Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Question from Elizabeth M - Marriage plans for Jane Seymour before Henry

Does anyone know if there were any marriage plans for Jane Seymour before she caught King Henry's eye? She was nearly 30 when she became queen, and that was awfully old for the time to make a first marriage. Her mother had a good family tree. Was there a stigma on the family because of her father sleeping with his son's wife and fathering children by her that made his own daughters damaged goods? Was there anything reported to be physically wrong with Jane, apart from the fact she was rather plain? It just seems odd that she remained single for so long, and might have remained so had not King Henry snapped her up.


Foose said...

According to the Catholic source The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, by Henry Clifford, who apparently interviewed the lady, Sir Francis Bryan -- Henry VIII's "vicar of hell" -- tried to arrange a marriage between his kinswoman Jane Seymour and Jane Dormer's father, Sir William Dormer.

Lady Dormer, his mother, "detesting the conditions of this knight" (Bryan) allegedly played along while her husband and Bryan were discussing the match, and then scooped her son up and took him off to the Sidneys, where she arranged his marriage with their daughter.

I don't know how truthful this is. It could be Jane Dormer's efforts to aggrandise her status and support the idea that she was a suitable match for Jane Seymour's son Edward VI, presented as her playmate, as her grandfather was the prince's tutor ("Now Jane, your king is gone, I shall be good enough for you," Edward supposedly says to her in playing at cards), and a proper intimate for Queen Mary Tudor.

Sometimes novels about Jane Seymour bring up this story, often sentimentalizing it vastly out of proportion, so that Jane is devastated by Lady Dormer's actions and swears off men, or conversely her parents are so discouraged by the failure that they concentrate their efforts on her sisters.

Foose said...

Looking at the Jane Dormer biography, it doesn't say that Lady Dormer disapproved of Jane Seymour's immediate family, but there's a strong implication that she disliked Sir Francis Bryan and the immorality he represented.

However, there may be an implied slam of Jane in the statement, "For when [Lady Dormer] saw the corruption of the state of the kingdom ... her desire was to marry [her son] with some virtuous gentlewoman, answerable in quality." Once the Sidney match is made, an annoyed Sir Francis vows to see his niece "as well bestowed." He gets her a place with Anne Boleyn. After Anne's fall and Jane Seymour's marriage with the king, "The Lady Dormer in this prudent and valorous act [the Sidney marriage] ... to have her son matched in a kindred of good fame [emphasis mine] ... that neither the power of so great a favourite nor the gaining of so mighty a friend at court ... could move this lady to marry her son with [Bryan's] niece who had made shipwreck of his Faith and honesty."

It's probably not so much Jane Seymour or her immediate family being attacked as Sir Francis Bryan and by implication his other niece, Queen Anne. I don't know whether Jane Dormer was aware of the Seymour family scandal. If she was, I don't think it would have been mentioned in this document -- the goal seems to be to promote Dormer's own status as a "witness" to the reign of Queen Mary -- perhaps as a deliberate riposte to Protestant propaganda about "Bloody Mary" -- and the legitimacy of her recollections. The implication is that Jane Dormer is "almost family" to the Tudors, because of the near-marriage of her father to Jane Seymour, and so she is a reliable and authoritative witness. Edward is presented as a loveable child completely ruled by his heretical governors; this is not supported by the facts, but Dormer depicts him as her "brother" (hinting perhaps at a possible marriage, which is probably not borne out at all by the realities of the situation). Attacking Jane Seymour would have been counterproductive in this context.

PhD Historian said...

The ODNB states that little is known of Jane Seymour's life prior to her coming to Henry VIII's attention in about 1534. However, had any marriage plans existed for Jane prior to 1534, those plans would have required that Henry seek some kind of legal clarification, under canon law, before he could marry Jane. Given the legal issues that had already arisen with Katherine and Anne, he would not have overlooked the same issue with his third wife.

Jane Seymour was born in 1508 or 1509, and served both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn beginning as early as 1529, when she was just 20 years old. The Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys indicated that Henry had become very attached to Jane sometime before October 1534.

Certainly once the king showed interest in Jane in 1534, when she was about 25 years old, all others would have withdrawn from any pursuit of her. The Seymour family would not have contemplated any marriage for Jane pending resolution of the status of his marriage to Anne and of his intentions toward Jane. Thus Jane was effectively off the marriage market by 1534 at age 25.

