These notes are from part 3 of ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ documentary with David Starkey. For part 1 on Katherine of Aragon, click
here and part 2 on Anne Boleyn, click here.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
The day after Anne Boleyn’s execution her lady-in-waiting was rowed up the Thames to the royal palace Jane Seymour was to be Henry VIII’s new wife Anne Boleyn’s body was barely cold, but Jane was getting betrothed to the king who banished one wife and beheaded another There was a complete contrast between Anne and Jane Anne Boleyn was a dramatic brunette with dark eyes with a spirit and temper to match, arousing Henry to rage Jane was fair, almost pallid with pale blue eyes, a receding chin, and a doormat personality She had helped to engineer Anne’s downfall Could she really have been such a doormat to step over Anne’s body to the throne? To marry Anne Boleyn Henry made himself Supreme Head of the Church Traditional Catholics were appalled by Henry’s religious changes, including Jane Jane had served Katherine of Aragon As Henry flirted with Jane traditionalists wanted to take advantage Thomas Cromwell would always fight Jane’s influence Henry wasn’t taking Jane seriously at first, wanting her as a mistress He sent her a letter and purse of money, but she rejected the money and returned the letter unopened She flung herself on her knees, saying that she had no greater riches in the world than her honour – she would only accept a gift of money when she was married “Masterpiece of seduction” For Henry it was powerfully attractive Jane was coached by Nicholas Carew to play up her demureness Carew had chosen the right moment and the right woman Henry’s behaviour transformed from seducer to suitor, only seeing her with a chaperone Jane, her brother and her sister-in-law moved into an apartment beside the king 10 days after Anne Boleyn’s execution Henry and Jane were married in private She took as her motto ‘bound to obey and serve’ She kept her traditional Catholic faith She put her own stamp on the court, with her ladies told to be demure and dress in the English style rather than the French “We have come from a hell into heaven” Religion was a key area where women had a certain freedom of action Anne had pushed that freedom for reform, but Jane’s beliefs were the opposite Would Jane be as persuasive as Anne had been? The first test of Jane’s influence was in defence of the Princess Mary, a devout Catholic who refused to accept the illegality of her mother’s marriage Nicholas Carew urged Jane to approach Henry directly Jane made Mary’s cause her own – even to name Mary heir was treason Jane’s position wasn’t secure, but she was prepared to risk everything out of conviction Jane begged Henry to restore Mary to the succession, saying that their children would only be safe if Mary was restored Jane was playing with fire as Henry still required Mary to surrender to his will Mary’s friends were summoned before the council and questioned about their activities on her behalf Mary confronted with a choice between her friends and her conscience gave in and submitted to the king’s will Jane had hoped Mary’s restoration would signal a Catholic resurgence This backfired, but she would try again whatever the risks
Henry VIII c.1537.
Autumn 1536 Catholics were in despair Jane’s influence wasn’t as strong as Cromwell’s and monasteries were being destroyed, relics burned Only direct action could halt the attack on the church In the countryside men were bolder than those at court The Pilgrimage of Grace started in Lincolnshire and spread across the north Their leader was Robert Aske and the rebel forces were strong Henry couldn’t trust the loyalty of his nobles Jane’s sympathies were with the rebels, but her loyalty was to her husband Jane questioned the king’s religious policies, saying that perhaps god allowed the rebellion because Henry had destroyed too many churches Henry reminded her that Anne had died for meddling too much in state affairs Jane accepted the warning and backed off but her real opinions were common knowledge There was talking in Jane’s chamber during the revolt to get a nunnery exempted from the dissolution Henry wasn’t strong enough to defeat the rebels and had to negotiate Henry told the rebels he and Jane would travel north together, and Jane would be crowned at York Minster At Christmas 1536 the rebel leaders were invited to court and Henry and Jane processed through the city, Jane triumphant Jane also discovered she was pregnant Even as he celebrated Jane’s pregnancy Henry betrayed her Henry had used the people’s love for Jane to pacify them Henry ordered the arrest of the rebel leaders and their heads were spiked on Tower Bridge 9 th October 1537 Jane’s labour pains began, continuing for 2 days By 11 th October there were real fears for Jane and the baby At 2am on 12 th October Jane delivered a son For the first time in almost 30 years marriage to 3 wives, Henry