Funeral Food and Wedding Feasts

Henry VIII became engaged to Jane Seymour on this date in 1536, one day after beheading his former queen Anne Boleyn.


On the morning of Anne’s death, he had a barge waiting for him in order to whisk him downriver to Jane as soon as the former queen’s head was off, and while his second wife’s body cooled he canoodled with his soon-to-be bride.

royal barge

While this is universally acknowledged as grotesque behavior on the king’s part, too many people seem to give Jane Seymour a pass on her fair share of criticism. She is portrayed as a docile and meek sweetheart who had no choice but to marry the king regardless of his fearsome reputation. As for me, I call shenanigans on this depiction of Jane. Once the king made know his desire for her milky-white flesh, Jane played him like an angler reeling in a fat trout.

Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys recorded some of Jane’s planning and very public coyness:

“some days ago, the King being here in London, and, the young Miss Seymour, to whom he is paying court at Greenwich, he sent her a purse full of sovereigns, together with a letter, and that the young damsel, to whom he is paying court, after respectfully kissing the letter, returned it to the messenger without opening it, and then falling on her knees, begged the royal messenger to entreat the King in her name to consider that she was a well-born damsel, the daughter of good and honourable parents without blame or reproach of any kind; there was no treasure in this world that she valued as much as her honour, and on no account would she lose it, even if she were to die a thousand deaths. That if the King wished to make her a present of money, she requested him to reserve it for such a time as God would be pleased to send her some advantageous marriage … in consequence of this refusal the King’s love for the said damsel had marvelously increased, and that he had said to her that not only did he praise and commend her virtuous behaviour on the occasion, but that in order to prove the sincerity of his love, and the honesty of his views towards her, he had resolved not to converse with her in future, except in the presence of one of her relatives, and that for this reason the King had taken away from Master Cromwell’s apartments in the palace a room, to which he can, when he likes, have access through certain galleries without being seen, of which room the young lady’s elder brother and his wife have already taken possession for the express purpose of her repairing thither. But I hear that the young lady has been well tutored and warned by those among this King’s courtiers who hate the concubine, telling her not in any wise to give in to the King’s fancy unless he makes her his Queen, upon which the damsel is quite resolved. She has likewise been advised to tell the King frankly, and without reserve, how much his subjects abominate the marriage contracted with the concubine, and that not one considers it legitimate, and that this declaration ought to be made in the presence of witnesses of the titled nobility of this kingdom, who are to attest the truth of her statements should the King request them on their oath and fealty to do so.” 

Jane knew full well she was trying to displace Anne. Contemporaries of these events were also aware that Jane as tying up Henry’s affections as his wife sat in the Tower awaiting death at the king’s command. Shortly before Anne’ execution, Chapuys wrote:

People speak variously about the King, and certainly the slander will not cease when they hear of what passed and is passing between him and his new mistress, Jane Seymour. Already it sounds badly in the ears of the public that the King, after such ignominy and discredit as the concubine has brought on his head, should manifest more joy and pleasure now, since her arrest and trial, than he has ever done on other occasions … for the day before Anne’s condemnation he sent the Grand Squire and many others in quest of Mistress Seymour, and made her come to within one mile of his own residence, where she is being splendidly entertained and served by cooks and officers of the royal household. And I have been told by one of her female relatives, who dined with her on the morning of the very day of Anne’s condemnation, that the King sent her a message to say, that at three, in the afternoon of that day, she would receive news of the sentence, and so it was, for he despatched Master Briant in all haste to give her the intelligence. So that to all appearances there cannot be the least doubt that the King will soon take the said Seymour to wife, some people believing, and even asserting, that the marriage settlements have already been drawn up …

In sum, when Jane’s manipulations bore fruit and she was going to get a crown, she didn’t appear to give the furry crack of a rat’s butt that Anne – who was now thought innocent by most of her once implacable foes — was going to die to make way for her.

One of my favorite Victorian historians, Agnes Strickland, put it best when she wrote:

“a sinking sensation of horror must pervade every right feeling mind, when the proceedings of the discreet Jane Seymour are considered. She received the addresses of her mistress’s husband, knowing him to be such. She passively beheld the mortal anguish of Anne Boleyn … yet she gave her hand to the regal ruffian before his wife’s corpse was cold … The wedding-cakes must have been baking, the wedding-dinner provided, the wedding-clothes preparing, while the life-blood was yet running warm in the veins of the victim, whose place was to be rendered vacant by a violent death.”

