Jane Seymour & Henry VIII: Facts & History

Instructor: Mary Deering

Mary has a Master's Degree in History with 18 advanced hours in Government. She has taught college History and Government courses.

Learn how the love life of a King Henry VIII of England contributed to religious change in England and meet his third wife, the lovely Jane Seymour and their young son, Edward. Discover the unintended consequences of Henry's quest for love and an heir.

Who was Henry VIII?

Henry Tudor was the second son of King Henry VII, the ruler of England. As a boy, Henry was trained to become a Catholic priest while his older brother, Arthur, was trained in leadership and diplomacy. Everyone assumed that Arthur, as the older brother, would succeed his father as the next King of the England. Tragically, Arthur died at the age of 15, and Henry was suddenly the heir to the throne. When his father died in 1509, the eighteen-year-old Henry became Henry VIII, king of England.

Portrait of Henry VIII painted by Hans Holbein
Henry VIII of England

One of the young king's first actions was to wed his brother's widow, a Spanish princess named Catharine of Aragon who was several years older than the new king. King Henry and Queen Catharine were happily married for several years, but only one of their children survived out of infancy, a daughter named Mary. In Tudor England, only males could inherit money and positions of power. As the years stretched on with Catharine unable to produce a male heir, Henry became convinced that he needed to find a new, younger wife.

Henry was encouraged in this view by one of his wife's ladies in waiting, a lovely, witty young woman named Anne Boleyn. Henry asked the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, to annul his marriage to Catherine so that he might marry Anne. The Pope refused under threat of violence from King Charles of Spain, Catharine's nephew. Ready to wed again, Henry removed England from the Catholic faith and created the Church of England, a new Protestant religion, with himself as the head of the church. Soon after, he divorced Catharine and married Anne Boleyn.

Unfortunately for Henry, Anne was also unable to have a male child. She did produce one daughter named Elizabeth. Just as with Catharine, Henry became frustrated by the lack of an heir. A jousting accident that left him with a permanent limp and a wound that would not heal made Henry all the more desperate to ensure that the throne of England would pass to his son. Around this same time, rumors began to circulate that Anne had been unfaithful to the king. Some even said she had been sleeping with her own brother. Although historians are divided on whether or not any of the rumors were true, Henry used them to have Anne tried and beheaded along with the men she had supposedly taken as lovers. With Anne out of the way, Henry was ready to wed again.

Who was Jane Seymour?

Jane Seymour was the daughter of a prominent English family. As Anne and Henry's marriage crumbled, the aging King became very fond of Jane, who was one of the queen's companions. Like Anne, Jane was much younger than the King; however, Jane was largely regarded as a quiet and shy young woman. Her kindness and retiring nature endeared her to the King. The day after Anne Boleyn was executed, Jane and the king announced their engagement.

Portrait of Jane Seymour painted by Hans Holbein
Jane Seymour

After their marriage, Henry finally got what he had desired for so long. Jane gave birth to a son named Edward. Unfortunately for Henry and baby Edward, Jane died two weeks after giving birth. Henry had Jane's heart and lungs interred under the altar at Hampton Court. He and all of England mourned for the gentle Queen they had lost.

Why Does Jane and Henry's Relationship Matter?

Although he was a sickly baby and child, Edward lived. Henry married again three more times, still hoping to have more children in case Edward perished. His fourth marriage to a German princess named Anne of Cleves ended in divorce. His fifth, to a nobleman's beautiful teenaged daughter, Kathryn Howard, ended when his young queen was accused of adultery and beheaded. Finally, Henry married a woman closer to his own age, a widow named Katharine Parr. His last queen nursed and comforted Henry during the final years of his life.

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