Tuesday 31 December 2013

Discover Their Real Stories

Issue 138 (February 2014) of Your Family Tree magazine went on sale today. I wrote the cover feature on 'Discover Their Real Stories', which looks at getting started with family history research. With the internet, it has never been so easy to begin researching your own family's history. Follow the simple steps in the article and you can go back generation. Who knows, perhaps you can trace your ancestors all the way back to 1066?

31 December 1539 - Rochester Castle

Anne of Cleves set out from Sittingbourne on 31 December 1539, heading for Rochester Castle. It was New Year’s Eve and everyone in her train was looking forward to the day’s rest promise the following day. The Duke of Suffolk and Sir Thomas Cheyne, who led the procession towards London also breathed a sign of relief as they left the cramped inn behind: Anne could be lodged in royal style for the festivities at Rochester.

On the downs outside Rochester Anne as met by the Duke of Norfolk, Lord Dacre of the South, Lord Mountjoy and a large company of knights and esquires and the barons of the exchequer, all wearing velvet coats and gold chains. She had met so many new people over the past weeks that the princess must have difficulty putting names to faces as she was conducted to Rochester Castle.

Anne had led a very cloistered early life. She was born on 22 September 1515, the second of the four children on Duke John III of Cleves and his wife Maria, Duchess of Juliers. The marriage of Anne’s parents had created the strategically important combined duchy of Juliers-Cleves, which sat on both sides of the Rhine in an area of modern Germany. Both duchies were part of the Holy Roman Empire, but they were also largely independent states. Although small in size, they were populous and wealthy. Anne, who was raised by her mother, the Catholic Duchess Maria, had a comfortable childhood, spending most of her time with her sisters, Sibylla and Amelia.

Contrary to commonly-held belief, Anne of Cleves was not a Protestant. Her mother remained staunchly Catholic until her death while her father, Duke John, although interested in the Christian Humanism of Erasmus, also retained traditional beliefs.

Anne was raised very strictly by her mother. She could read and write, but knew no language other than German. She was also given no instruction in music, although she would later show herself lively. During her time at Calais she asked her English attendants to teach her a card game that Henry liked so that they could play together. Anne was also considered to be intelligent by the English ambassadors who saw her in Cleves – something that proved to be correct. She quickly learned English with the help of a gentlewoman, Mistress Gilmyn, who was sent to Cleves by the king in order to instruct her.

By 31 December 1539 there was, of course, one person that Anne had still not met. She had no idea, as she retired to her bed at Rochester on the last day of 1539, that, the next day, she would meet her new husband, Henry VIII.

Anne of Cleves in German Dress. The painting has been x-rayed to reveal a longer nose.

Monday 30 December 2013

30 December 1539 - Sittingbourne

Anne of Cleves was woken early on 30 December 1539 in order to continue her journey towards London. From Canterbury, the next stage of the route was Sittingbourne, where she was lodged as comfortably as possible in an inn. Although she was used to royal residences and noble households she did not complain. By 30 December she had been journeying towards England for a month and had become used to packing and unpacking as she made her slow progress towards her new life as queen of England.

Once the marriage treaty between Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves had been agreed at the end of September 1539, the English king turned his attentions to just how his bride was to reach England. The most direct, and usual route, was for a traveller to pass overland through the Low Countries and into Calais, where they could make a short sea voyage over to Dover. With the Lo Countries ruled by Charles V’s sister, Mary of Hungary, however, it was far from certain that a safe-conduct would be granted, particularly since Anne’s brother was in dispute with the Emperor over his occupation of the Duchy of Guelders. Another dangerous possibility was that, even if safe-conduct as granted, war could break out during the journey, leaving Anne stranded and in danger.

For Henry, who was anxious to be joined by Anne, the solution was obvious. He had spent a good deal of money on building his navy. The idea of his fleet sailing across hostile waters to snatch his bride from the hands of the emperor fired his imagination. Anne’s home of Juliers-Cleves had only acquired a sea port when her brother took control of the disputed Guelders and the people around her had little experience of sea travel. Henry, however, was enthusiastic, commissioning two experienced shipmasters to sail to Guelders to produce a pilot’s chart and seaman’s rutter (a book of sailing instructions) for the dangerous route, which involved navigating sandbanks in the Zuider Zee. Their reports did not fill Anne’s brother with confidence, particularly since, at one stage of the journey the deepest water was only nineteen feet, with ‘ooze’ clogging the water on both sides of the channel.

Faced with this, Anne’s brother refused absolutely to consider the enterprise, with his ambassadors telling Henry that ‘they think it rather expedient to have conveyed by land than by water; for she is young and beautiful, and if she should be transported by the seas, they fear lest the time of year being now cold and tempestuous she might there, although she were never so well ordered, take such cold or other disease, considering that she as never before upon the seas, as should be to her great peril’. Anne had almost certainly never seen the sea and was probably relieved when the matter was allowed to drop and a safe-conduct acquired instead.

Anne’s brother paid for her to travel in grand style across Europe. As a distant kinswoman of the Emperor she was never really in danger of attack, although Henry wrote touchingly to Mary of Hungary, requesting that she ensure ‘the personal security and comfort of the said lady [Anne] and her suite’. Anne left Cleves at the end of November with a train of 263 people, including some of the highest dignitaries of her brother’s duchy. They made slow progress due to the wintry conditions, averaging only around five miles a day, but had reached Antwerp by 3 December, where she was received in grand style. On 7 December she was at Bruges and, three days later, she reached Gravelines, which was only a few miles from the English-held city of Calais.

Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, who escorted Anne from Deal to London. The two women became friends.

Sunday 29 December 2013

29 December 1539 - Foul and windy with much hail

Anne of Cleves’s journey towards London and her new husband recommenced on the morning of 29 December 1539. Although Anne had been very well received in England, her first sight of her new country was less than auspicious. The weather, even for December, was appalling, with driving rain and freezing winds. It was in fact, so bad that the Duke of Suffolk and Sir Thomas Cheyne were concerned that they would have to delay their departure from Dover, since ‘the day was foul and windy with much hail’.

The two men had good reason to worry about the potential delay. The route that the princess was to follow towards London was a well-trodden one by travellers, with overnight stops at Canterbury, Sittingbourne, Rochester and Dartford, before reaching London. All of these places, bar Sittingbourne, had a suitable royal or noble residence for Anne to stay in. If they waited another day to set out from Dover, Anne would arrive at Sittingbourne – and the common inn in which she and her party were forced to stay – just in time for New Year’s Eve. Since she would not be travelling on New Year’s Day, one of the most important days in the Tudor year, she would have spent two uncomfortable nights in an inn. The only alternative to this would be to remain at Dover another three nights which, as Suffolk and Cheyne assessed, was ‘too many days to lose’.

