24 October 1537 – Death of Queen Jane Seymour

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein, 1537

On this day in history, 24th October 1537, Queen Jane Seymour died after long and exhausting childbirth. She was the third wife of king Henry VIII, but they were married only for 1 year, 4 months and 24 days. But Jane was Henry’s most beloved wife, because she gave him what he desired since 1509 – a son, a male heir to succeed him in the future – Prince Edward Tudor.

Jane was never described as a great beauty. Chapuys wrote that she was ‘of middle height, and nobody thinks that she has much beauty. Her complexion is so whitish that she may be called rather pale.’ Additionally imperial ambassador noticed that she was ‘not very intelligent, and is said to be rather haughty’.[1] Jane was about 27-28 years old when Henry VIII took an interest in her, so by the standards of her age, she was considered to be an old maid. Chapuys expressed his doubts about Jane’s virginity, but here is no proof to confirm or deny that she lived an unchaste life before she became king’s new love. For some reasons, Henry VIII fell in love with Jane Seymour, neglecting his wife Anne Boleyn. Anne and Jane were so different – Anne was pretty and intelligent, with olive skin and dramatic black eyes while Jane was meek, ‘not very intelligent’ as Chapuys described her and she was pale blonde with not much beauty.

But Jane Seymour managed to maintain king’s interest in her and only 11 days after Anne Boleyn’s execution, Jane stepped into her shoes and became Henry’s third wife and queen.

Pregnancy and delivery

The whole court rejoiced when rumors about queen Jane’s pregnancy, although no official announcement was made. Elizabeth Norton writes how;

‘By late May it was noted that she would soon be appearing in an open-laced gown, signifying her status as a pregnant woman’ [2]

We can only imagine how Jane Seymour felt about her pregnancy. She knew exactly that two of her predecessors had failed to give Henry a male heir. Catherine of Aragon had 6 pregnancies and born only one healthy girl, and Anne Boleyn was pregnant 4 times and also gave birth to only one girl. Jane knew that her position is in danger until she would give Henry a long awaited son.

Sketch of Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein, Jane was believed to be in early stages of pregnancy

Jane’s pregnancy was not a private matter – she was now a public person, queen of England and wife of Henry VIII. The whole court anxiously awaited news about a prince, and Jane was certainly under high pressure. Henry VIII became king in 1509. He had two wives, and both of them failed to give him a son. His bastard son by Bessie Blout died in July 1536, leaving Henry without male heir, without heir at all since his two daughters were disinherited. So Jane’s pregnancy was very important and her success or failure was dependant on the sex of the baby she was caring in her womb.

‘As her pregnancy advanced, Jane found that Henry was unusually solicitous of her. It was probably in the summer of 1537 that Henry made Jane the gift of a great rich bed with a gilt bedstead. Henry also relaxed his insistence that Jane stay away from politics and when, in June, a new Imperial ambassador arrived to treat for a marriage between Mary and the brother of the king of Portugal, Jane was allowed to meet with the ambassador and discuss the negotiation for the match’[3]

Henry probably had a high trust in his wife, because she had a great relationship with Mary and she desired her to marry. Perhaps Mary told Jane that she wanted to get married and had children, and that is why the queen was allowed to negotiate the terms of marriage. Jane certainly felt confident about her role as a queen and peacemaker.

During her pregnancy, Jane Seymour had a craving for quails – a great delicacy – and Henry VIII made a diplomatic matter from it. He shipped quails from Calais  to please his pregnant wife and also Lady Mary sent her some in June. Jane was certainly well taken care of.


Prince Edward

On the 9th October Jane Seymour went into labor. For three days and three night she suffered, but on 12 October she finally gave birth to a healthy baby boy. People of England rejoiced at the news of a Prince – the next morning Te Deums were sang in London, there was music and cannons where shot from the Tower. Elizabeth Norton describes how ;

‘That night there were bonfires lit in the streets, with music and impromptu feasts. Hogsheads of wine were distributed and further guns were shot in celebration of the news with the noise going on past 10 p.m. that night.’ [4]

Jane Seymour accomplished what her predecessors had failed – she gave birth to a son, a little prince named Edward who would later become a king of England, although his reign would be very brief. Because of her painful and exhausting delivery, the rumors spread though England that her belly was open and the boy was cut out, or that her limbs were stretched to ease the delivery. In later years there would be gossips that Jane underwent a Caesarian cut, but there is no evidence to prove this theory. Jane was able to play a public role in her son’s christening, and if she would have had the Caesarian cut she would not be able to do so.

