Friday, 22 February 2013

Was Jane Seymour Henry VIII's Most Beloved Wife?

For many years it has been suspected that Henry VIII himself considered Jane Seymour his "true wife and Queen". Supporters of this theory points to two facts:
Henry had himself buried next to her and when he ordered a portrait painted of the Tudor dynasty so far, it was not the figure of his present wife, Catherine Parr, that appeared on the portrait next to him but Jane Seymour.

But was Jane the much-married King's favourite Queen and wife?

No, she probably was not. Before such a (well, rather drastic) statement is made it is important to look at the facts. Jane was the only wife that died before Henry VIII, whom he had not in some way already parted with. It is more likely that if Jane Seymour had lived after the birth - considering Henry's personality and marital past - she would eventually bore the King and he would tire of her.
And then there is the most vital thing in Henry's world: she gave him a son. For a man like Henry VIII this alone was enough to place her in a special position - but the affection probably did not stretch beyond the gender of their child. If Jane had died given birth to - yet another - girl then it would unlikely that Henry would ever have considered her the "love of his life".

So, it is likely that it was these two elements that made Jane Seymour as close to a perfect wife as possible: She had given him a son and then she had died at the height of his affection - before he could tire of her. But when you consider the way Tudor marriages worked, then there is a big difference between being a "good wife" and a "beloved wife". So far Jane had fulfilled her purpose as a good wife - but there is no evidence to support Henry's emotions towards his wife.

You just have to look to her predecessors to see the difference between Henry's (and the entire Tudor society) definition of a "good wife" and a "beloved" wife:
Catherine of Aragon was for almost 20 years a beloved wife of Henry VIII. Despite his adultery, he is said to have been genuinely loving her - until she "failed" in her job as a "good wife".

To be a "good wife" a woman had to be faithful, ever smiling and by his side and - most importantly - she had to give him a son. But after Catherine had had several stillborn sons and live sons who would quickly die, then she had not fulfilled the most important part of the Tudor period's version of a "good wife." And Henry's love began to fade.

When it comes to Anne Boleyn it is extremely unlikely that Henry was willing to get rid of a good and faithful wife, break with a church he believed in and turn half of Europe against him, for a woman he did not love. There is no reason to name all the proves of Henry VIII's love for Anne Boleyn but in the end she "failed" in the same task as her predecessor: she could not give him a son.

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