught the king’s eye during a royal visit to her family home shortly after the marriage of Henry and Anne.

It’s not unlikely that the family's success with male heirs was one of the reasons that Henry considered Jane as a potential love match.

4. She wasn’t a young queen

At the time of their marriage, Jane was already in her late 20s - an older age for the time when most women were married before the age of 20. There had been rumours that Jane had been initially betrothed to William Dormer, the son of Ser Robert Dormer, who was already highly placed in the Tudor court. However, the betrothal supposedly fell through as Seymour was deemed too lesser of a noble to marry Dormer.

5. She was the total opposite of Anne Boleyn

While Henry’s second wife had been known for her fiery and passionate nature, Jane seemed to be the complete and total opposite. Jane was said to be gentle-natured, quiet, and generally reserved. Where Anne had been heavily involved in the running of the country alongside her husband, Jane seemed to understand that her only duty to her king was to bear him a male heir. She took little to no interest in politics and was often regarded by the other courtiers as simple, meek and chaste.

6. She was never officially crowned Queen

Jane was betrothed to Henry just 24 hours after the execution of his second wife, Anne, and the couple were married within ten days. By all accounts, Jane had kept Henry at arm's length while he was still married, refusing to accept gifts or spend time alone with him. Once Anne was executed, things moved at a much faster pace for the new queen.

Despite this, Jane never had an official coronation to mark her as Queen of England, unlike Henry’s first two wives. Initially set for 1536, the coronation was cancelled due to an outbreak of sweating sickness and ongoing revolts in the north of the country. Sadly, Jane died before it could be rescheduled.

7. She reconciled Henry with his daughters

Unlike Anne, who seemed to fall pregnant almost instantly, it took Jane a little while before she would find herself with a child. With pressure mounting for her to give Henry that all-important male heir, Jane knew that she needed to help grow the royal bloodline. However, Jane didn’t just focus on the future of the Tudor dynasty when looking to build a new royal family with Henry - she made sure that she would also incorporate the old.

Jane endeavoured to repair the fractured relationship between Henry and his first daughter, Mary. The reconciliation between the pair meant that Mary could return to the Tudor court, where she would have a close relationship with Jane. In fact, Mary was named chief mourner at Jane’s funeral just a short while later.

8. She gave Henry his all-important male heir

On 12th October 1537, Jane gave Henry everything that he had been waiting for. After being in labour for nearly three days, she delivered a healthy baby boy. Unfortunately, just 12 days after giving birth to the future king of England, Jane died. While the general consensus was that Jane died from puerperal fever - an infection caused by the unwashed hands of doctors and midwives - another theory speculates that she may have died from a pulmonary embolism.

9. Of all of Henry’s wives, he only shared his tomb with Jane Seymour

It’s often said that Jane was the wife that Henry loved the most and it’s hard not to see why people might think this. She was the only one of his wives with whom he shared a tomb and was a kind and gentle soul. Henry even included her in a painting of his royal family that he commissioned from famed portrait painter, Hans Holbein. Sweet, if you ignore the fact that he was actually married to his final wife, Catherine Parr, at the time.

Was Jane Seymour Henry VIII's favourite wife?

Often referred to as Henry’s one true love, Jane Seymour was the only one of Henry’s wives to have delivered him the all-important living male heir. But some have scrutinised the couple's relationship and posed the idea that the story of the doomed romance between them might not have been the whole story and is actually artful Tudor propaganda.

So, what’s the truth? Did Henry really love Jane as much as we were led to believe, or was it all part of a larger publicity campaign designed to make the king more favourable? Here’s a deeper look at the royal relationship to help you come to your own conclusion.

How did Henry VIII and Jane Seymour meet?

With records showing Jane arriving in the Tudor court as early as 1529, serving as one of the ladies in waiting to both of Henry’s previous wives, Catherine and Anne, it’s unlikely that Jane wasn’t already well known to Henry. However, it wasn’t until 1535, when the king was visiting Jane’s father at their family home in Wolf Hall, that she caught his eye for the first time.

Did Henry VIII and Jane Seymour have an affair?

Despite Henry’s best efforts to woo her, Jane seemed skilled in gently denying the king's growing affections. Henry was well known for having many mistresses throughout his life, but Jane was determined that she shouldn’t resign herself to that fate.

Henry even sent a letter alongside a purse of gold to Jane. However, she refused both, stating that ‘she had no greater riches in the world than her honour, which she would not injure for a thousand deaths’.

Artfully rebuffing the king at every turn, Jane’s meek and demure handling of his advances only served to intrigue the king further and cemented her as a woman of strong virtue in his mind. The antithesis of his current wife, Anne, with whom he had been experiencing increasing tensions, it’s at this point that Henry realised he was more than a little bit smitten.

Not long after Jane refused Henry’s expensive gift, Henry had Anne arrested for treason. It didn’t take long for the new couple to begin spending time together, and, although chaperoned, rumours began to fly about the king’s motives behind having Anne arrested. While his current wife was being held in the Tower of London, Henry was openly wooing and discussing marriage with Jane.

When did Henry VIII and Jane Seymour get married?

Henry married Jane Seymour on 30th May 1536. The wedding took place just 11 days after Anne Boleyn’s execution, so it’s no surprise that the speed of his remarriage led to some particularly sour rumours.

Despite the shadow of Jane's predecessor hanging over their nuptials, the marriage appeared to be a good match. Jane was an obedient wife, but this didn’t stop her from having some influence over her husband, and Henry clearly cared about his new bride, even going so far as to have quail shipped in from Calais to feed her pregnancy cravings.

What happened when Edward VI was born?

Unlike his previous wife, Jane didn’t immediately fall pregnant. In fact, it wasn’t until January 1537 that the couple conceived their first child, Edward. Born on 12th October that year, Edward's arrival not only completed the new royal family but once again gifted the king with a male heir, something he had been seeking since the death of his and Catherine’s son in 1511. Understandably, Henry was over the moon.

Sadly, however, it wasn’t long until his dream of a picture-perfect royal family was shattered. After a long and challenging labour to bring Edward into the world, Jane fell seriously ill.

How did Jane Seymour die?

Just 12 days after the birth of her son, Jane passed away. There were conflicting accounts as to the cause of her death. Contemporary doctors believed that she had died of puerperal fever or complications in delivering the placenta. However, modern experts suggest that her cause of death was more likely due to a pulmonary embolism.

Did Henry VIII mourn Jane Seymour’s death?

Having stayed by his wife’s bedside throughout her illness, Henry was inconsolable following her death. Shutting himself away at Windsor Castle, the king refused to interact with anyone. Casting out even his closest advisors, a great sorrow came over him. He wore only black for three months and didn’t remarry for two years.

Henry’s health declined greatly after the loss of Jane, and he gained a considerable amount of weight. When he finally remarried, the match was a political one, not one of romance. It ultimately ended in an annulment, as the king could not consummate the marriage.

Although Henry married three more wives after the loss of Jane, it seemed as though none could hold a candle to her. Henry even included Jane in the portrait of his family, which was painted eight years after her death - an awkward addition when you realise he was very much married to Catherine Parr at the time.

Was Jane Seymour buried with Henry VIII?

Henry requested that when he died, his final resting place be in the grave he had made for Jane. She was the only one of his wives to be interred alongside the king and was the only one to receive a queen’s funeral. The pair's final resting place can be found in St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.