History has painted Queen Jane Seymour as an obedient, quiet wife to King Henry VIII, especially since she gave him his longed-for son. But what’s the truth behind this angelic figure? As it turns out, Jane very much had a dark side—and a chilling history filled with tragedy. Find out more about this misunderstood historical figure.
1. She Was a Lucky Girl
Jane Seymour’s childhood was anything but normal. She was born sometime around 1508 to the well-off, well-respected Sir John Seymour and his wife Margery. In fact, her birthplace was likely none other than the famous "Wolf Hall," which tells you something about the silver spoon in the babe’s mouth. And her grooming for Henry VIII started very early…
2. Her Family Pressured Her
The Seymours were an incredibly ambitious family, and they had their sights set as far as they could go. Jane’s brothers Edward and Thomas, who would eventually become close advisors to King Henry, often coached their naïve sister in the most cunning ways of statecraft and seducing powerful men. Lucky for them, it paid off tenfold.
3. She Wasn't Supposed to Be Queen
Things might have turned out completely differently for Jane Seymour. As a young woman, Jane almost snagged William Dormer, the son of Sir Robert and Lady Dormer. It came to a heartbreaking end. Ironically, William's mother canceled their engagement because she thought Jane wasn’t noble enough. Bet she didn't think so when she saw Jane's next move.
4. She Snuck Into Henry's Bed
Jane came into contact with Henry VIII in a scandalous way. She started out as a lady-in-waiting to his first queen Catherine of Aragon when she was still in her late teens or early 20s. By this time, Henry’s relationship with Catherine was in shambles after she still hadn’t given him a male heir. In short, it couldn’t have been long before young Jane realized she’d walked into a snake pit.
5. The King Ignored Her
It would be romantic to say that King Henry fell in love with Jane at first sight, but that's not what happened at all. During her first years of service, Henry was instead madly in love with Anne Boleyn. Indeed, poor Jane watched from the sidelines as Henry divorced Catherine, skipped over her, and married Boleyn in 1533. Anne was now Queen of England…but not for long.
6. She Had a Ghostly Beauty
Although Anne Boleyn had a bewitching magic about her, Jane Seymour was no slouch in the beauty department. Still, she was an acquired taste. While one courtier thought she was "not of much beauty," another gave her a glow-up as "the fairest of all the king’s wives". Considering he had six, that’s quite the compliment. Don't worry, Jane wasted no time using it to her advantage.
7. She Was Mysterious
As for Jane's personality? Where Anne was a dark and mysterious, Jane exuded quiet-girl energy and confidence that crept underneath your skin before you knew it. One courtier called her "the gentlest woman I ever knew," and she earned the nickname "Pacific" for her apparently serene calm at court. Except...well, I’ll just say this: Don’t judge a book by its cover.
8. She Was a Chameleon
Gentle disposition or not, Jane knew how to play the game of thrones, and she knew darn well how to survive Henry's vicious court. She even dealt Catherine of Aragon a selfish betrayal. Although Jane had always liked Catherine, she shifted seamlessly into a position as Anne Boleyn’s lady-in-waiting once she became queen. As it happened, it was the perfect place to bag a king.
9. She Captured Henry's Attention
Very early on in his marriage to Anne, King Henry VIII happened to visit the Seymour household on a royal business trip and spent some time talking to the family. Some say that while Henry was there, Jane caught his eye at long last. If this is true, Henry was nursing a crush for months before he acted on his sinful thoughts.
10. She Had a Royal Affair
Although Henry was initially smitten with Anne, the good times didn’t last long. Just like Catherine before her, Anne didn’t give him the male heir he so craved—and soon enough, the King’s eye was wandering right over to Jane Seymour again. He obviously liked what he saw, and by 1536, everyone in court knew he was pursuing her. This was where things got truly messy.
11. She Was an "Old Maid"
When King Henry VIII finally noticed Jane, she was already about 27 years old and in the full bloom of her womanhood. Or, so Henry thought—society, however, had different ideas. Since women matured early, married quickly, and often died young, Jane’s age put her firmly in the "old maid" danger zone. It also raised scandalous suspicions.
