October 1537 – Henry is Ready to Marry Again…

Wolfe Morris as Thomas Cromwell in BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Wolfe Morris as Thomas Cromwell in BBC’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Jane Seymour died on October 24, 1537, after giving Henry the son he had craved for so long.  At least two weeks before her funeral (held November 12), he was already thinking of his next wife: we have the letter, dated only “October,” in which Cromwell announces the death of the Queen – and instructs England’s representatives in France to open discussions with the French king.

This is one of those jaw-dropping scenes that The Six Wives of Henry VIII handled so well. Norfolk and Edward Seymour rolling shocked eyes when the cynical Cromwell starts to talk marriage with the King with Jane Seymour’s lifeless body behind them in the room – and Norfolk and Seymour standing open-mouthed when Henry responds with the physical requirements that are important to him (“I’m big in person, I need a big wife”). The actual letter (well, the summary reflected in Letters and Papers) is equally chilling:

They are to announce to Francis that though the Prince is well and “sucketh like a child of his puissance,” the Queen, by the neglect of those about her who suffered her to take cold and eat such things as her fantasy in sickness called for, is dead. The King, though he takes this chance reasonably, is little disposed to marry again, but some of his Council have thought it meet for us to urge him to it for the sake of his realm, and he has “framed his mind, both to be indifferent to the thing and to the election of any person from any part that with deliberation shall be thought meet.” Two persons in France might be thought on, viz., the French king’s daughter (said to be not the meetest) and Madame de Longueville, of whose qualities you are to inquire, and also on what terms the King of Scots stands with either of them. Lord William must not return without ascertaining this, but the inquiry must be kept secret.

Woof.

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August 3, 1537 – Elizabeth Seymour Marries Gregory Cromwell

"Portrait of an Unknown Woman," said to be Elizabeth Seymour, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

“Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” said to be Elizabeth Seymour, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In March 1537, Jane Seymour’s sister Elizabeth, a widow in a somewhat impoverished state, had written to Thomas Cromwell hoping to be considered for an award of lands from one of the dissolved abbeys. Instead, Cromwell took advantage of the opportunity to propose that she marry his only son and heir, Gregory. For Cromwell, this would be a huge step – he would be related to the King (not directly, more like an uncle-in-law, but the guys was a blacksmith’s son for goodness’ sake!). With Elizabeth’s consent, he worked out the terms with his good friend Edward Seymour and by June everything had been agreed.

Cromwell set his soon-to-be daughter-in-law up at Leeds Castle in Kent pending the wedding. She wrote him the following letter from there, making it clear that she had been well-educated (which is interesting to note since the lack of letters from Jane Seymour suggested to some historians that she might have been illiterate – this would argue against that conclusion). Without further ado, a charming missive from a bride-to-be to her powerful new father-in-law:

To the right honorable and my singular good lord, the Lord Privy Seal:

In most humble wise, as your assured poor beadwoman, I cannot render unto your lordship the manifold thanks that I have cause, not only for your great pain taken to devise for my surety and health but also for your liberal token to me, sent by your servant master Worsley; and farther, which doth comfort me most in the world that I find your lordship is contented with me, and that you will be my good lord and father: the which, I trust, never to deserve other but rather to give cause for the continuance of the same. Pleaseth it your lordship, because I would make unto you some direct answer, I have bene so bold to be thus long ere I have written unto you. And where it hath pleased your lordship as well to put me in choice of your own house as others, I most humbly thank you; and to eschew all sayings, I am very loth to change the place where I now am, and where my brother my lord’s house shall remove, the which, if such need e, shall be at one Ambrose Wellose, a quarter of a mile from your lordship’s place, as master Worsely can inform your lordship more plainly thereof. And where it hath pleased your lordship to give me leave, and also commandeth me, if I want, to send to you, and that I may be bold to open my heart, I ensure your lordship my heart hath been a great time in such trust; and now this letter from you, with that I find in it, doth me more pleasure than any earthly good for my trust is now only in you, and if I have any need I shall obey your lordship’s commandment herein. And thus I shall daily pray unto God for the preservation of your lordship most prosperously in health to continue. Amen.

