I am pleased to welcome Danielle Marchant to the blog – she has written a guest post for me in honor of her new novel, The Treacheries of Fortune (Book Three in the Lady Rochford Saga). When we were first discussing this collaboration, we talked about how Jane Boleyn and Jane Seymour had a common bond, and Danielle’s post reflects that commonality! With that, I turn you over to Danielle…
On October 24, 1537, Jane Seymour, the third queen that Jane Boleyn served, died after only just giving birth to Henry VIII’s longed-for heir on October 12. The cause of death may have been due to puerperal fever.
Jane Seymour had become ill eight days after Edward’s christening. Thomas Cromwell later blamed her ladies-in-waiting – including Jane Boleyn – for neglecting her. He said that they had “suffered her to take cold, and eat such things as her fantasy in sickness called for”. However, this was unfair as Jane Boleyn and the rest of the ladies-in-waiting were very experienced in dealing with the care needed before, during and after childbirth.
It does not make sense to insinuate that Jane would have put her Queen in some kind of danger. Jane was the sister-in-law of Jane Seymour’s ill-fated predecessor, Anne Boleyn, and was wife of George Boleyn, both of which had been ousted by Anne’s enemies, which included the Seymour family. They both ended up in the Tower of London and were then executed on Tower Green within days of each other in May 1536, leaving Jane a poor widow. However, once the way had been paved for Jane Seymour to become Henry’s third wife, Jane Boleyn was restored to a position in Jane Seymour’s privy chamber.
Therefore, if there had been some kind of neglect, I do believe this may have been due to circumstances beyond Jane’s control at the time. I think it’s far-fetched to suggest that this was some kind of crazy act of revenge for helping to destroy the Boleyn Family. If anything, I believe both Janes had a lot in common and may have actually got on very well.
Bound to Obey and Serve
“Bound to Obey and Serve” was Jane Seymour’s motto. However, I do think it should have been Jane Boleyn’s motto too because one thing they shared in common is that they both knew how to survive Henry VIII’s court. They knew when to speak and when to keep silent.
Jane Seymour had been successful at reconciling Henry with his daughter Mary. Jane quietly encouraged Henry to bring Mary back to court in the autumn of 1536, but making sure at the same time that she didn’t put too much pressure on the King. Jane was successful and Mary returned to the palace, meeting Henry and Jane in the Chamber of Presence. Mary made a low curtsey to Henry, then walked over to Jane and Henry and curtseyed again before falling on her knees asking for Henry’s blessing. Her blessing was granted and he raised her up, kissing both Mary and Jane and welcomed Mary back. He then, to everyone’s horror turned around to the court and said “some of you weare desirous that I should put this jewell to death”. What possibly followed was an awkward silence, but Jane rescued the situation, saying “that had been great pittie to have lost your chefest jewell of England”. However, after hearing her father, Mary fainted and had to be revived by both Jane and Henry. She was reassured then by Henry – possibly after some encouragement from Jane – that she was completely safe.
However, Jane still had to know when to remain a silent observer because her influence over the King was limited. The Pilgrimage of Grace of October 1536 was a rebellion in response to the dissolution of the monasteries and other religious changes made by the King. The rebellion was the most serious crisis Henry had ever had to face, but Jane did sympathise with the rebel’s demands. Jane tried to speak to the King. She had succeeded with reconciling him with Mary and maybe she could make a difference here. She threw herself on her knees in front of the King in public and begged him to restore the abbeys. She told him “perhaps God permitted this rebellion for ruining so many churches”. However, Henry did not appreciate her protest, nor being told publicly that he was being punished by God. In anger, he responded “he had often told her not to meddle with his affairs” and then, to Jane’s horror, referred to Anne Boleyn and how her fate was linked to meddling. This was certainly enough to keep Jane silent afterwards.
Jane Boleyn also had to learn when to speak and when not to while serving five of Henry’s Queens. In addition to being questioned in May 1536, Jane was also later called upon to help with the annulment of Henry’s fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves. With two other senior ladies of the bedchamber, her aunt Lady Katherine Edgecombe and the Countess of Rutland, they had to speak openly about a conversation they had had with Anne, revealing that the marriage had not been consummated. While this was happening, Thomas Cromwell, on whom Henry took out his wrath over the failure of the marriage, was in the Tower awaiting his fate. Cromwell had helped Jane get back into the court after Anne and George’s execution, but we don’t know how Jane now felt seeing Thomas languishing in the Tower. Whatever her feelings though, she was unable to help him even if she wanted to. She had to stay silent. Like others that had been close to Cromwell, she had to disassociate herself with him. Cromwell was then executed in July 1540.
