Thursday, January 01, 2009

Question from Elizabeth M. - Familial connections between Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour

Wow, I may be the first post of the New Year!! Happy New year everybody!!
My question concerns the familial relationship between Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour. They shared a great-grandmother in Elizabeth Cheney. Jane Seymour's mother, Margaret Wentworth, was a daughter of Anne Say, Elizabeth Cheney's daughter from a marriage to John Say. Anne Boleyn's mother, Elizabeth Howard, was the daughter of Elizabeth Tylney, Elizabeth Cheney's daughter from her marriage to Frederick Tylney.
This is never mentioned in the histories I have read that Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour were so closely related. Why is that? Did Anne and Jane know--it seems they would, because pedigree was everything back then.

24 comments:

Foose said...

I find it odd, too. I think the reason may be that writers are not aware of the relationship -- it's that of second cousins, stemming from half-sisters, so it's not immediately noticeable. But it does explain why Jane was one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, since a place at court was hard to get. It might even explain how she got her original job with Catherine in the 1520s, since Anne might have been able to engineer the Queen's appointments through her influence with Henry and tried to install a spy or two. And it also explains why there wasn't a whole lot of perturbation on the part of the Duke of Norfolk and his following -- by the familial calculus of his time, Jane was his "niece" too (the first cousins of one's parents were referred to as "uncle" and "aunt") -- at Anne's downfall.

I first became interested in the relationship between the two women while reading Evelyn Anthony's Anne Boleyn, in which Jane was referred to as the Duke's niece. I tracked down confirmation of the relationship in Pamela Gross' biography of Jane Seymour. I agree that more historians should take a look at this. I think Anne's problem is that in early 1536 there was a split in her cobbled-together following (evangelicals + the original base of conservatives who had hated Wolsey), with the Wolsey-haters (Norfolk, Catherine supporters, opponents of the French alliance and old-style aristocrats and traditionalists) pitching on Jane as their figurehead once Anne's vulnerability became apparent, while the hard-line evangelicals remained with Anne.

Foose said...

Another thought -- Catherine de Medici had the same familial relationship with Diane de Poitiers, her husband's mistress. Diane was originally installed in Catherine's household because she was her kinswoman - it was thought to be doing Catherine honor. And then the Queen couldn't get rid of her.

There's a new biography of Jane Seymour promised on the back flap of Elizabeth Norton's just-released Anne Boleyn. Since it's pretty hard to get a full-length book out of the few scraps we know of Jane Seymour's life, perhaps the genealogical question will be addressed here.

PhD Historian said...

Foose, I absolutely agree with your first response: The relationship is seldom addressed in all likelihood because modern writers, especially academic historians, are unaware of it. I can only speak for academics, but within that group consideration of extended genealogies is usually thought to lie outside the scope of their research ... almost as though it was beneath them, too amateurish. They tend to leave it instead to antiquarians and writers for the general public. About the only time academics pay attention to genealogy is in regard to royals (by birth, not marriage) or illegitimacy. But obviously the mistake in that line of elitist thinking is that academics often miss one of the single strongest connections between historical figures: that of family.

Elizabeth M. said...

This raises another question. Did King Henry have to get a dispensation from the Pope to marry Jane since she was so closely related to Anne Boleyn? The consanguinity issue? You never hear about that.

Elizabeth M. said...

There were questions because Henry slept with Mary Boleyn, so would there not have been a dispensation to marry his wife's cousin?

Elizabeth M. said...

Duh, what am I thinking? Henry had broken with the Catholic church by then. Where did my mind go?

Lara said...

There was a discussion of the dispensation for Henry's marriage to Jane here: http://tudorhistory.org/queryblog/2007/11/question-from-monica-dispensation-for.html

I completely forgot about that discussion... Foose raised the possibility that the dispensation was referring to the Boleyn sisters.

Lara said...

Well, he did get a dispensation to marry Jane, but presumably it was from the Archbishop of Canterbury?

Foose said...

Yes, Cranmer issued the dispensation to allow Henry's and Jane's marriage. There was a dispensation to cover Henry and Jane's kinship, and also Jane's and Anne Boleyn's (because even if Henry wasn't married to Anne, as he then insisted, he still had a carnal relationship with her and that created the affinity).

Perhaps Phd historian could better address this, but these dispensations issued by the Archbishop of Canterbury were probably not recognized on the Continent. When Edward succeeded, I remember there was some muttering by the Imperials, because although both of Henry's first two wives were dead when he married for the third time, the realm was in schism and therefore Edward could be considered illegitimate. So the dispensations Henry obtained to marry Jane were invalid (from an Imperial standpoint -- nobody in England was going to attack Edward's legitimacy).

When Henry was pursuing Christina of Milan for his fourth wife, the Emperor insisted that a dispensation from the Pope was necessary (because Christina was Catherine of Aragon's grandniece). There was no way that Henry would now recognize the authority of the Pope to dispense and so his envoys countered with an offer to get a dispensation from Cranmer. The Imperials said thanks, no dice.