Prayeth your humble daughter-in-law,

Elizabeth Ughtred

A quick note: we have letters from many great Tudor ladies in which they refer to themselves as “beadwomen,” often at the same time as they refer to themselves as friends and servants. While I cannot find a firm reference, the context suggests that the “beads” refer to the rosary so that they were assuring their recipients that they were praying for them. If anyone has any information about this, I’d love it if you’d share in the comments below!

SOURCES:

Letters: Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain Vol. II, by Mary Anne Everett Wood – Chiefly from the originals in the State Paper Office, The Tower of London, The British Museum and other State Archives (Volume 2)

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Easter Sunday 1536 – and 2016!

Easter Sunday, 1536 – a momentous day for Jane Seymour. It was the day that Eustace Chapuys bowed to Anne Boleyn as Queen at mass. Paradoxically, that was the gesture that paved the way for Henry to leave his wife. And now it’s a momentous day for me – the day my first book, Jane the Quene, opens for preorders.

I have been working on the book for more than thirty years, though in different incarnations. It was really in the last three years that I got serious and embarked on a long-term journey. The transformation happened when I got the idea to consider a trilogy, since the story of the Seymours is itself a three-act play. It hit me immediately that this was the lesson that my karate sensei had hammered into me: if you want to break a board, you don’t aim at it, you aim beyond it. Aiming at a single book never worked, but aiming at a trilogy gave me a target beyond the board.

In honor of the moment, I thought it appropriate to offer an excerpt. The book is structured, like my blog, around specific days. The excerpt I have chosen comes halfway through the book, and while I hate to divulge any “spoilers,” this is part of the entry for today (the actual dates are off, but Easter Sunday is Easter Sunday!) and therefore the only way to go. I hope you enjoy!

 

 

April 18, 1536…1 p.m.

Easter Sunday. The court was at Greenwich Palace, the favorite choice for important holy days because of the magnificence of its Chapel Royal, larger than many churches, with pompous marble and gilt softened by light filtered through massive stained glass windows. The King and Queen proceeded down the corridor, their gentlemen and ladies following behind. They walked slowly and formally, her hand on top of his. He had chosen cloth of gold for his coat; she had selected the same fabric for her pleated gown. It was clear that they had planned their outfits together. Indeed, when the King arrived in the Queen’s apartments that morning to fetch her for the parade to the chapel, he whispered a quiet “perfect” before kissing her hand. He hadn’t even noticed Jane, at least he hadn’t paid her any notice. Several ladies stole glances at her, but Jane ignored them. She understood.

The King and Queen entered the vestry, then paused. Lady Rochford was waiting for them. She curtsied, then nodded. The King looked at his wife and took a deep breath before nodding back. Lady Rochford opened the door to the chapel and the royal couple entered. The ladies began to follow, but the Queen stopped suddenly and turned around. She curtsied. All eyes went to the recipient of the reverence, Eustace Chapuys.

This was the carefully planned moment. The King had explained its significance to Jane the other day, the day Jane had returned to court. Flanked by Edward, she had gone to greet the King in his library. He got down briefly on one knee and kissed her hand, to apologize for the unintended insult of his gift of money and to thank her for returning. The gesture stunned her and she could not respond.

He rose to his feet to put her at ease and called for wine for all of them. When each had a glass, he raised his, and they did likewise. “To new beginnings.”

They engaged in innocuous conversation for a short time, then Cromwell arrived. “Ah, Sir Edward,” he said after the initial greetings. “You will be interested in this. Thomas Cranmer recently gifted the King a magnificent volume. The illustrations are inspiring.”

“Ah? Thank you.”

Cromwell turned briefly to the King. “Will you excuse us for a moment?” Cromwell asked. Without waiting for an answer, he took hold of Edward’s elbow and guided him over to the other side of the room.

