The last time I wrote about Jane Seymour’s death was back in 2014 – and I don’t really have a huge amount to add on a factual level. Still, I have since published Jane the Quene…and I covered this moment in there.
Now, it is a bit of a no-no to share an excerpt of the closing scene of a novel: it’s the ultimate spoiler. It gives away the ending to which the author was building for the whole book. THAT SAID, spoilers don’t really exist in historical fiction. Moreover, if you consider the scene’s position in the trilogy as a whole then this is kinda still near the beginnng…so I am going ahead!
With no further ado, the sad end of Jane Seymour, told from Thomas Cromwell’s point-of-view (and without the lovely formatting in the book)…
October 24, 1537 … 10 p.m.
Cromwell looked across at his King, then down at the Queen. To look at her was to know she would die at any time. Indeed, she had already received Extreme Unction, though she had not been conscious enough to make any of the responses. Four days ago was the last time Jane had truly been with them, enough to say the goodbyes that they refused to accept, and to share the deathbed wishes they insisted she would live to fulfill herself. Since then, she had stirred a few times as if to try to say something more – but her eyes never fully opened and her mumblings made no sense. Now she was at a point where even delirium could not rouse her from her coma. She was also at a point where her breathing sounded wet, though they kept denying it was the death rattle. They still all hoped for a miracle, kept trying anything they could do to get one. Poultices, warm and cold, remained a constant fixture on her forehead, neck and chest; and she lived in a red flannel wrap. An entire country prayed for her, and scores of monks chanted and blessed any item brought into the room or used near her. But still she weakened.
Cromwell looked around at the six of them draped around her bed, a bedraggled bunch after their lengthy vigil. Even Cromwell, though he had not been with them much – he knew that being unkempt was a badge of respect. The King had claimed the right-hand side to which he was entitled, and Cromwell stood behind His Majesty’s elbow. Elizabeth had the left side of the bed, close to its head, when the doctors weren’t ministering to the Queen, and farther down when they were. Mary, Anne, Edward, and Tom shared the foot of the bed. Not a lot of room for them, but no one cared. When the King and Cromwell left, the women would take that side. And the King didn’t come in all that often now: there was no point other than to torture himself. Not something he was known to do.
What horrible irony, that God had finally granted him the son he needed but took his perfect wife. Cromwell should have seen this coming – it was divine retribution, after all. The circumstances had always shielded Henry from real judgment. Catherine had been aged, so he would have had to leave her for someone – why not his heart’s choice? Anne had to be sacrificed to the realm like Empson and Dudley, so the King needed to choose a third wife. But there was a price to pay. One he could not dispute when his ultimate prayer had been granted by the Lord. Such irony.
Tragedy too, of course. Even for Cromwell. There was his curse. His own divine judgment, equally fair. The next wife, the next wife’s family, would not owe Cromwell a debt of gratitude like this one. Cromwell had been set. Now he had to do it again.
He took a deep breath. Stop. Everything was fine. This was not about dead or alive, boy or girl. It was about redemption. Jane Seymour had redeemed her son from the sins of his father. Edward would be an even better ally now. And after all, they were family now that Elizabeth had married Gregory.
What to do now? That was the only question. This one son was important, but not enough to secure the dynasty. He could still die, whether after two months like the tiny Henry all those years ago, or after sixteen years like FitzRoy. England needed another heir. The King needed another wife. And Cromwell needed to be the one the King turned to in the search.
This would be the perfect chance for a political marriage. Spain maybe? Cristina of Milan, Charles V’s niece, was much praised for her beauty and her charm. It was too awkward for England to actually broach the subject, given Henry’s treatment of the Emperor’s aunt…but surely Cromwell could manipulate Chapuys to think of the suggestion himself.
Of course, the King was not yet ready to remarry. But Cromwell needed to suggest it immediately. That would make the topic easier to broach. It would also allow the King to engage when he was ready, knowing that sooner was better than later, knowing that he would not be judged. Part of the secret of dealing with kings.
“You shall have something to remember her by, Mary,” the King said, out of the silence.
“No, Your Majesty, don’t talk like that,” Mary answered.
“She’ll not live. Just as my mother didn’t live,” he said. Then his face twisted, and he practically spat his next words. “You shall have Beckett’s amethyst. God owes me the stone for taking my wife’s life. I’ll wager the king who left it didn’t see his prayers answered either. He’s no martyr, just a false saint misleading my people. He should be exhumed and burned for his sins.”
Cromwell kept his face impassive, though he could see the others were less successful. Mary and Elizabeth looked horrified, the others just seemed stunned by the viciousness. Did they really not understand their king?
Truly, Cromwell tried not to smile at this clear political turn. The monasteries would never survive now. Except perhaps one. Jane had extracted from the King a promise to found a Benedictine abbey where monks would forever say prayers for her soul. No matter what Henry might do with the rest of the monasteries, there was one that would be saved forever. Assuming he followed through.
“She is our Moses,” the King declared. “She earned her great triumph – she ascended Mount Nebo and saw the holy Land of Israel…but like Moses she will not make it back down.” Tears streamed from his eyes, and he brought Jane’s limp hand to his lips to kiss it. “She is like the blessed phoenix symbol she chose, though she did not have its long life.”
The mythical bird that died to give a new one life, as she had with her son. Jane Seymour had chosen her badge well. Of course, she had seen it as representing the love rising from the shambles of the King’s failed marriage to the Boleyn. Edward had told Cromwell about that reasoning, inadvertently admitting that Jane had thought of it herself. The woman understood image. Better even than Margaret Beaufort.
Henry nodded and stood. “That should be her epitaph. ‘A phoenix who died in giving another phoenix birth.’ I want to add ‘let her be mourned, for birds like that are rare indeed.’”
He looked over at Cromwell, who nodded. He would remember. And take care of it.
Henry cast his eyes down, and made a silent sign of the cross over Jane. He turned and walked out of the room without looking back.
Thomas Cromwell looked around at the group that remained. He looked at Jane, her face in morbid shadows. Such a sad end for a woman at the pinnacle of achievement. Still, she would die a queen – something neither Catherine of Aragon nor Anne Boleyn had done. Jane would be buried as one too, with a funeral that displayed all the pomp and formality of the coronation she never had. Cromwell would see to it that every detail was perfect, he owed that to her. England owed that to her.
“I will have more candles sent in,” he said. “Enough to light the room as if it were day. Maybe that might confuse the Grim Reaper.” He bowed to the others and left for the last time.
(What? You haven’t read Jane the Quene or Path to Somerset yet? Please do! And equally important – please leave a review – even just a star rating! It makes a huge difference in helping new readers find them and would mean the world to me!)