08 March 2013

Jane Seymour: The Pheonix as Queen Part 1

Many blamed Jane's death on her attendants
Jane endured a days long excruciating labour 
Death claims Queen Jane

Jane Seymour would be the only wife of six to fulfil the wishes of King Henry VIII; this fulfilment would claim her life.

Queen Jane's marriage to Great Harry was, at least to the king, a new and fresh beginning. All things would be new, the past (and Anne Boleyn with it,) would be swept away, put away, never to be spoken of again.  However, the new marriage was in fact built on tragedy.
Jane made every attempt to restructure her new staff and household. Though Jane has been viewed historically as somewhat of a Milquetoast, an almost wimpy sort of woman, she was rather formidable. Queen Jane was serious, austere, not given to frivolity. She may also have harboured a darker note to her personality, as Jane's possible involvement in Anne Boleyn's downfall has never been clear. In any case, Jane and Henry wanted to establish an altogether new and unified household.

The mood of the English people was a mixed one. While Anne Boleyn had been a deeply hated queen, her horrifying death had a profound effect on some her most determined detractors.  Most of Henry's subjects believed that the queen was guilty of something, probably adultery.  Few were convinced Anne was actually guilty of the uglier charges involving George Boleyn. Anne's supposed guilt not withstanding, many of the English people were aghast when they learned of the nightly junkets Henry was conducting with the objective of courting Jane even whilst his wife was facing a terrifying fate, in the tower.  It simply was bad form, and understandably, Henry and Jane's premature celebrations and festive planning left a bad taste in the mouths of the English people, who were at bottom a very traditional sort. Once the poor queen was dispatched, it was disturbing that she was not yet cold in the arrow chest that served as her makeshift coffin before Henry and Jane were merrily moving on with their nuptials.  Anne's death had rocked all of Europe, not just England, and to his subjects Henry seemed coldly unaffected.

As planned, Henry and his new queen moved on with their lives and attempted to blot out any physical evidence that Anne Boleyn had ever existed. Anne's motto, wall hangings, embroidered textiles, and whatnot were all destroyed or hidden. ( In haste, some of these were overlooked.) Despite all these efforts, there remained one living piece of evidence of the former existence of the dark haired queen with the French mannerisms. And that was the little girl with the striking Tudor-red hair, Princess Elizabeth.  Of course she was no longer known as a princess, and was now branded a bastard. While Henry and Jane couldn't erase Elizabeth, they did their best, at least for a while to continue to avoid the whole issue of Anne Boleyn by ignoring her innocent child. And so Elizabeth remained hidden away from Henry's eyes; she would be Lady Bryant's problem for the time being.

Henry was determined to resume the all-important business of getting that male heir; it seemed that the world hinged on Jane fulfilling her duty. Would she fail as Catherine and Anne had, leaving a series of miscarriages and dead infants? Would she be able to conceive at all?  It was assumed that Jane Seymour would give Henry the male child he so longed for as her womenfolk were known as good breeders. To modern eyes, the term 'breeder' seems distasteful.  The Tudors had a rather different take on breeding, and all it implied. The woman who bore sons by her husband was most appreciated, while only presenting daughters often had the opposite effect.

Henry and Jane had scarcely been married for days when the king was wondering aloud if Jane would soon present her subjects with a prince. Henry's courtiers were busy bestowing on Jane every honour, and if their hearts were truly sincere in their praise of the new queen or not, they were careful to show her every courtesy. Contrary to her apparent disinterest in little Elizabeth, Jane was very affectionate toward Mary. Henry was still frostily inclined toward his eldest daughter, and Jane bravely took up for the stubborn young woman. Jane would learn a quick lesson, however, that facing off against Henry even if the cause was for his very own daughter, was a dangerous practice.  And Jane adjusted herself accordingly.

The new marrieds made every attempt to present an impressive and united front in the presence of the courtiers. But pesky problems, new and old threatened to mar the happiness of Henry and Jane.  Henry's leg with its festering wounds was again troubling him, and he remained more than a little angry with Lady Mary for the years of resistance she had shown her father. Jane wanted Henry to show his difficult daughter mercy; Henry wanted Jane to mind her own business where his daughter was concerned. Why Jane was less interested in poor Elizabeth, and yet so maternal toward Mary was likely due to their respective mothers. Jane was a long time admirer, and former lady of Catherine of Aragon. The character of Henry's first wife was just the sort that Jane subscribed to.  Jane was probably not as benevolent as Catherine of Aragon had been, and perhaps much more self-involved. But the two queens were bound by a shared faith, and Jane seemed to hold Catherine's memory dear and expressed that in kindness toward her surviving daughter, the Lady Mary. Of course, there had been no such warm feelings for the fallen Anne Boleyn, and by extension no feelings of charity for the little daughter that Anne had left behind. Little Elizabeth's situation quickly grew so unfortunate that Lady Bryant was reduced to writing begging letters to Cromwell.