The King in turn guided Jane over to the window seat and they made themselves comfortable. He began talking almost immediately, telling her about the court gossip she had missed, about the latest blooms that graced the gardens. He announced his desire to create a new rockery at Windsor, and the two of them spent almost an hour planning it before the King called to Cromwell and Edward to return from their corner. The conversation quickly became serious.

“Earlier I toasted to new beginnings. This Sunday will be an important new beginning for England.”

Jane managed to keep her gaze on the King, but felt Edward steal a glance at her.

“It is the day that Chapuys will bow to my wife or cause a war with England. Cromwell has worked out a scheme.”

Jane’s insides churned. What sort of new beginning was this? First he told Edward that he valued her virtue, now he was working to advance his wife? Did this mean that he accepted Jane’s resolve and respected it? That henceforth he would be happy with his wife? New beginnings. Jane had overplayed her hand and she had lost everything…

“And then I can leave her.”

Jane’s stomach flipped again. “Your pardon, Sire? I do not understand.”

The King looked her deep in the eyes. “I have come to understand that my marriage contravenes God’s rules. It should be as if it never was. When that is done, I shall sue for your hand, Mistress.”

Jane was stunned. She still didn’t understand why Chapuys needed to bow for this to happen, but she pushed that thought aside. Henry had said it. He wanted to marry her. He intended to marry her.

The King turned to Edward. “With your permission, of course. And your father’s.”

Edward opened his mouth but no sound came out. He just nodded his head while he looked for words to speak.

The King gestured for wine. Cromwell brought the flagon, refilling all their glasses with a small smile on his face.

“All of England will celebrate on our wedding day, all the world too. But before that happens, I must have Spain accept the choice I made and my right to make it, however ill-advised it may have been.”

Another flip. “You wish them to deny the Pope and accept you as Supreme Head of the Church?” Jane tried to keep her dismay off her face. They would never do that.

Cromwell broke in. “We do not ask them to deny the Bishop of Rome, only to accept the King’s authority in England. That is an important distinction. All Chapuys needs to do is bow to the Queen.”

Edward found his voice. “Chapuys has refused to do so for nigh on three years. Surely he will not do so now.”

Cromwell smiled. “Ah, but Chapuys has managed to avoid the Queen thus far. If we arrange a confrontation, he will have no choice.”

“Pardon me, Master Cromwell, but he could still refuse,” Jane said.

“That would be an inexcusable breach of protocol, Mistress Jane,” Cromwell said. “It would escalate the situation, even require an apology from Charles to avoid war. Chapuys is too cautious and smart to force his master into such a position.”

“By God, I hope you are right,” said Edward.

“We shall find out on Sunday. They will come face to face at Easter Mass.”

 

Did you love the excerpt? Let me know in the comments…and preorder here!

 

December 22, 1536 – The Thames Freezes in London

Frost Fair on the Thames, circa 1685, Artist Unknown (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Between 1309 and 1814, the surface of the Thames froze over a number of times in the London area – though only once during Henry VIII’s long reign. While temperatures were colder in those days, the main reason for this was the structure of Old London Bridge. With 20 piers and 10 arches, it encouraged chunks of ice to get caught, which slowed the flow of the river and made it more likely to freeze over (when New London Bridge opened in 1831, it had only five arches – and the Thames has not frozen over since). Still, it was a rare enough occurrence that it made for a big deal.

When it happened in 1536, it led to the Tudor equivalent of the show must go on. Tradition called for a ceremonial procession of boats from London to Greenwich for the holidays – a procession that could not take place. Instead, as Alison Weir describes it, “Henry, Jane and Mary, warmly wrapped in furs, rode on horseback from Westminster to the City… priests in copes with crosiers stood at every street corner waiting to bless the royal party and, in spite of the bitter cold, the people turned out in large numbers to watch the procession, cheering loudly.”

They rode directly to St. Paul’s to hear mass – the formal opening of the Christmas season – then “spurred their horses across the frozen river” to ride to Greenwich where they would stay for the rest of the holidays. The entire country rejoiced as they hadn’t in years – even Robert Aske was a guest at court, a visible reminder of how the whole country was united behind its King and Queen (admittedly, the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion would flare up again shortly afterwards, but the holiday display calmed the masses as it was meant to do).

