Third Weddings and a Funeral

May 19, 1536 was the day Anne Boleyn was murdered by her husband, and it is generally considered a tragedy. The next day, Jane Seymour became engaged to the killer, and I think that should be generally considered a travesty.

In my book, I make no secret of the fact I find Jane Seymour’s behavior to have been unseemly at the least and possibly even deliberately manipulative and grasping.

“Jane is one of the most ambiguous of Henry’s wives, since her personality is frequently obscured by the the more powerful people who surrounded her. She seemed to have very little will of her own, and appeared, with few exceptions, to be content to do as she was told by the authority figures in her life. It has frequently been charged that she, under orders, set out to make herself pleasing to the King once he showed his interest in her (Starkey, 2003:590). All of her coy refusals of Henry’s pursuit lack the authenticity of Anne’s noncompliance. Anne left court and avoided Henry. In contrast, Jane stayed in court, and made herself visible to the King. In March, when Henry sent her a bag of money and a personal letter, she threw herself down on her knees and begged the messenger to remind the King that she was “without reproach” and if he wanted to give her money he could give it as a wedding gift when she had made “some honorable match” (Starkey, 2003:589).  She had just declared, in the coded language of chivalry, that she was virgin who was saving herself for marriage. Henry was entranced with the idea of a new maiden to woo.

For many people, including most historians, the biggest mystery about Jane Seymour is what Henry found so captivating about her in the first place. There is no telling what goes on in the human heart, and why people fall in love, but Kings, like other powerful and wealthy men, typically pick an exceptionally attractive or charismatic person to partner them. Thanks to the extreme talent of Henry’s portrait artist, Hans Holbein, we have a very good idea of what Jane looked like. A painting by Holbein is fairly close to a photograph in accuracy, such was his talent. Jane had, at best, mediocre looks. Neither was she witty. She had nothing to recommend her. She wasn’t beautiful, she wasn’t smart. Hers was not a powerful family. She could reasonably be described as ‘drab’. After years of living with the sizzle of Anne Boleyn, what was it about Jane that attracted the King?

Maybe Jane’s charm came from the fact she was not beautiful, not smart, not vibrant, and not from a powerful family, and Henry was tired of strong, beautiful women who outsmarted him (Starkey, 20003:585). Jane’s passive and nearly nonexistent personality must have been a gentle rain on the scorched earth of his ego.  Jane would never best him in a mental battle. Other men would never covet her for her comeliness. She would never match her will to his, since she was amazingly docile. She would never take attention away from Henry. The King would always shine in comparison to her. If, by any chance, he became weary of her, leaving her would be simple. She was as exciting, and as comforting, as a glass of warm milk.”

I think what bugs me the most is that while Anne Boleyn is tarred and feathered as a home wrecker despite her repeated two-year-long attempts to dissuade Henry’s attentions, Jane Seymour is remembered as the Good Wife even though she is the one who pulled all the shenanigans Anne was unfairly accused of. Thus, on this day I would like to commemorate the fact that Jane Seymour was encouraging Henry’s attentions before Anne’s body had cooled to room temperature. I think that is a fact people should definitely remember about the Tudors.

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