12. She May Have Been "Impure"
One ambassador in Henry’s court questioned Jane’s intentions—and he made a damning accusation. Eustace Chapuys claimed that there was no way Jane was still a virgin after spending so long at Henry's palaces. He even hinted that Henry wanted Jane that way, because it would give the king grounds for divorce later on. As we’ll see, Chapuys may have been half-right.
13. She Had a Huge Disadvantage
In many ways, Jane was very different from Henry’s other wives. Although she was from a noble family, she was lower in rank than both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and her education wasn’t as progressive. Instead of knowing oodles about languages and literature, she could actually barely read and write. But trust me: This didn’t stop her.
14. She Had a Sugar Daddy
Dissatisfied in his marriage to Anne, Henry VIII started flirting with Jane at balls and court events. Actually, it was more than just flirting. He showered her in expensive gifts and baubles, all behind Anne Boleyn’s back. In typical narcissistic fashion, he even gave Jane a beautifully crafted locket necklace…with his own portrait inside. This turned out to be huge mistake.
15. She Flaunted Her Sins
Jane might have looked sweet on the outside, but she knew how to hit where it hurt. She all but paraded her flirtation with Henry around Anne, and she wasn't graceful about it. One day, she even started "casually" snapping open and shut her locket right in front of Anne, letting the queen see glimpses of Henry’s face around her throat. Anne’s response was one for the ages.
16. She Made Anne Boleyn Bleed
Anne didn’t have Jane’s reputation of ladylike behavior, and her reaction was far from serene. In a royal catfight to end all catfights, she ripped the locket right off of Jane’s neck, snapping the chain with such force that the doomed queen’s fingers actually bled from the effort. But Jane found an ingenious way to get her back.
17. She Was a Master Manipulator
Take note: Jane Seymour was a master of networking. She knew how to get people on her side without making it seem like she was manipulating them, and she knew who to get on her side. In particular, she was bosom buddies with Catherine of Aragon’s daughter, the future Queen Mary. Unsurprisingly, Mary despised Anne Boleyn, and the pair waited together for her downfall.
18. Henry Gave Her a Disturbing Gift
Jane Seymour’s infamous locket actually has a gross backstory. See, Henry was apparently very unoriginal when it came to giving gifts, and he’d also given Anne Boleyn a similar present when they were courting, gifting her with a bracelet inlaid with his own portrait. Yeah, if I were Anne and I caught a glimpse of that locket, I’d be furious.
19. She Set a Honey Trap
Jane could play the game of courtly love as well as the next minx, and in February 1536, she made a total coup de gras. During Henry's flirtation with her, the king had also given her a purse of gold and asked her to save it until she had made "a good marriage". Well, Jane bided her time and then gave it back to him that winter. Hint, hint, Henry.
20. She Played a Dangerous Game
For all that Jane was head over heels for her new royal lover, she had to be very careful. Queen Anne Boleyn was actually pregnant in early 1536, and if she carried a boy to term, all bets were off for Jane’s fairy tale dreams. If Anne didn’t? Well, that was another story entirely. But few people know that Jane played a very active role in how history turned out.
21. She Was Caught Red-Handed
The pregnant Anne was well aware of her husband’s new side piece, and she wasn't happy about it. According to one story, Anne walked into a room one afternoon—and witnessed a horrific sight. Sweet little Jane was sitting prettily on her husband’s lap and charming the ever-living heck out of him. Anne flew into a rage, and the consequences were devastating.
22. She Caused a Miscarriage
According to some historical sources, Anne’s jealous tantrum caused her to miscarry her precious baby less than four months into the pregnancy. Even worse, it was a boy. Everyone, Jane included, knew that this was the beginning of the end for Anne Boleyn. As one courtier commented, "She has miscarried of her savior". But as Anne fell, Jane rose.
23. She Made a Heartless Move
It was hard to have moral scruples in Henry's court, but Jane certainly wasted no time doing Anne dirty. While Boleyn recovered from the physical and mental trauma of her miscarriage, Jane moved herself and her family into royal quarters, which were a huge step up from her normal digs. She was one inch closer to the throne, and she didn’t have long to go now.
24. She Had Carnal Desires
Again and again throughout Tudor history, we hear about how innocent Jane was, but of course, the truth is much more complicated than that. Although she was supposed to be chaste, there’s evidence to suggest that she and Henry moved from flirtation into a full-blown relationship…and it all started with a hidden passageway.
