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Jane Seymour

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Jane Seymour was strict and formal compared to her flamboyant predecessor, Anne Boleyn.

Queen Jane, Jane Seymour (c. 1508 or 1509October 24, 1537) was the third wife of King Henry VIII of England. She gave him his only male heir, later Edward VI, but died shortly after his birth.

Contents

Biography

Jane was the daughter of Sir John Seymour of Wiltshire and Margaret Wentworth. Her birth date is problematic; it is usually given as 1509. However, in The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir noted that at her funeral 29 women walked in succession. Since it was customary for the attendant company to mark every year of the deceased's life in numbers, Weir moved Jane's birth back by about eighteen months.

After serving as a lady-in-waiting to both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, Henry's first two queens, Jane caught the king's eye. His desire to marry her made him eager to believe the false accusations of adultery against Anne. Henry married Jane on May 30, 1536 only eleven days after Anne's execution, and she quickly became pregnant.

As Queen, Jane was strict and formal. She was close only to her female relations, Anne Stanhope (her brother's wife) and her sister, Elizabeth Seymour. The glittering social life and extravagance of the Queen's Household, which had been masterminded by Anne Boleyn, was replaced by a strict, almost oppressive, atmosphere in Jane's time. Desperate to appear like a queen, Jane became obsessed with tiny details, such as how many pearls were sewn into each lady's skirt, and she banned the elegant French fashions introduced by Anne Boleyn. Politically, Jane was a conservative, but her only intervention into the realm of government in 1536 ended when the king brutally told her to remember the last queen, who had lost her head because she meddled in politics.

During her pregnancy, Jane developed a craving for quail, which the King ordered for her from Calais and Flanders. She grew incredibly fat and her dresses had to be unlaced as much as possible. Jane went into seclusion in September 1537, and gave birth to a male heir, the future King Edward VI of England on October 12, 1537. However, she contracted puerperal fever and died on October 24 1537 at Hampton Court Palace. She was buried at Windsor Castle. Upon her tombstone there was for a time the following inscription:

Here lieth a Phoenix, by whose death
Another Phoenix life gave breath:
It is to be lamented much
The world at once ne'er knew too such.

Jane's two ambitious brothers, Thomas and Edward, used her memory to improve their own fortunes. After Henry's death, Thomas married Henry's widow, Catherine Parr, and also had designs on the future Elizabeth I. In the reign of the young King Edward VI, Edward Seymour set himself up as protector and effective ruler of the Kingdom. Both brothers eventually fell from power, and were disgraced and executed.

In film

Jane was first portrayed in film in the 1920 German film Anne Boleyn by actress Aud Edege Nissen. Thirteen years later, Wendy Barrie played a delightfully dim version of Jane opposite Charles Laughton's Henry VIII in Alexander Korda's highly-acclaimed masterpiece The Private Life of Henry VIII.

It was not until 1969 that Jane Seymour appeared in the screen again, and it was this time only for a few minutes in Hal B. Wallis' Oscar-winning Anne of the Thousand Days. Jane was played by Lesley Paterson, opposite screen legend Richard Burton as Henry VIII. Towards the movie's end, Anne Boleyn (played by Genevieve Bujold) dismisses her as a woman with "the face of a simpering sheep and the manners--but not the morals."

A year later, a 90 minute BBC television drama, "Jane Seymour" presented Jane as a sweet, painfully shy, introvert devoted to her husband, Henry VIII. Henry was played by Australian actor Keith Michell, and Jane by British actress, Anne Stallybrass.

In 1973 this interpretation of Jane was repeated in Henry VIII and His Six Wives, in which Keith Michell reprised his role from the BBC drama but Jane Seymour was played by Jane Asher.

Jane was played by Charlotte Roach in Dr. David Starkey's documentary series on Henry's queens in 2001 and by Naomi Benson in the BBC television drama "The Other Boleyn Girl," opposite Jared Harris as Henry VIII and Jodhi May as Anne Boleyn. In this drama, Jane's part was minimal.

In October 2003, in the 2-part ITV drama, "Henry VIII" Ray Winstone starred as the king. Part 2 charted the king's life from his marriage to Jane Seymour (played by British beauty, Emilia Fox) until his funeral in 1547. Jane was presented as a woman of moral courage and integrity, although some historians took issue with the suggestion that Henry hit her.

Historiography

Jane was widely praised as "the fairest, the discreetest, and the most meritous of all Henry VIII's wives" in the centuries after her death. One historian, however, took serious umbrage to this view in the 19th century. Victorian beauty and much-praised scholar, Agnes Strickland, author of encyclopaedic studies of French, Scottish and English royal women said that the story of "Anne Boleyn's last agonised hours" and Henry VIII's swift remarriage to Jane Seymour "is repulsive enough, but it becomes tenfold more abhorrent when the woman who caused the whole tragedy is loaded with panegyric."

Modern historians, particularly Alison Weir and Lady Antonia Fraser, paint a favourable portrait of a woman of discretion and good-sense--"a strong-minded matriarch in the making," says Weir. Others are not convinced.

Hester W. Chapman and Professor E.W. Ives resurrected Strickland's view of Jane Seymour, and believe she played a crucial and conscious role in the cold-blooded plot to bring Anne Boleyn to the scaffold. Dr. David Starkey and Karen Lindsey are both relatively dismissive of Jane's importance in comparison to Henry's other queens--particularly Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr. Joanna Denny, Marie Louise Bruce and Carolly Erickson also refrain from giving overly-sympathetic accounts of Jane's life and career.

External links

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