Meet the Wives Handbook: Jane Seymour

Jane's sweet and charming demeanor captured Henry's heart. Married just days after her predecessor's death, she was to become Henry's favorite wife. Jane, unlike any of Henry's other wives, gave Henry the one thing he wanted most -- a son, an act that would lead to her death.

Background: Overview

Was Jane Seymour as meek and virtuous as popular history has made her out to be? It was certainly these qualities that endeared her to the king. But some biographers, claim that sweet Jane Seymour was far more than just a pawn. Beneath her docile demeanor, they say lay ambition and resolve.

Background: Looks and Personality

Jane Seymour was the ideal 16th century woman -- silent, subservient and sweet-tempered. Contemporary accounts extoll Jane's virtue. They rave less about her looks. Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, described Jane "of middle stature and no great beauty." Apparently, her beautiful, pale complexion was not enough to offset her large nose, small eyes and compressed lips.

It was Jane Seymour's virtuous and gentle nature that attracted the king for she was indeed a "plain Jane." Yet, she, like Anne Boleyn, had lured the king away from his wife. But while Anne would be portrayed as a witch, Jane would be forever remembered as a saint.

Background: Education

Unlike Henry's first two wives, Jane was not highly educated. In fact, she could only read and write her name. She was not witty like Anne Boleyn, nor intelligent like Catherine of Aragon. She received the education typical for women of her time: needlework and household management. But after waiting on Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Jane had learned much of the ways of Henry VIII's court. And had learned those lessons well. Throughout her rise to power, Jane Seymour would act with moderation, forethought and sense.

Background: Religion

Though she would be portrayed after death as a stalwart Protestant (the work of her brothers, eager to be on the right side of England's religious divide), Jane Seymour was raised a pious Catholic and was tagged by Martin Luther as "an enemy of the gospel." In the rift between Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, Jane's family had firmly supported Catherine and her daughter, Mary. During Jane's courtship with the king, she would be advised by one of the leaders of the conservative Catholic faction at court, Sir Nicholas Carew. A skilled schemer in his own right, Carew coached Jane in the intricacies of religious politics. Once married to Henry, Jane would put her preparation to good work by trying to end the rift between Mary and Henry (see Role as Queen) so that the Catholic princess could be reinstated as heir to the throne.

Background: Family Ties

Was Jane Seymour really a virgin? Twenty-seven when the king began his courtship, Jane had been at court for six years. Although her virtuous behavior was praised by everyone, Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys thought it unlikely that she was still chaste. According to Chapuys, Jane, "being an Englishwoman and having been so long" at court, where immorality was widespread, could not be as virtuous as was popularly assumed. Chapuys stated that king was not troubled by Jane's chastity or lack thereof "since he may marry her on condition she is a maid, and when he wants a divorce there will be plenty of witnesses ready to testify that she was not." Despite the speculation, there is no proof that Jane had sexual dalliances prior to her relationship with King Henry.

Background: Trouble Alert

Was Jane Seymour really a virgin? Twenty-seven when the king began his courtship, Jane had been at court for six years. Although her virtuous behavior was praised by everyone, Spanish ambassador Eustace Chapuys thought it unlikely that she was still chaste. According to Chapuys, Jane, "being an Englishwoman and having been so long" at court, where immorality was widespread, could not be as virtuous as was popularly assumed. Chapuys stated that king was not troubled by Jane's chastity or lack thereof "since he may marry her on condition she is a maid, and when he wants a divorce there will be plenty of witnesses ready to testify that she was not." Despite the speculation, there is no proof that Jane had sexual dalliances prior to her relationship with King Henry.







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