Discussion Questions – ‘Jane Seymour the Haunted Queen’ by Alison Weir
As Alison Weir says in her author’s note, Jane Seymour remains an enigma. Yet writing a fictional account of her life, while based on deep research, allows a certain freedom as she chooses how to portray Jane’s choices and actions, and her interactions with other historical figures. Do you agree with the Jane Seymour that Alison has created, and did you find her different from the character shown in other fictional interpretations? Do you like her?
I quite like the Jane Seymour that Weir has created as it is a very different portrayal from the usually meek and mild Jane that we see in general.
I don’t think that Jane could have been as meek and mild as she is usually portrayed as it would have required some strength to marry a man who had his previous wife executed.
I do quite like Weir’s Jane – I generally find other fictional interpretations quite boring and bland, so this one was a pleasant change, and it seemed to work for me as well which I wasn’t expecting.
I thought Jane showed a strength of character, but was also the kind and gentle person that history accepts Jane was, without making her dull and boring, it’s very clever.
The Haunted Queen opens on a wedding celebration as two prosperous families unite. How is this need for advantageous alliance echoed throughout the novel? As a child, Jane feels safe and content with her loving family and apparently happily matched parents. Do you think this is what Jane strives to reproduce when encouraging Henry to reconcile with his elder daughter? How much do you think her father’s betrayal of the Seymour family affects her own choices?
In Tudor England marriages, especially within the nobility and royal families, were largely decided by how advantageous they were in terms of wealth, titles, and connections, so this wasn’t unusual. The Seymour family had connections with many of the great families of England through marriages.
I think that Jane coming from such a large family, and having had a seemingly happy childhood does play a role in her wanting Henry to reconnect with his eldest daughter. However, I think that Jane’s religious beliefs also play a part, as I think she sees Mary as the rightful heir over Elizabeth.
I think that Jane was completely shocked by her father’s actions, especially the fact that his betrayal was with his daughter-in-law. I think Jane and her siblings saw that their family wasn’t as perfect and happy as they had thought, and Jane wanted to recreate that happy feeling she used to have.
Jane’s desire to become a nun shows a calm determination from a young age. When she finds this is not the life she expected, she sets her heart on a place at court. She might seem a malleable character, yet tends nonetheless to achieve her ambitions. How much do you feel other people, including Jane’s own family, underestimate her quiet strength of character, and do you think it gives her satisfaction to surprise them?
Jane is willing to explore her options and test them out – she sets her heart on one thing, finds it isn’t for her and moves the goalposts, which is admirable. She can adapt when she realises something isn’t for her.
I think Jane’s parents in particular underestimate her because they are used to having no trouble from her, unlike her brothers and sisters, so they don’t understand her quiet strength.
I think it does give Jane satisfaction to surprise people because they expect her to be quiet and malleable but she is really a strong character and it gives people a shock when they realise it.
Jane is strong because she can accept that her ambition wasn’t really for her and adjust accordingly – it takes a strong person to admit they’ve made a mistake.
How does Jane’s experience of Amesbury change her, after she finally achieves her early ambition of entering a nunnery? How do the questions it raises about the church inform her reactionary beliefs in a time of great religious turmoil? Does she ever question her faith?
I don’t think Jane really knew what to expect at all, so I think it was a bit of a shock to her in some ways that it was so rigorous when she was used to a more relaxed and loving atmosphere.
I don’t think Jane ever really questioned her faith because it had been so deep-seated in her from an early age, and she seems to have supported the ideas of the rebels in the Pilgrimage of Grace.
I think Jane struggles to understand the religious changes happening in England because it is so against her own beliefs, so she reacts against it instinctively.
Jane had been so intent on entering a nunnery for so long that I think it takes her time to reorient herself and choose a new path; trying to understand her own thoughts and feelings about it.
The distress caused to her beloved Queen Katherine by Henry’s relationship with Anne Boleyn is witnessed directly by Jane. What impact does this have on her, and how does it allow her to believe she has the right to help remove Anne’s influence from the crown? At what moment does Jane realise for herself that a queen’s position is simultaneously powerful and precarious, and why?
Jane served Katherine for many years as a maid in waiting and shared her traditional religious beliefs, and I think it was these combined factors which allowed her to believe that she had the right to remove Anne’s influence from the crown.
Jane realises that a queen’s position is equally powerful and perilous when Katherine of Aragon begins to suffer at her husband’s hands, but I don’t think she realised quite how perilous until Anne Boleyn was executed, as it was the first time an English queen had been executed.
I think Jane hopes that, by removing Anne’s influence from the crown, the country might return to its previous religious allegiance and the previous stability, but the Pilgrimage of Grace and Henry VIII’s reaction to it disabuses her of that notion.
The Haunted Queen features a rich and varied cast of characters, many of them familiar names. Who in particular stood out for you, and which stories running alongside Jane’s did you find the most interesting? Key characters such as Sir Francis Bryan and Eustache Chapuys have appeared in Alison Weir’s previous Six Tudor Queens novels, but did you gain a closer understanding of them through Jane’s perspective? Which characters will you be watching out for in the next three novels?
The characters who particularly stood out for me were Edward Seymour and Anne Stanhope, as they become very important through Henry VIII’s reign into Edward VI’s.
I thought the telling of the story from Edward Seymour’s first marriage was very interesting – another version of this story is ‘The May Bride’ by Suzannah Dunn, though I prefer Weir’s retelling.
I think Jane’s perspective is entirely different from Anne Boleyn’s, so it was interesting to see the same characters and the same events from contrasting points of view, and a different perspective.
