Jane is of particular importance to Hampton Court for it was here she gave birth to Henry’s only surviving male heir who was to become Edward VI.
Distantly related to both King Henry and Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour represents another level of how daughters were used to advance the interests of fathers and uncles, and can be considered to have had virtually no say in how they were disposed of, to a nunnery, to court, or to marriage. She was born in the Wiltshire house of the Seymours, the house known then as Wulfhall, and recently popularized in Hilary Mantel’s book Wolf Hall. She had not taken the new Protestant faith, had been at court in attendance on Queen Catherine and then later on Queen Anne. She had befriended the unfortunate Princess Mary and tried to reconcile the father to the daughter.
Perhaps Jane’s greatest strength was her slight education, so she had neither wish nor skill to argue with Henry, and was an altogether more agreeable wife who managed the household and stuck to her needlework, she even had Henry working on embroidery.
Henry had spotted Jane in his wife’s chambers, and singled her out for wife number three. All of this went on while he was (depending on the viewpoint) married to both Catherine and Anne, but Jane was not in a position to gainsay him, and it is impossible to believe her character was such that she led in the arrangement. Catherine died in January 1536, Anne was executed in May, and at Hampton Court Jane Seymour was betrothed to Henry either on the day Anne was executed, or within a couple of days of her death.
There was a church ruling, based on biblical teaching and reasonable genetic lines, that “seven degrees of separation” were required between prospective marital partners, to prevent dangers of interbreeding as one would with animals. Although they were fifth cousins, there was some suggestion they might illicitly have been thirdcousins, and the issue was, as usual, conveniently authorized by Archbishop Cranmer, the King’s “fix-it” man, who signed the necessary document the same day Anne was executed. Jane and Henry were quietly married by Cranmer May 30th. The legitimacy of the two previous marriages were questioned by various factions, no one questioned the third marriage, since by that time both previous wives were dead. It did, however, require removal of coats of arms and other identifying badges from stained glass windows in the royal palaces, including Hampton Court. A suggestion is made that the glaziers had reason to be grateful to Henry, he changed the stained glass so often; by altering head and tail, the leopard of Anne could be transformed into the panther of Jane’s heraldry.
Jane did her best to restore Mary and Elizabeth to their father’s affections, and he seems to have been open to loving the children, but to have had major difficulties with the issue of succession, the foundation of his, “Great Problem.” The ambassador of France reported Mary (Madame Marie) was second only to the Queen in importance at court and Elizabeth (his little Madame Ysabeau) was much loved. It is also recorded that Jane sent fruits and vegetables from the gardens of Hampton Court to nourish Mary.
In January 1537 Jane fell pregnant, the cause for great celebrations but it precluded her from going to her father’s interment. The good news balanced to some extent the bad news from what was effectively a revolution in the North of England, designated the Pilgrimage of Grace and suppressed without pity or discrimination, mounting in every community in the North, and in the City of London, on Henry’s orders, the severed heads and limbs of the rebels, or any other person who suited the need for enough body parts. Henry is well known for his termination with extreme disfavour of certain of his wives – he should be better known for his termination of the Pilgrimage of Grace – he and Sadam Hussein had much in common. Jane’s pregnancy was welcomed for itself, but also conveniently provided Henry with an excuse to cancel his promised progression to the North of England.
Jane’s pregnancy (everyone was determined without the aid of today’s ultrasound scan was going to produce a boy) resulted in the benefits for the Seymour family they had counted on when she was sent to court. Castles and manors, titles of honour, were liberally awarded to several of them by the grateful King. Extravagant public and church celebrations continued at intervals through the pregnancy. Poor Jane’s labour was prolonged over three days, but eventually at 2 a.m., October 12th at Hampton Court, Jane was delivered of the longed for son who the 46 year old father took in his arms, and wept. It was the eve of the feast of Saint Edward, his grandfather was Edward, and Edward would be the baby’s name. England went wild with joy, and noise – not least, the 2000 discharges from the guns of the Tower of London.
Three days later, October 15th, Jane wrapped in heavy furs attended the christening of her son in the chapel of Hampton Court. Mary and Elizabeth both participated, Mary as godmother, and the Seymour family were given full prominence, more titles, and more property.
But Jane succumbed to puerperal fever, the cause not known at that time but usually due to a streptococcus, and a common cause of maternal death. She was taken ill on the 18th her progress waxed and waned, and 12 days after giving birth, the 28 year old Queen Jane of England died. There are statements in some older books that she died as the result of a Caesarean section. There is nothing to substantiate this, and on the face of it, it seems extremely unlikely she would have survived that long had such an operation without anaesthetic been performed. Her jewels were divided between the women of her court, Princess Mary was given a large part of them. Jane was buried at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle; when the time came, Henry’s wishes were followed and he was buried alongside her; he remained forever grateful to Jane for giving him his male heir.
His cold-blooded but practical councilors had decided even before her Jane Seymour’s death that Henry “would be in need of a wife.” There was also a practical side to this. The Queen of England had her own household, of several hundred persons, not merely the ladies in waiting recruited from the aristocracy and landed gentry, but also the mundane workers who cooked her food and catered to her needs. Were they all to be declared, “surplus to requirements”?