It was Anne herself who saved the situation. Although the rain and hail ‘blew continually in her face’, she agreed to move on to Canterbury without delay, being ‘desirous to make haste to the king’s highness’. Anne was also kindly and anxious to please those she met in England, winning praise from those about her for her fortitude and obliging nature.

It certainly cannot have been an easy journey that day, particularly since, once she arrived outside Canterbury Anne was forced to wait in the rain for her reception committee so that she could make a ceremonial entrance to the city.

Anne was met on the downs outside Canterbury by the city’s archbishop, Thomas Cranmer, as well as a company of men that he had had to press-gang into braving the weather. That evening Cranmer wrote a letter to Thomas Cromwell setting out that he had been forced to retain one of the minister’s servants to make up the numbers, since he otherwise had but ‘a slender company’. Anne was too polite – and possibly too cold and wet – to say anything, allowing herself to be led into the city, where she was received by the mayor and citizens processing with torches, as well as a peal of guns.

Even when she reached her lodgings in the former St Augustine’s Abbey Anne was not free to rest. Instead, in her chamber she found ’40 or 50 gentlewomen in velvet bonnets to see her’. Once again, she was the model of tact in the face of the surprise additions to her party, ‘which she took very joyously and was so glad to see the king’s subjects resorting so lovingly to her, that she forgot all the foul weather and was very merry at supper’.

Henry had converted St Augustine’s Abbey into a lavish palace and Anne spent a warm and comfortable night there, with a fest held in her honour. She must have been grateful to finally retire to her bed that night, however, aware that she would have to continue the next day, regardless of the weather, in order to ensure that she had passed through Sittingbourne before New Year’s Eve.

The remains of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, where Anne spent her third night in England

Saturday 28 December 2013

28 December 1539 - An Alliance with Cleves

Anne of Cleves woke on the morning of 28 December 1539 at Dover Castle in Kent. She had been provided with the most comfortable rooms in the castle, as well as a suite of English servants to attend her, ensuring that all her needs were met. She spent the day recuperating from her journey to her new country, aware that she was not due to meet her new husband for several days to come.

Although Anne had not yet met Henry by 28 December 1539, she had been aware of his interest in her for nearly a year by that stage. With the friendship between the French king and the Emperor, England was alert to the threat of invasion, with Henry causing fortifications to be made, as well as personally viewing a muster of the men of the city of London in May 1539. As a schismatic, thanks to his break with Rome, Henry had few friends in Europe, particularly since his personal religious beliefs remained largely Catholic rather than Lutheran.

Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, on the other hand, was sympathetic towards the religious reform movement. This fed his interest in building links with the Protestant Schmalkaldic League, which had been founded by some of the German states.

The Schmalkaldic League, which had been formed in 1531 was led by Philip, Landgrave of Hesse, and John Frederick, Duke of Saxony, who had married Anne’s sister, Sibylla. As a Protestant defensive league, it was highly politically influential and opposed to the influence of Charles V in Germany. Although Cleves, which had remained a Catholic state, was not a member of the League, the marriage between John Frederick and Sibylla ensured that it was closely allied and associated with it. Anne and her younger sister, Amelia, were the best matches that the Schmalkaldic League possessed. Cromwell knew that, if Henry married one of the sisters-in-law of John Frederick, England would be guaranteed an alliance with the Schmalkaldic League.

Certainly, John Frederick of Saxony was greatly in favour with the alliance when it was proposed, exhorting his brother-in-law, William of Cleves, to arrange the match in April 1539. Only the month before Henry had sent ambassadors to Cleves in order to enquire into Anne’s appearance and character. If they liked what they heard, they were to offer her brother friendship and request a sight of Anne. 

They were to inform the Duke of Cleves that, if Henry liked the reports of Anne he ‘will be glad to honour his house and family with matrimony wither and to depart as liberally with her and with so convenient conditions as he shall have cause to be contented’. For Anne, it was a highly flattering offer.

Sibylla of Cleves, Duchess of Saxony. Anne's sister provided a close link to the Schmalkaldic League

Friday 27 December 2013

27 December 1539 - The Arrival of Anne of Cleves

At five o’clock in the afternoon of 27 December 1539 a young German princess, Anne of Cleves, stepped onto the shore at Deal in Kent. She was met by Sir Thomas Cheyne, who took her to Deal Castle – a rather Spartan fortress on the south coast of England. The castle, which was newly built, was inadequate for a royal visit and was merely used as a base for Anne and her retinue to change their clothes and refresh themselves.

Shortly after Anne’s arrival, Henry VIII’s brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Catherine Willoughby, arrived, as did the Bishop of Chichester and a large knights, esquires and ladies. Everyone was curious to meet the princess. She presented herself well, greeting them cordially and allowing her visitors to take her to the more comfortable Dover Castle, a little further down the coast. She arrived at eleven o’clock that night and gladly retired to her bed for her first night in a country that would be her home for the rest of her life.

Everyone in England was interested in the young woman who had sailed from Calais that morning, enjoying an uneventful and speedy voyage. Anne, who was twenty-four years old and the sister of the Duke of Cleves, was to become the fourth wife of Henry VIII, a man who, by 1539, was the most notorious husband in Europe. She had not, in fact, been Henry’s first choice as a bride.

When Henry’s third wife, Jane Seymour, died following childbirth on 24 October 1537, the king found himself in the unusual position of not having a new bride ready and waiting. Within days of her death Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief minister, had written to the French ambassadors suggesting that either the French king’s daughter or his kinswoman, Mary of Guise, would make suitable replacements. At the same time, the Imperial ambassadors offered the king the princess of Portugal.

Although Henry had known all three of his previous wives before marriage, it was never in doubt that his fourth would be a diplomatic match. This was, after all, the usual way that royal marriages were arranged and would help to ally England with a foreign power. By the end of 1537 ambassadors had been instructed to search the courts of Europe for a potential bride. John Hutton, the English ambassador to the Netherlands, provided an early report from Brussels, listing the eligible women in the Holy Roman Empire. As well as their accomplishments. He ended, rather unflatteringly, with the comment that ‘the duke of Cleves has a daughter, but there is no great praise either of her personage or her beauty’.

This was the only time that Anne would be mentioned in negotiations until 1539. Instead, Henry first looked for a French bride, seeking to marry Mary of Guise, who was already engaged to his nephew, James IV of Scotland. Upon receiving reports of the tall and beautiful Mary Henry was mitten, declaring that ‘he was big in person and had need of a big wife’. He was unsuccessful in his attempts to win Mary, however, with her soon marrying the King of Scots.

Henry next considered Mary’s sister, who was reported to be ‘as beautiful and graceful clever and well fitted to please and obey him as any other’, while the French ambassador assured him that ‘France was a warren of honourable ladies’.

