Portrait of Jane Seymour, wife of King Henry VIII of England

This Week in History: The Death of Jane Seymour


It could be said that King Henry VIII of England went through wives like tissues. I mean, seriously! After Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn (his first and second wives respectively) kicked the bucket in 1536, good ol’ King Hal wed Lady Jane Seymour, daughter of Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall in Wiltshire (a county in southwest England) just two weeks after the execution of Anne Boleyn in London.

Sorry, I’ll back up a step (I tend to be a bit overzealous when it comes to English monarchs). King Henry VIII (r. 1509-1547) was the second monarch in the Tudor dynasty, founded in 1485 by his father Henry Tudor, the Earl of Richmond (who became Henry VII). Henry VII’s claim to the English throne was tenuous at best (he was descended from a legitimized bastard royal line), and his anxiety for the survival of his line trickled down to his son. Henry VIII’s inheritance of this anxiety created in him a constant paranoia to have a healthy living son.

Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragorn, daughter of the formidable duo Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile (benefactors of Christopher Columbus), married the then-prince in 1509. She failed, however, to produce any sons that lived past a few weeks. Their only surviving child, Mary (1516-1558), would eventually be shunted aside by her kingly father as he pursued Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, in the mid- to late-1520s.

The seductive and scandalous Anne Bolyen first caught Henry’s attention around 1526-1527, and at that time, Henry grew weary of Catherine, who was fast leaving her child-bearing years. Anne was a vivacious woman who would come to take Catherine’s place as queen consort. Like Catherine, however, she failed to produce a legitimate healthy son, only another daughter, Elizabeth (1533-1603). Henry did have an illegitimate son by Bessie Blount, young Henry Fitzroy, but he could not necessarily inherit the throne.

1536 was a big year for England. Catherine died of what is believed to have been cancer, a French swordsman executed Anne who stood charges of incest, adultery, and witchcraft (almost assuredly false accusations), Henry’s bastard son died of tuberculosis, and England was reeling from its schism with the Catholic Church in Rome.

Enter Jane. Like Anne, she was a lady-in-waiting to the reigning queen and soon caught Henry’s roving eye. She was no great beauty, but she possessed a calm demeanor which soothed Henry’s famous temper. They married on May 30, 1536, and soon after it was announced that Jane was pregnant. She gave birth to a son on October 12, 1537. Unfortunately, Jane would not live to see her son become king in 1547. She succumbed to puerperal fever on October 24, 1537.

Henry probably would have considered Jane his only ‘true wife’ since she provided him with an heir. Indeed, Jane was the only one of Henry’s wives to receive a queen’s funeral. She and Henry are both buried in St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle in London.

As for her son who became Edward VI in 1547, he would not live to perpetuate the Tudor line. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 16 in 1553, leaving his half-sister Mary I to reign for the next five years and then ultimately Anne Boleyn’s daughter ascended the throne as the last Tudor monarch in 1558.

For more information on Jane Seymour, check out Lara Eakin’s excellent biography of her at TudorHistory.org.

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