The people would have continued to celebrate on the frozen river for well after that – documents from 1309 tell about organized entertainments “where a hare was hunted with dogs (and) a fire was built on the ice” and engravings from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries depict people erecting tents and selling food and drink and even souvenirs (!).

Any excuse for a party….

 

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia – River Thames Frost Fairs

Daily Mail – They too have a great article about London’s Frost Fairs

Alison Weir – The Six Wives of Henry VIII

 

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October 22, 1494 – Marriage of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth

October 22, 1494 – Marriage of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth. Read more on www.janetwertman.com

Sir John Seymour, by an unknown artist (image from Reformation.org)

Only four days ago, I posted about Margery Wentworth’s death in 1550 – it is strange how the vagaries of the “on this day” format sometimes lead to these seemingly out-of-order couplings! Still, since I just talked a lot about Margery, this post will focus on Sir John and the marriage itself.

Sir John Seymour was the oldest son of John Seymour of Wolfhall, Wiltshire and Elizabeth Darrell; he started with a solid pedigree then acquitted himself well at court. First, he was knighted in the field by Henry VII in 1497, for helping to defeat Cornish rebels in the Battle of Blackheath. Similar military service to Henry VIII in 1513 got him elevated to Knight banneret in connection with the sieges of Therouanne and Tournay. He was also chosen to accompany Henry to the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520, and welcomed his King to Wolf Hall on at least two occasions (once to hunt Savernake Forest with a small group, another time with the entire court during the 1535 Summer progress).

The marriage was by Tudor standards a successful one in that it produced successful children, lots of them. That said, there was a huge scandal that rocked the family: Sir John is alleged to have had an affair with Katherine Filliol from 1527-1529 – while she was married to his son Edward. It is believed Sir John actually fathered two of his own grandchildren – Edward certainly thought so, since when he repudiated Katherine he also disinherited the children they had together. There is no mention of how well familial relationships were repaired after that, though there was no record of any bad blood when Henry VIII’s Court stopped at Wolf Hall in September 1535 near the end of its Summer Progress.

Sir John died in December 1536, proud in the knowledge that his daughter Jane was Queen of England. Margery lived for 34 more years, until 1550. She never remarried.

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October 18, 1550 – Death of Margery Wentworth Seymour

October 18, 1550: Death of Margery Wentworth, Jane Seymour's mother. Read more about her on www.janetwertman.com

Margery Wentworth, possibly by Holbein (image via Reformation.Org)

Margery Wentworth Seymour, Jane Seymour’s mother, was born around 1478 – making her 72 or so when she died and an old woman by Tudor standards. She had a life that climbed to unexpected heights at its start, then devolved into tragedy.

Margery was said to be a great beauty in her youth, even rhapsodized by John Skelton in his poetry as a shy, kind girl reminiscent of primrose and columbine. She married Sir John Seymour when she was around 16 (he was 20). The couple went on to have nine children, six of whom survived childhood and four of whom became prominent at court. Indeed, their daughter Jane displaced Anne Boleyn to become the third wife of Henry VIII – and bear his son and heir. There was no greater pinnacle than royal scions.

There was some sadness mixed in with the good (after Sir John died in 1535, Jane succumbed to puerperal fever in 1537), but the Seymour fortunes continued to rise through 1547. They hit their apogee upon the death of Henry VIII: Margery’s grandson became King Edward VI of England, her son Edward became Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, and her son Thomas became 1st Baron Sudeley and married Henry VIII’s widow Queen Katherine Parr.

Unfortunately, two years later Sudeley lost his mind and tried to kidnap his royal nephew – he was executed in 1549. Margery died shortly after that, still believing in the great future of her family. She missed seeing everything crumble, first when Somerset overstepped his power and was executed in 1552, then when Edward VI died in 1553, four months before his 16th birthday….

