Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Question from Lilly - Theories on the character of Jane Seymour

I have some theories concerning the character of Jane Seymour, and I'd really appreciate some feedback on them.

Firstly, I believe (and I don't think I'm alone on this) that the attraction of Henry to Jane primarily stemmed from Henry's desire to completely stray from the extreme, rebellious, unconventional Anne Boleyn with the typical male ideal of a woman: dulcet, softspoken, and submissive. However, I find it very odd that Henry, being a man who prided himself in his lovely mistresses and eye for beauty, selected the plain, lackluster Jane Seymour for his next bride. How could a man such as he utterly overlook Jane's pallid features and general, as it has been deduced, lack of sexual appeal?

Secondly, Jane was completely illiterate and could only read and write her own name. Therefore, she was most likely lacking of the wit and charm that her predecessors possessed and Henry so treasured. If she could not read, what did she occupy herself with every day?
Embroidery? And, being such a devout Catholic, would the routine church visits seem limiting to her, despite their length? Meaning, is it
possible that she may have felt unsatisfied with her inability to control what Biblical readings were chosen to be read during service? If she wanted to know more, what were her resources? How could a heavily religious person such as her be able to worship outside of a formal church setting if she were unable to read?

To expand on the above, since Jane was so pious, is it possible that she had issues separating evil from good? What I mean is, the Bible had
and still has scads of moral tales in it that Jane was exposed to regularly. In many of the Bibilical stories, notably in the Deuteronomic
Histories, blind faith in God is praised above all and evil was portrayed in many forms, all of which could be converted into good (although this
is an irrelevant sidenote, said goodness was achieved by religious reformation or, chiefly, by death and hope for acceptance from God). Could this have rooted a belief in her that there was good in everything and everyone and that that good must be appealed to as opposed to resented, because with faith in God, one could abolish that evil? May these views have influenced her attitudes toward Anne and Henry? That while they may have committed evils they were still capable of good?

And, if Jane believed in the above, did she see Anne's decapitation as a positive event that would renew her faith in God and restore her to
purity and goodness? If so, could that be a possible explanation for Jane's seemingly indifferent attitude toward stepping over the dead body of her predecessor and assuming her role as queen? It seems odd to me that a religious sentimentalist such as Jane (as I view her) would have no objection to a clearly innocent woman (I say this because Anne's multiple "evidences" of infidelity contradicted each other so mercilessly that only a real idiot would be able to believe it; the propoganda seemed to be effective, despite this) being ostensibly murdered. Unless, of course, she thought that her religion deemed it ethical.

Also, I find it interesting that there are many parallels between Jane Seymour and Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York. They both died of puerperal (childbed) fever and were both idolized by their husbands. They both bore sons, were good-natured, gentle, and pious. One of the only differences I could find (and I'm sure there are more than this, as I've really only grazed the surface on this topic) is that Jane was physically less appealing than Elizabeth, who was said to have been very beautiful. Is it possible that Henry may have been reminded of his mother through Jane and that that may have increased his fondness of her both during her life and after, when he reflected on her? And, since he was old enough to recall his mother's death, as she died when he was ten or eleven, could that painful memory have been risen by the almost identical death of Jane? What evidence is there of the relationship between Henry and his mother, Elizabeth? If it was good, then perhaps the simila!
rities between she and Jane were regarded by Henry with tenderness; yet, if he had a bad relationship with his mother, that would kind of shoot down my theory.

Just some thoughts - many thanks in advance!

Also, please, no one take offence to my references to the Catholic faith. My speculations are just that - speculations - and I have no intention to offend anyone, if any offense may be taken from my thoughts.



Francesca Rose Woodburn said...

I have been doing Tudors at school and it is very expirienced if you know alot about the Tudors.

Foose said...

This is, of course, completely frivolous, but ... has anyone out there ever tried photoshopping Holbein's picture of Jane Seymour with long blonde or auburn hair in the place of the headdress? I think she might actually be fairly attractive.

Bearded Lady said...

Poor Jane. Someone had to be remembered as the ugly wife and she got stuck with the honor. I don’t think we can make the assumption that Jane lacked “sexual appeal.” Yes, the accounts of her appearance were not flattering, but her physical appearance has nothing to do with her sex appeal.

I am not going to touch the religious stuff.

It’s interesting to make parallels between Jane and Elizabeth, but keep in mind that it was Henry’s grandmother who was the true maternal force in his life. The formidable Lady Margaret Beaufort was in charge of Henry’s upbringing and may have even supervised his education. She was not a lady you wanted to mess with – Picture Judi Dench with a hair shirt.

Foose, I couldn’t resist switching Catherine Howard’s more attractive French hood with Jane’s gable hood:


I think it’s a BIG improvement. I could try her with some Pamela Anderson accoutrements, but I didn’t want her to lose her Tudor authenticity.

Foose said...

Bearded Lady, that was most amusing. Thank you for taking the trouble. I'd still like to see her with very straight, simple pale blond hair (not Pamela Anderson) to match the pale skin, but the French hood was definitely more becoming, perhaps by my corrupted modern standards.

Lilly, I've never heard that Jane Seymour was illiterate. Do you have a source? Even historians I've read who are hostile to her, like Ives, don't mention this. The standards for being a maid of honour to a royal personage were fairly rigorous, as the girls were on display to foreigners and supposed to represent the "flower of English maidenhood" - required to be good-looking, musically talented, "debonair" in the old sense. The competition was so fierce for the position and Henry's first two queens so erudite that I don't think an illiterate maid would have been chosen. Jane was a descendant of the Plantagenets, second cousin to Anne Boleyn, and member of an aspiring family -- I think she would have at least literacy in English, if not French.