25. She Played a Royal Trick
Jane's "royal quarters" situation was actually a clever front. Henry had moved Jane’s brother and his wife into chambers right by his own private rooms, where he then used a secret passageway to come visit Jane under the "watchful" eyes of these lenient chaperones. Poor Anne Boleyn. When your husband is pulling 007 moves to meet his mistress, you know the end is near.
26. Her Rival Met a Dark End
With Jane posted up next to his bedroom, Henry officially declared that Boleyn had "bewitched him" and set about charging her with a variety of lewd and trumped-up offenses, including treason. Then, on May 19, 1536, Jane received the news she had been waiting for: Queen Anne had gone to the executioner’s block, and Jane had reached her destiny.
27. She Got an Indecent Proposal
When I tell you now that King Henry and Jane Seymour didn’t even wait until Anne’s body was cold to declare their love, I mean that literally. The new royal power couple got betrothed on May 20, 1536—yep, the day after Anne Boleyn’s execution. And sure, that’s pretty tasteless, but it was about to get a whole lot tackier.
28. Her Wedding Was Hush-Hush
King Henry and Jane made it official 10 days later, tying the knot in a relatively private wedding ceremony at Whitehall palace on May 30. By June 4, Henry had announced his new wife to the public at large, and the newly-minted Queen Jane could bask in her glory at last. But when you marry a cursed king, you’re going to be cursed in return.
29. She Had a Secret Weapon
Jane was certainly attractive enough to Henry, but he may have married her for a disturbing reason. She came from a large family that had an incredible nine children, and King Henry and his advisors hoped Jane would prove half as fertile when she became a mother herself. Ugh, how romantic. Sadly, the reality was much more tragic than all that.
30. She Was Cunning
There may be a cunning reason why Jane's reputation today is so calm and placid: It was her design. Anne Boleyn vocally supported causes and surrounded herself with flashy friends and male courtiers, but Jane was astute enough to understand that the quieter she was, the safer she was. Remember: The silent ones are always the most deadly.
31. She Was Never Queen
The beginning of Jane’s reign was a bad omen for the rest of her tragic story. Although Henry wanted to have a coronation for her, the plague was raging through London at the time, and he kept putting it off for apparent "safety" reasons. Then again, some experts say the king was just hedging his bets until Jane gave him a son. Well, be careful what you wish for...
32. She Was a Harsh Mistress
Jane’s first actions as queen contradict her historical reputation as a meek "nice girl". Almost the minute she became Henry’s lawful wife, she cracked down on her predecessor Anne’s penchant for debauched parties, and instead insisted on decorum and propriety. And although Jane might have just been a homebody, there’s evidence she had other reasons for these commands...
33. She Had a Jealous Side
Queen Jane also decreed that her ladies-in-waiting had to adhere to a code of conduct, one where they had to be chaste and think only about how they could "serve God and be virtuous". Now remember: Jane started as a lady-in-waiting before becoming Henry’s mistress….so maybe she was more than a little insecure about her husband. But then she took it to the next level.
34. She Tried to Destroy Anne Boleyn's Memory
Far from just nixing the extravagant court functions that Anne Boleyn loved, Jane practically tried to ban Anne herself. Boleyn had been famous for her sleek fashion sense, which she borrowed from more French soignée styles on the continent. Well, Jane banned those, too. That’s right, you can ban clothing when you’re queen, and Jane had more bizarre demands to come.
35. She Doled out Cruel Punishments
Queen Jane knew her worth, and she insisted that her ladies-in-waiting jump through a series of hoops just to be graced with her presence. In order to appear in front of the queen, the women had to wear a belt of pearls containing at least 120 of the precious gems. If they didn’t? Jane would simply refuse to look at them. Yeah, she was not a simple "nice" girl.
36. She Did Her "Duty"
Jane knew her duty as queen was to satisfy King Henry in the bedroom and then the maternity ward, and half a year after her royal wedding, she was pregnant with Henry’s child. At long last, it was Jane Seymour’s turn to prove to the Tudor monarch that she wasn’t like the "other girls". But she was in for a nasty surprise.
