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Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton

Posted By Claire on June 19, 2009

The Book of the Month over at the main Anne Boleyn Files site is “Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love” by Elizabeth Norton, published by Amberley Books. I have just read it and here is my review:-

“Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love” by Elizabeth Norton (2009)

Jane SeymourI pre-ordered this Jane Seymour biography from Amazon and was so excited when it arrived because it really is the only biography of Jane Seymour that is available.

As an Anne Boleyn fan and armchair Tudor historian, I felt that it was important to get the “low-down” on Henry VIII’s third wife, the one he called his “true wife” and the woman he is buried next to. Jane Seymour is the woman who “usurped” Anne Boleyn’s place as Henry VIII’s true love and the one that may even have caused Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage – Anne was said to have lashed out at Henry after finding her maid, Jane, on his lap.

Whatever we think of Jane, finding out more about her helps us understand Henry VIII more and gives us a fuller understanding of the fall of Anne Boleyn.

I read the book in just a couple of days – I was desperate to know about Jane! However, I nearly did give up on it as I thought that it started badly. Much of the information at the beginning was based on assumption and “maybe”s, rather than actual evidence, and I found this slightly hard to swallow. I am glad that I didn’t give up though because the book definitely got better and really did build up a picture of this queen who gave Henry VIII exactly what he wanted but at an awful price.

We think of Jane as being a boring fuddy duddy. A woman who really had nothing about her to attract the King, apart from being the exact opposite of the intelligent, feisty, passionate Anne Boleyn who seemed to exude sex appeal from every pore. Elizabeth Norton does agree that Jane was not particularly attractive or charming but that she was anything but the mild-mannered, meek and demure English rose that we associate her with. Norton says of Jane:

“the real Jane was a shrewd politician and a strong character. Jane could not have won the king without a ruthless streak and her ambition was as great as Anne Boleyn’s”

According to Norton, Jane Seymour apparently learned a significant amount about Henry VIII and being his wife by being a lady-in-waiting to both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. She learned that Anne Boleyn had snared Henry by protecting her virtue and dangling it as bait to get the king to marry her and that she had then lost the King’s love by airing her opinions, arguing with the King and saying “no” far too many times. Jane learned to keep her virtue and be the traditional subservient queen that Henry actually wanted.

We’ll never know if Henry would have tired of Jane over time, after all, he is said to have made comments early in the marriage about how he wished that he’d chosen a prettier companion, but Jane’s place would have been pretty secure after giving birth to Henry’s longed for son. Norton points out though that Henry seemed to look back on his very short marriage to Jane with rose tinted glasses and when she was dead she suddenly became the ideal wife and his true love. Jane’s claim to fame will always be that she provided Henry VIII with a prince and that she didn’t live long enough for him to tire of her! As Norton says:

“Jane spent her entire marriage trying to prove to Henry that she was his ideal woman and, posthumously, she succeeded”.

Elizabeth Norton’s “Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love” is published by Amberley Books and is on sale in the UK now and is due out in the US in July 2009.

Buy it from Amazon UK here or pre-order from Amazon US here


6 Responses to “Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton”

  1. Jane D'Arcy says:

    Much as I want to enjoy Elisabeth Norton’s book because the subjects are so interesting, I have been very disappointed with them. Primarily I think it’s the Editors fault as the use of ‘could have, would have, may have, should have, perhaps etc etc’ is very repetitive and puts me off further reading.

    Someone needs to let the Editors/Publishers know that the over use of these words and the also the assumption that they imply – rather than the use of facts – is off putting and very boring to read.

  2. Claire says:

    Hi Jane,

    Thanks for the comment. This was the first Elizabeth Norton book I’d read. Have you read her Anne Boleyn book? If so, what’s it like?

    Yes, I hate “if”s and “might”s and prefer cold hard fact or theories that can be backed up with sources and evidence. I think that’s why I like Ives’ biography of Anne Boleyn. I will definitely pass your comments on to the publisher.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. June says:

    I have recently read Norton’s book Anne Boleyn (Henry VIII’s Obessession) and was irritated throughout, by “would have”s “could have”s , possibles, etc. etc. Norton is wrong to speculate on and interpret things which she cannot possibly know.

    Surely Norton must be bright enough to know that the huge Spanish and Catholiic influence played such a big part in Anne’s tragedy. And particularly the politics of the time when so much jealousy arose between familes and individuals seeking office, influence and control of state affairs. I have often read that certain men whose opinions etc. have been widely quoted never actually met Anne.

    Anne did not “dangle her virtue as bait” ! She was a moral woman, and an extremely well-educated woman for her time, as well as being very interested in the new books coming from Europe on what became “Protestanism”. She had seen the example of her sister Mary so learned the futility of such behaviour. After all she had spent many years at other courts, and was highly regarded.

    I have read a great deal about Anne and the Boleyn family, having been a “fan” of Anne’s for as long as I can remember, always having an odd inner feeling that she was innocent of the evil charges brought against her and the men who died before her.

    There have been many books about Anne over the years, some deeply scurrilous – Gregory comes to mind! I would not touch that book, but it having been made for tv I read about that interpretation and was disgusted and very angry.

    I got some consolation from a book which seemed to fall from a library shelf into my hands some years ago, called “A Tudor Story” written by a retired missionary – can’t remember his name. More recently Professor Eric Ives’ “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” is a wonderful book and he writes truthfully, without bias, revealing so many more facts. After all his research his decision is that of “judicial murder” and I am more than satisfied with the sad truth of that.

    As for Jane Seymour, this was about a plain young woman with a very ambitious family who were jealous of the Boleyns. She was schooled in how to appeal to Henry. Anne was Henry’s true love, not Jane. Henry’s and Anne’s love affair lasted several years, until his desire for a son (his REAL obsession!) and the machinations of others at court, brought about Anne’s tragedy. Jane was buried near Henry because she produced the son.

    Anne was crowned Queen. None of Henry’s other wives were.

  4. Chelsea says:

    In response to June’s comment.

    Anne Boleyn was not the only one of Henry VIII’s wives to be crowned.

    Katharine of Aragon, his first wife was crowned as Queen of England in a joint Coronation ceremony with Henry VIII in 1509.

  5. Lisby says:

    I think it is very dangerous to assume that we know who Henry’s only “true” love was. Anne Boleyn was certainly Henry’s greatest female obsession, but whom he loved best of all the women in his life, we will never know, nor is there a more foolish concept than that we humans are capable of only one great love. We are not. We can love many over the course of one life and with great passion, too. Trying to crown one love as the winner is as unproductive as siding with “team” this or that.

    Anne had her place in his life; so did Jane. And Catherine. And Katheryn. And Katherine. And even poor Anna. He called them all sweetheart. Let it there rest.

  6. ariana says:

    Thank you for reviewing the book. Jane is my favorite wife of all the wives. I love her dearly. She’s completely misunderstood, and she knew her husband better than all of his wives. I truly believe, if she had lived, she would have done amazing things, especially with the Catholic church. She would have been patient, and although I’m positive he would have had more children out of wedlock, she would have been there by his side.

    Her story is a lesson to be learned. She was his ultimate sacrifice for an heir. Karma does not stop making sure her plan comes to fruition.

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