Henry perhaps took the invitation to take his pick of the French ladies too literally when he requested that they all be brought to Calais so that he could select the woman that he liked best. Such a request was met with outrage by the French king, who declared that they were not horses to be made to promenade on show. When Henry insisted, the scandalised French ambassador asked whether he also wanted to try out the ladies before he made his choice, causing the English king to blush with shame.

With his failure to secure a French bride, Henry instead looked towards the family of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. His choice fell on the beautiful fifteen year old, Christina of Denmark, widowed Duchess of Milan, who was the Emperor’s niece. While Henry was charmed by her portrait, the princess was less than certain, declaring that ‘she had but one head, if she had two, one should be at his Majesty’s service’.

On 12 January 1539 Francis I of France and the Emperor Charles V signed the treaty of Toledo, making peace with each other. This meant that England was dangerously isolated and, with no possibility of a French or Imperial marriage, Henry instead looked around for other allies. His choice fell on Cleves.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Anne of Cleves Countdown Starting 27 December

Just to let you know that I will be starting a countdown looking at Anne of Cleves' arrival in England, meeting with Henry VIII and marriage here on 27 December. There will be daily posts charting what she did on each day as she made her way from Deal in Kent up to Greenwich. I will be looking at the politics behind the marriage, Anne's lineage and upbringing, as well as the disastrous meeting between Henry VIII and Anne on 1 January 1540 - why did it go so wrong?

I already have the first five posts ready to go, so look out for them. Also, feel free to add comments to the posts and also suggest ideas for future countdowns. I really enjoyed doing a countdown to Jane Seymour's death back in October.

You can also, of course, read more about Anne of Cleves in my book: Anne of Cleves: Henry VIII's Discarded Bride (Amberley, 2009).

Finally, have a great Christmas and a happy New Year!

Friday 20 December 2013

Judith of Francia: Twice Queen of Wessex

Just who was Judith of Francia? She is little remembered today but, in the ninth century, caused scandal wherever she went. The child bride of King Ethelwulf of Wessex, her marriage caused a rebellion when word of it reached England. She then shocked contemporaries by marrying her stepson. When she was widowed for a second time, her father, Charles the Bald, King of the Franks, sent her to a nunnery. Judith had no plans to be a nun, eloping with Count Baldwin of Flanders before personally enlisting the support of the pope for her third marriage.

Through her descendant, Matilda of Flanders, Judith is the ancestress of all post-conquest kings of England (excluding Matilda's husband, William the Conqueror). Find out more about her in my guest blog over at Royal Central http://www.royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/judith-of-francia-twice-queen-of-wessex-21259#.UrQQ7vRdWAU

You can also read about her in my books, She Wolves: The Notorious Queens of England (The History Press, 2008) and England's Queens: The Biography (Amberley, 2012).

Monday 16 December 2013

Buckingham's Rebellion against Richard III

My article on Buckingham's Rebellion has just been published in MedievaL Warfare magazine (vole III issue 6). You can pick up a copy in most newsagents or online http://www.karwansaraypublishers.com/cms/karwansaray/medieval-warfare.html

Buckingham's Rebellion in the autumn of 1483 is a fascinating moment in history. In a few short weeks, the Duke of Buckingham had gone from being the greatest supporter of Richard III to his greatest enemy. Did he perhaps have designs on the throne himself, or was he sincere in his professed support for Henry Tudor? Also, find out how Margaret Beaufort was able to link her own conspiracy with Queen Elizabeth Woodville to Buckingham's cause.

Richard III's quick thinking, along with the worst weather of the fifteenth century, saved his throne - for the time being...

Sunday 15 December 2013

Great Elfrida Review

There's a lovely review of Elfrida over at Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers. 'Elizabeth Norton does an outstanding job viewing Queen Elfrida's life objectively, and in doing so confirms some long-held beliefs, while dispelling many others' and 'Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers very highly recommends Elfrida'.


I loved writing about Elfrida. It was a considerable departure from the sixteenth century, which is the main focus of my research, but I previously studied Anglo-Saxon archaeology and have always been fascinated in the history of the period. Elfrida is also one of the most significant of medieval Englishwomen and her story deserves to be told.

Thursday 12 December 2013

The Other Boleyn Women: Queen Anne Boleyn's Aunts

You can find my guest post on 'The Other Boleyn Women: Queen Anne Boleyn's Aunts' over at Queen Anne Boleyn Historical Writers http://queenanneboleyn.com/2013/12/12/the-other-boleyn-women-queen-anne-boleyns-aunts-by-elizabeth-norton-2/

Who was the Lady Boleyn sent to spy on her niece in the Tower? Find out this and more in my guest post (and also in my new book - The Boleyn Women)!

Monday 9 December 2013

Tuesday 3 December 2013

Family History on the Internet Made Easy

Issue 137 (January 2014) of Your Family Tree magazine went on sale today (http://www.yourfamilytreemag.co.uk/). I wrote the cover feature on family history on the internet made easy.

The internet has revolutionised family history research. Long gone are the days of viewing the censuses and other records on microfilm in your local County Record Office. Instead you can take your family history back to 1800 and earlier without ever leaving the comfort of your sofa.

Empress Matilda, Lady of the English

My guest post for Royal Central on the Empress Matilda was published yesterday and can be found here: http://www.royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/empress-matilda-lady-of-the-english-20646#.Up4kB8RdWAU

Matilda's story is one of English history's great 'what-ifs'. She came tantalisingly close to being England's first ruling queen after being named as the heir of her father, Henry I.

I always think that her continuing reputation of being proud and haughty is particularly unfair. No-one would have criticised her father from keeping his vassals on their knees or expecting to be treated as a king, but Matilda, as a woman, was censured for this. You can read more about Matilda in two of my books: England's Queens: The Biography (Amberley, 2011) or She Wolves, The Notorious Queens of England (The History Press, 2008). Matilda is depicted on the cover of She Wolves.

Sunday 1 December 2013

Wednesday 20 November 2013

A Viking King of England

Exactly 1000 years ago this month, England was conquered by a Viking army. The English king, Ethelred II, fled, with his place taken by Sweyn Forkbeard, the raider's commander. It was to be the fist of three conquests of England in the eleventh century.

Read more about it in my guest post over at Royal Central: http://www.royalcentral.co.uk/blogs/a-viking-king-of-england-19996#.UoyjN_nxprI

Tuesday 19 November 2013

The Boleyn Women - A Nice Review

Carolyn Harris, a well-known royal historian over in Canada has just published a lovely review of The Boleyn Women. You can read it here: http://www.royalhistorian.com/the-boleyn-women-by-elizabeth-norton-review/

When researching The Boleyn Women, I wanted to focus particularly on the less well known members of the family, in order to tell their stories and show the parts that they played in the rise of the family to power.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Talking History on Newstalk Radio

I've just been interviewed on Newstalk Radio's Talking History programme. I discussed my book, The Anne Boleyn Papers, which is a collection of the sources relating to Anne's life. It was interesting to go through what material survives, as well as reading some of the extracts from Henry VIII's letters to Anne. We also discussed the reasons behind Anne's fall and whether there was any truth in the accusations against her.

