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, Blood Will Tell, 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.

3 thoughts on “Third Weddings and a Funeral

  1. What did Anne Boleyn, in a cleverer way, do to Katherine of Aragon then???
    I have more pity for Catherine Howard who did not destroy another queen to take the crown for herself…

  2. Agreed! Jane Seymour gave him the Son the kingdom so desperately needed. She also died in service to England, without any scandal attatched. (While we may find her conduct sickening, most people of the time would suggest she did as the king bade. Whatever that was. She did after all just watch a woman beheaded for using her own mind.). Just my thoughts.

  3. Let’s face it, Henry the VIII was like a lot of men, you tell them no then they are even more interested in you. I think that is why Anne Boleyn caught his interested in the first place. She did really not want to have anything to do with him. When she finally knew that she would not be able to escape him she tried to get the best terms possible for herself! The major problem for her was that she outsmarted herself when she showed him how powerful he really was. Henry did really not like smart women! He only wanted to conquer them and be on his way. After Anne could not give him a son fast enough, he wanted to get rid of her and so he did. Jane did everything she could to attract him. He would have stayed married to any wife that would have given him a son and just had affairs. He was a born bully. Anne of Cleaves was the lucky one, she did not have to stay married to him. She was smart enough to know that she was better off without him. Her marriage was annulled and she didn’t have to sleep with him. For agreeing to the annulment, she got an income for life, her very own palace, and her freedom. I am sure that before the marriage, she was not asked if she wanted to be married to Henery VIII in the first place. Her brother was in charge of her, he was the one that agreed to the marriage. His last wife did not want to marry him but she was forced to. She was smart enough to to avoid being killed by him. But at one point in the marriage, she had a very close call with death.

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