Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII and his Six Wives’ with Suzannah Lipscomb & Dan Jones – Episode 3, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves


Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
  • Jane Seymour often overlooked – Henry called her his true love
  • Taught Henry the importance of family, battled to reunite him with his daughter and gave him a son and heir
  • Cruel twist of fate – Jane was snatched from him
  • Death and betrayal turned Henry into a bitter and cruel man
  • Made his most disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves
  • 1536 Henry VIII was aged 44, divorced one wife and other in the Tower awaiting execution for adultery and incest
  • Anne’s infidelity humiliated Henry and cast doubt over his sexual prowess
  • While Anne was in the Tower Henry tried to find her replacement
  • Jane Seymour caught the king’s eye, age 24 and had served both Katherine of Aragon anf Anne Boleyn
  • Virtuous, unassuming and honest
  • Henry sent Jane a letter but she sent it back unopened – wanted to make an honourable marriage
  • Henry’s chivalrous side and aroused his desire
  • Once Henry set his mind on having something he would do anything to get it
  • Henry courted Jane in earnest – before Anne Boleyn was executed Jane was in sight as wife number 3
  • 19 May 1536 Anne Boleyn beheaded on Tower Green
  • Anne still hoped for a last minute reprieve and mercy from Henry who had loved her but Henry had already switched his affections to Jane
  • Henry and Jane were planning their future together
  • Less than 24 hours after Anne’s death Henry and Jane were engaged
  • No record of how Jane reacted to Anne’s beheading but didn’t hesitate to step over Anne to the throne
  • Far steelier than anyone realised
  • 11 days after Anne’s beheading Henry and Jane married, Henry in love
  • Not everyone shared Henry’s affection for Jane
  • Chapuys reported that Jane was of middling stature and no great beauty, proud and haughty, of no great wit
  • Why did Henry marry Jane? Had previously been married to 2 attractive and intelligent women
  • Henry liked Jane because she was so different – compassionate, loyal and do what he told her without question

  • May 1536 Henry and Jane married – sweet-natured and mild-mannered
  • Henry was in for a surprise – submissive exterior with core of steel
  • Planned to use her influence to advance the cause of Princess Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon, who was bastardised
  • Mary was aged 20 and waiting on Princess Elizabeth
  • Jane fought for Mary to be restored as a princess, challenging Henry was dangerous, especially a woman questioning him
  • Jane knew how risky voicing opinions could be – Henry ruthlessly dealt with previous wives
  • Jane put herself in jeopardy for a child not her own
  • Shows Jane’s true character – kind, good-natured and compassionate
  • Jane had supported Katherine of Aragon
  • Believed she was doing the right thing
  • 6 July 1536 Henry did as Jane had asked and met with Mary – the first time Henry had seen Mary in 5 years
  • Jane welcomed Mary into the royal family treating her as her own daughter
  • Jane brought Henry the greatest gift and he had never been so happy
  • Henry’s good fortune wouldn’t last
  • Within a month Henry VIII lost his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy – terrible blow as king thought of him as a possible successor
  • 27 years and 3 wives Henry had no male heir – began to lose hope
  • Henry confided his anxieties to Cromwell “I feel myself growing old. I doubt if Jane and myself will ever have children”
  • Henry feeling fragile and his health was failing, masculinity discredited
  • Beginning to sound like a bitter and angry old man
  • All seemed lost but fortunes changed as Jane fell pregnant
  • September 1537 Jane moved to Hampton Court for her lying in
  • Her rooms were in the centre of the palace, now closed to the public and known as apartment 33
  • Thick carpets covered the floor with tapestries on the walls, fresh air considered dangerous
  • Jane had a small army of people to serve her – Henry would do anything to protect Jane and the child
  • Astrologers predicted the child would be a boy
  • Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540
    Henry VIII by Hans Holbein 1540

    Plenty of danger still to come

  • 9 October 1537 Jane went into labour but after 2 days there was still no baby
  • Henry grew more anxious and the whole kingdom prayed
  • Henry feared that history was repeating itself and that the child wouldn’t survive the birth
  • 12 October 2am Jane gave birth to a son – birth gave Jane security, safety and power and ask for anything
  • Henry called Jane his true love and true wife
  • Upheaval and slaughter led to this moment – birth of a male heir
  • If Jane could have one son she could have more, looked like the dynasty was secure
  • Plans were drawn up for Jane to return to London
  • 15 October Jane fell seriously ill as she caught an infection, probably due to poor hygiene
  • For 9 days Jane fought for her life but died around midnight on 24 October 1537
  • Jane’s reign lasted 17 months, but incredibly successful
  • Proved herself to be compassionate queen and loving wife
  • Tudor court underestimated Jane but she gave Henry a son and reunited him with his daughter
  • Henry had done some terrible things and endured rotten luck
  • In his moment of greatest triumph Henry lost Jane – feel a pang of sympathy
  • Henry was inconsolable after Jane’s death and locked himself away to mourn
  • For 2 years Henry did little exercise, eating and praying instead
  • For the first time Henry was alone without a future wife waiting in the wings, and reluctant to ever marry again
  • Henry’s unwillingness to take another bride was of huge concern to the council who advised him to remarry days after Jane’s death
  • Not just about producing new heirs – England needed a new ally
  • Marriage was a political necessity
  • Cromwell had to convince the king to marry again – needed an ally
  • Henry reluctantly agreed but it wasn’t an easy task
  • 3 years earlier Henry had a jousting accident and the fall nearly killed him, leaving him with a deep open wound on his leg now infected and smelly
  • No longer a great catch, aged 48, fat and lame with a bad temper
  • Wives didn’t have a great record for staying alive
  • Cromwell settled on the small and influential duchy of Cleves
  • Duke of Cleves had a 24 year old sister called Anne – Cromwell believed Cleves was the strong ally England needed
  • What Henry cared about most was how Anne looked
  • Cromwell needed to convince Henry that Anne was attractive
  • Wrote to Henry describing Anne as beautiful of face and body – aroused Henry’s interest
  • Sent Holbein to Cleves to paint her portrait
  • To the modern eye Anne looks perfectly pleasant
  • Rumours that Holbein painted her from the front due to a large nose – this painting convinced Henry to marry Anne of Cleves
  • 4 October 1539 Cromwell’s agents negotiated the marriage contract
  • New Year’s Eve 1539 Anne of Cleves arrived at Rochester Castle in Kent to rest for a few days before entering London
  • Henry was desperate to see Anne so rode to Rochester to surprise her
  • This was to be a big mistake
  • New Year’s Day 1540 castle lively but Anne alone looking out of a window
  • Henry was a diehard romantic and planned to appear in disguise – lived and breathed chivalry
  • Henry believed if Anne was his true love she would see straight through his disguise and a kiss from his lips would make her fall into his arms
  • Anne had no clue who Henry was
  • The women of Henry’s court would have known how to react to Henry’s gesture but Anne was simple and led a sheltered life
  • Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539
    Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539