Although Henry and Jane did not participate in their son’s christening, they awaited him in special chamber. Jane was ‘wrapped by her attendants in velvet and furs to guard against the cold and carried to the christening on a special sofa’[5] Little prince was named Edward because he was born on St Edward’s Eve and also to commemorate his great-grandfather, king Edward IV. Lady Mary stood as a godmother and even 3-year-old Elizabeth was present during the christening.

The Seymour family triumphed – Jane was safe and her brothers were being elevated by the king – Edward Seymour was knighted and proclaimed Earl of Hertford, and Thomas Seymour was knighted and become a member of king’s privy chamber. But the most important was Prince Edward, who was now an official male heir and his father’s greatest pride.

Unfortunately, two days after christening, Jane became ill. Her health deteriorated. On 23rd of October the queen was very ill, and those around her knew that it was probably her last day.  Duke of Norfolk wrote to Cromwell praying him ‘to be early here tomorrow to comfort our good master, for as for our mistress there is no likehood of her life, the more pity, and I fear she shall not be on lyve  at the time ye shall read this’[6]

Elizabeth Norton writes how ;

‘On the morning her confessor came to her and spent the whole morning with her, providing some comfort , if Jane was aware of anything at all’[7]

Jane Seymour was dying and there was nothing anyone could do about it. It was very often when women died after childbirth, although Cromwell blamed Jane’s attendants that they neglected their mistress’s health by providing her with the wrong food and letting her catch a cold. But it was probably a childbed fever, which caused Jane’s death. For three days and three nights she struggled and she probably lost a lot of blood and was exhausted. She was left with wounds that might have caused an infection. Because of the long delivery, her placenta might not have been entirely expelled, causing an infection.


Posthumous portrait of Jane Seymour, 'Family of Henry VIII', 1545

Duke of Norfolk was responsible for funeral arrangements. Although Henry VIII was married twice before, none of his wives ever received a proper funeral. Catherine of Aragon was buried as a Dowager Princess of Wales and Anne Boleyn was buried in arrow chest. But Jane Seymour was about to have a funeral fit for the Queen and mother of the future king of England.

Elizabeth Norton provides details about Jane’s funeral ;

‘Soon after her death, Jane was embalmed, and carried to the presence chamber where she lay in state, dressed in a gold and jeweled robe. Once in the presence chamber, Jane’s ladies took off their rich clothes and, instead, wore ‘mourning habit and white kerchers hanging over their heads and shoulders’. Mass was heard and a vigil was kept around Jane both day and night, with tapers burning around her. On All Saints Day, Jane was carried through the galleries of Hampton Court, all hung with black cloth. She was taken to the chapel and laid on a hearse decorated with banner rolls showing Jane’s descent and that of her husband and son. The chapel itself was also hung with black cloth and images appropriate to Jane. ‘[8]

Lady Mary was a chief mourner but she did not attend on religious services at 1st November. Perhaps she was too grief stricken after Jane’s death, remembering her mother’s death in January 1536. Mary again lost her mother and found herself in mourning. Jane did everything to promote Mary’s interest, and Mary certainly remembered and appreciated her kindness. She paid for masses to be sung for late Queen’s soul and took charge of her household.

On 12th of November Jane’s funeral went ahead. It was a great ceremony, ‘designed to match the grand funeral procession of Elizabeth of York over thirty years before.’[9]

Jane Seymour was buried at Windsor. Henry VIII did not participate in her funeral, as was customary, but he was very much depressed after her death. Jane was his beloved wife who gave him a son, he waited for 27 years. But however grief stricken the king was, he still had in mind that his sons is only a boy in a cradle, and in life anything can happen. So Henry knew he will probably remarry. And he did. Three times.

The most beloved wife?

