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Jane Seymour was the daughter of John Seymour, a minor noble, and became the third wife of King Henry VIII of England. Unlike her famous predecessors, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, little is known of Queen Jane. Henry VIII, though notoriously fickle, retained affection for his third wife for the rest of his life, and is buried beside her at Windsor Castle.
Jane is believed to have been born in either 1508 or 1509, although records vary. Rather than receiving a classical education, Jane Seymour was tutored only in subjects thought appropriate for females, such as embroidery and household affairs. It is believed she could not read or write anything other than her name. At the age of 19 or 20, Jane became an lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, and later to Queen Anne Boleyn. Jane Seymour was said to be a quiet and demure woman, noted for her even temper.
Evidence suggests that the King became interested in Jane romantically during 1535 or 1536, when he was a guest at her family’s Wiltshire estates. By this time, the King’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was rapidly unraveling, as the queen could not provide him with a male heir. Experts disagree as to the intentional part Jane played in the subsequent trial and execution of her mistress, but within 24 hours of Anne Boleyn’s execution on May 20th, 1536, Henry and Jane Seymour were betrothed. They were married ten days later.
Anne Boleyn was raised in the French court, and as queen entered seriously into the world of politics. Jane Seymour, being considerably more conservative, banned the popular French fashions of her predecessor and stayed firmly away from the political arena. This may not have been entirely her choice, however, as her one attempt to receive pardons from the King on behalf of prisoners was met with a curt reminder of what had happened to the meddling Anne.
Henry’s wrath at Jane’s presumption was short lived. On 12 October 1537, Henry's most cherished wish came true as Jane Seymour gave birth to a healthy baby boy. The birth of the future King Edward VI secured the line of succession, removing, in Henry’s eyes, the chance of succession by either of his daughters from his previous wives. Edward's birth also alleviated Henry’s fear that he was cursed by God for his first marriage, and doomed never to have a son.
Unfortunately, Jane Seymour did not live to join the celebrations of the arrival of Henry's heir. Experts believe she contracted puerperal fever, a form of infection common after childbirth, and died on 24 October 1537. Her funeral was presided over by by Catherine of Aragon's daughter, the future Queen Mary I, who was a close friend of the short-lived queen.
Jane’s early death and the birth of Edward cemented her in King Henry’s memory with great fondness. He ordered an elaborate tomb built for her at Windsor Castle, and did not remarry for three years. Several years later, Henry ordered a family portrait that showed his daughters and his son beside him. Despite the fact that he had since married three more times, the woman seated with him was not his current queen, but Jane Seymour.
British history really is fascinating. I've always found it ironic that one of the girls Henry really didn't want -- Elizabeth I -- is the Tudor monarch who led England into a true Golden Age. And she was Anne Boleyn's daughter.
Jane Seymour must have wanted the crown very much, because, at that time, it was known that there was no security in being Henry's queen, and besides, by then, Henry was 45 and not the handsome, athletic prince he had been 20 years earlier. Jane must have wanted a prince more than it bothered her to have to deal with Henry to get one.
Henry's continued affection for Jane isn't surprising. After all, she helped him secure the succession by having a boy. That's what he had thrown over two wives for not doing before, so Jane being the one to have a prince to survive infancy ensured her place in his heart.
It is likely she could do more than write her name, even if she were not classically educated. She was one of Catherine of Aragon's ladies, and Catherine expected the ladies of her household to be able to write a neat hand (in case she needed a confidential secretary) and to be able to read to her in her leisure time.