    Anne failed Henry’s test and he was furious, rejecting Anne as fat and ugly

  • Henry believed he had been duped and turned on Cromwell
  • “She is not as well as she was spoken of or as fair as you reported”
  • Henry wanted a way out of the marriage by any means necessary just a week before the ceremony was due to take place
  • Contract was legally binding
  • Needed to avoid offending the Duke of Cleves – England didn’t need more enemies
  • Anne had no idea how Henry felt about her, but the court loved scandal
  • The only person who wasn’t in on the joke was Anne herself
  • Anne didn’t speak English
  • Cromwell couldn’t find a legitimate reason to break the marriage contract so Henry would have to marry Anne
  • Cromwell had failed but hoped Henry would change his mind and the marriage would work out
  • 6 January 1540 Henry married Anne of Cleves in Greenwich Palace – Anne was 2 hours late for a ceremony
  • For Anne the wedding was a moment of great triumph – Henry was still one of the greatest monarchs and Anne would be queen of a modern court
  • “I didn’t like her much before but now I like her even less”
  • “I have left her as good a maid as I found her”
  • The marriage wouldn’t work and Anne had to go but how?
  • Just 6 months into his marriage with Anne rumours circulated that Henry had recovered his vigour and fallen for Katherine Howard
  • Katherine was maid-in-waiting to Anne and Henry planned to marry her
  • Henry wanted out of his marriage
  • Henry found a way to end his marriage in law and not with the sword
  • Anne had been betrothed to the duke of Lorraine aged 12 but this had been cancelled
  • The papers proving the engagement was null had gone missing
  • Henry claimed the marriage was invalid and any future children would be illegitimate
  • Anne was oblivious until July 1540 when Henry informed her of his concerns
  • Anne argued that there was no deception and she had been free to marry Henry
  • There was little that she could do – Anne was offered a deal as his sister taking precedence over any apart from the queen, wealth, and property
  • Anne wasn’t humiliated by being sent home the rejected wife of a king
  • Anne also knew that this settlement was better than what had happened to Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn
  • 11 July 1540 Anne wrote to the king about the annulment of the marriage and accepted it
  • “The pretended matrimony between us is void”
  • Anne signed the letter “your majesty’s most humble sister and servant”
  • Sad tone to the letter, talking of sorrow and love
  • The marriage brought Anne purpose and prestige but her best future meant accepting Henry’s wishes
  • Anne sent the letter along with a purse containing her wedding ring, asking Henry to break it into pieces as a thing of no value
  • For Henry Anne’s submission was surprising
  • Probably expected Anne to put up more of a fight – he got rid of her in 3 weeks
  • Henry sought revenge against Cromwell for the marriage
  • Henry believed Cromwell had failed him and must suffer the consequences – he was arrested on 10 June 1540 and put in the Tower
  • Cromwell was found guilty of treason and heresy and appropriating money, sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered
  • Cromwell wrote to Henry pleading for mercy
  • “Most gracious prince I cry for mercy mercy mercy”
  • Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
    Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

    28 July 1540 Cromwell was taken to Tower Hill where the sentenced was commuted to beheading – Henry showed some mercy

  • Some reports claim that Cromwell’s death wasn’t quick or painless
  • It is thought the executioner botched his first attempt and had to take a second swing to finish the job
  • With Cromwell dead and Anne’s settlement paid Henry’s fourth marriage died
  • Henry’s marriages to Jane and Anne combined lasted less than 2 years
  • Both had a profound effect on the king
  • Jane Seymour gave Henry a son and heir, Anne of Cleves’s marriage brought about Cromwell’s execution
  • Henry’s reaction to this fiasco drove him to make his worst decision yet

Author: Helene Harrison

I have an MA in History, with a thesis entitled 'The Many Faces of Anne Boleyn: Perceptions in History, Literature and Film'. I have an interest in the Tudors and the Wars of the Roses along with my love of reading and literature.

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