Jane Seymour was born on an unrecorded date, though it is likely to have been between October 1507 and October 1508. She was almost certainly born at Wolfhall to parents Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. There is very little information available on Jane’s childhood, but she probably grew up at Wolfhall. There are also no records of any education she may have received. There is evidence that she was able to read and write, at least. In later life, she was known to be an expert needlewoman.
Her elder brother Edward was appointed to the household of King Henry VIII’s sister Mary, eventually leading to a career at court. Meanwhile, Jane stayed at home. Unusually, Jane’s younger sister Elizabeth married Sir Anthony Ughtred some time before 1530. There is evidence that Jane secured a place in the household of Catherine of Aragon though we don’t know exactly when she arrived at court. It is likely that this was just before King Henry VIII decided to divorce her around 1527. Jane stood on the sidelines as Catherine – whom she admired- was put aside for Anne Boleyn. Jane probably joined Catherine when she was exiled from court in 1531, and she was probably also present when Catherine was informed that Henry had married Anne. Catherine was also told that she should not be called Queen and that Henry would no longer provide for her expenses and the wages of her servants. In August 1533, the reorganisation took place with her allowance reduced to 12,000 crowns. Catherine was forced to move to a remote residence at Buckden and took only ten ladies with her. Jane was not amongst them.
Jane probably returned home around this time, and a marriage was finally suggested for her – the groom’s name was William Dormer. By then, she was around 25 years old, and the prospect must have excited her. However, the marriage never took place, and he instead married Mary Sidney in 1535. Then, at last, in 1535, Jane received a new court appointment. Jane was shy and did not stand out from Queen Anne’s ladies.
Nevertheless, Henry – who must have seen her during her time in Catherine’s household – finally really noticed her. On 4 September 1535, Henry arrived at Wolfhall during his autumn progress. Jane was almost certainly present, as was Anne Boleyn, and soon Jane was in Henry’s every thought. Henry gave Jane a miniature of his portrait, which she wore around her neck. Anne spotted the necklace and ripped it off, injuring her hand in the process.
However, at the time, Anne was pregnant, and no one envisioned Jane becoming anything more than Henry’s mistress. The death of Catherine of Aragon in January 1536 must have saddened Jane. On the day of Catherine’s funeral, Anne miscarried her pregnancy. Anne blamed it on Henry himself, who she had caught with Jane sitting on his knees. For Jane, this opened a whole new realm of possibilities. She probably received advice from her supporters on how to proceed but was not such a pawn as some might like to imagine. Jane set her sights on becoming the Queen of England.
At the end of April 1536, Jane and Henry had an understanding; now they just needed to be rid of Anne. Events were set in motion on 30 April when Mark Smeaton – a musician in Anne’s household – was arrested, and he had admitted to adultery the following morning. Then Anne herself was arrested, followed by her brother George and the courtiers Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, Thomas Wyatt and Richard Page. They were all accused of being Anne’s lovers. On 15 May, Anne and her brother were found guilty. From the others, all except Page and Wyat were found guilty. On 17 May, the five men were beheaded on Tower Hill and on 19 May Anne was beheaded within the Tower walls. The official betrothal of Henry and Jane took place the following day.
Jane married Henry on 30 May 1536 in the Queen’s Closet at York Place although it was agreed to keep the wedding a secret for a few more days. However, rumours soon began to appear and Jane first publicly appeared as the new Queen of England on 2 June. She was formally proclaimed Queen two days later at Greenwich. On 6 June, her brother Edward was created Viscount Beauchamp. Jane was now suddenly the centre of attention, and she revelled in her time as Queen.
Jane had known her stepdaughter Mary from her time in Queen Catherine’s household, and she soon hoped that she could reconcile Mary and her father. She was less concerned about Elizabeth. However, Mary was expected to agree to the invalidity of her parents’ marriage, and this she would not agree to. The situation escalated to the point where the Imperial Ambassador wrote to Mary, begging her to submit for her life was in danger. Mary had no choice but to submit. Jane probably wrote to Mary and Mary certainly wrote back, addressing her letter to “the Queen’s grace my good mother.” In July, Jane and Henry set out to meet with Mary and the visit was a great success. Mary soon received her own household and was invited back to court. On Mary’s first visit back, Henry declared “some of you were desirous that I should put this jewel to death,” upon which Mary fainted.
The following autumn, Jane made her only political move when she fell to her knees in public in front of Henry and begged him to restore the abbeys during the Pilgrimage of Grace. He angrily told her to think about other matters and roaring that “he had often told her not to meddle with his affairs.” She was reminded of what had happened to her predecessor.
By the end of the year, there was still no sign of pregnancy, and Jane became worried. However, by late February or early March, she realised she was pregnant after nearly a year of marriage. On 27 May, she felt the child move for the first time. Henry was delighted and was ready to satisfy Jane’s every whim.
On 9 October, Jane went into labour at Hampton Court Palace, but it would not be easy. She was still in labour two days later, and it wasn’t until 12 October that Jane was delivered of a son. Three days after the exhausting labour, she was wrapped in furs and carried to her son’s christening. However, she did not attend the christening but instead waited in an antechamber as her son was carried in a grand procession. After the procession, he was handed back to her for her to give him her blessing. Perhaps she had already begun to feel unwell during the festivities.
Jane quickly became delirious with a fever, and just two days after the christening, she received the last rites. She seemed to recover somewhat in the following days but on 24 October 1537, she passed away. There is no record that Henry was with her when she died, though he was at Hampton Court Palace and the news was brought to him immediately. Her stepdaughter Mary acted as chief mourner, and she made sure Jane was treated honourably. On 12 November, after laying in state in the chapel at Hampton Court, Jane was moved to St George’s Chapel at Windsor where she still rests – with Henry.1