With the publication of the fourth Marquess House novel, The Jane Seymour Conspiracy, here’s a short blog discussing two of the wives of Henry VIII.
Jane Seymour versus Anne Boleyn: who was the perfect Tudor wife?
The research for this book led me in many different directions but it is impossible to delve into the life of Jane Seymour without considering her predecessor, Anne Boleyn. Thousands of books have been written about the scandalous Anne but far fewer exist about Jane. Finding her meant searching through other people’s biographies, looking for her in the shadows. The more I discovered, the more I liked Jane but it also made me realise the sleight of hand used over the centuries concerning these two contrasting women. So, for the sake of my love of the ’What if…’ game with history, here is a new look at Jane Seymour and Anne Boleyn to discover who was the perfect Tudor wife.
Jane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII, remembered as being demure, innocent, the perfect Tudor bride. When written about by historians she is referred to with respect and consideration. In fact, there are occasions when she is dismissed as irrelevant due to her brief tenure as queen consort and her passive role in the Tudor court. A stark contrast to the descriptions of her predecessor, Anne Boleyn. While Jane was described as shy, Anne was argumentative; Jane had a gentle and kind nature, Anne was sharp and manipulative. While I was researching The Jane Seymour Conspiracy, these bizarre contrasts in the way Jane and Anne’s path to the throne have been painted became more apparent and it made me re-evaluate the text compared with their actions.
History is fond of recounting the story of how Anne wooed a king away from his queen, the much-loved Katherine of Aragon. Her downfall, when it came, has been portrayed as justice for destroying the marriage of Henry and Katherine. She was duly punished, executed on a May morning in 1536, and ever more in thousands of pages and millions of words of print, on film and television. Anne was the other woman, the mistress, the upstart commoner and she has been vilified for daring to fall in love with the wrong man.
However, Jane Seymour also wooed a king away from his queen. Jane entered the story in September 1535, when Henry was supposed to have noticed her for the first time during a visit to her family’s home of Wulfhall in Wiltshire. He was married and Anne was pregnant, yet Jane has never been accused of being the other woman. Even with her return to court and during the courtship of 1536, Jane is never portrayed as anything other than innocent, serene and perfect. Odd, don’t you think, when Henry’s wife, Anne Boleyn, was very much alive and carrying a child?
It is likely, Jane was not the one driving this union and felt she had no choice but to collude, particularly when encouraged by her ambitious brother, Sir Edward Seymour. She, nevertheless, played her part in Anne’s downfall. Jane flirted with the king, spent time with him, allowed him to woo her, perched on his knee and played the game of courtly flirting. Jane and the king agreed to an arrangement of marriage at the end of April 1536. The fact Henry was married to Anne Boleyn seemed to be a mere inconvenience, particularly as Anne had miscarried the hoped-for Tudor heir.
With frightening and ruthless efficiency, Henry and his right hand man, Thomas Cromwell, the Lord Privy Seal, moved against Anne and her supporters. Anne was arrested after the May Day joust and less than three weeks later, she was dead, executed on 19 May 1536.
Meanwhile, Jane held her nerve, and as Henry had arrested Anne on fabricated charges of treason, adultery and incest, Jane was preparing her marriage chest at Bedington Hall, the home of her cousin, Sir Nicholas Carew. Once Anne was safely imprisoned, Henry insisted Jane returned to London, to a house he had prepared near the river as he could not bear to be apart from her.
Each evening, Henry would float down the Thames on the royal barge with musicians and entertainers, wooing Jane in a carnival of love, as he prepared to execute his current wife in order to marry the next. Londoners looked on appalled and even those who had detested Anne began to question the behaviour of the king.
Throughout her trial and execution, Anne behaved with dignity, praising Henry and denying the charges against her until the end. It would be naïve not to admit that Anne had done many things which were unpleasant but it is difficult to place the blame for the breakdown of the royal marriage at Anne’s feet alone. The day after Anne’s execution, Jane was betrothed to Henry and they were married ten days later.
Jane’s brief reign is punctuated with comments about her piety, the bringing together of Henry’s daughters and her desire to return Henry to Catholicism. However, when she realised such a request would put her in danger, she was more than happy to do an about-turn and accept gifts of gold and jewellery from the monasteries as Henry and Thomas Cromwell stripped them bare.
These actions either take a calculating heart of stone and a ruthless streak a mile wide or a terror so great it is impossible to resist being coerced into an untenable situation. Whichever scenario you prefer, Jane’s actions do not suggest someone who is pious, devout and unworldly. Through sleight of hand, in the descriptions of her behaviour, historians have portrayed Jane as a paragon of virtue while her actions, if studied in more detail, suggest otherwise.
I have a fondness for both women and this piece is a criticism of neither but more an observation on the way women are presented throughout history. Anne as the ruthless other woman, Jane as the demure virgin. Anne and Jane were related, they were both placed in the situation of being adored by the king, whether they reciprocated or felt they had no choice but to capitulate, we shall never know. Whatever the truth, both died young and neither saw their offspring attain the crown of England, which is desperately sad. Were either of them perfect? I don’t think there was a great deal to choose between their behaviour, both chose to try and survive. So, here’s to Anne and Jane, two wives, two queens, two mothers of monarchs. Your stories shall live on.
From Amazon or getbook.at/JaneSeymour