The queen was dead, and Jane would become queen in her place. Since she was the one who had the good luck to birth a boy before she died, this chinless chit Jane was idealized and immortalized by her bereaved husband as his first “true” queen and his favorite brood mare wife.


I can see why Henry mythologized her as a precious snowflake, but why did historians pile on the malarkey of her near saintliness? I think it is because she never rocked the boat, never made men feel inadequate, never challenged the patriarchal status quo, and died young in the best tradition of lost loves.  Jane is a perfect example how outward docility can spare a woman from slut shaming regardless of how skanky her romantic life actually was.



17 thoughts on “Funeral Food and Wedding Feasts

  1. Wow. Harsh!
    Got to remember, though, that Anne wasn’t a saint either. She was a man poacher herself!

    1. In fairness, Anne spent (literally) years trying to friendzone Henry, including running away to Hever Castle to get away from him. When I contrast this to Jane’s deliberate campaign and moving into room next door to his … well, it vexes me that Anne is remembered as a man-thief but Jane gets a pass.

      1. So many ways to view it. Were both women simply being manipulated by the powerful men in their lives? Still, Anne was merely waiting for Henry’s already dead marriage to Catherine to be over officially, while Jane clearly knew she was waiting for Anne to die. That’s hard to overlook, regardless of whether or not she was just a pawn. For me, a very intriguing look at the situation, Kyra.

  2. I think if you accept that Anne had no choice but to accept the King’s pursuit, then the same argument can and should apply to Jane. It’s not as Henry was suddenly a nice guy. Both women hardly had any chance in turning down the King so to criticize Jane for the same thing Anne did is hardly fair. If it is accepted that Henry wanted out of his marriage to Katherine and Anne was the excuse, then again the same thing could be said about Jane. She was merely the excuse he used. Same as Anne. Anne’s blood is not on her hands. She did not order Anne’s death. She just did what they (the King and Cromwell) wanted or she could see what would face her. It was already shown that when Jane did try to speak up later she was quickly shot down by Henry. History is perhaps kinder to Jane because the precedence had been set by Anne so why would she have the right to complain if her own tactics were used against her?

    1. But Jane did NOT do the same thing Anne did … instead of running away from court when it became clear Henry was chasing her, Jane accepted a bunch of gifts (but not the money; smart move) and moved into next door to her would-be paramour. Her resistance was all calculated, while Anne’s has every evidence of having been sincere.

      1. Considering the atmosphere at the time – people who were once closest to the king are being killed left right and centre, I would argue that this is ESPECIALLY not the time to antagonize the king. Considering the executioner had been summoned BEFORE Anne’s trial, the outcome was already guaranteed. How was Jane complicit in this? She didn’t summon the executioner, she didn’t hold Henry to the fire and say “Behead her or no marriage.” Those wheels were already in motion – would you want to add fuel to the angry king and play games with him now?

    2. The fact of her sister Mary’s previous relationship to Henry casts quite a different shadow over Anne’s response to his courtship of her. Anne’s family seem more sure and clearly focussed on immediate regime change than in Anne’s case.

  3. Also Jane knew she was waiting for Anne to die but what could she truthfully do? Moan and wail when the courts have already decried Anne as a traitor to the King who conspired in his death? Anne had to die because the King wanted it. Not Jane.

    1. I don’t think could have stopped it … I just think (based on the evidence) she simply didn’t care if Anne died as long as she was crowned next. This wasn’t two years of trying to escape Henry, this was two months of teasing culmination in marrying a man whose wife was still fresh in the ground. She didn’t even ask to observed the token mourning period; she needed to get preggers ASAP. Note how her oh-so-pro-Mary-Catholic brothers became staunch Protestants when their nephew was heir? The Seymour family was exceptionally opportunistic in a time when almost EVERYONE was hella opportunistic and the idea of a meek Jane just does not match the historical record.

      1. Jane was definitely the steel hand in the velvet glove. She saw how both Katherine and Anne dealt with Henry and used both of their positive interactions while appearing as the perfectly demure, modest Tudor wife..managing her husband behind the screens ….