You can listen to the programme at http://www.newstalk.ie/player/listen_back/launch

Saturday 16 November 2013

West Midlands History

I spent today at the West Midlands History conference at Keele University. My academic work at King's College, London is focussed on the Blount family, who were a West Midlands gentry family, so it's always great to see what other researchers are working on. The papers spanned 1500 years of history and covered a diverse range of topics, from the Anglo-Saxon governance of Hereford to politics in the twentieth century.

I was particularly interested in a paper on local government in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries which looked at the commissions for sewers - where groups of local men were appointed to take charge of flood defences.

Friday 15 November 2013

Another nice Elfrida review

It's obviously a day for lovely reviews - this time it's Elfrida's turn I have been really pleased with the feedback from this book. Writing about a woman who lived 1000 years ago seemed to be a risk. However, I always thought that the story of her life deserved to be told, particularly given the myths that had built up around bad Queen Elfrida.


The Good Book Guide November 2013

Three of my books were featured in the biography section of November's issue of The Good Book Guide:

The Anne Boleyn Papers 'A very vivid picture of the infamous 'Mistress Bullen''.

The Boleyn Women 'Norton shows how the women connected with Anne Boleyn were important in the major events int he 16th century'.

Bessie Blount (paperback) 'This is a lucid, readable. intelligent account of the life of a woman who could have been queen' (the hardback was previously editor's choice back in April 2012).

It's always nice to get good feedback!

Monday 11 November 2013

Talking History (Newstalk 106-108 fm)

Just a quick post to let you know that I will be featured on the Talking History show on Ireland's Newstalk radion (106-108 fm) on Sunday 17 November at 8pm. I will be discussing my book, The Anne Boleyn Papers, which is a collection of the main sources relating to Anne. I will be looking at the enduring popularity of Henry VIII's second wife, as well as the different portrayals of her over the century. Also, I will be outlining the extent of the surviving sources and how these can colour our interpretations of the Tudor queen.

Tune in, it should be interesting! http://www.newstalk.ie/talkinghistory

Friday 8 November 2013

Tudor London on BBC London News

I will be appearing on BBC London news today (at 1.45pm and 6.30pm) to discuss Tudor London. I've just come back from spending the morning filming at Pudding Lane and the monument for the Great Fire of London. It's a fascinating area and so interesting to think about the city that was lost to the flames.

So tune in at 6.30pm or watch the BBC I-player!

Elfrida, The First Crowned Queen of England

Check out my article on Queen Elfrida over at Royal Central. Elfrida was one of the most powerful people in tenth century England and ruled as regent on behalf of her young son, Ethelred the Unready.


Monday 4 November 2013

Queen Elfrida on Nerdalicious

Following on from my interview on The Boleyn Women over at Nerdalicious, you can now read my interview on Elfrida there. You can also read my guest post (based on an earlier article that I posted here) on the similarities between Elfrida and her descendant, Anne Boleyn. It's always great to get positive feedback on my work!



Friday 1 November 2013

The Anne Boleyn Papers Review

A lovely review of The Anne Boleyn Papers has just been published over at Impressions In Ink. It's always great to get feedback (preferably positive!). 

The Anne Boleyn Papers is a source book on Anne Boleyn, containing all of her letters and most of the sixteenth century sources detailing her life. If you want to read about Anne's life in her words and those of her contemporaries, then this is the book for you! It was originally published in hardback as 'Anne Boleyn In Her Own Words and the Words of Those Who Knew Her', so don't buy two copies by mistake - the only difference is the title and the images inside the book (unfortunately the paperback doesn't have any).

Thursday 31 October 2013

The Boleyn Women at Nerdalicious

My interview on The Boleyn Women has just been published on Nerdalicious. Follow the link below to read more. Also, if you haven't visited before, Nerdalicious is well worth a look. It has a really eclectic mix of features, from Tudor history to missing Doctor Who...


Tuesday 29 October 2013

Two Queen Annes in Kent

Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves shared more than just a husband and a name. Read about their associations with Kent, a county that both called home at points in their lives, in my article in the Nov/Dec issue of Bygone Kent magazine.


Friday 25 October 2013

Whilst Poor Queen Jane's Body Lay Cold Under Earth

Yesterday the countdown to Jane Seymour's death came to an end. Her death on 24 October 1537 is almost the end of the story. All that remained was to bury her like the queen she was.

The day after Jane's death, Henry VIII left Hampton Court for Westminster, unwilling to remain near his wife's body. It is a mark of his sincerity that he shut himself away for a time, although the search for a new bride had begun before the end of the year. England now had a Prince of Wales, but it needed a Duke of York to secure the succession further.

The Duke of Norfolk was directed by the king to arrange Jane's funeral. She was the last woman to die as queen in more than thirty years and the peer therefore looked back to the burial of Henry's mother, Elizabeth of York, who had also died in childbirth. When it was noted that Elizabeth's funeral had been attended by seven marquises and earls, sixteen barons, sixty knights and forty squires, it was ruled that Jane should have the same. It was the least that Henry could do for the mother of his longed-for son.

Soon after her death, Jane was embalmed and carried to the presence chamber at Hampton Court, where she lay in state, dressed in a gold and jewelled 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 the women stayed with Jane day and night, with tapers burning around her. On All Saint's Day, Jane was carried through the black hung galleries of the palace and taken to the chapel.

By convention, the king was absent from the funeral and it was his eldest daughter, Mary, who had loved her stepmother, who took the role of chief mourner. She was, however, too grief-stricken to attend the ceremonies on 1 November, with her place instead taken by her friend, the Marchioness of Exeter. The following day, further religious services were held, this time with Mary in attendance. During this period the princess, who had received some of Jane's jewels after her death, made offerings for her stepmother, as well as arranging pensions for members of the deceased queen's household.

Early in the morning of 12 November 1537 Jane was finally moved from the chapel at Hampton Court to a chariot drawn by six horses. With her banners carried behind her and a great procession, the corpse made its stately way to Windsor, where it was intended that she buried. She was finally interred on the morning of 13 November, nearly three weeks after her death.

Today, Jane's grave in the chapel at Windsor Castle is marked by a simple slab, which also bears inscriptions to her husband and later royals who share the grave. She was queen for less than eighteen months, but cemented herself in the Tudor dynasty by bearing her husband a son. She was the only one of Henry VIII's six wives to die a queen.

