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Looking for Jane Seymour

Continuing my short mini-series on the last resting places of the six queens of King Henry VIII, I have chosen to focus this time on the grave of his third queen, Jane Seymour.

SOA235443 Jane Seymour (1508/9-1537) c.1536 (oil on panel) by English School, (16th century) oil on panel 41.5x36 Society of Antiquaries, London, UK English, out of copyright

Cast Shadow Portrait of Jane Seymour, in the year that she became queen, Hans Holbein Workshop

She was the only of Henry’s queens to share a grave with him, but the tomb itself is not what Henry originally intended. Henry had planned an impressive monument which included a recumbent statue of Jane, a tomb which he would share with her in due course. As such, there is a feeling that she steps aside into the background and is overshadowed here in death as she would have been in life, by Henry’s awesome legacy and presence. And the memorial slab placed here on the orders of King William IV in 1837 records that Henry VIII rests here with his queen, Jane Seymour – not detailing that she was his third queen. As Antonia Fraser indicates in her book, ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’, (Phoenix, 1992), there is no mention of the other five women who also bore the title of “Queen of Henry VIII”. One almost feels from the wording that she could have been his only queen.

And certainly, Jane Seymour had occupied a very particular place in the heart of Henry VIII; she was referred to as “entirely beloved” and there is indeed something of the ‘favourite’ here, a feminine ideal that she had probably come to symbolize for the King because she gave him the son he so desperately desired. This is not unlike the paragon that his mother, Queen Elizabeth of York, would have probably come to represent in the mind of the young Henry – another queen who like Jane died shortly after giving birth in 1503, as the result of a post-partum infection. Indeed, when Jane died, she was the first queen since Elizabeth of York’s death to be buried under “normal” circumstances according to state protocol. When Jane died, Henry was genuinely grief-stricken and mourned the woman who had died as the result of giving birth to his longed-for son and heir, Edward. One senses a feeling of the King’s immense relief at the birth of his heir tinged with the sadness and sentimental acknowledgement that it was to Jane that he owed his gratitude for the birth, knowing that she had died as a result of doing so. There is a sense of sacrifice and cost in all this, a feeling of both genuine loss and gain.  After a heart-breaking succession of the failed pregnancies of both his earlier queens, Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn – two marriages which resulted in two surviving daughters – Jane Seymour had managed to give the King the son that he craved. After a protracted delivery, she gave birth to a boy on 12 October 1537. The fact that it had taken so long to achieve the birth of one healthy baby boy, meant that the celebrations were commensurate to this significance. The room in which Jane Seymour gave birth at Hampton Court still exists, although it is not open to the general public. On 15 October, the boy was christened Edward and proclaimed Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall and Earl of Carnarvon. The christening was celebrated with great splendour and magnificence, a recreation of the ceremony being staged at Hampton Court for a documentary, ‘A Night at Hampton Court’ in March 2016.

Jane died on 24 October 1537, probably as the result of puerperal fever, at the pinnacle of her greatest triumph. She lay in state in the chapel at Hampton Court until 12 November, when her body was moved to Windsor for burial. The genuine note this struck in the King’s heart is reflected in the grief that he exhibited at her death. In the Whitehall Mural by Hans Holbein the Younger, a copy of which exists by George Vertue, Henry VIII is proclaimed as a yet greater king than his father, Henry VII. Behind Henry VIII stands the figure of Henry VII and Jane Seymour symbolically stands in front of the figure of Henry’s mother, Elizabeth of York above. It is also Jane who appears on the great painting of the family of Henry VIII, painted in around 1545; flanked by his daughters Mary and Elizabeth, it is, of course, Henry who is the centrepiece of the portrait. But again, it is Jane who is posthumously seated at his side, with Edward next to the King. So, it is clear that even at the time when this portrait was painted, when Jane had been dead for some eight years, it was she who was remembered as his queen for the continuance of the Tudor dynasty, even though it was Queen Catherine Parr who was his factually correct consort at this time.

Jane’s grave is to be found in the choir area of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. She is overlooked by the so-called ‘Queen’s Closet’, named for Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s first queen and from which his last queen, Catherine Parr watched Henry’s funeral. Unlike Henry’s other five wives, who have the individuality of their own resting places, Jane’s grave could even be overlooked, were it not for the kings with whom she shares it. For Jane Seymour is not alone to share the vault with Henry VIII; the space also contains an infant child of Queen Anne and the coffin of Charles I, whose body was placed here after his execution in 1649. The latter was discovered as the result of a search conducted for it in 1813 and at the time that the remains of Charles I was identified, some relics of the executed king were removed which were later replaced at the wish of the future Edward VII in 1888. At the time when the relics were returned, an engraving was made by Alfred Young Nutt which shows an artist’s impression of the vault under the choir and Jane’s casket is located to the right of Henry VIII, although her remains were left undisturbed.

 

St._George's_Chapel,_Windsor_Castle

St George’s Chapel Windsor, where Jane Seymour’s tomb is located

The great tomb by Henry did not happen. The monument had been planned to include the huge marble sarcophagus originally intended for the tomb of Cardinal Wolsey. This remained at Windsor until the reign of George III when it was removed and bizarrely, ended up as the great marble block and base upon which the tomb of Lord Nelson now rests, in St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Somehow, there is less of a sense of pilgrimage to this grave. Tourists and visitors to the Chapel alike tend to walk around the memorial slab, staring at it in silent contemplation. Nor do there appear to be any flowers left here, as for example there are floral tributes, banners and pomegranates placed at the tomb of Henry’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon at Peterborough Cathedral, or the flowers at the Royal peculiar of St. Peter ad Vincula at the Tower of London, for his second wife, Anne Boleyn. But there is a sense of solemnity and of awe here, and it is one which Jane shares because it was Henry’s wish that she should do so.

 

Photo credits: By Hans Holbein Workshop [United States Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (http://www.flickr.com/photos/33317700@N07/3429728750/in/set-72157620149528073/);By Sheri [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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