37. She Suffered a Horrific Tragedy
Whatever elation Jane might have felt, it was soon gone: She ended up miscarrying. Painfully enough, she lost the child sometime around Christmas 1536, which is one heck of an awful yuletide gift. Yet Jane had a stubborn and iron will, and she wasted no time getting back into bed with Henry. Less than a month later, she was pregnant again. And this one would change history.
38. She Made a Fatal Error
Being Henry VIII’s wife was a dangerous job, and Jane had to work to never make a misstep. One day, Henry put her in her place with a brutal remark. She had gently begged the king to grant a pardon for group of people, and Henry became incensed at her presumption. Chillingly, he reminded her what happened when Anne Boleyn tried to "meddle in his affairs".
39. She Was Desperate for a Boy
Jane’s pregnancy increased the royal pressure tenfold. Henry had already divorced one wife and beheaded another for failing to provide him with a male heir, and his one illegitimate son passed the same year they were married. Her life pretty much depended on if the baby was a boy or a girl, so she had some pretty solid reasons to be desperately praying for a boy.
40. She Had Bizarre Cravings
King Henry VIII spared no expense when it came to keeping Jane happy, comfortable, and healthy during her second pregnancy. When the young queen started getting a craving for quail, the king had some of the finest birds shipped in from parts as disparate as Calais and Flanders, all to satisfy her midnight snacking. But she had to endure darker treatments, too.
41. She Was Put in Solitary Confinement
Henry was absolutely determined not to have another miscarriage, and he retired Jane from all public duties by the summer of 1537, forcing her into a devastatingly lonely life. She kept up almost no social engagements of her own, and her days were filled with doctors and midwives instead of friends. By September, she was in complete confinement and awaiting the birth of her child.
42. She Had a Little-Known Illness
One of Jane’s distinguishing qualities was her ghostly pale skin, then considered the height of beauty in Tudor times—but this feature may have had a dangerous side. Historian Alison Weir has suggested that Jane suffered from anaemia, and that her craving for quails was actually her weak body craving iron. In any case, she was in no state to go into childbirth, but there was no stopping it now.
43. Her Childbirth Was a Nightmare
Jane went into labor in early October of 1537, but nothing happened the way she expected it. Historians now believe her baby was in an awkward position, and the childbirth was a terrifying and tormented affair, with Jane pushing for a grueling two days and three nights, knowing she might be drawing her last breath all the while.
44. She Did What No Other Queen Could
At 2:00 in the wee hours of the morning on October 12, 1537, Jane Seymour finally had her child. When the baby entered the world at last, I’m sure Henry just about fainted: It was a healthy, living boy. Jane and the king named the child Edward VI, and at first, it seemed like she was going to get everything she wanted and more.
45. She Never Forgot Her Friends
Perhaps on Jane’s own wishes, Princess Mary was named as her baby’s godmother, and Mary even helped carry Edward’s train during his lavish christening on October 15th, along with Anne Boleyn’s daughter Elizabeth. Curiously, Jane didn’t attend this christening. This was customary for the time…but trouble was still brewing.
47. She Made a Partial Recovery
In the immediate moments after Edward’s birth, nothing at all seemed to be the matter either with the baby or with the queen. Jane was signing letters the evening after the birth, and on October 15th, she even received guests and was sitting up in bed. But as Jane herself proves, looks can be deceiving—and it all took a turn for the worse.
48. Her Body Started to Fail Her
16th-century medicine had a long way to go, so it’s difficult to assess what exactly went wrong after Jane Seymour’s lengthy labor. All we know for sure is that it did go very, very wrong. On the 16th, just a few days after giving birth, accounts describe Jane experiencing a "lax," which might have been postpartum bleeding or loose bowels. This was the first sign of the end.
49. Dark Rumors Circulated About Her
Other Tudor courtiers were obviously suspicious of Henry’s treatment of his new wife, because a scandalous whisper emerged about Jane’s labor. Many people claimed that, desperate to get his son from Jane’s ravaged body, Henry had ordered a Caesarian section for his queen—a procedure that was a certain death sentence at the time.
50. She Was in Great Danger
Although Jane rallied after the "lax" episode for a couple of days, by Friday, October 19th she was incredibly unwell, and her health only plummeted over the weekend. By that Monday, the attendants knew she was in "great danger," so much so that King Henry rushed to her bedside the next night. It ended up being his last goodbye.
