Within 24 hours of the execution of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Henry VIII were formally betrothed.
In an unbelievable twist of fate, Jane Seymour, the woman that had come to court as a lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon and then served as a lady in waiting to Queen Anne Boleyn after the first queen fell from favour, was now on the brink of becoming queen herself.
There is much debate surrounding whether Jane Seymour was simply a political pawn that her powerful family manoeuvred into position when Anne Boleyn failed to provide the king with a male heir or whether she was in fact as ambitious as Anne had once been and willingly sought to replace the queen by enticing Henry with her outward façade of modesty and virtue.
Either way, on the 30th May 1536, Henry VIII married Jane Seymour in the Queen’s Closet at Whitehall Palace and she was publicly declared queen on the 4th June 1536.
Jane was not given the lavish coronation that Henry’s two previous queens enjoyed even though she did what her predecessors did not, she provided the king with his long wished for son.
In early 1537, rumours of Queen Jane’s pregnancy were confirmed and celebrations held in honour of this wondrous event. In early October, Jane retired to Hampton Court Palace for her ‘lying-in’ and on the 12th October 1537, after a long and arduous labour, Jane gave birth to a baby boy.
Finally, after 28 years on the throne, King Henry VIII had his legitimate heir to the Tudor throne.
On the 15th October, on the eve of St. Edward’s day, the little prince was baptised. Both his half sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, participated in the ceremony with Mary chosen as Edward’s Godmother. Thomas Boleyn was also in attendance and one can only wonder what his thoughts would have been at this time.
A weak and exhausted Jane participated in the ceremony but later retired to her rooms where her condition rapidly deteriorated. A distraught Henry did not leave his wife’s side the entire night. Despite all efforts made, the doctors were unable to save her and in the early hours of the 24th October, only 12 days after the birth of her precious son, Jane died.
It was later said that Jane died from complications of a caesarian section but this is highly unlikely as Jane survived the birth and attended Edward’s christening. There is also no record of excessive bleeding.
It is generally accepted by modern historians that Jane Seymour died of puerperal fever, also known as ‘childbed fever’. Eleven years later, Jane’s sister-in-law, Catherine Parr, would suffer the same fate.
She was given a solemn but magnificent state funeral and ironically, after being forbidden to attend her own mother’s funeral only a year before, Princess Mary acted as her chief mourner.
Henry VIII always spoke of Jane as his ‘true wife’ and left instructions to be buried next to her at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
Although the apartments where Jane gave birth to Edward and where she later died no longer exist, it is possible that the ‘space’ in which these events occurred recorded the pain, joy and sadness felt by those involved and every so often plays it back for those sensitive among us to ‘see’.
It is said that Jane Seymour’s ghost haunts Hampton Court Palace. She has been seen walking the cobbled grounds of Clock Court and on the anniversary of the birth of Edward is said to ascend the stairs leading to the Silver Stick Gallery, dressed in a white robe and carrying a candle. Unfortunately, the Gallery is not on the public route and so visitors are not permitted to enter this particular apartment.
Legend says that Jane’s heavy conscience and guilt about the manner in which she supplanted her queen, cause her to remain earthbound until she gains forgiveness from Anne Boleyn.
Each of us should decide for ourselves, is it the ghost of Jane Seymour returning in search of her son and forgiveness or simply the overactive imaginations of the Palace guests?