Jane Seymour

Portrait of Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein the Younger (1536-37). Image Credit: WikiCommons.

By Johanna Strong

Jane Seymour was born likely in 1508 to John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. She spent her childhood and teen years learning all the tasks necessary for adulthood and wifely domestic bliss in any early modern marriage: managing a household and doing needlepoint, with only a little time spent on formal academic education.

Jane was a maid-of-honour in Katherine of Aragon’s household from 1532 and served Anne Boleyn in the same role after Henry VIII and Katherine’s annulment. It was during the breakdown of Henry and Anne’s marriage that Henry became fascinated with Jane; she was quiet, demure, and fulfilled her gender role as a woman perfectly. She and Henry were betrothed on 20 May 1536 – the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution – and were married at the Palace of Whitehall on 30 May 1536. Jane became popular as queen, especially after she made known her sympathy to Katherine of Aragon and Katherine’s daughter Mary.

As queen consort, Jane succeeded in what was arguably her most important role; she provided Henry with what his two previous wives had failed to give him: a healthy son. Edward was born at Hampton Court Palace on 12 October 1537, but Henry and Jane’s joy at a son was short-lived as Jane contracted puerperal – or childbed – fever. Jane died on 24 October 1537 and was buried a few weeks later at St George’s Chapel at Windsor, though it is believed that her heart may be buried in the chapel royal at Hampton Court. She is the only one of Henry’s wives to receive a traditional queen’s funeral.

Despite their relatively short marriage, Henry remembered Jane fondly and chose to include her in a family portrait in the 1540s, even though he was remarried at the time. Henry also chose to be buried with her at St George’s, another indication of her elevated importance to Henry.

Recommended Reading

Elizabeth Norton, Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love (Stroud, England: Amberley Publishing, 2010).

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