Jane Seymour Controversies

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Jane Seymour
Historical Controversies
about Jane Seymour

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How Involved was Jane in her predecessor Anne Boleyn's downfall & execution?:

There are various schools of thought as to the actual involvement of Jane in her whirlwind courtship and rise to the position of Queen. One theory is that she was unintelligent and was simply used as a pawn by her ambitious brothers.

Others believe that, as her motto "Bound to Obey and Serve" stated, she followed the orders and desires of the King without question, despite any fears she might have -- and fears would be expected, considering the fates of Henry's first two Queens. Katherine of Aragon had been banished and mistreated for years prior to her death, and Anne Boleyn was rapidly sliding to her final defeat.

Lastly, the opinion was held by some, Anne Boleyn among them, that Jane was scheming and sly, and that she had deliberately attracted the King's attention as his love for Anne Boleyn faded, actively assisting her family in its rise to a position of power.

Jane was not a diarist -- in fact, it is suspected that like most women of the time, she could only write enough to sign her name -- so her opinion of her meteoric rise to prominence is unknown, as is her comprehension of it and her possible participation in it.

Appearance and personality:

Did Jane have a C Section ?:
The legend of Jane Seymour as all-sacrificing to supply Henry with a son became entrenched within days of her death. The myth that she underwent a Cesarean section to give birth was propagated in several ballads, where Jane insists that Henry have her " side cut open to save his babye".

Jane had laboured two days and three nights before bringing forth Henry's son. Just as prayers were being said for her safe deliverance, the boy-child, in triumph, was laid in her arms. Legend has it that the boy – to be called Edward for Henry's grandfather, Edward IV – had been born via Cesarean section. Even gypsy folk songs tell this story:

He gave her rich caudle
But the death-sleep slept she
Then her right side was opened
And the babe was set free
The babe it was christened
And put out and nursed
While the royal Queen Jane
She lay cold in the dust.

Rationally, we know these lyrics to be untrue. Times were just too primitive for a woman to survive that kind of operation. Cutting open a mother generally only happened when a mother died whilst labouring, in desperate hope of saving the child. But Jane Seymour still lived twelve days after her son’s birth. On the twelfth day after Edward’s birth, Jane – with so little time to enjoy the glory of being the woman to give Henry his heir – died of ‘childbed’ fever* the killer of so many new mothers of this period.

The legend of Jane’s Caesarean section probably came about because of court rumours spreading like Chinese whispers about what actually happened in the birthing chamber. When her attendants started to panic that her long labour would fail to result in a living birth, they may have interfered with what was best left alone. ‘Childbed fever’* , or puerperal sepsis, resulted from poor hygiene – rife during this period. Because touching introduced germs, the best protection for a labouring woman was to be left ‘internally’ alone, so nature could take its course. Indeed, the less handling a woman received during childbirth, the better.

But – of course – if a woman was experiencing difficulties, there was more likelihood that her birthing attendants would attempt internal explorations. That only put women at risk of death. Was this what happened to Jane? That people caring for her fussed too much, and therefore caused her death? Interestingly, Jane herself blamed her ‘carers’ when she realised that her feet trod the path to a certain death, saying that they had allowed her to catch cold and fed her the wrong things. [source: Antonia Fraser]

In the light of the facts, Jane underwent no such surgery, as she lived for two weeks after the birth of her son. In those days, Caesarean section was an immediate death sentence, and was not condoned by either the Catholic or the new Anglican church, as it consisted of making a choice between the life of the mother and the life of the child. Anyone making such a choice would be guilty of murder. Caesarean section was used only in cases where the mother was dead, and there was a chance that the child would still be alive. If Jane had undergone a Caesarean section, she would have bled to death within minutes. (see also : The Tudors Medicine)

Henry seemed to genuinely mourn Jane's death, and remained unmarried for more than two years. It was at this time that he also began to fail in health and became very heavy and irritable. Later, during his marriage to Catherine Parr, he was to have a "dynastic" portrait done of his entire family -- his father and mother are present, as are Henry, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth. But the Queen in the painting is not Catherine Parr, who posed for the artist -- the face is that of Jane Seymour.

Childbed fever: Fever due to an infection usually of the placental site within the uterus. The fever is also called childbirth fever or puerperal fever. If the infection involves the bloodstream, it constitutes puerperal sepsis. In Latin a "puerpera" is a woman in childbirth since "puer" means child and "parere" means to give birth. The puerperium is the time immediately after the delivery of a baby. [source: MedicineNet.com]

Elizabeth Norton in her "Jane Seymour: Henry VIII's True Love" published in 2009 states :
"There is simply no evidence to support the claim that Jane had a caesarean and there is no record of such a procedure being performed on a living woman until the seventeenth century"

"Despite the length of the labour -- two days and three nights -- the baby was not delivered by Caesarean section, as was rumoured later.The operation has been known since ancient times, probably deriving its name from the Roman law Lex Caesarea concerning the burial of women who died while pregnant (not from the birth of Julius Caesar as sometimes suggested). But at this date there was still no question of a woman surviving it. It was employed solely for women dying in advanced pregnancy, in order to save the child: a Venetian law of 1608, for example , required it in such a situation. A tale of a Swiss pig-gelder, who was said to have carried out a Caesarean operation on his own wife in 1500, probably relates to an extra-uterine pregnancy, since the women went on to have several more children by natural means; there is an authentic account of another operation in 1610, but the mother died of infection.

The tradition that the operation was performed is preserved in a ballad (above)... Another story had the King deliberately sacrificing the life of the Queen by ordering the baby to be cut free.

Of this ruthlessness however King Henry was not guilty. For one thing there is no reference to such an operation in the elaborate accounts of the prince's birth by officials. But what makes it clear that no such operation was performed is the fact that Queen Jane, far from sleeping 'the death sleep' was alive and well enough after the birth to receive guests after the baby's christening three days later. Wrapped in velvet and fur, she was placed in the antechamber of the Hampton Court Chapel, where she carried out the consort's customary duty -- as Elizabeth of York had done with Prince Arthur -- until well after midnight. This would have been inconceivable in a woman who had just had 'her right side...opened.And the babe... set free'. " ~ Antonia Fraser

"The story that Jane Seymour delivered the future Edward VI by Caesarean section is an Elizabethan invention. It has been traced to Nicholas Sander, a Roman Catholic historian who lived during Elizabeth I's reign. C-section was considered an "unnatural" birth by sixteenth-century Catholics (and many Protestants). Suggesting that Henry VIII's sole legitimate male child, a boy who would himself spearhead a Protestant doctrinal and liturgical reformation in England and serve as the driving force behind the English Book of Common Prayer, was born "unnaturally" served Sander's desire to demonize Henry VIII's non-Catholic heirs. The story survived well into the twentieth century, and remains one of those legends that are most hard to debunk in the popular imagination. Edward was born by vaginal delivery, and Jane, his mother, most likely died from puerperal sepsis, a post-delivery infection that occurred fairly often in the era before antibiotics."
~ PhDHistorian from tudorhistory.org.

  • Antonia Fraser's The Six Wives of Henry VIII