This is the end of Jane Seymour's story. I've enjoyed following the last few weeks of her life in these posts and hope that you've enjoyed reading them. Look out for other countdowns in recent months, I think it is an effective way of looking at a moment in history. If there is anything that you would particularly like to cover then please do comment below, it's always great to hear from anyone who has enjoyed these posts!

Thursday 24 October 2013

The Death of Queen Jane

Following her sickness in the night, Jane Seymour’s confessor came to her in the morning of 24 October 1537. By 8am he was preparing to administer the sacrament of extreme unction, which involved anointing with oil and was given to those who were in grave peril of their lives. In his nursery only a short walk away in Hampton Court Palace, little Prince Edward – who was only twelve days old – was about to lose his mother.

The ceremony evidently gave Jane some comfort. Later that day, Sir John Russell was able to report that she was ‘somewhat amended, and if she ‘scape this night, the physicians be in good hope that she be past danger’. Jane’s sickness had already gone on for such a long time that those around her could not see how she could remain in that condition – she had to either improve or die.

Any hopes of her recovery were vain, however. At 8pm, twelve hours after she received extreme unction, the Duke of Norfolk sat down in his chamber at Hampton Court to write to Thomas Cromwell, stating ‘I pray you to be here tomorrow early to comfort our good master, for as for our mistress there is no likelihood of her life, the more pity, and I fear she shall not be alive at the time ye shall read this’. Norfolk was right and the queen slipped quietly away in the night.

The death of Jane Seymour had been expected for more than a week but, as she lingered, those around her continued to hope that she might recover. Henry VIII, who was close by at Hampton Court, also grieved for his wife, although he took some consolation in the survival of his son. In a letter, written to Francis of France in response to congratulations on Edward’s birth, he commented that ‘Divine Providence has mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness’.

In dying at the moment that Henry loved her the most, Jane retained a special place in his heart. He gave her a royal funeral at Windsor and, in time, asked to be buried with her himself. The couple lie together today. Although it is a romantic gesture, it should be pointed out that there was no other wife that Henry could have asked to be buried with. He denied that he had ever been married to Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Anne of Cleves, while Catherine Howard lay buried as an executed traitor in the Tower. Henry’s last wife, Catherine Parr, was, of course, still alive.

The relationship of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour was no great love affair but, with hindsight, it came to take on more significance for the king as he continued to suffer matrimonial disappointments. Jane, as the mother of his son, came to be looked upon as his true queen – the woman with whom he chose to be depicted in the great painting of his family which can be seen at Hampton Court where Jane died.

Jane Seymour, the third wife of Henry VIII, was cut off at the moment of her greatest triumph, dying on 24 October 1537 before she had even reached her thirtieth birthday.

Jane Seymour from a later engraving. The cause of her death - her baby - is depicted beneath the picture.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Jane's Last Night

By 23 October 1537, Jane Seymour was very weak. She had, by then, been gravely ill for nearly a week, with little sign of improvement in her condition. On the afternoon of 23 October, she finally gave her physicians some cause for hope, having ‘a natural lax’ (i.e. a bowel movement), which caused her condition to improve until nightfall. As those around her hoped and prayed, it soon became apparent that the queen was far from better. All that night, she was very sick, so that her condition seemed worse than ever. No hope remained at all for her life by the following morning.

There is no evidence that Henry visited her, although he remained at Hampton Court. Husbands could certainly be present in their wife’s sick rooms – Thomas Seymour, for example, lay down on the bed beside Catherine Parr in an attempt to calm her as she lay dying of puerperal fever. Perhaps Henry was there for Jane, although throughout his life he had a horror of sickness.

There is some evidence that he was present at the end for Jane by accident rather than by policy: on 24 October Sir John Russell wrote to Cromwell to state that ‘the king was determined, as this day, to have removed to Esher, and, because the queen was very sick this night, and this day, he tarried; but to-morrow, God willing, he intendeth to be there. If she amends he will go and if she amend not, he told me, this day, he could not find it in his heart to tarry’. Henry was evidently fond of Jane and wanted to support her, but he was not prepared to stay close to her in her sickness indefinitely.

For the most part, Jane was attended by the women of her household in her sickness. As queen, she had maintained a close watch on the women, whom Henry always insisted should be fair. Anne Boleyn had popularised the daring and flattering French hood in England, so Jane made a point of wearing the more demure and severe English gable hood. She insisted that those around her did the same, carefully scrutinising their appearances.

When Jane engaged a new maid, Anne Bassett, she insisted that the French-educated girl exchange her French hoods for gable hoods, perhaps because the new headwear ‘became her nothing so well as the French hood’. Jane knew that she, like her predecessor, had risen to become the king’s wife from the queen’s household, something that accounts for her concern over just how appealing the maids appeared. For the most part, however, she seems to have been well-liked by her women. After her death, her maids kept a solemn vigil beside her corpse, while her stepdaughter, Princess Mary, was particularly grief-stricken.

As she lay very sick on the night of 23 October Jane had only a few hours left to live.
Jane's signature as queen

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Who was Jane Seymour?

On 22 October 1537, the English court continued to wait to see if the queen would ‘amend’. The woman at the centre of the vigil was, by that stage, oblivious to what was going on around her. Just who was the dying woman, who was the lowest-born woman ever to be queen of England?

Jane Seymour had none of the links to the nobility that her predecessor as queen, Anne Boleyn had. Anne was the granddaughter of the Duke of Norfolk and the great-granddaughter of the Earl of Ormond. Similarly, Henry’s other English wives, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr, had family connections to the nobility (Catherine Howard was, in fact, Anne's first cousin). Jane had none of this: her recent ancestors had all been members of the gentry.

Jane Seymour was the eldest daughter of Sir John Seymour of Wolf Hall in Wiltshire and his wife, Margery Wentworth. The Seymours claimed to have first come to England with William the Conqueror, before arriving at Wolf Hall late in the fourteenth century. They were locally prominent, with family members serving as sheriffs of Wiltshire and sometimes representing the county in parliament, but they had no national standing. Jane’s father was a soldier rather than a courtier, serving in some of the campaigns of the Tudor kings. His wife, Margery, had good connections, since she was the niece of Elizabeth Tylney, Countess of Surrey, who was her mother’s half-sister. Elizabeth Tylney was the maternal grandmother of Anne Boleyn, making Jane and her predecessor second cousins once removed.

Jane’s parents married in 1494 and quickly produced a family. Their first four children were sons: John, Edward, Henry and Thomas, while their fifth was a girl, Jane, who was born in around 1508. She was followed by sisters Elizabeth, Dorothy and Margery and a brother, Anthony. Jane, like her siblings, would have been born at Wolf Hall, which unfortunately does not survive. They worshipped in Great Bedwyn parish church, which contains a number of memorials, including those to Jane’s father and eldest brother. Jane would not have remembered her eldest brother, John, who died in 1510. It was her second brother, Edward, who would dominate her life.