I’ll be really interested to see how Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, comes across in the next two novels before her downfall as she is very controversial, especially regarding her involvement with Katherine Howard.
Jane’s rise to become Queen of England is in many ways a surprising one. Unlike Henry VIII’s previous two queens, she neither expected nor desired a crown. How does this very innocence initially attract Henry, and at what point does she begin to understand her power? Can she remain the ‘harbour after long days of tempest’ that Henry yearns for while discovering and developing her influence over him?
Jane initially attracts Henry because she is so different, especially to Anne Boleyn. Anne was very outspoken and passionate, and Jane didn’t seem to be either of those things.
Jane begins to understand her power when she realises that Henry VIII wants to marry her – she sees that women have power when men desire them, as Anne Boleyn did on her rise to power.
Jane is determined that she won’t come to the same sticky end as her two predecessors, and tries to learn from their mistakes by being quiet, polite, kind and gentle, and not fiery and passionate.
Some historians think that the cleverest thing Jane did was to die at the height of her power and influence, but I don’t know – had Jane lived I think she stood a chance of remaining Henry’s harbour.
From Lady Seymour to Katherine of Aragon, and Lady Douglas to Lady Exeter, Jane is willingly guided by strong women she both admires and sees as superior to herself. What does it cost her to become their queen, and what does she learn from her mistakes?
Jane didn’t want to become queen, but she realised she could do some good for the country as queen, including getting rid of Anne Boleyn as queen, resetting the fraught relationship between Henry VIII and Princess Mary, and settling the religious divisions.
Jane has to give up her hopes of a loving family in the country to a man she loves, and step onto the public stage, which she never really desired. Jane wasn’t born for the limelight in the same way that Katherine of Aragon (born royal) or Anne Boleyn (fiery and ambitious) were.
There were a lot of strong women in the English court at this time, as they had to be to stand up for what they believed in, and marry for love as some did. Jane learned that women had to be careful how they expressed themselves and to always defer to the male in their lives.
‘You just stand there being discreet, but taking in everything that goes on. I’ve seen you doing it.’ Jane perhaps lacks the vibrancy of Anne Boleyn, or the command of Katherine of Aragon, but in The Haunted Queen she notices things others do not. What does Jane gain from her quiet observation of the people and situations around her at different stages of her life? Does this give her a certain power that her predecessors lacked, and how does it develop as she learns to navigate the court?
Jane understands people better because she sees how they react to events when others aren’t paying close enough attention.
Because Jane is quite quiet and seems insignificant in the vibrant court she often goes unnoticed and so people aren’t as careful around her as they maybe should be.
I think sometimes Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn lacked some of the crucial techniques which allowed them to manipulate situations carefully – Jane had a softer touch.
From watching the other men and women around the court Jane learns how to handle the king – what to do and what not to do. She would have been less successful had she been Henry’s first queen.
Alison Weir builds a colourful backdrop of the sixteenth century through Jane’s eyes, from the very domestic to her most regal moments. What aspects of the historical background did you find most enjoyable, and how does this detailed and vivid picture help bring Jane to life?
I really enjoyed the early chapters of the novel documenting Jane’s home life and the scandal that tore her family apart – it wasn’t something I’d really read much about, other than odd mentions in history books and biographies about a scandal, and I found it really interesting.
The detail that Weir weaves through her fiction books is great because you can really picture the people and places as they would have been, which is especially useful when the places don’t exist anymore, like Wolf Hall itself.
The descriptions help to bring Jane herself to life because you can visualise what she would have seen and known, and how this might have influenced her. I find fictional portrayals really interesting because each writer has a different view, but Weir’s portrayals are always very detailed.
‘She herself was dreaming, she must be. She blinked, and the shadow was gone.’ Jane feels an enormous guilt that Anne’s death paved the way to her own marriage. She begins to believe that Anne is haunting her, and we see this shadow through Jane’s panicking mind. How did you interpret its presence and meaning, and do you enjoy the appearance of these ghostly moments in the narrative?
Although Jane didn’t agree with what Anne did in terms of replacing Katherine of Aragon and acting as the catalyst for the English Reformation, she still didn’t want Anne to die – she kept hoping that Henry VIII would commute the sentence to banishment or exile.
I did enjoy the ghostly moments because otherwise I think Jane would have seemed too uncaring and emotionally detached, which would have detracted from the story for me, as I like to see their vulnerable and questioning moments as well as their strength – it creates a greater contrast.
It’s an interesting addition to the story as Anne Boleyn is said to haunt the Tower of London, Hever Castle or Blickling Hall, but it isn’t really talked about whether she haunted a person – the person who supplanted her on the throne and was choosing her wedding dress as Anne was being executed as tradition says.
The tales of Henry’s first three queens are of course closely interlinked, and Alison has shown their relationships and conflicts through each of their points of view. If you have read all three novels, how would you compare Alison’s portrayals of these very different women? Has each queen’s experience given you new insights into the others’ stories, and do you have a favourite?
Anne Boleyn will always hold a special place in my heart, but so far hers has been my least favourite of Alison Weir’s retellings because I didn’t entirely agree with her portrayal.
However, I did really enjoy the stories of both Katherine of Aragon and Jane Seymour, and some of the less well-known aspects of their lives, perhaps because I still don’t really know what to make of them.
I liked Jane Seymour’s story precisely because it gave new insights into the stories of both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn – it was interesting see the two warring women from a different point of view.
I think the three different stories did contrast really well together, demonstrating why Henry VIII fell in love with three completely different women and I can’t wait to read the next one!
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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