had an heir Jane was everything he could wish for and there was an outpouring of rejoicing Jane was most triumphant of all, having given Henry a son and heir, making her completely secure – whatever she asked for Henry would grant The christening was sumptuous with the Seymours prominent The same day Jane suddenly fell ill Jane became delirious and the physicians blamed her attendants for allowing her to catch a cold It was puerperal fever and septicaemia set in The court prayed, but in vain On 24 th October 1537 Jane died Jane satisfied Henry best giving him a son and was submissive Behind the submission were serious convictions and courage, but she understood the limitations Jane’s is a story of promise unfulfilled Jane and her supporters had hoped her marriage would restore Catholicism Would things have been different had she lived? Doubtful Henry was more wedded to the royal supremacy than to Jane Jane had fought a battle for Catholicism and lost Henry was grief-stricken and withdrew from the court with Cromwell taking over affairs of state, including looking for another wife for Henry Cromwell wrote to the ambassadors of the birth of the prince and death of the queen, as well as the news that Henry needed a new wife England had a new heir but no queen For the first time Henry was alone and had no appetite for a new wife One son wasn’t enough – Henry’s own elder brother had died Henry accepted the pressure to find a new wife, looking all over Europe Henry had disposed of 3 wives and was no longer an attractive prospect – princesses turned him down Christina of Milan was alleged to have said that if she had 2 heads, she would marry the king Marie de Guise was suggested but she said she only had a little neck A bride from Cleves was suggested but the others in the frame dropped out Cromwell had his own motives for a German bride Henry needed to find her physically attractive and Hans Holbein was dispatched to paint a portrait Henry’s ambassadors raved about her appearance and temperament Anne couldn’t sing or dance or speak foreign languages but was a talented seamstress Holbein had concentrated on Anne’s dress, leaving her face as dreamy Henry projected his fantasies onto the portrait The problem was how to get Anne to England safely without her being captured by the French or Spanish – sea or land Henry had a special chart constructed to show the sea route The Cleves ambassador objected that such a sea voyage in winter would damage Anne’s delicate complexion and she was taken over land Anne was tall, beautiful, and notable virtues as reports flooded in Anne tried to learn about Henry and was taught etiquette and card games
Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539
Her new companions found her unusual She arrived at Rochester on New Year’s Day 1540 where she watched a ceremonial bullfight in the courtyard below A group of gentlemen enter and present her with a gift The gentlemen then leave and return without their disguises The king is the lead gentleman but seems unimpressed with the woman “I like her not” Comedy of errors which got the relationship off to the worst possible start It was the king’s love of disguisings, and Anne should have recognised the king from love at first sight The violence of Henry’s initial reaction took everyone by surprise Henry felt he had been lied to and that Cromwell had tricked him into the match for political reasons Cromwell replied that they couldn’t just return her to Germany There was no way out While Henry raged in private, he behaved with politeness towards Anne in public and she had no idea what he thought of her Henry claimed that she was nothing that had been described to him Her German dress seemed heavy and lumpen and her complexion was dark with a full body Cromwell was ordered to find a way out of the marriage The first idea was to question whether she was legally free to marry – she had previously been contracted to the Duke of Lorraine The ambassadors swore that the engagement had been broken years ago Anne swore that she was legally free to marry Henry submitted with the worst grace “I must needs against my will but my neck into the yoke” Anne was preparing for the wedding, unaware of the activity going on around her The formality of the court took some getting used to She had no way of determining whether anything was wrong, and Henry was treating her with kindness and generosity The marriage took place 3 days late Henry told Cromwell that he wouldn’t marry her if it wasn’t to satisfy the realm The wedding ceremony was only the first hurdle – they had to go to bed together The pair were undressed, and the bed was blessed then the couple were left alone Anne was unaware of Henry’s thoughts – he was miserable but determined to do his duty Carved on the wooden bedhead were two obscene images – one a boy with an enormous erection and the other a heavily pregnant girl The morning after Cromwell asked the king how he liked Anne Henry responded that