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October 12, 1537 – Jane Seymour Announces “We Be Delivered of A Prince”

October 12, 1537 - Jane Seymour announces "We be delivered of a prince." Read the letter on www.janetwertman.com

Letter From Jane Seymour Announcing the Birth of Her Son, found recently in a stately home as reported by the DailyMail

 

Last year, my post for this day focused on the birth of Edward VI. This year, I want to focus on the announcement of that birth. Hundreds of copies of had been written in advance by scribes who had learned their lesson from 1533 – when they had to change “prince” to “princess” in the birth announcement for the Princess Elizabeth, but hadn’t left enough room for her to be anything more than a “princes”. I wonder how that made Jane feel as she was laboriously signing them in advance of her confinement…

By the Queen

Right trusty and well beloved, we greet you well, and for as much as by the inestimable goodness and grace of Almighty God, we be delivered and brought in childbed of a Prince, conceived in most lawful matrimony between my lord the King’s Majesty and us, doubting not but that for the love and affection which you bear unto us and to the commonwealth of this realm, the knowledge thereof should be joyous and glad tidings unto you, we have thought good to certify you of the same, to the intent you might not only render unto God condign thanks and prayers for so great a benefit but also pray for the long continuance and preservation of the same here in this life to the honor of God, joy and pleasure of my lord the King and us, and the universal weal, quiet and tranquility of this whole realm. Given under our signet at my lord’s manor of Hampton Court the 12th day of October.

Jane the Quene.

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September 16, 1537 – Jane Seymour Takes to her Chamber

September 16, 1537 - Jane Seymour Takes to Her Chamber. Read about the protocol involved on www.janetwerwertman.com

This was actually the first State Bed of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York

This was the start of the do-or-die part of Jane Seymour’s life: today was the day she took to her chamber to await the birth of the child she was carrying. There were strict formalities involved in a Tudor queen’s lying in. Lady Margaret Beaufort, the formidable mother to Henry VII, had assembled the rules and made them part of the fifteenth-century Royal Book, a handbook of court etiquette. Born under these strictures himself, Henry VIII had never even considered contravening his grandmother’s orders.

Approximately four-six weeks before her due date, a Tudor queen would go into confinement. The ritual would begin with a special mass, then a procession to the Queen’s chamber where guests would savor wine and spices and pray for her safe delivery, and finally a procession to the Queen’s bedchamber, which had been carefully fitted out according to the rules (which are set out below). The King and all his men would then leave, and the area would become entirely female until the baby was born.

Her Highness’ pleasure being understood in what chamber she will be delivered in, the same must be hanged with rich Clothe of Arras [precious tapestry woven with gold or silver threads], sides, roof, windows and all, except one window, which must be hanged so as she may have light when it pleaseth her. Then must there be set a Royal Bed, and the floor laid all over and over with carpets, and a cupboard covered with the same suite that the chamber is hanged withal. Also there must be ordained a fair pallet, and all things appertaining therunto, and a rich sparner hanging over the same. And that day that the Queen (in good time) will take her chamber, the Chapel where her Highness will receive and hear Divine Service, must be well and worshipfully arrayed. Also the great chamber must be hanged with rich Arras, with a Cloth and Chair of Estate, and cushions thereto belonging, the place under and about the same being well encarped. Where the Queen (coming from the Chapel with her Lords and Ladies of Estate) may, either standing or sitting, at her pleasure, receive spices and wine. And the next chamber betwixt the Great Chamber and the Queen’s Chamber to be well and worshipfully hanged; which done, two of the greatest estates shall lead her to her chamber, where they shall take their leave of her. Then all the Ladies and Gentlewomen to go in with her, and none to come unto the great chamber but women; and women to be made all manner of officers, as butlers, panters, sewers, etc. and all manner of officers shall bring them all needful things unto the Great Chamber door, and the women officers shall receive it there of them.

I have to wonder  how Jane felt right now. She must have seen this pregnancy as potentially divine  vindication – or condemnation. And given that her husband had blamed his lack of heirs on the women he’d married, was she worried that he would accuse her of some sort of lack if she gave him a girl?

