“Here lies Jane, a phoenix / Who died in giving another phoenix birth. / Let her be mourned, for birds like these / Are rare indeed”—Jane Seymour’s epitaph.
Jane Seymour was born somewhere between 1507 and 1509 to Sir John Seymour and Marjorie Wentworth, and was the eldest of eight children. In 1536, she followed in the footsteps of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn and became the third wife of King Henry VIII, gaining the title of Queen of England. She was the wife who finally gave Henry what he wanted—a son—but she only reigned for just 18 months before dying of complications from childbirth in 1537. Below are 42 royal facts about this little-known queen.
42. Working her Way Up
Before becoming queen, Jane Seymour served as a lady in waiting to both Henry’s first wife Catherine of Aragon and then to Anne Boleyn. Talk about rising above your station!
41. Most Precious Wealth
When he was still married to Anne Boleyn, the King’s eye started wandering in the direction of Jane. He wanted to keep her as his mistress, but Jane smartly refused to be a mere mistress. The more she refused to sleep with him, the more he loved her, and the more eager he became to be with her. While this worked out well for Jane, it didn’t turn out nearly as well for poor Anne Boleyn, who was beheaded in part so he could marry Jane.
40. No Great Beauty
Unlike some of Henry’s other wives, Jane Seymour was never described as a beauty. She had pale skin and hair, was meek, and was described by the Spanish imperial ambassador Chapuys as “not very intelligent.” By the time she met the King, she was already roughly 27 years old, which by the standard of the day, made her an old maid. With all that going for her, kudos to her for catching and holding his interest.
39. Doing What No One Else Could
As brief as her reign and marriage was, Jane Seymour still managed to accomplish something that none of Henry’s other wives had been able to do. She delivered him the legitimate male heir he’d been waiting for, which almost definitely would have given her some security had she lived.
38. Quickie Marriage
After the beheading of Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII and Jane didn’t even wait two weeks before they were married. The wedding took place just 11 days after her execution—barely enough time for her body to get cold.
37. Virgin or Not?
By the time she married Henry, Jane had been at court for 6 years and was already 27 years old. Although she presented a virtuous image, the Spanish ambassador Chapuys questioned whether or not she could possibly still be a virgin while being exposed to such widespread immorality. He also hinted that the King didn’t really care whether or not she was a virgin, as her lack of chastity would give him grounds for divorce later on. Despite his claims, no proof exists that she wasn’t a virgin when she married the King.
36. Sage Advice
To Anne Boleyn’s enemies, Henry’s interest in Jane was the perfect opportunity to rid themselves of the false Queen. Ambassador Chapuys—yeah, the same guy who called her ugly, simple, and not a virgin—told her to hint about Anne’s heretical leanings, suggest that the people would never accept her as their Queen, and say them in front of her supporters who would swear to the King that she spoke the truth. It seems that Jane did act on the advice, and without any remorse or pity for the soon-to-be-ousted Queen.
35. Full Circle
In an ironic twist, Jane Dormer, the daughter of Jane’s first intended William Dormer, would end up becoming a childhood playmate of Prince Edward. She later ended up serving Queen Mary I, and despite the 20-year age gap, became one of her closest friends and confidants.
34. A Common Relation
When it comes to members of the royal family, if you dig deep enough into the family tree, you’re bound to discover a common blood relation between spouses, but in the case of Henry VIII, even three of his wives were related to one another. Catherine Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins, and Jane Seymour shared a great-grandmother with both of them. She was also the fifth cousin of the King, through her maternal grandfather, so she had a teensy drop of royal blood. Try untangling that line!
33. Deliberately Calculating
Behind Jane Seymour’s demure and quiet persona was a pretty calculating woman. She knew from her years of serving his past wives exactly how to behave, and several historical accounts suggest that her high moral code was actually a calculated act to make her queen.