        But at the end of the day..Jane was bound by the same socio-political mores of her era..Maybe she wanted to marry Henry and have a little amount of power or maybe she didn’t want to marry Henry..He still had all the power being an absolute monarch and women of the time had very little voice in their own destiny.

        Henry wanted, Henry got..For Katherine, Anne, Jane, Anne , Kathryn and Catherine..well their wants, desires were of little matter..The Patriarchy held true..

        Jane at the time may have cared about what happened to either Katherine or Anne or she may not but it would soon become obvious that Henry’s will over-ruled any small influence either Jane or her brothers had while Henry was king..

        If Jane was complicit in Anne’s death, it was a very minor part..The rule of law, Henry’s Law held sway..

        Did Jane ask for the correct mourning period?? Would Henry allow it?? Possibly and No! Henry wanted..Henry got..

        One of the troubling things I have with the Henry/Katherine/Anne/Jane scenario is what Jane thought about the Aragon marriage.
        If she thought the KOA/H8 marriage was legally binding and IF she was involved with Henry during the autumn of 1535, then she was betraying her oath KOA..

        If Jane didn’t think the H8/KOA marriage was legal and the H8/AB was..then she was betraying her oath to Anne..

        If she thought neither were true..well..Henry was a free man and able to choose his own spouse..Jane would have still been left to fickle fate..

        1. Henry is responsible for Anne’s death, full stop. Jane was hardly in the position to order Anne’s death. Conversely, she was also hardly in the position to say no to the king. Ifshe is as meek as she has been portrayed, then it would have been consistent in her nature to just go along with it all. Anne was going to die either way so why should Jane put herself in the firing line as well? What good would that have accomplished? Anne didn’t die because Jane turned down the king. Anne died because the king wanted her gone.

  4. It’s funny how Jane was a lady in waiting for a long time and Henry did not even notice her .i call her the sly one I believe she was coached by her brother and father on how to present herself to the King .jane was a vessel for Henry and she delivered but paid the price as for Henry remarks she was his true wife he wasn’t with her long enough to fall out of love with her . A lot of things have been blamed on Ann but Henry was to blame for a far more as Mary found out after Ann’s death , we all know how nasty people could be for personal gain that was the way of life back then .Henry had to act fast with Jane he didn’t have time on his side Ann lost 7 years of her youth in which time she may of had a living son we can only speculate .Jane is not one of my favourite queens she was not attractive at all that’s proberbly why she had not married a bit boring compared to Ann but knew when to keep her mouth shut and that suited Henry she would be easy to control and no trouble !!

  5. I hated Jane the way the show the Tudors portrayed her makes me hate her more Anne rules all the way! haha XP

  6. We can’t really character-assassinate Jane without remembering that her position was completely different to that of any woman today. She might have been a calculating pot-hunter but equally she might have been pressurised into making the marriage by her highly ambitious family, on whom she was dependent, and in fear of angering Henry, not a wise move with the threat of High Treason overhanging anyone who chanced to upset him.

  7. I always wondered why Anne was so villified while Jane was seen as the meek, gentle little saint. People talk about how terrible it is that Henry left his wife to marry Anne, yet overlook that he killed his wife to marry Jane. Jane spent the day with him, knowing he’d just killed his wife that morning, and picked out her wedding clothes before Anne was even cold in her arrow chest. How she could do that, yet not be seen as ruthless, is beyond me.

  8. Can I just add my two cents: Neither woman honestly had a choice. Both were directed by their fathers and brothers as to what to do to handle Henry and refusing his hand in marriage was never an option.

    Anne didn’t want to end up like her sister Mary and be his mistress only to be dropped later. She pushed for a better offer but it was her only choice. Her family stood to prosper and gain advantage and that’s pretty much the only reason why young girls were at court: to gain the King’s fancy so he would bestow favors upon their fathers, brothers and uncles and, in Anne’s and Jane’s cases, it worked fabulously. Both of their families gained lands, wealth and position by playing their sisters/daughters as sexual pawns and playing the king for the lustful fool that he was.

    Jane’s behavior was unoriginal. She was merely taking advantage of an opportunity and circumstance but her play book had already been written by Anne. Once men saw what could be gained by their daughters/sisters holding out for the marriage stakes instead of just being one of many mistresses, they supported these woman and played up the whole “family honor” thing.

    But neither Anne nor Jane had any choice in the matter. They would eventually become Henry’s wife or his mistress.

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