Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Jane Seymour:The Saintly Queen

While Anne Boleyn is painted by history as the great sinner of Henry VIII's wives, her successor Jane Seymour is then portrayed as her complete contrast; the saint.
Jane Seymour
It is perhaps not a surprise that after her predecessors downfall drowned in accusations of adultery and sin to finish off a love affair as tempestuous and fiery as the king himself, that Jane would prefer to have kept her image as one of purity, loyalty and obedience. It may have been out of fear of the king - and of losing her head - or perhaps she was simply a mild-mannered and docile person; but it was the outcome that Jane remains viewed by many as simply the wife who gave the king a son, an honourable title indeed but it gives nothing of her own mind, actions or will.

As queen, Jane could implement her own rules to her ladies in waiting; she raised the age of a maid in waiting from twelve to sixteen, the style of dress was changed from the French style worn by Anne Boleyn to the more modest wear and gable hood previously worn by Elizabeth of York. Jane also implemented strict new rules and clothing regulations for her ladies; maids of honour were expected to wear expensive, lavish girdles of pearls, and if not, they were not to appear in her royal presence. The required number of pearls was more than one hundred and twenty, since lady Lisle sent that number to her daughter Anne Basset but this was not enough and so she could not wear it before the queen.

The legacy of Queen Jane seems to begin and end with her giving birth to a son - of course had she lived longer this would have been an entirely different story. Until the King took a romantic interest in Jane Seymour, there seems to be little evidence of her life; she never caused a scandal, was never married and seems to have been simply another daughter of a family at the royal court. Her life, when reviewed by historians, is that she is Edward's mother, Lord Somerset's sister, and the first step mother who treated Princess Mary with kindness. The judgement she is given has been based upon her relation to others, rather than her own merits, yet such little evidence has remained of her own personality and actions that this is the only way she can be seen - in relation to, or through the eyes of others surrounding her. The support she gave to Princess Mary, her motives are unclear; was it simple affection to a step-daughter who had been the victim of cruel neglect, or was it more in terms of having had a common dislike of Anne Boleyn and her faction, as well as wanting to promote herself as a family woman and giving Henry the traditional family image that he craved so desperately? In 1536-7 the Princess Mary made frequent visits to Queen Jane.

The way in which Jane appears to have behaved during her marriage to Henry revolves around her being an obedient wife; adopting the motto of 'Bound to obey and serve' seems to sum up her position in the marriage. Whether it was Jane or Henry who ultimately chose for her this subservient role in the marriage, we'll never know. Unlike Henry's previous wives Jane did not involve herself in politics, or even religious matters, and seems to have restricted herself to domestic issues concerning her household and the royal family - Jane worked for a reconciliation and better familial relations between the King and Princesses Mary and Elizabeth. Unlike Anne, there are no witty remarks or clever arguments that have lasted through time, if indeed there were any to remark upon in the first place. Jane caused no drama, raised no questions or even did anything without Henry's express permission. The only remaining record of any of her activity while queen was an order to the 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." Even for this small act, Jane still uses the king's seal as the authority behind it instead of her own, as if to say she is unworthy of even this power and that it lies with her husband the king. 

"And contemporaries all commented on Jane Seymour's intelligence: in this she was more clearly like her cautious brother Edward than her dashing brother Tom. She was also naturally sweet-natured (no angry words or tantrums here) and virtuous -- her virtue was another topic on there was general agreement." Antonia Fraser

This may also have been a clever and subtle way for Jane to show that although she is now the Queen of England, all the power is Henry's and he is the one in control of everything - including her own fate. By not using her newly acquired royal power, as Anne did to support the causes she believed in, Jane also prevented a faction forming around her; it was perhaps the many friends and male courtiers that Anne Boleyn had attracted to herself which caused adultery accusations to take root in people's minds and therefore if Jane gave out no power or favour she would not fall into the same trap - she could be accused to nothing but obedience to the king. Jane's lack of giving royal favours and political alignment meant that she also gave people no reason to find an enemy in her, she would not be turned against as Anne had been. While these actions may have saved her life and given her a rather peaceful reign as queen, Jane had to be careful at all times with her words and actions and to hide her true feelings from everyone else, which has unfortunately gone down in history as to mean she did nothing of importance and was rather boring and plain. It appears that even Henry did not truly appreciate Jane's value until she produced a son, and then too soon after she died without ever being able to enjoy her new position - she would be Henry's wife and was the mother of the heir to the throne; she would have enjoyed a comfortable life. Henry was eventually buried with Jane Seymour, and after her death he spoke well of her, however it seems to have been a case of too little too late as during her time as queen she was kept living under the shadow of the axe that had taken Anne Boleyn's head.
Prince Edward
Both women in fact performed the same act; they led Henry away from his current wife and got him to marry them and then gave birth to Henry's children. Jane did no less than Anne in this respect; they were both trying to win over a married man. Anne had been more of an aggressor than Jane, but she had to be as she started from the very beginning while England was loyal to the Pope and Henry had been married to the same woman for the past twenty years. Anne's feisty personality was probably necessary for the woman who trying to marry an already married king; anything less would have not been enough motivation and persuasion. Had Anne given birth to a son her future as queen would have been more than secure, sadly this failure then gave rise to her downfall. When Princess Elizabeth was born an opportunity arose; Anne would now have less of the King's favour as she had 'failed' him and so other courtiers now saw a window of opportunity. If one non-royal woman can lure the king into marriage, why not another? Anne had already many enemies at court, and now the idea of replacing her in the king's bed became a real possibility. She, herself, had created this line of thought years before when she insisted to Henry that it was marriage or nothing for her, and while this did indeed work well for her, it also gave every other noble born woman the same possibility. So a replacement was to be found; whether Jane's personality and temperament fitted the requirements or whether it was the other way around, it arose that Jane Seymour was precisely what the king was in need of. Jane was mild, sweet, caring and capable of having children; a stark contrast to Henry's current firecracker of a wife.

When Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour are put in comparison to each other, at first they appear to have very little in common and are each other's polar opposites, however below the surface they are more similar than we are led to believe; they both lived as courtiers, seduced a king, became queen, became the mother of heirs to the throne of England and became a lasting name in history. Their endings may have come in different ways, but ultimately they both had their lives taken from them by this lion of a king and did not live to see what their children became. The labels of 'saint' and 'sinner' given to these two most brave of women, are hardly justified; Jane Seymour may have been a good woman and was a good wife to King Henry but this does not gain her the name of 'saint', she did as Anne did - she acted in the way she had to survive Henry Tudor.

"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." - David Starkey