Jane's age was perhaps slightly advanced by the time Henry developed an interest in her, since age at first marriage among aristocratic women was typically less than 25. But recall that Anne Boleyn was perhaps as old as 21 when her rumored first serious suitor, Henry Percy, 6th earl of Northumberland, appeared. Though the year of her birth is disputed, she may have been as much as 32 years old by the time she married Henry VIII in early 1533. And Anne of Cleves was 24 by the time she wed Henry.

Thus even though Jane was slightly older than some first-time aristocratic brides, she was not outside the norm. In light of the strong ambition seen in retrospect in her brothers, it seems to me almost logical that the family was waiting for the most advantageous match for her, whether it was to the king or some other high-ranking suitor. Better to wait for the best match than to rush into a less suitable one.

Foose said...

I wonder if Jane's marriage prospects might have been impacted by the unsettled situation during her tenure as lady-in-waiting to two queens. Traditionally, a post with the queen was a real opportunity to make a good marriage; the queen was supposed to help facilitate worthy alliances for her ladies. However, if Jane began her service in 1528 or 1529, when the Divorce was heating up, Catherine of Aragon had more things on her mind than her maids' matrimonial prospects, and as her influence deteriorated there may have been a certain distancing from her court of likely young men.

Jane transferred to Anne's service at some point - perhaps in 1533, when Anne became queen. Anne had a busy year of being crowned, being pregnant and recovering probably through the end of 1533, and was perhaps not inclined to undertake the duty of marrying off her maids. The next year, 1534, may have been the year that Henry started to show interest in Jane; Anne might have made an effort to get her married, but Henry could have interposed his veto. If it was not 1534 but later that Henry began to be attracted to Jane, it was still a busy year for the queen as she strove to get pregnant, secure her daughter's title and shore up her own position. She evidently did arrange some marriages, as we know from the Mary/Margaret Shelton-Henry Norris alliance (I am not sure of the date of that), but she might not have lasted long enough in the job to make many. Under normal circumstances, Jane being under the queen's aegis would have been helpful, but the specific conditions of the late 1520s-early 1530s might have delayed her opportunities.

The only red flag is that her sister, by most accounts younger than her, was married before Jane. This has been interpreted as evidence of Jane's lack of appeal. But it's mere guesswork -- there might have been specific conditions that made the Dorothy Seymour-Anthony Oughtered/Ughtred alliance suitable and easily arranged.

PhD Historian said...

Foose, your intriguing response raises a question for me: Was it, in fact, the "duty" of the queen to "marry off" her ladies? That is, was it part of the "royal job description" that a queen consort should take responsibility for the marital arrangement of her ladies?

I do not know the answer myself, but I am inclined to believe that it was not part of the royal duties, even unofficially. Women sought positions as a ladies-in-waiting (and their families sought it for them) in order to be near the center of the royal court where the wealthiest and most powerful potential husbands usually were to be found. Being part of the central court allowed eligible women to meet the most eligible bachelors.

Queens consort may have assisted in facilitating matches for certain of their ladies, but I am not aware that any of Henry's wives were involved in the actual selection process or the marriage contract negotiations. Instead, they seem to have offered "advice and counsel" to the lady and her family, helping them to create a "short list" of candidates. And the queen consort (as well as Henry himself) often held veto power, of course. But it would have been culturally inappropriate for a female, even a queen, to be actively involved in the marital arrangements of another female as long as that female had living male relatives or a male guardian.

Anne's involvement in the Shelton-Norris seems to me to have been less "arranging" the marriage in the actively participatory sense than Anne reacting to circumstances. Eric Ives has suggested that Anne pressed for the match only after the negotiations had become stalled, and that Anne's intercession was actually an expression of Anne's insecurity about her own future. Shelton was Anne's lady-in-waiting and Norris was one of Henry's long-time favorites. Had Norris withdrawn completely from a match to one of Anne's ladies, Anne would have been correct to interpret that as a very bad sign for her own future. Anne therefore intervened in order to bolster her own flagging status and prestige (or what historians call "social credit").

I'd be very curious if you know of any other specific instance in which any of Henry's wives was actively involved in the marital arrangements of one of her ladies.