The business of clothing oneself was difficult in Tudor days. Obtaining fabric and then sewing the garments, or finding someone to do that was not at all easy, unless one was rich or of the nobility. Elizabeth was, technically a princess, but she was the daughter of Anne Boleyn, and for a time following her mother's execution, she was an unlucky little girl indeed. What a stark contrast it must have been, for whilst Anne Boleyn had lived, she had seen to it that her daughter was always dressed splendidly. Princess Elizabeth and once worn rich velvets and caps made from cloth of gold. Anne Boleyn had spared no expense where her red-haired baby was concerned, and though she could not see her child very often, she expressed her love and affection by making constant gifts of clothing for the princess.

Jane must have felt wonderfully fortuitous when she discovered she was pregnant with Henry's child. It was generally expected that the royal parents would be blessed with a prince. And a prince it was, as Jane would soon deliver Edward to her subjects. Henry felt exceptionally lucky and mirthful. Queen Jane's pregnancy seemed almost a sign to Henry, that he had done well to send Anne to the scaffold.  Even though Anne's guilt had been so doubtful and uncertain, Henry felt a renewed confidence given Jane's happy condition. To the king, Jane was his very own angel, sent from above. More than ever, Jane represented a brand new start. Different from Anne in every way, Jane must have seemed like a comfortable and familiar sort of woman. It may have seemed that Jane was like the young Catherine of Aragon all over again, all womanly gentleness, submissive and sweet.

It may have been, however, that Jane was not as different from Anne Boleyn as was assumed.  Perhaps Jane was made of the same steely determination as had been the stuff of Anne Boleyn. But a careful watching and learning had left Jane well-prepared to deal successfully with her arbitrary and difficult husband. Jane had effectively employed the demure virginal appearance that she knew would work so well with Henry. Once married she became the submissive wife Henry had appreciated in his wife, Catherine. Jane had the benefit of an excellent education watching her previous two mistresses' experiences with her husband and she applied those lessons perfectly. Jane avoided Anne's sexy, seductive mannerisms that had so enchanted Henry in the early years of their relationship. Jane had seen these same French inspired flirtations backfire in the later year. Anne's exotic style of coquetry is  probably is what caused Henry to exclaim that Anne had been "corrupted in France." Jane was extreme opposite of Anne even in physical appearance. Anne had been of a swarthy complexion, almost always described as more sexy than beautiful. Tall in stature, rather lacking in womanly curves, most agreed her black eyes and shimmering dark hair had been Anne's best features. Most of her contemporaries found Anne just so, decidedly not beautiful or voluptuous, but but with strikingly attractive eyes and captivating mannerisms. Men said she knew how to "use her eyes." Anne can be compared to the type of woman, and most everyone knows just such a woman, that is not beautiful, at least in a classic sense, but so skilled in the art of conversation and bodily communication, making the most of one or two special features, that she is able to attract the attentions of some of the most eligible men. These types of woman often make most advantageous marriages, or may be mistresses to some of the world's most powerful, famous, or richest men. It seems Anne Boleyn was cut of that sort of fabric.

Though the two queens had the same objectives, Jane appeared to be the extreme opposite of Anne from her looks to her personality. Jane was exceedingly pale, so white in complexion that some of her contemporaries viewed her pallid skin as unattractive.  This was a time when pale complexions in women were prized and seen as beautiful. However, Jane Seymour was so pale she may have seemed of an unhealthy constitution to some. She had golden blonde hair, also highly prized in Tudor days. But for the rest, her facial features, and her physical build, Jane Seymour was viewed as quite plain. Jane's portraits reveal a lack lustre woman, not tall, somewhat thickly built, entirely forgettable looking. Perhaps even her plainness may have worked for Jane as she may have presented a safe image to Henry, who by that point would have been emotionally exhausted from years of highs and lows he had experienced with Anne Boleyn. Jane was so demure as to refuse a purse of money which Henry had dispatched to her parent's home as a gift to her. Henry couldn't have been more impressed with this virginal, virtuous young woman. Ironically, and conversely, Jane, as Anne had done before her, seemed to have no qualms about courting a married man. The man may have been king, and his wife lawfully detained in the lonely tower accused of unspeakable acts, but Anne was alive and married to Henry until he effectively had his marriage dissolved. Did it seem at all strange to Jane that her gain came from a woman who was in the process of being cruelly put to death? As Jane was not an extrovert as Anne Boleyn had been, and was in fact extremely quiet and seemingly restrained, much of her true feelings about her very complicated courtship and marriage would die with her.

Meanwhile, the state of affairs for the Lady Mary had improved considerably. Mary had been suffering from declining health for some years. She was still very young and her ill health was such that concern was growing for Mary. Her poor health seemed to stem from a combination of a naturally frail constitution and constant emotional turmoil, and melancholy. The king seemed affected by this, his anger finally subsiding. Jane and the king met with Mary on 6 July in Hackney. Mary and her father had been nearly estranged for six long years, and the meeting ended happily with gifts from Jane and Henry. Jane gave Mary a diamond ring; Henry gave his daughter a thousand crowns with which to spend as she liked. Mary's habitually dark mood soared and she sent a warm thank you letter to her father and Jane, referring to Jane as her own "natural mother." Mary also declared her wishes that the king and queen would soon be blessed with their own children. Certainly, the new blended family was off to a promising start. It was unfortunate that Anne Boleyn's little girl was not welcome, at least for the time being.  While Mary was enjoying her thousand crowns gift and her new diamond ring, Lady Bryant grew frustrated trying to secure funds to replace the most basic essentials of Elizabeth's wardrobe. It was nothing luxurious that Lady Bryant sought to dress the child in; she was pleading for help to replace items like underwear, sleeping gown and petticoats. It can only be imagined, what the small child Elizabeth must have been experiencing. From one day to the next, she had gone from a celebrated princess to a bastard. Though Elizabeth was barely past babyhood, there is documentation that proves she was aware that something very drastic had changed in her world.