Jane Seymour's death in tv series 'The Tudors'

Had Jane lived, she might have been the most influential and celebrated wives of Henry VIII. The king would never cast aside woman who gave him a son, and perhaps he would glorify her even more. We can only assume that Henry would try to beget more heirs by Jane. Some people claim that Jane Seymour died too soon and Henry VIII did not have time to get bored with her. Perhaps there is a little bit of truth in this statement, but is it really true? Henry loved Jane Seymour because she was a good and obedient wife. With her, he enjoyed a peaceful and happy family life. Her motto was ‘Bound to obey and serve’ and she lived in accordance to this motto. Although we do not know if it was Jane’s clever tactic to play the role of obedient and meek wife, she proved to be a good wife to Henry, and a good stepmother to his two daughters, although she was more attached to Lady Mary than to little Elizabeth. But it is not a strange thing – after all Jane served as Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting and she shared her mistresses’ religious (catholic) beliefs.

Although I would like to think that Henry’s one true love was Anne Boleyn, I think it was Jane Seymour whom Henry loved the most. This marriage brought him happiness, stabilization and peace.

Although Henry remarried three times after Jane’s death, none of his marriages proved to be as successful as his marriage to Jane. Elizabeth Norton writes how;

“During the last decade of his life, Henry frequently looked back on his marriage to Jane with longing and, whilst he had not always treated her kindly when she was alive, after her death she became his one true love. It is Jane who appears as Henry’s wife in the great dynastic portrait painted in 1545, showing the king with his three children, and Jane also appears in other representations of the Tudor dynasty. It was with Jane that Henry asked to be buried as he lay on his deathbed and it was with her that he wished to spend eternity. Jane died giving Henry exactly what he wanted and she passed away in all her glory” 

I think that Jane Seymour died a horrible death and she suffered before she finally passed away. In this article I wanted to commemorate Henry’s most beloved wife. When he died, Henry was buried beside her.

What do you think about Jane? Do you think Henry truly loved her more than any of his wives?


[1] Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 302

[2] Elizabeth Norton, Henry VIII’s True Love

[3] IBID, p. 136

[4] IBID, p. 143

[5] IBID, p. 143

[6] IBID, p. 146

[7] IBID, p. 146

[8] IBID, p. 149

[9] IBID, p. 150

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3 Responses
  1. Areti says:

    hmm…I really don’t know..but makes me think that one man that is after a woman for six years ‘begging” for her love and then executes her for not having a son is unable to love for real!I always thought that Henry wasn’t so much in love with his first queen as he married her only cause he had to! Then he got dissapointed,she was older than him,stopped bleeding,couldn’t give him a son!He met Anne become obsessed, then fell in love and did everything in his power to have her..so is it quite normal that Henry only chased Anne for the hope of a son..?There were so many women around the court!In the film that plays Helena Bonham Carter I remember a scene when Anne says to Henry you will tire of me – married me for a son,then Henry says no,I married you so I could be with you!
    What I want to say is that Henry was ‘sick’ with his mind and he didn’t deserve the love of his wives!If poor Jane had a girl probably she would be cast away too!You can’t love someone deeply and put him to death !I would only agree that Henry loved Jane (REAL love) if she lived and had born him only girls!

  2. Sylwia says:

    You’re right Areti :-) I also remember the scene from movie your described! One of my favourite movies about Anne&Henry. Jane’s biography by Elizabeth Norton makes me think whether Henry truly loved her…he was not very much in love with her, because only few days after they married he was commenting on other pretty ladies from court. Jane was a woman he need after two unsuccessful marriages. Both Katherine & Anne were feisty and opinionated and Henry was tired of such women. Jane was obedient and humble and thus he wanted her as his wife. Although I don’t believe that Jane was really such innocent, as she is portrayed nowadays. Chapuys didn’t believe it either ;-)

    • Areti says:

      Yes exactly she wasn’t an angel.I believe no human can be an angel because is only HUMAN!Of cource we have the good persons and the bad persons.What frustrates me a lot is that only Anne is called a homewrecker and I HEARTILY believe that she was not.Henry’s marriage was at an end before Anne and without hope.When Jane came to the scene Anne was pregnant…so what makes her so different..? I can only see that she destroyed a marriage that had still hope.By the way Henry WAS much more responsible for the destruction of his marriage! I will eternally believe that no one back in those times could accept a fresh and new mind like Anne’s and so that’s why she had so many enemies and still has after 500 years! Jane was the perfect tudor wife so no comment about her from anyone!” To all Anne haters ” yeah we know about Anne’s negative sides stop keep telling us about Mary Tudor and Queen COA(whom I do respect a lot) !

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