Henry wrote her at least a couple of letters, one to be delivered to her with a purse of gold, so it would seem he thought she could read; I believe the account includes her kissing the letter and sending it back unopened, which could be the cunning act of an illiterate to avoid exposure. But I think she could read. Possibly writing was more difficult; it's been discussed in another thread that reading and writing were considered two entirely separate skills, with reading much the easier.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Jane does looks much better with the French hood!

And yes, while is has not been proven that Jane lacked sexual appeal, it is an assumption that I make in correlation with her physical unattractiveness. However, I don't really know what she looked like and what was sexually appealing back then, so I shouldn't have assumed.

Margaret Beaufort was the main motherly influence then, eh? Huh. I didn't know that. Thanks!

I read online in a few places that Jane could only read and write her own name. (Here, for instance: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/sixwives/meet/js_handbook_bg3.html)
That is a site hosted by PBS that accompanies David Starkey's documentary on the six wives. In the link I've provided, there is the suggestion that she was illiterate.

Foose said...

Alison Weir says "as an adult, she could read and sign her name" -- could she possibly mean that Jane could read, and then, separately, she could also sign her name? It would not be unusual for her to be able to read but not write.

Anonymous said...

Foose, I think Alison Weir was just trying to be strictly accurate and not draw conclusions from what isn't known. We know Jane could read, and we know she could sign her name. But anything else is a conclusion without evidence to support it. That's one thing I don't like about David Starkey. He's more than willing to draw conclusions that I think aren't supported by what facts are known. I applaud Weir for not doing that.

Bearded Lady said...

You know that's interesting because I always thought Jane was illiterate too and I think it was Starkey that got that in my head. Darn Starkey and his british accent!

Foose said...

I was looking at Agnes Strickland's description of Jane Seymour posted on Lara's site; it includes a note from the king to Jane that might, if authentic, indicate that she could read:

"Advertising you that there is a ballad made lately of great derision against us, which if it go abroad and is seen by you; I pray you to pay no manner of regard to it ..."

Note the "seen," not "heard." It's slender, but it might go some way to proving that Jane was literate, or at least Henry believed she was.

Ives' book on Anne Boleyn agrees with Strickland's version of the note's wording. However, another version of the note, quoted in Weir and Denny, reads simply:

"Advertising you that there is a ballad made lately of great derision against us; I pray you pay no manner of regard to it."


Anonymous said...

Foose, would Henry even be sending a note to Jane if she couldn't read? Wouldn't he send somebody with a verbal message instead?

Foose said...

I don't disagree that she could read. The original query stated that she was illiterate, unable to read or write, and I was attempting to produce actual evidence that proves to the contrary.

Letters extant from Jane would probably not prove it, since anyone of rank had a secretary. The fact that Henry was sending her letters (in English) would tend to suggest that she could read English, as I noted upthread, or at least that he believed she could read English (French was the language he wrote to Anne Boleyn in). However, someone -- like her brother -- might have read the letters out to her if she was unable to read. This particular letter interested me because of the use of the word "seen," which indicates she personally had an ability to read. It does not show whether or not she could do more than write her name.

Elizabeth M. said...

There is no doubt that Jane, for all her supposed piety, was just as ambitious as Anne Boleyn had been. Those opposed to what Anne Boleyn stood for--reformation of the church--were delighted that Henry became besotted with Jane Seymour. Once she came to his attention, her connections promoted her shamelessly, in my opinion. And Jane was no fool. She had seen how Anne Boleyn succeeded, and she did of her predecessor. She was naturally quiet, but I believe she was more pliable than submissive. She used her quiet piety to good effect, especially under the excellent coaching of her brothers and family friend Nicholas Carew.
To me is is telling that once it became clear a crown was being aimed for, she raised not one finger to protest the destruction of Anne Boleyn, the mistress she was supposed to be loyal to. (Granted, turnabout is fair play, and Anne had been disloyal to Catherine of Aragon). Jane supposedly helped plant poison in Henry's ears about his wife, and had not the slightest compunction about slipping into her dead mistress's shoes. The difference, in my opinion, between Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn was that in Anne's case, her destruction was a case of convenient judicial murder.
For all Anne Boleyn's bluster at having Catherine and her daughter Mary put to death, the truth is that, it would likely never have happened. Henry would not have dared risk the wrath of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, by killing his aunt and cousin. Divorcing one and bastardizing the other was one thing, putting them to death was quite another. In the case of Anne Boleyn, once the conspiracy was started to foment her destruction, it was obvious death was the desired option. Jane may not have been aware of what was going on at first, but once Anne and her brother and friends were arrested, tried, and convicted, it was patently obvious, and she never once raised her celebrated pious voice for mercy.
Obviously, I am not a fan of Jane Seymour. She was fiercely ambitious and dangerously ruthless in her own right. In my opinion, she played Henry, weary of Anne Boleyn and her shrill temperament and failure to produce a son, by using her own quieter and seemingly subservient demeanor to great effect with Henry to gain a crown.

Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but there is an opposing theory regarding the cause of Jane’s death. Whilst traditionally it is ascribed as puerperal fever it has also been suggested by Trevor Hughes and by Jennifer Loach in her work on Edward VI, to have been caused by the retention of parts of the placenta within the womb. Thus severe haemorrhaging occurred several days after the birth (and Jane of course died twelve days after labour). Loach argues that an experienced midwife would have checked the afterbirth and determined the problem. But in contrast the royal doctors, who were distinguished male academics, understood little about the practical experience of childbirth. So Jane suffered because of her position. Had she been a normal woman, Loach argued, she ‘might have received better treatment’.

Random post, I know, but I read Loach’s work a while back and found the alternative explanation to be interesting. Of course ultimately it is extremely difficult, if not out rightly impossible to determine cause of death.