PhD Historian said...

If Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour shared a common great-grandmother in Elizabeth Cheney (their "common-stock root in a collateral line"), the two younger women were related in the collateral third degree in blood (consanguinity).

Although marriage between persons related in the third degree, even if the relation stems from a marriage (i.e., "in-laws"), is prohibited under Roman Catholic canon law, I am not certain that it was prohibited in England in 1536. During the years after Henry VIII's divorce from Katherine of Aragon, a number of statutes were passed in Parliament that voided Roman canon law in England. For a time during Henry's reign, marriage in the English church was governed only by Levitical law. And Levitical law does not prohibit marriage between persons related only by marriage in a collateral third degree.

I know in the previous post to which Lara provided the link I said Roman canon law still applied in 1536, but I may have been wrong (I am occasionally wrong! LOL). I would have to check all of the statutes for Henry's reign to be certain, but I seem to recall that Henry had Roman canon law replaced by Levitical law while married to Anne Boleyn, then Edward VI replaced it with another standard, then Mary and Philip returned it to Roman canon law, then Elizabeth finally reverted it to a canon marriage law once again based on Leviticus. Complicated, huh? I'm just not sure what changes were made in which precise years.

If there was a dispensation issued for the Henry-Jane marriage, it was probably because English canon law was still unsettled and still in the process of being adapted to the new ecclessiastical regime. Better an unneeded dispensation than failing to get one and finding out later that it affected the legitimacy of any male heir produced from the marriage.

IF a dispensation was required for Henry to marry Jane, it would probably have come from the Synod of Bishops, not the Archbishop of Canterbury acting alone. Remember, Henry VIII had been declared Supreme Head of the Church in England rather than the Archbishop of Canterbury. But Henry could not give himself a dispensation. Therefore his recourse must have been to a council (Synod) of "his" bishops ... though they of course did as he directed them to do.

Foose said...

It's possible that who exactly, officially, issued the English dispensations may have been misunderstood abroad. There's a letter from the Emperor in February 1539, in which he says:

As to the marriage [of Duchess Christina], the Emperor would like it much — upon sufficient assurance, especially the dispensation for the relationship, without which the said marriage would not be legitimate. As to what has been proposed, to take [Henry VIII's] dispensation as head of the English church, he can see that this would not satisfy the Duchess and her relations anymore than one from Rome would satisfy the King. During the King's life they could trust in his honesty and virtue; but afterwards troubles might arise to the Duchess and the children of the marriage.

But the Emperor may have perfectly understood that whoever or which official body issued the dispensation, it would be Henry behind the decision.

kb said...

Going back to the issue of familial connections - I agree with phd historian that traditional academics think of genealogy as 'history for lay people'. However, the family was a fundamental political structure. In a dynastic kingdom how could it be otherwise? At least this is what I argue in my thesis/dissertation.

Many arrangements including court appointments, household office, and even membership in Parliament were determined by familial connections. Without knowledge of these relationships, academic historians are overlooking a significant driver of the political kingdom. I was a bit gleeful when Simon Adams admitted he made a mistake in his original thesis regarding Robert Dudley's parliamentary influence when he neglected to recognize the relationship between the Knollys contingent and Dudley's second wife Lettice.

Female court appointments were almost exclusively driven by familial relationships. Whether Anne played a role in Jane's appointment clearly needs additional research. Alternately, the duke of Norfolk might have had a hand here.

Merlin said...

Henry may have obtained a dispensation to marry Jane due to his relationship to her rather than hers to Anne. I think they were third cousins once removed? I suppose it all goes to show how closely related the English nobility and royal houses were.

Lara said...

Foose mentioned that Henry got a dispensation to cover both his relationship to Jane (fifth cousins, I think?) and to cover a closer relationship, which has been the cause of speculation. In a previous discussion (which I linked to in an earlier comment) Foose speculated that the closer relationship was because Anne and Jane were cousins.

Merlin said...

Yes, I was wrong.. Henry and Jane were fifth cousins. I think Henry and Katherine Parr were fourth cousins once removed. Did Henry bother to obtain dispensations for marrying Katherine Howard (being as she was Anne's first cousin) and Katherine Parr (on the basis of his relationship to her)? Or had he given up bothering by then? Dear me- it's all very confusing isn't it!

Foose said...

Wait, wait! I have made an error. I assumed from the previous thread that the questioner (Monica) was aware of two dispensations issued for Henry's marriage to Jane and she was asking about the second one (which indicated a second-cousin affinity, which would fit Jane and Anne's relationship). However I can't find a source that says two dispensations were issued, only the one which is usually said to cover Henry and Jane's kinship (fifth cousins, more removed than second cousins).

I'll keep rooting around. I would think from Richard III's example (three needed, two found in the Vatican archives) that at least two dispensations would have to be issued to cover the legality of Henry's marriage to Jane under canon law. But as phd historian says, things were in flux so maybe only one was thought necessary.

