On the 30th of May 1536, King Henry VIII of England and Lady Jane Seymour were married at Whitehall palace at the Queen’s Closet. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, who had married Jane’s predecessor, now dead Anne Boleyn, and the Tudor monarch in the winter of 1533, conducted the quiet and modest ceremony. The wedding happened less than two weeks after the execution of the innocent Anne Boleyn on the 19th of May 1538 on Tower Green.
Being the monarch’s third wife, Jane probably wondered whether she was Henry’s last queen when they stood at the altar and the bridegroom promised to love and cherish her. Was the egocentric Henry capable of loving anyone but himself, especially in his late years? We will never know which thoughts tumbled through Jane’s head in those moments, but at least a small part of her must have been afraid that she could have been set aside if she had failed to produce the king’s long-waited male heir. Not being as clever and educated as the ruler’s first two wives, Jane must have understood that she would always be overshadowed by these two illustrious women unless she succeeded where they had failed, immortalizing herself in Henry’s eyes as his dynasty’s savior.
Jane swiftly established herself in her new role. Not being foolish, Jane knew that she could not have committed the same mistakes as Anne and Catherine had made. Catherine’s stubbornness had resulted in her banishment from court and her death in misery and exile, so Jane would have to be pliant, complacent, and always showing towards Henry her deference. Anne’s intemperate nature and her desire to participate in the political life of England had made Henry tired of his second wife quickly, and as Anne’s lady-in-waiting, Jane must have made conclusions. Jane’s personality was a stark contrast to those of Anne and Catherine, and this attracted Henry to her, so her task was not to be vociferous, unlike her predecessors, and to be as clay in Henry’s hands.
To Tudor enthusiasts, especially those who adore Anne, Jane Seymour seems to be plain, boring, and sometimes conniving, as she had artfully and quickly replaced the smarter Anne on the throne of England. Jane’s biographers, David Loades and Elizabeth Norton, wrote rightly that when Jane voiced her opinions during her tenure as Henry’s queen, she did so very subtly, with tact and great respect to her lord and husband, which indirectly means that Jane had learned from the unfortunate experiences of Anne and Catherine. After her wedding, Jane would have to fulfill her main role – to conceive the king’s son, and this must have unnerved her at least slightly.
Ultimately, Jane would succeed and birth the future King Edward VI of England, but at the cost of her life. The fact that she would give her royal spouse his much-desired royal heir would make her his favorite wife. We can only guess what would have happened if Jane had birthed a girl and then died, but Henry would have probably remarried more quickly and didn’t label her as his ‘favorite wife’. His affections were extremely conditional upon the production of a male heir.
All images are in the public domain.
Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville