History Files


Early Modern Britain

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

From Channel 4's The Six Wives of Henry VIII series by Doctor David Starkey, September 2001



Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Part 4: Jane Seymour

In complete contrast to Anne Boleyn, a dramatic brunette with smouldering black eyes and a spirit and temper to match, Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour, was a submissive, blue-eyed blonde with receding chin the model Tudor wife and a devout Catholic.

As Henry began to flirt with her, traditionalists were delighted. But Thomas Cromwell had his own agenda for radical religious reform and behind the scenes he fought Jane's influence.

Henry clearly intended Jane to be his mistress and tried to buy her affections. She refused, saying she wanted something more meaningful.

Courtier Sir Nicholas Carew coached Seymour in this brilliant play at demure seduction and little by little it worked to prise Henry away from Anne Boleyn. Ten days after Anne's execution in 1536, Henry and Jane were secretly married. She took as her motto 'Bound to obey and serve' but never surrendered her Catholic faith, hoping to return Henry to the true faith.

The first test of Jane's influence was in defence of the devout Catholic princess Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon. Risking charges of treason and death, Jane argued fiercely for Mary's rehabilitation, enlisting the support of friends. However Mary would not be championed, declaring her mother's marriage illegal and incestuous, and herself a bastard. Jane's intervention in politics had backfired.

In autumn 1536 the dissolution of the monasteries and destruction of churches had begun. In the countryside a great revolt known as the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in Lincolnshire and soon engulfed the whole of the north of England. Nobles and peasants found a charismatic leader in Robert Aske. Jane faced a dilemma. Her sympathies were with the aims of the rebellion, her duty was to her husband, who she believed was sinning against God.

She again questioned the king's authority and came close to charges of treason, but when Henry could not defeat the rebels he agreed to visit the north with Jane, negotiate a settlement and even crown her a Catholic Queen of the North in York Minster.

Shortly afterwards Jane fell pregnant. But Henry betrayed Jane. He cancelled her tour of the north and her coronation, ordered the arrest of the rebel leaders and had their heads placed on spikes.

When Jane gave birth to the king's first son and heir, Edward, the court and country rejoiced, but she became ill with septicaemia and on 24 October 1537 she died. Henry was stricken with grief and withdrew from the court. Cromwell took affairs of state into his hands.

One son was not enough to ensure the continuation of Henry's dynasty, particularly bearing in mind his brother Arthur's untimely death. Reluctantly Henry accepted Cromwell's pressure to find yet another new wife.



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