Merlin, I was wondering the same thing about Howard and Parr. I haven't read anything yet thought about the existence of dispensations for their marriages with Henry.

Foose said...

The only reference I could find was in Letters and Papers, May 16-20 1536:

Dispensation by Cranmer to Henry VIII. and Jane Seymour, to marry, although in the third and third degrees of affinity, without publication of banns. Lamehithe, 19 May 1536.
Parchment, p. 1. Signed: "T. Cantuarien."


This is not very helpful, although it does say "in the third and third degree" - could this be a possible mistake, either in L&P or in the dispensation itself, for "third and fifth degree"? Or did "third and third" apply to both parties to the marriage? In any case, I believe the "third degree" does refer to a second cousin, not a fifth cousin, which Henry and Jane were.

Katlyn R. said...

So then... did Henry possibly have a dispensation to marry each of his wives, barring Anne of Cleves?
(I'm new-ish to being a Tudorfreak, only 8 or 9 months in, and I had no idea that dispensations were such a part of the routine.)

Foose said...

I've gone through Letters & Papers and there's no reference in this collection to Henry getting any dispensations after his marriage to Jane. Phd historian has indicated that canon law was in flux after the break with Rome, so perhaps it was decided that dispensations for his marriages to Kathryn Howard and Katherine Parr were not needed under Anglican rules, although there was definitely affinity as defined under the Roman canon law (particularly with Kathryn Howard, as her uncle had been married to Henry's aunt and Henry had had carnal relations with two of her first cousins).

An alterative explanation is that there were dispensations issued and they just haven't been found in the archives.

bookworm said...

They were all distantly related.

Elizabeth M. said...

Are there any contemporary accounts that reveal if Anne and Jane themselves were aware of their relationship?

Foose said...

I've never heard of or seen any existing source documents that would offer absolute evidence that they knew of their relationship ... but it's very safe bet that they were very aware of their relationship. All 16th century people of the noble class were minutely aware of their kinship and lineage. It was the essential component on which the society ran.

Knowing and leveraging your past and current blood connections:
-Would help you get a job, office pension, or other preferment
-Would help you avoid legal charges, imprisonment, fines, penalties and being hanged like a common felon (instead of beheaded)
-Would provide you with useful backup and support in a lawsuit, petition, accusation of treason, suing for pardon or providing for your spouse and children if the worst happened
-Would provide you with a suitable education in someone else's household
-Would allow you to claim inheritances, class or family privileges, or hereditary rights of participation in court activities, military campaigns, foreign embassies, etc.
-Would facilitate your advantageous marriage or those of your siblings or children
-Would enable you to create broadly-based alliances that could exert considerable pressure on the authorities and institutions to your advantage and that of your family

So everyone knew who everyone else was, and who they were related to, and who was the "big man" of their family, and who their traditional enemies were, etc., etc. You were born into it, and you rapidly learned how to work it.

For Jane Seymour, her mother's half-cousin the Duke of Norfolk would have been the "big man" of her family pre-Anne Boleyn's ascent to power. She might even have addressed him as "Uncle," since by the custom of the day your parents' first cousins were addressed as Aunt and Uncle. (Philip of Spain address Mary Tudor as "aunt," a term of respect, not an insult.) She would have known all her Howard cousins and the various ramifications proceeding from them.

Once Anne Boleyn began her rise to power, I think Jane's family would have been assiduous in making use of their blood relationship with her -- possibly this is how Jane got to be maid-of-honor to both Catherine and Anne. (It's possible that Jane, like Madge Shelton, another Boleyn cousin who was Anne's maid of honor, was originally selected by Anne as a trusted agent to distract Henry while Anne was pregnant, but Jane may have had more ambitious ideas.) Anne Boleyn's father was promoted to Earl of Wiltshire -- probably of definite interest to Jane's father, whose estate was based in Wiltshire, and who consequently would have glad to claim kinship with Thomas Boleyn.

Foose said...

I found out why Henry did not need a dispensation to marry Kathryn Howard, whose first-cousin relationship with Anne Boleyn would ordinarily have required it. Apparently in 1540, when everyone knew that Henry was going to marry Kathryn as soon as he got free of Anne of Cleves, Parliament "helpfully abolished the impediment of consanguinity insofar as it applied to first cousins" (David Loades, Tudor Queens of England). So this explains the absence of notes in Letters and Papers about dispensations for Henry's latter marriages. I would imagine if a first-cousin relationship no longer constituted an impediment, more distant relationships (Henry and Katherine Parr) probably required no dispensations either.

fatima sajid said...


Henry the eight is distantly related to all of six of his wives, because of their common ancestor King Edward 1 of England. Kathryn Howard and Anne Boleyn were first cousins, Katherine Parr was Henry the eight's third cousin, once removed. So all of his wives were related and he was related to them.