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

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