Monday, November 26, 2007

Question from Monica - Dispensation for Henry's marriage to Jane Seymour

On the day of Anne Boleyn's execution, Henry VIII obtained a dispensation for him to marry Jane Seymour, although in the third degree of affinity. To my understanding, he meant her second cousin.

Now Jane and Henry were only fifth cousins, so I assume he had an affair with her second cousin. I can't find out who this might mean! I know she was related to the Bryans, so thought it might mean Elizabeth Carew (nee Bryan), the wife of Nicholas Carew and the sister of Francis Bryan. But I can find no mention of how closely related they were.

Any ideas?


PhD Historian said...

Ah, you've hit on the very thorny issue of early sixteenth-century canon law regarding marriage. It is hugely complex, and I'm not even sure that I understand it completely myself, but in a nutshell, consanguinity and impedimetns of affinity were determined by more than simply direct blood relation. If you want a really thorough explanation, see the online version of the Catholic Encyclopedia under "consanguinity." The sheer length of the article will reveal how comlpex the issue really is. And when Henry married Jane Seymour, he was acting under Roman Catholic canon law - the English Church did not adopt the Levitical laws on marriage until after the Elizabethan Settlement. In Henry's case, the impediment of affinity in the third degree meant that he could not marry any woman who was related in the third degree to either Katherine of Aragon or Anne Boleyn or any of his mistresses. This could easily extend to fourth and fifth cousins, if the "root" or "common stock" (in canon law terms) was itself close enough. A single common great-grandparent between Jane and any of Henry's wives or mistresses would put Jane within the third degree of affinity (though not necessarily the third degree of consanguinity), for example. So to arrive at an accurate answer to your question (what relationship placed Henry and Jane at the third degree of affinity), you must backtrack up all of their lines to all of the great-grandparents of each party ... 8 for Henry, 8 for Jane, 8 for Katherine, and 8 for Anne, plus 8 for each of his known mistresses. Then check to see if any of those great-grandparents was common to them both. That would create a third degree of *consanguinity*. Now the really fun part: work your way back down again through each and every offspring of all 32+ great-grandparents to see whether any two of those gazillion men and women had sexual ties to each other. If so, you have a tie within the third degree of *affinity* (as I understand it). It is all ridiculously complicated, which is one of many reasons why the English Church dropped Roman canon law in favor of simple Levitical marriage law.

GarethR said...

I'm afraid I have to agree with our PhD student on this one. There's no simple way of guessing what caused the need for the Henry-Seymour dispensation in 1536. I think it's too simple to suggest, as Alison Weir does, that this may have mean that Jane herself had been party to an affair with a cousin (however distant) of the king's, or that Henry himself was involved with one of Jane's relatives (more likely, but improvable given the paucity of evidence. We only know about his affair with his previous wife's relative - Mary Boleyn - because of a parliamentary question on the rumour several years later.) Given the innate complexity of pre-Reformation canonical law on the subject, it's almost bound to have been caused by the reasons listed by the PhD student.

Foose said...

The dispensation could refer to Jane Seymour being the second cousin to Anne and Mary Boleyn. They shared a common great-grandmother in Elizabeth Cheyne or Elizabeth Cheyney, who married first Sir Frederick Tilney and became the mother of Elizabeth Tilney, Countess of Surrey (Anne's grandmother), and secondly to John Say or de Sayne, and became the mother of Anne de Saye, Jane Seymour's maternal grandmother. Even if Henry was not married to Anne, he had carnal relations with her and her sister, putting him into a forbidden degree of affinity to Jane.

Foose said...

The dispensation may refer to Jane being the second cousin of Anne and Mary Boleyn, through their common great-grandmother Elizabeth Cheyne or Cheyney. This woman married twice: first to Frederick Tilney, by whom she bore Elizabeth Tilney, later countess of Surrey and Anne Boleyn's maternal grandmother; and second to John Say or de Saye, by whom she had Anne, maternal grandmother of Jane Seymour.

Henry VIII's carnal relationship with Anne and Mary (irrespective of whether he was actually married to Anne) put him in the forbidden degree of affinity to Jane.

monica said...

Thanks, Foose, I think that must be it. I've never heard mention that they were related.

Foose said...

Yes, due credit should go to Pamela Gross, whose Ph.d thesis "Jane Seymour" first pointed out the relationship. I've checked out some genealogy Web sites to confirm it. It's interesting but it also makes sense ... David Loades in his most recent book observed that there were comparatively few women of noble or gentle birth at court (plenty of laundresses, though, I imagine) because to be a lady staying at court you had to be attached to the Queen's household. Anne Boleyn would have tightly controlled her personnel, restricting it wherever possible to her own relatives -- and that would explain why Jane got the job.

Anne had another cousin, Madge Shelton, who apparently was a sort of interim mistress for Henry, a situation accepted by Anne because it still consolidated the Boleyn interest and Madge knew her place. Could Jane have started out the same way, groomed to be another part-time mistress until Anne was up to full strength again? Henry's interest would have initially been tolerated by Anne because the Seymours were affiliated with the Howards and hence the Boleyns by blood. And then did the Seymours, primed by Carew and the Aragonese faction, decide to break away from the Boleyn party and play for their own advantage?

It would explain why the Duke of Norfolk was fairly acquiescent in the liquidation of the Boleyns ... to him it would just mean another Howard relative in power. Henry could be said to have had not two Howard queens, but three, which sheds an interesting light on factional politics.