Despite the mirth and high expectations felt at the beginning of Henry's new marriage, he began to brood over deep fears and insecurities. Henry was growing old and he was feeling it keenly. Jane was still not pregnant and old fears began to haunt the king. Could it be possible that once again Henry would be deeply disappointed? Would this marriage be a replay of the two before it? Considering all that had passed, that which had rocked his kingdom, it would have been unbearably humiliating for Henry if after all  Jane was unable to conceive  or bore stillbirths, like Catherine, or miscarriages, like Anne.

 It is rather strange that Henry seemed to make the same mistakes in his thinking, time and again. Once again he had been a bit too ambitious where Jane and her breeding abilities were concerned. Like Anne, Jane was past her optimal window for successful  childbearing, as in Tudor days, this window was small indeed. Anne's optimal years to have given her king a song were permanently lost in the whirlwind that resulted from Henry's Great Matter.  Once Anne had been finally been free to try at motherhood, (and actually she did not wait till she was legally married,) it was, after all, too late. Though she conceived Elizabeth, Anne was plagued with stillbirths and miscarriages as Catherine before her had been. And now Queen Jane was not becoming pregnant as quickly as Henry would have liked. The king was desperately aware of how little time he had to see his dream through of finally having a son. But Jane was in her late twenties, and once again we must consider how short average life expectancy was in the mid 16th century. Then, the age of thirty was solidly middle aged.

Christmastime was a true reunion for the new little family. Thanks to Mary's intervening on her little sister's behalf, Elizabeth was also included in the holiday festivities at court. Henry was in good spirits and was affectionate even with his youngest daughter. Onlookers saw a warm and traditional family unit with Henry, Jane, Mary and Elizabeth. The weather was bitterly cold, and the Thames froze solid. Despite the cruel cold, large numbers of people gathered to watch the royal family travel from Westminster into the city, which was decorated in an enormous amount of cloth of gold to give honour to the king and queen. There was a service at St. Paul's after which the Christmas celebrations began in earnest. It was a spectacular sight as then the king and queen road on horseback, flying across the frozen river to the Surrey shore. The royal family spent the holiday at Greenwich Palace, where a stunning Yuletide court had been prepared. Festivities continued into New Year's Day, when gifts were exchanged, with Mary especially, receiving very costly gives from her father and step-mother. All was not perfect, however, and the religious wars and strife raged on.

Robert Aske was a particularly troubling case. Aske and his followers had been promised by the king that the dissolution of the monasteries would be stopped, along with the heavy taxes. But King Henry VIII had always been arbitrary at best, and worse would follow. Outraged, Aske's rebels rebanded, and in response Henry sent the Duke of Norfolk to Linconshire to teach the rebels a dreadful lesson. The cruel Duke of Norfolk had numerous men hung as traitors, and then left their bodies to rot on gibbets for months. This was typical of the age, leaving the condemned on display to remind others to avoid their terrible fates and to put all treasonous thoughts out of mind. Aske was captured in July and died a most dreadful death in chains. This had been the most severe and grim incident in Henry's reign.  The king was more than ready for some good news when his Jane announced that she carried his heir, in the spring of 1537.

The king and queen were exultant when in early April, it was announced that Jane was with child. And for a few days it must have been a heady time of giddiness for the royal couple and court. It was a merry spring, indeed, and gifts for the new baby were being prepared and sent to the queen. At Hampton Court in May, it was announced that Jane had felt the child move. Te Deums were sung in churches to celebrate the quickening. Bonfires were lit and citizens were treated to quantities of wine. Jane was indulging her love of quails eggs, and though these were out of season and difficult to obtain, her king made sure she was kept in good supply of the delicacy she so craved. Often Lady Mary and Lord and Lady Lisle were the givers of the quails eggs; it seemed Queen Jane couldn't eat enough of them. (Lady Lisle wasn't merely treating Jane to quails eggs; she was in effect helping herself. Lady Lisle would then ask Queen Jane to secure a place in her household for one of her daughters, Katherine and Anne Bassett.)

Despite all the merriment, and pampering of the queen, a feeling of fear and dread began to gnaw at Jane.  The queen developed a strong phobia of the plague. This was not entirely irrational as plague was a real and ever present threat. Henry was obsessively and unusually compulsive about cleanliness, especially given the time he lived in. A move was even made to Windsor to stay ahead of the plague. But despite these measures, and every precaution taken for Jane's safety, her fears would not be allayed.

Sadly, death was stalking Jane Seymour.  However, it was not the plague which would claim the queen's life.

No comments: