The First Step-Mother to Elizabeth, Jane Seymour
Bound to obey and serve. That was the motto selected by Jane when she became queen. Was it true or did she know that would be what Henry VIII would want?
Jane had been a lady-in-waiting to Anne Boleyn and her persona does not come to us very clearly via contemporary sources. History has given her to be modest, virtuous, obedient, and accepting. She is seen as solid, pleasant, dignified and calm. She is most often judged neither good nor bad. Sadly, perhaps her character is viewed so positively because of the fact that she produced the longed-for heir and died before Henry became tired of her.
It is not the place here to go into details about Jane Seymour, her courtship with Henry and her death. Nor enter the debate of whether she was spotted by Henry or was selected (fascinating discussion but one not necessary to this blog entry)
Physically we have paintings by Hans Holbein, in her lifetime, and several artists’ work, posthumously, plus the verbal description by the Spanish Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who determined that “She is of no great beauty, so fair that one would call her pale. The said Seymoure is not a woman of great wit, but she may have good understanding” (Lindsey 119). Historians have given weight to Chapuys’ account since he was not a champion of Anne Boleyn and would have welcomed her fall.
Famous Hans Holbein portrait Unknown painter
That lack of wit but understanding does lead to the supposition that Jane could figure out how to deal with Henry. But how could she not be worried about marring a man who had discarded one wife and killed another? Her understanding had to extend to realizing the possible risk she was taking.
Agnes Strickland does not perpetuate the image of the meek and docile bride as “we have so little that is favorable to relate of this queen” (Strickland 408). Although Strickland will give Jane credit for being a discrete, beautiful young woman she does wonder if she was as heartless as her bridegroom. Jane had to know what was happening in the Tower of London to Anne Boleyn while she was planning her marriage to Henry. “The giddiness of youth cannot be pleaded as apology for Jane Seymour’s indecency, for she was no child when she permitted herself to be courted by the royal Bluebeard, and must have been entirely conscious of the enormity of her actions” (Strickland 403). Jane’s actions led to her engagement to Henry the day after Anne’s execution and their marriage 10 days later.
We do know that as a step-mother, Jane treated Mary well and granted her special privileges while Elizabeth “was placed out of sight” (Erickson 31). Her motivation for championing Mary could have been kindness or as some believe social snobbery.
She wanted to have someone of her status at Court. “Now that it hath pleased Your Grace to make me your wife, there are none but my inferiors to make merry withal, Your Grace excepted—unless it would please you that we might enjoy the company of the Lady Mary at court. I could make merry with her” (Lindsey 132, Hume The Wives of Henry VIII 303). Although this does not mesh with Polydore Vergil’s view that Jane was “a woman of the utmost charm both in appearance and character,” it is understood that Mary’s situation improved under Jane (Fraser 235). What of Elizabeth?
Martin Hume reported that, after Queen Jane had brought about the reconciliation between Henry and Mary, she fell to her knees and said, “Your Majesty knows how bad Queen Anne was, and it is not fit that her daughter should be Princess. So the King ordered it to be proclaimed that in future none should dare to call her Princess, but madam Elizabeth” (Hume 72 -73). This was only done after Henry implied that all the harm that had come to Mary, the humiliations and banishments had been from Anne Boleyn. “My daughter, she who did you so much harm, and prevented me from seeing you for so long, has paid the penalty” (Hume 72). Therefore, several days after the wedding, The Lord Chancellor made a speech in Parliament about extolling the King’s virtues but ended “with the information that Anne Boleyn’s daughter was not heir to the throne of England” (Strickland 407). This story appears to come from a Spanish merchant, Antonio de Guaras writing to King Philip II. Many speculate that this was just wishful thinking on the part of the loyal Spaniard.
Elizabeth was not completely banished from Court. She was brought to Court along with Mary when Henry, faced with rebellion, felt it necessary to show a united front. This public relations move was reported by Le Cardinal du Bellay Ambassador to the French Court. He observed that rather than “soften the temper of the people” the peoples’ opinions were so fixed “they think of nothing but liberty. Madam Marie is now the first after the Queen, and sits at table opposite her, a little lower down, after having first given the napkin for washing to the King and Queen. Madame Isabeau (Elizabeth) is not at that table, though the King is very affectionate to her. It is said he loves her much” (Gairdner 346).
When Elizabeth was four, Jane gave birth to Edward. At his baptism at Hampton Court, Mary was a godmother and Elizabeth held the chrisom cloth although she, in turn, was carried by Edward Seymour. As known, Jane died shortly after the birth due to puerperal fever. Mary was chief mourner at Jane’s funeral. Elizabeth did not take part but that was probably due to her age.
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