09 January 2013

Out Goes Anne: In Comes Jane

As human beings will reap what they sow, all too often they find themselves in the same cold place that they have caused another to exist in.

Such was the case of Anne Boleyn.

When the tide began to turn against Anne Boleyn, it must have seemed to her that only a short time had passed from that when she was the object of Henry's adoration. Anne had been the young sweetheart, full of promise, contrasting Henry's unwanted wife. Now it was Anne that stood in that unenviable position; now she was the rejected wife, desperately clinging to her husband. Anne had aged visibly in her remaining last years, and was now described by Eustace Chapuys as a "thin and old" creature. And just like Catherine, Anne had been unable to give Henry the sons she had promised him. She had borne her husband a girl, one who would one day become Gloriana*, but in those bleak days, and in Henry's eyes especially, Anne had given him a useless girl. The idea of a 'useless girl,' is most detestable. However, the Tudor monarchs viewed the birth of a daughter almost as a punishment. Pity the poor royal wife who proved unable to provide male heirs. The woman bore full blame for this failing, as though she had knowingly and willingly chosen to withhold sons from her husband.

Anne was now walking in Catherine's old shoes, and finding the experience to be most miserable. Far from her days as the Most Happy, Anne was living in a state of misery and dread. Anne had been cruel and gloating toward Queen Catherine, and had been exceptionally unkind to Mary. Still, it is difficult to withhold sympathy from Anne Boleyn, as her sufferings were so marked.

Jane Seymour was now the king's sweetheart, the fresh new damsel that Henry was basing his hopes upon. She also served as one of Anne's ladies in waiting, and Jane's daily presence must have been excruciating for Anne.

Despite Anne's previous guilt and malice toward Catherine and her daughter, it didn't stop her from reacting with uncontrolled fury when Jane Seymour began to take her place. There is the famous story that Anne had ripped a locket from Jane's neck with such force that it sliced through her own fingers. Whether that report is true or not, Jane Dormer said there were frequent outbursts of physical violence "between the queen and her maid." Shockingly, Anne had frequently struck and/or scratched Jane. If this is true, Anne had sunk to a low point, indeed. (Interestingly, her daughter, Queen Elizabeth I, often resorted to vicious physical violence when one of her ladies angered her enough.) Given Anne's well-documented propensity for aggressive arguing, and how she managed to occasionally alienate her own blood relatives, the idea that she physically battered a woman who was actively courting her own husband may not be so hard to believe.

Historically, Jane has been portrayed as a passive paragon of womanly virtue. The bare facts, however, somewhat collide with that popular view of Henry's third queen.

Jane Seymour was known as an upright sort of woman. And the lady was quite proud of her 'goodly reputation,' and pointed it out, albeit in a clever way, when she modestly refused a purse of money the king tried to give her while they were courting. At least, this is how Jane was perceived, as a good woman, before her involvement with King Henry. She did not have the propensity for arguing, nor did she possess the foul temper that Anne Boleyn was noted for. Still, it must be remembered that Jane was actively involved with a still-very-married-man. Moreover, she was likely complicit in the horrifying downfall of Anne Boleyn. Chapuys, who had never been a fan of Anne Boleyn, and would have been more objective, described Jane Seymour as being very haughty. At the very least, Jane Seymour watched with a chilling passivity as her mistress inched closer and closer to the scaffold. Soon Anne would die, dispatched by a hired Calais swordsman. Anne's body would have hardly been cold in an arrow chest when Jane took up her place as queen. Henry's new love stepped right into Anne's place with scarcely a glance behind her. It seems that as soon as Henry heard the sound of the Tower guns marking the end of Anne's life, he and Jane proceeded with their new lives together as though Anne had never existed. Little Elizabeth was all but entirely forgotten. Lady Bryant was forced to practically beg Cromwell for funds to pay for a desperately needed new wardrobe for the little girl. But now that Elizabeth was branded a bastard, as Mary had been before her, her clothing was of little importance to the king. Elizabeth was almost hidden away, apparently out of sight--out of mind. Given what we know about Henry, his callousness is hardly surprising. It is Jane, as former mistress to Anne Boleyn, and a woman, that might give one pause.

Henry's court seemed to rejoice and believe that the good old days had returned, (or at least they pretended to). Privately though, many of Henry's subjects were appalled at how quickly Anne had been erased, and by the haste of the king's  marriage to Jane Seymour.

But any hope of the golden days, if they had ever been such, was not to be realized. Though the king's new queen would conceive a child, dark clouds were looming over the kingdom. There were the ever-present political and religious problems, and of special concern was the plague. The plague was posing a horrible threat to the English people, and Queen Jane was developing a awful phobia of the dreaded sickness. Every precaution was taken but nothing seemed to calm Jane's fears of the plague.

Was it only the plague that was tormenting Jane, or was she afraid of more than that? Were the memories of her former mistress, and the manner of her cruel death haunting the new queen? Was Jane afraid of the age-old fear of dying in childbirth?

Tragically, Queen Jane's worst fears would be realised. For soon she would follow her former mistress, Anne Boleyn, to the grave.

*Elizabeth I would be called "Gloriana" by many of her subjects, as a term of endearment, respect and admiration.

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