Their shared religious beliefs
Both Janes were catholic. Jane Boleyn was of the Parker family who were devoted to the Catholic faith. However, she married George Boleyn and both George and his sister Anne were Evangelical. I do believe it is possible that she may have felt uncomfortable with their beliefs and the new attitude that threatened the old ways. It was a frightening prospect.
Similarly, when Jane Seymour became Henry’s third wife in 1536, Martin Luther had branded Jane Seymour “an enemy of the gospel”. Luther believed that her Catholic beliefs could be a hindrance to religious change.
Both Janes had families that had ambitions for them. Their families would have worked to get their position to serve Catherine of Aragon. Also, their fathers would have tried to arrange a suitable marriage. Jane Boleyn had a marriage arranged with George Boleyn from a family that was gaining much influence in the 1520s. In 1534, Jane Seymour had a possible marriage arranged for her with William Dormer.
The Dormer family were prosperous wool merchants and William’s father, Robert, was gaining increasing influence at court as a member of parliament. It was a good match and Jane was by this point 25 years old and realising that she won’t have many other chances of a good marriage. However, the marriage never took place and William was quickly married off to Mary Sidney in 1535. A possible reason for the rejection was that Jane was not viewed as a great heiress and would not come with a great dowry; at the time, the Seymours were not enough of an important family to recommend Jane to any possible husband. This would have been quite a knock for Jane. However, as we know, in 1536, her life changed dramatically….
After Anne Boleyn’s execution on May 19, 1536, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour eleven days later and Thomas Cromwell had secured a position in Jane’s privy chamber for Jane Boleyn. To most of us, this would appear very tasteless. However, this does show another common ground between both women, that they had very little control over the court politics happening around them. One was of the Seymour family, the other of the Boleyns and both would have been used to help somehow bring about Anne Boleyn’s fall. We know very little about the thoughts and motivations of both Janes. We don’t know what Jane Seymour really thought of Anne Boleyn, but in reality this was probably irrelevant because she had no control over the events surround Anne’s fall in spite of what she may have felt. Jane was almost coached by Anne’s enemies, including Nicholas Carew and Sir Francis Bryan, on how to deal with the King and appear as the total opposite of Anne.
Similarly, we don’t know what Jane Boleyn really thought of Anne, although we do know that she was close to her and was a confidant. In 1534, when Henry turned his attention to another woman at court, Anne plotted with Jane to rid this woman. This attempt was unsuccessful and instead led to Jane’s temporary exile from court. The fact that they both plotted together shows closeness. However, again like in Seymour’s case, this too would have been irrelevant because she too had no control over the events surrounding Anne’s fall in the Spring of 1536. Like all of those in Anne Boleyn’s household, she would have been under duress to answer questions about the Queen’s behaviour, anything that could be used against Anne, despite the fact that this was her own sister-in-law. The questioning also sealed the fate of her own husband George, who was executed with a few days before his sister. As a lady-in-waiting, she would have seen everything and would have been a close confidant for Anne. During her struggle to conceive a son, allegedly, it was to Jane that Anne confided that Henry was impotent. In the events leading up to Anne’s execution, such a statement was treated as treasonous information that could not be withheld. Therefore, Jane had no choice but to admit what Anne had said to her, or risk being interrogated and put on trial herself.
Therefore, to conclude, when Jane Seymour died in 1537, the cause of death was probably more likely to have been due to the effects of childbirth. It is likely that she would have suffered with puerperal fever and this was in the days before antibiotics, when many women, including Henry’s mother and his sixth wife, Catherine Parr, died this way. Jane may have suffered an infection due to retaining part of the placenta in her womb and she also would have suffered great exhaustion from what was a very long labour lasting two days and three nights.
To insinuate that Jane Boleyn and the other ladies-in-waiting deliberately neglected her does not make sense because Jane Boleyn had a lot to lose without Henry’s third Queen. Jane Seymour’s death had an impact on Jane Boleyn because if there was no Queen, there would be no need for ladies in the privy chamber. Therefore, I believe both had a lot more in common that we think. They were both creatures of the Henrician court – and they were both bound to obey and serve it.
“Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford” – Julia Fox, Phoenix, 2007.
“Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love” – Elizabeth Norton, Amberley Publishing, 2009.
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Danielle Marchant is an Independent Author from London, UK. Parts 1, 2 and 3 of her series of historical novellas based on Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford’s life,“The Lady Rochford Saga”, are available now through Amazon. You can connect with her on Facebook where she posts as Jane Boleyn Lady Rochford, and you can also follow her blog (which includes interesting book reviews).