he liked her even worse – it had been a failure Henry had been turned off and tried on different nights to consummate the marriage but failed The blame was put on Anne as Henry had ‘wet’ dreams, showing that he was capable with any other woman, but not with her Henry told Anne nothing of his feelings and their public life continued as normal Anne was welcomed to London with a water pageant Easter was celebrated together at Hampton Court After 2 months of failure Henry unburdened himself to his principal gentleman – he claimed her found her body repulsive Cromwell feared his triumph would turn against him – he was the architect of the match As far as Anne was concerned everything was fine She presided over the May Day festivities and talked about her coronation Anne couldn’t see what was happening under her nose, but Londoners saw the truth Henry’s boat had crossed the Thames late at night to visit Katherine Howard, one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting 10 th June 1540 Cromwell was arrested and sent to the Tower A few days later the Cleves ambassador, Harst, was summoned by Anne, who told him she had been ordered to leave the palace Henry had decided to get rid of Anne and marry Katherine Howard 29 th June preparations began to try Anne’s marriage The first possibility was the precontract between Anne and the Duke of Lorraine The second was non-consummation, but this was difficult to prove Only a handful of Henry’s intimates knew the truth at first
Evidence was gathered and Anne’s ladies-in-waiting questioned Anne, who didn’t believe herself to be pregnant Anne was believed to have said that Henry said goodnight and good morning, but she thought that being kissed could get you pregnant Was this conceivable, aged 25 and married? Anne had been brought up in a puritanical and provincial court, so it is conceivable that she believed kisses were enough 6 th July 1540 the king’s men were sent to Anne to get her formal consent to try her marriage Anne broke down at the news, the first that she had heard of a divorce Anne’s resolution strengthened and she wouldn’t give way meekly to pressure The ambassador comforted her Anne showed a sharp legal brain and asked to see the documents about the Lorraine marriage When her requests were ignored, she sent to Henry for the evidence Henry replied that she should stop sending him messages Without the evidence and with no legal representation Anne was helpless On 7 th July, the formal trial began and moved quickly On midnight on 8 th July Anne summoned the ambassador who finds her sobbing She had been told that the court was minded to find the marriage invalid – she sends him a message that she still regards herself as his wife and only god can part them Harst told her she had nothing to fear from Henry as she was a foreign princess They were taking a gamble The next day, 9 th July, the court decreed that since the marriage was consummated it had never existed, so she wasn’t queen Along with news of the divorce Anne was told she would be known as the king’s sister It remained to work out the detail On 14 th July Henry offered terms – she would be known as the king’s sister and given precedence over everyone except the queen and the king’s children She was also given Richmond and Bletchingley palaces, an income of £2600 a year and a great household Anne responded with queries, like the number of servants and where Bletchingley was Anne’s moment of hysteria was brief, and she was now level-headed, determined to make the best of a bad job Katherine of Aragon had resisted and been discarded, Anne Boleyn beheaded – only Jane’s obedience was rewarded Anne chose obedience as well and accepted the offer Henry was reassured when he received a letter from Anne Henry still feared that Anne would change her mind and make trouble for Henry abroad by complaining to her brother Anne was too realistic to think that her brother would make trouble Anne was required to write to her brother and follow the official version – all communications between her and her family would be monitored Anne was entirely alone, exiled from court and her own country Anne wouldn’t return to her country as a discarded wife Her public face was accepting, and she wrote to Henry to return her wedding ring, asking him to crush it as a thing of no value Henry didn’t reply A month later there was a new queen At New Year 1541 Anne returned to court as the king’s sister Katherine Howard was the queen and had to be instructed how to behave Anne curtsied to Katherine and spoke from bended knee Henry, Katherine, and Anne dined together as a family Henry and Anne’s marriage had lasted less than 6 months – she had survived and gotten a good deal from her ex-husband and lived well until Henry died After Henry’s death her life became harder One of the few letters remaining from Anne is to her brother, asking for money, as she could no longer afford to keep her household “England is England, and we are strangers”