Edward Seymour was a courtier as well as a soldier. It is likely his career, combined with the patronage of Sir Francis Bryan, who was another grandson of Elizabeth Tylney, brought Jane to court as a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon. She later transferred to Anne Boleyn’s household, a move that, of course, led to her coming to Henry VIII’s notice.

Jane was no great match. When Francis Bryan attempted to arrange her marriage to William Dormer, the eldest son of a prosperous Buckinghamshire family, she was refused. It was therefore a surprise to everyone when, late the following year, in 1535, she began to attract the attention of the king. Just how she did so was as mystifying to her contemporaries as it appears to us. Jane was pale, past the first flush of youth and far from a beauty according to contemporary reports. She was, however, virtuous, and this seems to have pleased the king.

When he attempted to persuade her to become his mistress, with a letter and a purse of coins, Jane refused them, praying that the king would ‘consider that she was a gentlewoman of good and honourable parents, without reproach, and that she had no greater riches in the world than her honour, which she would not injure for a thousand deaths’. According to Eustace Chapuys, when Henry heard of this response his ‘love and desire towards the said lady was wonderfully increased, and that he had said that she had behaved most virtuously and to show her that he only loved her honourably, he did not intend henceforth to speak with her except in the presence of some of her kin’. Jane’s unavailability only made Henry want her more, as it had been with Anne Boleyn. By late April 1536 he had decided to end his marriage, in order to wed his new love: Jane Seymour.

Jane Seymour can never have imagined that she would one day be queen of England. She was, however, only able to enjoy the position for eighteen brief months. She was as good as dead on 22 October 1537. The following day, on which the crisis again came, was to be her last full day alive.
The tomb of Jane's father in Great Bedwyn church

Royal Christenings Through the Ages

Prince George of Cambridge will be christened tomorrow in a ceremony that will no doubt go smoothly. This has not always been the case and earlier royal christenings have sometimes proved controversial. Find out more in my article over at Royal Central, which was published today.


Anne Boleyn's Female Forebears

You can find out more about Anne Boleyn's female forebears on my guest post over at the On The Tudor Trail site. The article is based on my research for The Boleyn Women and looks at how the early women of the family helped to bring them to prominence.


Monday 21 October 2013

Jane Seymour's Health

By 21 October 1537, few of the men and women assembled at Hampton Court can have had hopes of Jane Seymour’s life. As she lay in the room that she had given birth in, only nine days before, everyone knew that it was only a matter of time until the end came.

The queen had been so careful of her health during her pregnancy. The summer of 1537 had seen the sweating sickness return to London, with a member of Thomas Cromwell’s household coming down with the disease in July. Henry was, of course, informed of this turn of events at once, before personally telling his pregnant wife. Jane’s reaction was such that Sir John Russell, who was present, was concerned, ‘whereupon, considering that her Grace is with child; and the case that she is in, I went again to the king and said I perceived the queen was afraid, His Majesty answered that the queen is somewhat afraid’. Henry himself felt that there was no danger in Cromwell continuing to attend court, but in order to calm Jane, he insisted that his chief minister stayed away.

There was little practical that Jane could actually do to avoid the plague, apart from shutting herself away. That same month, she insisted that Lady Rutland be quarantined at Enfield when a member of her household went down with the sickness, with the Calais-based Lady Lisle, who ensured that she stayed on top of all the court gossip, being informed that she would ‘not believe how fearful the queen’s grace is of the sickness’. Jane had a particular reason to fear the sweating sickness, since the outbreak of the disease in 1528 is likely to have caused the deaths of her two youngest siblings, Margery and Anthony.

In the summer of 1537 Jane knew well that any failure to bear the king his expected son would be blamed squarely on her and this accounts for her fear to some extent. However, it is also clear that she wanted to live and be a queen. She spent much of the summer of 1537 closeted at Windsor with a greatly reduced household. It was also agreed that, while she awaited the birth of her child at Hampton Court in September, Henry would stay nearby at Esher in order to reduce the numbers of people near the queen.

Jane’s time as queen had been filled with anxiety, in part at least due to the constant reminders of what had happened to Anne Boleyn. She had taken a worryingly long time to fall pregnant after her marriage and was considered at court in late 1536 to be ‘a woman who is not very secure’. With the birth of her son, she was unassailably queen of England on 21 October 1537. Unfortunately, she only had three days left to enjoy it.

Jane's initials entwined with Henry's outside the chapel at Hampton Court. Jane knew that, should she fall, her initials could be removed as easily as Anne Boleyn's had been before her.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Bound to Obey and Serve

Jane Seymour continued to linger on 20 October 1537, three days after she had been given the last rites. The fact that she survived so long while gravely ill hints at her strength of character and will. Death usually came more swiftly for women who contracted an infection in childbed.

We know very little of Jane Seymour’s character. Unlike her predecessor, Anne Boleyn, she did not excite the indignation of the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who provided many of the surviving accounts of Anne’s spoken words and behaviour. Admittedly, Chapuys recorded none of the good that Anne did, but his accounts do at least give us an idea of her spirit.

Chapuys does not seem to have had a particularly high opinion of Jane. Before her marriage, he commented that she ‘is not a woman of great wit, but she may have good understanding’. He also doubted her virginity at the time of her marriage to Henry (considering it unlikely that any woman could have been at court as long as Jane without taking a lover) and criticised her appearance. It appears that Jane looked better when dressed to impress – Henry VIII’s seventeenth century biographer, Edward Herbert, claimed that Sir John Russell, who had observed Jane believed that ‘the richer Queen Jane was in clothes, the fairer she appeared, but that the other [Anne], the richer she was apparelled, the worse she looked’.

Chapuys believed that Jane had ‘been well taught for the most part by those intimate with the king, who hate the Concubine [Anne], that she must by no means comply with the king’s wishes except by way of marriage; in which she is quite firm’. It appears that she was coached in how to behave with Henry during the last months of his marriage to Anne. She played the role beautifully, showing herself as an honest and demure young woman and adopting the submissive motto 'Bound to Obey and Serve'. She was a great success, just as she was successful in persuading Henry to bring his eldest daughter, Mary, back to court.

Jane also had strong religious views. In the summer of 1536 she showed her support for monasticism when she offered the king 2000 marks if the nunnery at Catesby could be saved. There is also some evidence that she was involved in attempts to save Clementhorpe nunnery in Yorkshire. She certainly attempted to intercede with Henry on behalf of the rebels during the Pilgrimage of Grace, which was a popular uprising in favour of traditional religion in late 1536. Martin Luther considered her to be ‘an enemy of the Gospel’, something which could have made the reign of her son, Edward VI, very different in character had she lived.

