Sunday, December 18, 2011

Question from Eva Maria - Jane Seymour's appointment to Katherine of Aragon

I wonder - do we have any idea of the date when Jane Seymour was appointed to serve Katherine of Aragon? I have read as late as 1532, but somehow I had always thought it to have been before then. Does anyone know?

Many thanks!


Foose said...

Modern historians have variously suggested the years 1527, 1528 and 1529 for Jane's initial arrival at court, but there's no solid documentation that could pinpoint the precise date. Retha Warnicke notes that there is a tradition that Sir Francis Bryan, Henry's favorite, secured the post of maid of honor to Queen Anne Boleyn for Jane in 1533.

I read that Jane's tenure in Catherine of Aragon's service is supported by Chapuys and Wriothesley. Of Chapuys, I could only find Dr. Ortiz reporting to the Empress that the "ambassador" had described Jane as a "maid of the late Queen"; I haven't seen the original, but Chapuys refers elsewhere to "demoiselles" about the court, and if that was the term used it could indicate Jane was a "maid of honor" ("demoiselle d'honneur").

Wriothesley, on the other hand, says that she was a "waiting gentlewoman" to Queen Catherine and Anne Boleyn. I think "waiting gentlewoman" is a lower rank than "maid of honor," if Wriothesley was being precise; perhaps Jane's rank and connections - or perhaps her appearance and talents - did not merit her promotion to "maid of honor" at the time of her first coming to court.

The duties of a maid of honor seem to have been on the flashy side, demonstrating their beauty and accomplishments to impress foreigners with the sophistication of the English court. Perhaps a "waiting gentlewoman" would have been more of a subordinate position with fewer opportunities to attract attention. Wriothesley indicates Jane was still a "waiting gentlewoman" to Anne Boleyn, but she might have been promoted to maid of honor as a result of her closer kinship to the new queen (and Bryan's influence, he being a kinsman of both Seymour and Boleyn) - and also into a position of new prominence. (Note that Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria, says only that Bryan "placed" Seymour with Anne Boleyn, referring to her as a "maid," but not "maid of honor.")

kb said...

A couple of points about the structure of the queen's chamber....

There were maids of honour, maids of the court, ladies or gentlewomen of the privy chamber and then ladies or gentlewomen of the privy chamber. The distinction of lady/gentlewoman was one of rank of the woman's family.

If you think of the structure as concentric circles roughly equivalent to the structure of the rooms it will help. At the center is the queen. She is surrounded by women of the bed chamber. The women of the privy chamber are the next circle out. The maids of the chamber were usually daughters of the bed or privy chamber women. They are different than maids of honour. They serve their mothers/aunts etc and thence the queen. The final outward circle were the maids of honour. They were decorative as Foose points out. they were also at court to catch a husband and perhaps get a better post in the privy or bed chamber.

A waiting gentlewoman would have more access to the queen than a maid of honour and therefore was a more prized position.

Foose said...

I was hoping you would chime in, kb, since I know you specialize in this topic. I appreciate your explanation of the structure.

It is interesting that Jane Seymour as a waiting gentlewoman would have ranked rather higher than a maid of honor. What occurred to me in looking at this question was, How do I know Jane Seymour was a maid of honor? Perhaps everyone just assumes it; since Anne Boleyn as maid of honor displaced Catherine, there is a pleasing symmetry in another maid of honor displacing her.

Am I correct in saying that the description "waiting gentlewoman" is not enough to establish whether Jane was attached to the bed or privy chamber?

Would it be correct to assume that Jane Seymour, attached either to the bed or privy chamber, would have been in a more confidential position to Anne - perhaps witness, agent, facilitator, go-between, etc. - than a maid of honor, even in a situation of minimal privacy? (Julia Fox describes Lady Rochford as a "lady of the bedchamber" - another "waiting gentlewoman?") Would she have been more visible to Henry than a maid of honor?

Don't mean to hijack the thread, just curious about that enigma Jane Seymour.

kb said...

I started to wonder how I knew Jane Seymour waited on Anne and Katherine as well. I checked Ives, "The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn". His sources and the ones you mention are mostly the same.

He has Jane as one of Katherine's and Anne's ladies. This would make her a waiting gentlewoman but most likely not of the bed chamber. He cites Wriothesly "Chronicle", i, 43. He also cites L&P, vii, 9(ii) for the queen's ladies receiving new year's gifts from the king in 1533. Ives discusses this on pages 291-3.

Ives also points out that Jane Dormer was born 2 years after Anne's death and that the story that Bryan 'placed' Jane in Anne's household was first 'recorded in Spain by her steward (Dormer's) thirty years after Jane herself had died in 1612'.

Maids of honour were more like entry posts for the royal court. (Think the junior, to the junior of a great executive) Yes, a great honour but also not a permanent one, not always a paid one, and not one of high intimacy with the queen. Maids of honour were sometimes 'term limited'. Although, they were expected to provide joie de vivre and beauty to the court. They also served but not on the scale or commitment of women of the chambers. For example, I know of no maid of honour who slept in her mistress's bed - a responsibility of a woman of the bed chamber and occasionally privy chamber. There seems to have been an assumption that the post was for 1-2 years and then the woman should move up to the chamber or out to a husband's home.

RE: visible to Henry-- That's a bit tricky. A maid of honour would have had a bit more time to dance and wander about than a woman of the chamber who would have been more closely tied to the queen's schedule. If Henry visits with the queen, he would see the ladies on duty in the chamber. If he doesn't visit the queen or they maintain separate schedules then he would see the maids more.

I'm still having morning coffee so I'm not sure I've made any sense here.

Foose said...

No, this is very interesting and coherent, thank you!