SOURCES:

Ordinances and Regulations for the Royal Household, “As for deliverance of a Queene” page 125

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September 4, 1535 – Henry VIII’s Summer Progress Arrives at Wolf Hall

September 4, 1535 - Henry VIII's Summer Progress arrives at Wolf Hall. Read about it on www.janetwertman.com

Summer Hay Field – Photo by Karin Claus

Summertime in Tudor times meant a progress, where the court would leave the heat and stench and potential plague in London and travel around the countryside. Progresses were scheduled during the “grass season,” when the hay was being cut, other work was minimal, and the hunting ideal. A pared-down complement of courtiers would accompany the King and Queen to the royal residences and manor houses on a route that was carefully decided each year, well in advance (it was a great honor to host the court, though also a great responsibility).

The Summer Progress of 1535 was the longest and most politically charged that Henry had yet undertaken. He and Anne would spend fourteen weeks travelling through the West Country, greeting the English people and hopefully winning their support for their religious reforms. This was Anne’s first (and as it turned out, only) official progress  as Queen – in 1533, she was in the final stages of pregnancy (Elizabeth was born on September 7th), and in 1534 should have been so again (she miscarried in late June/early July, in what was thought to be her seventh or eighth month of pregnancy). The trip brought them to Wolf Hall – the ancestral home of the Seymour family. Given that Henry VIII married Jane Seymour only eight months after this visit, many people believe this was the start of their relationship. I certainly do.

Of course, their romance was a slow build. Remember, the King was a romantic who loved nothing more than the chivalry of courtly love. (In his early years, when he was still completely obsessed with Catherine, he would actually disguise himself to flatter and court her…). Henry would have been increasingly charmed and intrigued by Jane’s simplicity and shyness, especially compared with the firestorm that always seemed to surround Anne. That’s how I’ve presented it in Jane the Quene, so you can judge for yourself whether you agree or not.

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June 4, 1536 – Jane Seymour Proclaimed Queen

 

Greenwich Palace

A sketch of Greenwich Palace published in the Gentlemen’s Magazine in 1840

So most of you reading this will be expecting me to focus on how Jane was proclaimed Queen quite formally at Greenwich Palace. I hate to say it, but that’s not much more to say about this day…oh, there was a procession. They were still taking things slowly, so most of the celebrations occurred in the week afterwards. Today’s announcement was the first of a set of measured steps on Jane’s path out of obscurity. On Monday, Jane presided with the King as her brother Edward was elevated to Viscount Beauchamp of Hache (Thomas Seymour was not left out, he was made a gentleman of the Privy Chamber). On Tuesday, Jane was presented to court at a formal dinner. For a few days after that there were pageants and masques that she presided over from a raised dais. The weekend after the spectacle moved to the river and culminated in Henry’s riding to open Parliament in a full procession from Greenwich to Westminster. Cheering Londoners lined the banks and littered the Thames, and then more than a thousand courtiers and foreign dignitaries crowded Westminster’s Great Hall.

But back to today, and  the heart of this post: the way the rest of the country would have heard the news. This was Whitsunday, and every man, woman and child in the land would be expected attend mass to celebrate the descent  of the Holy Spirit. What better way to communicate news like this but through the Mass? Indeed, three years earlier, in 1533, this was the way the King announced that Anne Boleyn had replaced Catherine of Aragon. During the Eucharistic prayers, parishioners were asked to pray for “King Henry and Queen Anne,” rather than “King Henry and Queen Catherine.” Many people grumbled, some walked out in protest. That didn’t happen this time around, when they were asked to pray for “King Henry and Queen Jane.” Of course, this time people had a couple of weeks to prepare, the weeks after Anne’s execution during which they prayed for King Henry alone…but still. It reminds us how much people of the time hated Anne – her redemption began at her death but didn’t really gain any steam until her daughter Elizabeth took the throne and Gloriana’s reign allowed history to be reinterpreted. I know there are many of you out there who hate Jane Seymour, but without the son she provided, Elizabeth might never  have come to the throne. That alone should get people raising their glasses to the woman who provided England with the heir it needed.

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