The surviving evidence, such as it is, suggests that Jane was not as meek and demure as her public image implied. She was a woman who was able to attract the king and hold his interest, becoming politically involved in a conspiracy that ended in the death of her predecessor. She also attempted to involve herself in the politics of the reign, although, with the threat of Anne Boleyn’s fate hanging over her, she ensured that she trod carefully.

If Jane had lived, it is probable that she would have ruled as regent for her nine year old son in 1547. If this had been the case, we might well remember Henry VIII’s third wife very differently. As it was, however, on 20 October 1537, only eight days after her child’s birth, Jane Seymour was dying.
Princess Mary, Jane's stepdaughter. Jane played a role in her reconciliation with her father.

Saturday 19 October 2013

Elfrida - The Lady's Book of the Week

'Elfrida, The First Crowned Queen of England' is currently book of the week in The Lady. 'This enticing glimpse into a world of warring kings, zealous churchmen and marauding Vikings definitely whets the appetite: let's hope it's the start of a trend for more biographies from this fascinating era'. 'Carefully reconstructing Elfrida's life through surviving documents, many of the more spectacular myths about her are debunked'.

It's great to see 'Elfrida' being so warmly received. Writing the book was a real labour of love for me - I have always found her one of the most fascinating of medieval women. She was certainly one of the most powerful women in early English history.


Childbed Fever

By 19 October 1537, Jane Seymour had been gravely ill for three days. The very fact that she continued to live, even after the last rites had been given, encouraged some slight hopes of recovery. There was nothing anyone could do but wait and see.

Since it is clear that Jane did not die due to a caesarean section, the question must be asked, what killed her? She had, after all, initially seemed to recover well from her long labour. Cromwell believed that the neglect of her attendants, in allowing her to catch cold and providing her with unsuitable food, caused her decline. While this could, perhaps, have hastened her end, this was not, in itself, enough to kill the queen.

It has been suggested by Dr Loach, in her study of Jane’s son, that the queen was killed by an infection caused by the retention of part of the placenta in her womb. This is entirely possible since, in the event that part of the placenta had remained, it would have been very difficult for her physicians to remove it without causing further injury.

More likely, however, the cause of her death was probably puerperal, or childbed, fever. This was a terrifying prospect for pregnant women before the advent of antibiotics and carried off a good proportion of mothers. Henry VIII’s last wife, Catherine Parr, died of this condition in 1548, with the birth of her first child, while his mother, Elizabeth of York died bearing a short-lived daughter in 1503. Early in the fifteenth century, another queen, Richard II’s widow, Isabella of Valois, died bearing her second husband a child. Before that, Mary de Bohun, the first wife of Henry IV died bearing her daughter, Philippa, in 1394.

Queens were very far from immune in an age where nobody understood the need to wash hands or sterilise implements. It was simply good luck for women who survived childbirth unscathed. Since Jane’s child was her first, she was at greater risk. Labours for a first child tend to be longer, as Jane’s indeed was. This would have increased the need for medical intervention and left her vulnerable to the infection that killed her.

As the fever set in, Jane would have experienced agonising pains and delirium, something which accounts for Cromwell’s comment about her eating unsuitable foods ‘that her fantasy in sickness called for’. She may well also have had lucid periods. Catherine Parr, who was both her successor as Henry’s wife and her future sister-in-law, was able to dictate a short testament when she became aware that she was suffering from childbed fever, proclaiming to those assembled ‘that she, then lying on her death-bed, sick of body, but of good mind, and perfect memory and discretion, being persuaded, and perceiving the extremity of death to approach her’. She later became delirious, spending her last few days raving about the bad conduct of her husband. Jane too, is likely to have been confused and largely unaware of her surroundings by 19 October.

As puerperal fever set in, Jane must have been aware of the bitterness of circumstances. In giving the king a son, she was safe from repudiation or execution: he would never to anything to call Edward’s legitimacy into question. However, in the manner of her death, Jane became just as much a victim in Henry VIII’s quest for a male heir as Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. She was supremely unlucky.
Jane's future sister-in-law and successor as queen, Catherine Parr, also died in childbirth.

Friday 18 October 2013

The Anne Boleyn Papers

I've written a guest post over at Sylwia S. Zupanec's The Daring Truth of Anne Boleyn blog. It's called 'The Anne Boleyn Papers' and looks at surviving sources for Anne (particularly her early life). Sylwia is also giving away a copy of my Anne Boleyn Papers book, which is the paperback of 'Anne Boleyn In Her Own Words...'


Not of Woman Born

Jane Seymour had unexpectedly rallied on 17 October, but on the following day she was still gravely ill. Her little son was six days old – cared for by his nursery staff close by – the christening was almost certainly the last time that his mother saw him. Just what was killing his mother in her fine apartments at Hampton Court?
By 1537 Henry VIII had a poor reputation and many people could believe anything of him. When he began looking for a fourth wife, shortly after Jane’s death, he was hampered by rumours that his first wife had been poisoned, his second wife was executed (which was, of course, true) and that his third wife died after being poorly attended following Edward’s birth. It is therefore no surprise that some contemporaries and near-contemporaries began to assign him an active role in Jane’s death.  

The near contemporary Chronicle of Henry VIII recorded that ‘it was said that the mother had to be sacrificed for the child’. The later sixteenth century writers Nicholas Harpsfield and Nicholas Sander also stated that Jane’s child was cut from her with Sander going so far as to claim that Henry was asked which life should be spared and replied ‘the boy’s, because he could easily provide himself with other wives’. None of these sources are particularly reliable, however. The Chronicle would later reverse the order of Henry’s fourth and fifth marriage, as well as assigning the deceased Thomas Cromwell an active role in the fall of Catherine Howard. Harpsfield and Sander, who opposed the Reformation and Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, had their own agenda.

The idea that Jane had a caesarean, did however enter popular currency and is still believed by some today. The popular ballad, the Death of Queen Jane, for example, refers to a caesarean:

'Queen Jane was in labour full six weeks and more,
And the women were weary, and fain would give oer:
‘O women, O women, as women ye be,
Rip open my two sides, and save my baby!’
‘O royal Queen Jane, that thing may not be;
We’ll send for King Henry to come unto thee.’
King Henry came to her, and sate on her bed:
'What ails my dear lady, her eyes look so red?'
‘O royal King Henry, do one thing for me:
Rip open my two sides, and save my baby!’
‘O royal Queen Jane, that thing will not do;
If I lose your fair body, I’ll lose your baby too.’
She wept and she waild, and she wrung her hands sore;
O the flower of England must flurish no more!
She wept and she waild till she fell in a swoond,
They opend her two sides, and the baby was found.
The baby was christened with joy and much mirth,
Whilst poor Queen Jane’s body lay cold under earth:
There was ringing and singing and mourning all day,
The princess Elizabeth went weeping away.
The trumpets in mourning so sadly did sound,
And the pikes and the muskets did trail on the ground’.