32. No Pressure or Anything
Being the wife of a guy like Henry VIII was tricky enough, but Jane’s pregnancy increased the pressure tenfold. He had already divorced one wife and beheaded another for failing to provide him with a male heir, and his one illegitimate son died the same year they were married. Her life pretty much depended on the sex of the baby, so she had some pretty solid reasons to be praying for a boy.
31. Nothing to Say
In her entire 18 months as queen, Jane Seymour failed to say one single thing that anybody thought was worth preserving for the future. It is generally believed that she deliberately styled herself to be the complete opposite of her predecessor Anne Boleyn—an act that ended up making her completely and utterly unquotable.
30. Sorry Dude- Too Old
Thomas Seymour, one of Jane’s brothers, proposed to Princess Elizabeth, the future queen of England when she was just 13 and he 38, likely as a power move. Elizabeth rejected him, due to fact that her father had died less than a month before, and mourning lasted two years. She also cited the huge age gap between them, which was probably an even better reason to say no.
29. The Protector
Unlike Thomas, Jane’s other brother Edward was consistently in favor in the royal court. Jane’s marriage to the King earned him an earldom, and even after her death, he continued to rise in stature. In 1547, he was named protector of England, and was the King in all but name for over two years. He actually had some decent ideas and tried to do some good, but he failed and ended up being executed on a false charge of treason by his enemy the Duke of Northumberland in 1551.
28. A Girl’s Education
For the most part, Jane Seymour has been represented in the history books as being uneducated and unintelligent, but these are both misconceptions. While it’s true that she was not as well educated as Henry’s first two wives, she still received a traditional female education. She was taught needlework, music, and feminine arts as well as hunting. It is also true that she was not as sharp or witty as Anne Boleyn, but she wasn’t stupid. After all, working her way up to Queen and winning Henry’s heart was not something a dullard could do.
27. Queen Without a Crown
For various reasons, Jane Seymour was the only one of Henry’s wives to not have an official coronation. There were rumors that the King was simply waiting for her to prove herself worthy of the crown by producing heirs, but the truth was he was short on funds and had to postpone it. They set the date for 10 months after the wedding, but then in a stroke of bad luck, a plague and a series of uprisings prevented it from taking place. Henry agreed to the rebel demands that she be crowned in the north, but that never happened either.
When Jane got married to King Henry, he and his daughter Mary (born to Henry and Catherine of Aragon) were on the outs. Jane knew Mary from her time in Catherine of Aragon’s service, and they were both Catholic. Upon her marriage, she promised the Spanish ambassador that she would encourage her husband to repair the relationship, and after much pleading, she worked out a deal. All Mary had to do was sign a document declaring her father the Supreme Head of the Church of England and declare her father’s marriage to her mother unlawful. Agreeing to the terms didn’t get her reinstated as heir, but at least they made up, right?
25. Behaving Badly
Just about two years after being rejected by Princess Elizabeth, Thomas Seymour was arrested for crimes that included trying to kidnap the King, for trying to marry Elizabeth without the permission of council (and probably Elizabeth) and for trying to make himself King. On March 20, 1549 he was beheaded on Tower Hill.
24. Back to Virtue
What’s the first thing a new wife usually does when she moves into the former home of her husband’s ex? Remove all traces of his ex, of course. This is exactly what Jane did at court. She made it her mission to reinstate the virtuous values that she’d seen in Catherine’s court, and to erase Anne’s influence. Her ladies-in-waiting and her maids were held to a strict code of behavior and insisted that they “serve God and be virtuous”.
23. Popular Uprising
Between 1536 and 1537, there were a number of revolts against the King in northern England. The uprisings were called the Pilgrimage of Grace and were the result of Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries. Luckily, their aim wasn’t really to overthrow the King—they simply wanted the monasteries restored. Henry used diplomatic means to end the rebellion and promised free pardons to the rebels for dispersing, but once they did, he broke his word, and it all ended in trials and executions for the rebel leaders.