Foose said...

I think it was considered part of a queen's duty to facilitate and encourage suitable matches, where perhaps one party was lacking in the wherewithal for a dowry or settlement or the parents were making perhaps unreasonable objections. I also think queens consort were supposed to be interested in getting their ladies married -- it extended their own affinities and loyalty networks, and did not necessarily impact the woman's service to her mistress. Where the lady was kin to the queen or in a special status of dependency -- say, Maria de Salinas to Catherine of Aragon -- it seems the queen would make particular efforts to bring a marriage about, although the initial moves may have been made by the couple themselves or perhaps by their relations.

Barbara J. Harris says in her English Aristocratic Women, "For maids of honor, the most valuable form of royal patronage was not monetary at all but rather the king's and queen's assistance in arranging or financing their marriages... [Catherine of Aragon] negotiated the contract for Salinas's marriage to William, Lord Willoughby, in 1516 and gave her a dowry of 1,100 marks ... Anne Boleyn and the king probably sponsored Anne Savage's marriage to Thomas, Lord Berkeley, a few months after their own wedding as a reward for attending the queen ..."

So, while the Tudor queens may not have actively picked out spouses for their women, they could definitely make things a lot easier for preferred suitors through encouragement, financial inducements and liberal access to the company of the lady. For a queen, beyond establishing a favored waiting woman or kinswoman, the benefit would lie in being able to reward a [male] favorite/supporter or one of the king's, strengthen loyalty to the Crown and its affinity, or expand the power of their own family.

I would expect Anne, in her vulnerable position, to have been very interested in masterminding and promoting a match between her kinswoman and someone useful to her cause (before Henry became interested in Jane himself). I do think that she may have strongly encouraged the Shelton-Norris match, as they were both relations of hers and Norris held the crucial office of the Stole, which allowed him unique access to Henry and knowledge of what he was up to when not under her immediate surveillance. But as I said, that's the only case I know of during her queenship [Harris also cites Anne Savage]. She might have been focused on other issues at the time, or, as is occasionally suggested in her biographies through the Norris-Shelton fiasco, she rather liked for herself to be the center of any courtly-romantic attention.

Again, this is just speculation. The question is why Jane Seymour may have remained unbetrothed when she nominally had a couple of prime opportunities to meet potential husbands, and I felt a look at the context of her service might be interesting.

Tracey said...

In an earlier topic, the relationship between Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour was discussed. If I remember correctly, it was to verify that Anne and Jane were related in some fashion.

If this was true, could that have been a factor in Jane's singlehood? Perhaps families that counted weren't interested in allying themselves with Jane, seeing that she was at court and in the company of two women who both wanted to be queen.


Elizabeth M. said...

Anne and Jane were second cousins--their grandmothers were half-sisters.
I just have to wonder about the scandal regarding Jane's father fathering kids on his own daughter-in-law. That happened when Jane was about twenty or thereabouts. I just wonder if that made them persona non grata for a while.

Foose said...

Another thing to consider is the possible role of Edward Seymour, Jane's brother. The traditional view is that he rose to power only as a result of his sister's appeal to Henry VIII, but more modern historians have observed that he was an up-and-coming courtier in the 1520s, chosen for the household of the Duke of Richmond. In the accounts of Henry's courtship of Jane, Edward Seymour seems to be a calculating manipulator who orchestrated his sister's humble-but-virtuous-maiden-of-good-family act. (Jane's father doesn't appear at all in these narratives; Edward seems to have taken over the patriarchal role.)

Possibly before Henry's interest emerged, Edward may have been assessing potential marriages for his sister and keeping a wary eye on Anne Boleyn's stock, which seems to have declined steadily -- with a few relatively short-lived "ups" relating to her pregnancies -- after the birth of Elizabeth. Until she had a son and the situation stabilized, perhaps he and some other courtiers might have adopted a "wait and see" attitude on arranging their female relations' marriages.

PhD Historian said...

Thanks for that discussion of the queen's role in the marriages of her ladies, Foose. It all makes perfect sense. It's just something I had never really given much thought to, since my own interests do not extend to Henry's earlier wives.

I also agree completely about Edward Seymour's role and his grasping ambition. If anything, I would put the delay in Jane's marriage down to Edward and his own hopes for the highest of matches.