51. History Misunderstood Her
Much has been made of Anne Boleyn’s intelligence and wit, often at the expense of Jane Seymour’s own intellect. But even though Jane wasn’t as sharp or snappy as Anne, she wasn’t stupid, either. Henry enjoyed it when his women could hold his attention, and no mistress who won his heart and became his queen was ever a dullard.
52. She Had a Hidden Talent
Although Jane didn’t have an arsenal of flashy accomplishments, she did have one hidden talent: She masterful at embroidery. People raved about her needlework, which may considered the height of a woman’s skills at the time, for its intricate and beautiful designs. Impressively enough, Jane apparently converted Henry too; after their relationship, people noted the king was an "enthusiastic embroiderer".
53. She Received Lavish Presents
Okay, there were some perks to marrying King Henry VIII, chief among them the masses of presents Seymour received upon her royal marriage. After the wedding, Henry granted her no fewer than 104 manors across four counties, and threw in a bunch of literal forests to sweeten the deal. Try to find that stuff on a wedding registry.
54. She Had Violent Tastes
Another one of Jane’s talents was more masculine and violent than you might think. Since she was a young girl, Seymour had been an avid and skilled hunter. Indeed, part of King Henry VIII’s extravagant wedding package to his new bride included the space and means to go on royal hunting trips whenever and wherever Jane liked.
56. She Was Henry's Type
Henry VIII definitely had a type when it came to his wives. In fact, all of his wives were related to each other through their ancestor King Edward III, and Jane shared a great-grandmother with both Anne Boleyn and Henry’s later wife Catherine Howard. Not gross enough yet? Well, Henry and Jane were also fifth cousins with each other.
57. She Was the People's Queen
Even before her passing, Jane was incredibly popular with the commoners, thanks in no small part to her sympathy for Catherine of Aragon’s daughter Princess Mary. The people saw in Jane a return to the wholesomeness that Henry’s first wife had represented, and she was worlds away from Anne Boleyn’s scandalously witchy reign.
58. Her History Is Missing
Virtually no records exist of Jane’s activities as Queen—that is, except for one. She ordered a park keeper to deliver "two bucks of high season" from her hunting grounds. Yet even in this, she used King Henry VIII’s seal as the authority behind the order, further proving her devotion and obedience to her royal husband. This girl wanted to survive.
59. She Took a Subtle Revenge
True to the queenly image of serene compliance Jane wanted to project, she took the saying "Bound to obey and serve" as her regnal motto. In contrast, the more "me"-minded Anne Boleyn had chosen the words "the most happy" as her own slogan. And as it happened, Jane used this opportunity to take one last dig at her (very deceased) rival.
60. She Sent Secret Messages
While Anne Boleyn’s personal badges had falcons, Jane chose a phoenix rising from a fort with red and white painted Tudor roses. The phoenix is a symbol of rebirth, and historians speculate that Jane chose the figure to represent a rebirth from Henry’s time with Anne. Mew-ow, Jane. Not that it mattered: Like Anne, Queen Jane Seymour met her own tragic end.
32. She Got Henry's Best Years
Jane had to sacrifice a lot to get King Henry VIII, but she was at least luckier than his later wives. Jane had Henry in his best years, when the king was famous for his auburn-haired, athletic good looks and hadn’t, you know, executed one third of his wives. But as we’ll see, this all changed after Jane became his consort.
55. She Had a Surprising Role Model
Jane Seymour was one smart cookie, and she modelled her reign as consort after her heroine and old boss, Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon. Of course, she made a few judicious tweaks, giving Henry even more deference than Catherine did and making sure to butter the vain king up whenever he needed some moral support. Atta girl, Jane.
61. She Had a Strange Illness
Even at the time, many theories tried to explain what Jane was suffering from post-childbirth. The mystery persists today, but there are some chilling clues. Some modern historians believe Jane could have contracted a bacterial infection, while others suggest she retained a placenta. Yet the most compelling evidence comes from a report from her own time.
62. Her Last Meal Was Suspicious
The only contemporary bulletin about Jane’s illness blamed "them that were about her, and suffered her to take great cold, and to eat things which the fantasy in her sickness called for". In other words: She had a cold and couldn’t eat proper food. No, I don’t think Jane Seymour was in danger because she got the munchies….but this account actually contains vital evidence.
