Friday, 24 October 2014

24 October 1537: Death of Jane Seymour

On 24 October 1537, Queen Jane Seymour died at Hampton Court Palace, aged around twenty-nine. The third wife of Henry VIII had given birth to a male heir, Prince Edward, twelve days previously, and had been thought to have been in good health following her first birth. The queen had welcomed visitors attending her son's christening on 15 October, although following protocol, neither she nor her husband attended the christening.

Jane's queenship appears to have been passive, in contrast with the strong and authoritative queenships of her two predecessors Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, but as historians have conjectured, this may well have resulted from Henry's decision to limit his wife's influence. Jane did not lead religious reform or press for a return to traditional religion: she appears to have been conservative in her religious beliefs, since Martin Luther heard that she was 'an enemy of the gospel'.


Although the birth of the prince was arduous and difficult, there is no evidence that the queen gave birth by caesarean section, a story put forward by the Catholic priest Nicholas Sander in his work defaming Henry VIII's reformation. Jane appeared to have been making a normal recovery following the birth of her son. She initially rallied after some initial consternation about her condition, but by 24 October her life was in danger and her almoner, Robert Aldrich, bishop of Carlisle, administered extreme unction and informed the king. Although the queen's attendants were blamed for allowing her to eat food that was unsuitable and allowing her to catch a cold, it seems likely that Jane developed puerperal fever, a common condition that befell many sixteenth-century women. Alternatively, it has been suggested that the queen died because of retention of parts of the placenta in her uterus, which could have led to a catastrophic haemorrhage a few days after her child's delivery.

Whatever her condition was, Jane soon developed septicaemia, and delirium set in. She died just before midnight on 24 October, less than two weeks after the birth of Prince Edward. She was either twenty-eight or twenty-nine years of age at the time of her decease, young even by sixteenth-century standards. Her husband the king was devastated, informing the king of France: 'Divine Providence has mingled my joy [at the birth of his son] with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness'. From then on, Henry VIII would fondly remember Jane Seymour as his favourite wife, the only consort, as it turned out, who provided him with a surviving male heir. He would be buried beside Jane in St George's Chapel, Windsor, when he died in 1547.

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