22. Securing Their Place
Jane Seymour’s father Sir John had the ear of the King through his position as a gentleman of the King’s bedchamber, and he was able to secure positions at court for two of his sons and for two of his daughters Elizabeth and Jane. At the time, this was what any family with modest lineage and ambition aimed for. This was a similar path to the one that the Boleyn family took as well, but the Seymours were far better at playing the game.
21. A Saintly Name
Henry and Jane’s son was born on October 12, 1537 on the eve of Saint Edward’s Day. In honor of the day, he was baptized Edward three days later. On the day of the christening, Henry managed to put aside the issues he had with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, and the 21-year-old Mary was named godmother to the young prince. Ironically, it was Elizabeth, older by four years, to whom he grew close and not Mary, who had too big an age gap and a fundamental difference in religion from Edward.
20. Eternal Beloved
Even though Henry went on to have three more wives after Jane’s death, she was always the one that he loved. When she died, he actually sunk into depression, officially mourning her for two years before marrying again. Unlike his other five wives, he buried her as Queen and gave her a full state funeral. Her body was buried in Henry’s tomb at Windsor Castle, and he was buried with her when he died. While some see this as romantic, cynical historians suggest that his “love” was mostly appreciation of her subservience and gratitude to her for giving him his son.
19. Stay Out of It!
If Jane had any ideas of trying to advise Henry in anything, she soon learned that keeping her nose out of his business was the best strategy for staying alive. Sometime before she got pregnant, she secured pardons for the people who participated in the Pilgrimage of Grace, but he not only didn’t want her advice, but he sharply reminded her of what happened to the last one of his Queens who even thought of interfering in his affairs.
18. A Joyous Occasion
On May 27, 1537, the happy news of Jane’s pregnancy and the first movement of the baby inside her was celebrated throughout England. The pregnancy came not quite a year into their marriage, and the people marked the occasion with bonfires and wine, sang Te Deum, a Christian hymn of praise, and just generally partied. It was lucky the baby turned out to be a boy or else all of their hopes would have been dashed.
17. Not Good Enough
Before going off to court as a maid-of-honor, Jane was almost engaged to William Dormer, the son of Sir Robert and Lady Dormer. The engagement fell through because ironically, Lady Dormer thought that Jane wasn’t of high enough social stature to marry their son. I wonder if she still thought so when Jane married the King instead.
16. Dynasty Portrait
In 1529, Henry inherited—more like stole—Whitehall Palace from Cardinal Wolsey and turned it into a pretty lavish pad. It was in this residence that German painter Hans Holbein the Younger painted the Whitehall mural. Exact details of when and how it came about are unknown, but it’s believed that Henry commissioned the mural when Jane Seymour became pregnant. The mural features King Henry VIII, Jane Seymour, and his parents. Unfortunately, the original mural was lost when Whitehall burnt down in 1698. Fortunately, the Flemish artist Remigius van Leemput had produced a small copy of the mural at the behest of King Charles II.
15. All for Show
Once Henry made up his mind to marry Jane, nothing was going to stand in his way—not even her low station. He made up a story that Jane’s mother was descended from royalty. The Archbishop of Canterbury knew better than to disagree and kept up the pretense, granting Henry special dispensation for Jane’s supposed familial relation to him.
14. Forbidden Fashion
One of Jane’s first acts as Queen was to get rid of the French style instituted by Anne and to put back in place traditional English dress. The ladies in waiting were expected to wear a belt of pearls with at least 120 pearls in them, and if they didn’t, they weren’t allowed to appear before her. Pricey!
13. Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
A few years after Jane’s death, Henry commissioned a family portrait of his children and his wife. This in itself was nothing unusual, except that the wife in the portrait was Jane, and he was actually married to Catherine Parr at the time.
12. Achieving her Goals
Jane may not have been queen for long, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t have her own set of goals. Obviously—and most importantly—she wanted to stay queen for a long time. She’d served both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, and she figured that modeling herself after Catherine, whom she admired, would be her best bet. Next on her list was giving the King his son and heir. Not that she had a lot of control over that, but not having a son would have been a deal-breaker and possible life-ender. She also wanted to improve her family’s position. They weren’t exactly high nobility, so getting them titles and jobs with the King definitely improved their lot. Amazingly, she did manage to achieve everything on that list, so it would have been interesting to see what else she could have done if she’d lived.