I did quite a bit of research into caesareans for my book, Bessie Blount. Caesareans were rare in the sixteenth century, although they did occur. Children born in this manner would be referred to by the contemporaries by such terms as ‘not of woman born’, ‘the fortunate’ and ‘the unborn’. The operation was considered to have a spiritual nature and was performed only on deceased mothers when the midwives believed that the baby was still living and, thus, could be baptised before their death. Such children were not expected to survive and rarely did so, leading to a special religious significance in their offspring. As one historian has commented ‘no other medical procedure was so directly linked to spiritual salvation or damnation’. The operation, although rare, was well known in Jane’s time, with the later sixteenth century physician, Francois Rousset, writing a treatise in 1581 advocating the operation’s performance on living women, whom he believed could survive the procedure – I suspect that he received few willing volunteers! You can read more about caesareans in the really excellent Not of Woman Born by R. Blumenfeld-Kosinski (Ithaca, 1990).

The idea that Jane had a caesarean is impossible. Henry VIII was many things, but he was not a man who would order his wife cut open (something which would certainly kill her), just to save a baby. Caesareans were only performed at the point of death and, since Jane was able to attend the christening celebrations and, according to Cromwell, command her maids to bring herself unsuitable foods in the days following the birth, she had clearly not endured a caesarean.

So, what was killing Jane in October 1537?

You can read more about caesareans, and deaths in childbirth, in Bessie Blount.

Thursday 17 October 2013

The History of the Boleyn Family Talk - Reminder

Just a reminder about my talk tonight for the Historical Association on the history of the Boleyn family. It's in Chichester at 7.30pm. Come over and say hello if you decide to attend!

For further details, click on the link below:


Jane Seymour: Crisis Point

Jane Seymour rapidly deteriorated following her son’s christening, reaching a crisis point on 17 October 1537. That day, she received the last rites, with her doctors losing all hope of her life. It is not recorded whether Henry visited his dying wife. He had a horror of sickness all his life, but he remained at Hampton Court during this time, postponing a hunting trip to remain close to Jane. The queen was, in any event, delirious by this stage and probably unaware of anything that was going on around her.

Remarkably, after seeming close to death on 17 October, Jane began to show signs of recovery. Everyone at court held their breath, waiting to see if the queen would survive, but it was not to be and she quickly sickened again.

Although she was well attended, there was little that Jane’s doctors could do. She lived in an age where one doctor, who was frequented by a number of court ladies, carried around a notebook that could confidently declare that a cure for fleas, which involved anointing ‘a staff with the grease of a deer, fox, bear or badger or hedgehog: make a hole in the frame of a great hour glass in the top and bottom, put in a great stick, anoint it with turpentine the fleas will stick fast about it’, was ‘proved’. Without antibiotics, all everyone was able to do was pray and wait and see.

Just what caused Jane’s sickness? There are three main theories which I will set out over the next few days.

Stained glass originally from the Seymours' home of Wolf Hall - the images show Jane's phoenix badge, Tudor roses and the Prince of Wales' feather badge. They were presumably commissioned between 1537 and 1547, while Edward was Prince of Wales.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

'Suffered to take great cold'

With the christening over, Jane returned to her bed to rest. She was not expected to emerge from her confinement until she had been churched, a ceremony which was held in order to purify her after giving birth. John Husee, the London agent to the Calais resident Lady Lisle spoke of Jane’s churching in a letter of 16 October, indicating that she was still not widely known to be unwell. There were similar contemporary hopes that she would quickly safeguard the succession with the births of further royal sons in the years to come. It was believed by everyone that Jane had escaped the perils of childbirth. Henry VIII was certainly pleased with the Seymours and looking towards the future, creating Jane’s eldest brother, Edward, Earl of Hertford on the day of the christening, as well as knighting her brother, Thomas.

While the king, court and country celebrated, the woman at the centre of the drama began to rapidly feel unwell. In the eighteen months since her marriage, Jane had become used to getting her own way, receiving regular deliveries of fat quails from Calais to satisfy her cravings during pregnancy, for example. Even as she began to become delirious with fever, her attendants continued to do all she asked in October 1537, with Thomas Cromwell later complaining that ‘our Mistress thorough the fault of them that were about her which suffered her to take great cold and to eat things that her fantasy in sickness called for’. It was not, however, to be the cold or unsuitable foods that killed Queen Jane.

As night fell on 16 October, Queen Jane Seymour had eight days left to live.

Edward Seymour, Jane's brother

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Prince Edward's Christening

Jane Seymour's final public appearance occurred on 15 October 1537. Although, by convention, neither Henry or Jane attended their son's christening, both were expected to play a public role in the ceremonies. In preparation, the queen was wrapped by her attendants in velvet and furs to guard against the cold, before being carried to an anti-chamber where a special sofa had been prepared for her to lie on.

The couple watched as their baby was carried to the chapel in a grand procession, with Jane, although still weak, conscious that she had finally given the king all that he desired. During her marriage, the queen had built a strong relationship with her elder stepdaughter, Mary, who had agreed to stand as one of the prince's godmothers. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, was godfather. The christening was like a 'who's-who' of the Tudor court. Jane's kinsman, Sir Francis Bryan, served as one of the gentlemen dressed in aprons and holding towels who took charge o the font. Her brother, Edward Seymour, was also prominent, carrying the prince's other half sister, the four year old Elizabeth, who made a rare visit to court.

Once the procession left Jane and Henry, the gentlemen walked in pairs, carrying unlit torches before them. The children and ministers of the king’s chapel followed. Then, the knights, chaplains and other members of the nobility also walked in pairs in procession. Following this, the prince was brought, carried carefully by the Marchioness of Exeter and assisted by her husband and the Duke of Suffolk. Jane’s son was dressed in a great robe with a long train borne by Lord William Howard and, over the prince’s head, a canopy was held by a number of gentlemen, including his uncle, Thomas Seymour.

Once inside the chapel, the baby was announced by the king of heralds as ‘Edward, son and heir to the king of England, Duke of Cornwall, and Earl of Chester’. The name Edward had been chosen by Henry both to mark the fact that the prince was born on the eve of St Edward and as a tribute to his own grandfather, Edward IV.

After the ceremony, the procession finally made its way back to the king and queen, this time with their tapers lit. Edward was handed to his mother and both Jane and Henry gave him their blessing before he was taken away to sleep. Jane’s role was not yet done however and it was past midnight before the last of the guests had left. She was carried tired but triumphant back to her bed in the small hours of the morning to finally get some rest.