63. She May Have Been Poisoned
According to Tudor expert Alison Weir, this document indicates that Jane’s sickness might have started out, innocently enough, as food poisoning. After all, this would explain the attention to the kinds of food Seymour was eating at the time. But when it comes to the "great cold," Weir suggests a much more complicated explanation.
64. She Could Have Lived
Jane’s cold, Weir argues, may actually have been signs of an embolism that flowed into her heart, particularly if the already-weak Jane was rushing to the bathroom to vomit from her food poisoning. The clot could have caused shortness of breath and other symptoms that might have presented as a cold. The saddest part of all is that embolism need not be fatal, Jane just got unlucky. Yet whatever the cause, the end was near.
65. Her Legacy Is Cryptic
Jane left behind a mysterious legacy: We have never heard her speak. In her entire 18 months as Queen, no one recorded a single, verifiable word from her lips, though we do have traces of her emotions and desires. However, like everything else Jane did, this was likely by design. Since she modeled herself as Anne Boleyn’s opposite, she wasn’t about to put her foot in her mouth.
66. Her End Was Tragic
On October 24, 1537, Jane Seymour passed in her bed at 2:00 in the morning, almost the exact same time that she had given birth to her longed-for son Edward just days prior. The 29-year-old Jane was Queen of England for fewer than two years, and all her striving had left her cold in her birthing bed. The thing is, this wasn’t actually her end at all.
67. Her Funeral Was Extravagant
On November 12, 1537, the king held Jane Seymour's funeral at Windsor Castle. During the service, her beloved stepdaughter Mary acted as chief mourner, and Henry put out all the stops to commemorate the wife who had given him a son at last. 29 mourners followed her procession, one for each brief year of her life.
68. She Haunts History
Jane perished at Hampton Court Palace in England, and some say a trace of her still remains there. People have claimed to have seen the ghost of Henry’s beloved wife on the Silverstick Stairs, near where the ill-fated queen gave birth. Keeping her company, Edward VI’s wet nurse Sybil Penn is also supposedly the "Grey Lady" who roams Hampton’s halls.
69. She Was Henry's Favorite
Today, modern historians speculate that of all King Henry VIII’s many (many) wives, Jane Seymour was always his absolute favorite. Why? Well, sadly, it probably wasn’t because of her charming personality—it was likely simply because she gave him a male heir. Although, then again, that might not be the complete picture…
70. Henry Gave Her an Awkward Tribute
Years after Jane’s passing, Henry still apparently couldn’t forget about his long-lost wife. The king commissioned a macabre family portrait of his children and his doomed queen Jane, which is creepy enough. But it gets creepier. Not only did Henry reanimate his lifeless wife, he was actually married to Catherine Parr at the time. Ouch.
71. The King Never Got Over Her
Even the heartless Henry was so bereft at Jane’s passing, he could barely cope. In fact, for the first time in his life, he actively mourned a wife….well, as best as he could, anyway. Henry wore black for three whole months, which was like forever in his books. He even held off on marrying for two years after Jane passed. But it would take a decade for his most heartbreaking tribute.
72. Henry Never Forgot Her
When Henry passed in 1547, almost exactly 10 years after Jane’s own passing, his last wish was for his attendants to bury him beside her. To Henry, Jane always remained his true queen.
73. She Changed the King Forever
Many history books speed over Jane Seymour’s brief life and reign—and few people know her dark impact on Henry. The monarch was never the same after her passing, either mentally or physically. After Jane’s passing, the depressed Henry put on weight, developed diabetes and gout, and became the corpulent, volatile monarch we know him as today.
74. She Rose Again
Jane’s epitaph gives further confirmation of Henry's devotion to her. The touching inscription reads as follows. "Here lies Jane, a phoenix / Who died in giving another phoenix birth. / Let her be mourned, for birds like these / Are rare indeed". Jane was also the only one of Henry’s six wives to receive a proper, formal queen’s burial.
75. Henry Abandoned Her
During Jane’s difficult labor, the doctors worried it would come down to a choice between them saving the babe and saving the mother. According to one report, when attendants asked the king what he wanted to do, his reply was utterly heartless. "If you cannot save both, at least let the child live," he said. Twisting the knife in, he then added, "For other wives are easily found". Well, he got what he wanted...and what he deserved.