11. Lasting Relationship
Slightly lesser known than her famous—or infamous—siblings was Jane’s younger sister Elizabeth. Like her sister, she was one of Anne Boleyn’s attendants, and she served as her sister’s principal lady-in-waiting when she became queen. Elizabeth must have known how to keep her head down, because she managed to survive her brothers’ and her father-in-law’s executions and continued at Henry’s court serving the following two Queens.
10. A Fitting Motto
The motto that Jane chose for herself as queen was “Bound to obey and serve,” which was exactly what she did. She learned pretty quickly that it was best to stay out of religion and politics, and instead focused her energy on domestic issues. She never seemed to cause drama or do anything without her husband’s permission, and she managed to maintain her carefully crafted image of being virtuous, loyal and obedient. By that account, she was practically a saint!
9. One Small Act
Virtually no records exist of Jane’s activities as Queen. That is, except for one. She ordered a park keeper at Havering-atte-Bower to “deliver to her well-beloved the gentlemen of her sovereign lord the King’s chapel-royal, two bucks of high season.” Further proving her position with the King, she didn’t even do this in her own name and used the King’s seal as the authority behind the order.
8. Keeping Favor
Part of the undoing of Anne Boleyn was the rumors of adultery that surrounded her. Anne vocally supported causes that were important to her and was surrounded by friends and male courtiers. Jane was astute enough to understand that if she avoided taking any political sides and never granted royal favors, she’d never give her subjects reason to turn against her. It wasn’t a bad strategy as far as self-preservation went, but it also meant that she had to watch her words and hide her feelings, which made her seem pretty boring and unimportant.
7. Phoenix and the Falcon
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 she chose the figure to represent a rebirth from his time with Anne. The fort is said to symbolize home, and the flowers represented the heirs she expected to provide.
6. Your Wish is My Command
During Jane’s pregnancy, Henry was so certain that she was going to give birth to a son, he went out of his way to cater to her every whim. When she got a craving for quail eggs, he made sure they were always available to her, and she reportedly ate two dozen of them in a single day. No pickles and ice cream for this queen!
5. Think of Me Fondly
When King Henry VIII was courting Anne Boleyn, he gave her a bracelet with a portrait of himself inside so she’d never forget him—as if she could! For Jane, he put his portrait inside of a locket, so she’d always think of him. That would have been a pretty romantic gesture if he hadn’t still been married at the time.
4. Breaking Point
Jane was more than happy to show off her new necklace at court, and whether it was by accident or design, wearing it in public was also kind of a power move directed at Anne Boleyn, who would have had to notice it. According to an account in the 1662 book History of the Worthies of England, notice it she did, and her reaction was just about what you’d expect from a humiliated wife. She allegedly flew into a rage and tore the necklace from around Jane’s neck, hurting her own hand in the process.
Back in the 16th century, childbirth wasn’t nearly as low risk as it generally is today, and Prince Edward’s birth was difficult and ultimately fatal. Jane developed puerperal sepsis, also known as childbed fever, and tragically died 12 days after giving birth.
2. Birth Announcement
As was the custom of the time, as soon as Jane gave birth to Edward, a letter was sent to the Privy Council—the King’s advisors—on her behalf and with her official seal announcing the birth of a son and heir. In the letter, she asked them to pray for the long life of the baby—not unusual, since infant mortality was a frequent occurrence in the 16th century.
1. Which One?
King Henry VIII was a pretty heartless bugger, and as much as people have romanticized his great love for Jane, having a son and heir was always his number one priority. Jane’s labor was difficult, and when asked by a female attendant whether he wanted to save the mother or child if it came down to it, he supposedly replied “If you cannot save both, at least let the child live,” followed by the characteristic statement “for other wives are easily found.” Priorities, right?