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Authors: Suzannah Lipscomb

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The central attraction is, however, plainer than all these fine effigies and decorations. Beneath the gorgeous fan-vaulted ceiling, a simple black marble slab on the floor at the centre of the quire is inscribed in gold letters:

In a vault beneath this marble slab are deposited the remains of Jane Seymour, Queen of King Henry VIII 1537. King
Henry VIII 1547. King Charles I 1648. And an infant child of Queen Anne. Memorial placed by William IV 1837.

Henry VIII chose to be buried with his third wife, Jane Seymour. Her significance in his life was chiefly dynastic: she gave him his long-awaited legitimate male heir, but our knowledge of Henry’s favourite wife and a queen of England is otherwise rather limited.

We know that Jane came from respectable, but not grand, parentage. Born in 1509, the year Henry became King, to Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth at their house, Wolf Hall, she was one of ten children. Two of her brothers would earn their own degree of fame and power; both would also die as traitors: the charming Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, fourth husband of Kateryn Parr [see S
UDELEY
C
ASTLE
], was executed 1549 and the elder Edward, later Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector of England, was executed in 1552.

Jane, on the other hand, seems to have been unremarkable. The Imperial ambassador to England, Eustace Chapuys, described her as ‘of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather plain than otherwise’, and ‘not a woman of great wit’. Her pre-eminent quality was her docile, modest and amenable nature. Her motto, ‘Bound to obey and serve’, epitomises her nicely.

It is possible that Henry met Jane in September 1535, when he visited Wolf Hall, but she is not mentioned in any accounts by name until 10 February 1536, when Chapuys reported that after Anne Boleyn’s miscarriage in January 1536 Henry had sent ‘great presents’ to Jane. In March, he records that she had refused a purse of coins and letter sent by the King. This last action, perhaps cunning in its coyness, has been taken by some historians to indicate that Jane was no mere submissive fool, and was manipulating Henry into marrying her, as Anne before her had done. But there is little other evidence of anything beyond a cheerful, bovine tractability to Jane. No doubt after the fierce, opinionated and
passionate Anne, this demeanour was part of Jane’s appeal — she could hardly have been more different.

Henry could literally not wait to marry her. Archbishop Thomas Cranmer issued a dispensation for marriage (Henry and Jane were fifth cousins) on 19 May 1536, the very day of Anne’s execution. The couple were betrothed the following day and married privately at Whitehall Palace on 30 May. She was the first wife to whom Henry could convince himself he was legitimately and unquestionably married (both his previous marriages, to Katherine and Anne, having been annulled). Henry may therefore have intended for her to be crowned, but an outbreak of plague in London and her subsequent pregnancy removed any opportunity.

Of her short reign, we know that she went on progress with Henry to Kent in the summer of 1536, and spent an enjoyable Christmas at Whitehall. She encouraged Henry to be reconciled with Princess Mary, and rumour has it that she once begged Henry to save the abbeys during the huge rebellion of October 1536, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace [see P
ONTEFRACT
C
ASTLE
], but was warned by him not to meddle in politics as her predecessor had done.

By February 1537, it was known that she was pregnant. The quickening — the first movement of the baby in the womb, thought by the Tudors to mark the beginning of life — was celebrated on 27 May, Trinity Sunday. On 16 September, she retired into her rooms on the second floor at Hampton Court, for her ‘lying-in’ (women in Tudor times retired to a closed, dark and warm environment to await the birth), and after a terrible labour of two days and three nights, she gave birth to a healthy son at 2 a.m. on 12 October. He was baptised Edward three days later. For Henry, it was the greatest gift Jane could ever have given him, but it cost her everything. She never rose from her childbed and died on 24 October 1537, probably of puerperal fever and septicaemia. She was twenty-eight.

Henry was devastated. He wrote to Francis I of France, ‘Divine Providence has mingled my joy with the bitterness of the death of her who brought me this happiness.’ He wore black mourning clothes well beyond the expected time, until February 1538.

Her body was eviscerated and embalmed (her heart and innards were buried in the chapel at Hampton Court), and Jane lay in state until 12 November, when her funeral procession took her body to Windsor for burial. Through her untimely death, she earned a perpetual sanctity in the eyes of the King. It is no wonder, then, that Henry chose to be buried next to her. He joined her a decade later. Having died on 28 January, he was buried on 16 February 1547.

There is a rather gruesome story about Henry VIII’s corpse. Two nineteenth-century writers, apparently quoting lost original documents, recorded that two weeks after Henry’s death, while his coffin lay in state at St George’s, his body exploded and the lead casing burst, leaking putrefied matter onto the floor, and stray dogs wandered in to lick up the fluids. It may be true — after two weeks, his decomposed body would have been swollen and could theoretically have exploded — but this rumour also circulated after the deaths of William the Conqueror, Pope Alexander VI and Elizabeth I.

Other Tudor treasures to see at Windsor Castle: the quire aisle chantries have notable fifteenth-century panel paintings. In the State Apartments of the castle, look out for paintings by sixteenth-century artists including Pieter Brueghel and Lucas Cranach, and portraits of Henry VIII (by Joos van Cleve), Mary I (by Antonis Mor), Edward VI and Elizabeth I as a girl (by William Scrots). In the Lantern Lobby, you can see Henry VIII’s stout 1540 field and tilt armour, made at Greenwich. Look carefully to see the fine engraving and note the space for a codpiece. (German tourists standing behind me when I visited remarked, ‘
Das ist nicht von Weight Watchers.
’)

‘The Great Harry sailed as well as any ship that was in the fleet, and rather better, and weathered them all save the Mary Rose. And if she go by the wind, I assure your grace, there will be a hard choice between the Mary Rose and her.’

Letter from royal servant William Fitzwilliam to Henry VIII, comparing the flagship
Great Harry
to the
Mary Rose

I
n 1982, the world watched as the hulk of the
Mary Rose
was lifted, in the world’s largest underwater excavation, from the seabed 437 years after she sank in the Solent during an encounter with an invading French fleet on 19 July 1545. Buried in the silt, the
Mary Rose
proved to be an invaluable time capsule of over 1,000 preserved artefacts that now give insight into the lives of the ordinary soldiers and sailors on board. Her surviving starboard side, which will be housed from autumn 2012 in a brand new museum in Portsmouth’s Historic Dockyard, also reminds us that she was an English flagship, a symbol and example of Henry VIII’s innovative standing navy. It is for this reason that Henry VIII is
considered the founding father of the Royal Navy, whose later rule of the waves was a key factor in establishing Britain’s global empire. The
Mary Rose
is also testament to Henry’s great desire for martial glory.

The
Mary Rose
was built between 1509 and 1511, and was one of two ships that Henry ordered at the very start of his reign, signalling the new King’s intentions with regards to naval warfare and to defeating the French, England’s traditional enemy. Although Henry VIII had only inherited a small number of ships (between five and seven) from his father, when he died he left a navy of 57 ships of the 106 that had served during his reign.

There are two myths about the
Mary Rose:
the first is that she sunk on her maiden voyage, and the second is that she was named after Henry VIII’s younger sister [see S
T
M
ARY

S
, B
URY
S
T
E
DMUNDS
]. The first is an injustice, simple to disprove: Henry’s
Mary Rose
put in thirty-four years of active service after she was launched in 1511, while the clue to the real origins of her name can be found in the fact that the
Mary Rose
was built at the same time as the ship
Peter Pomegranate
. The rose and the pomegranate were the emblems of Henry and his new wife, Katherine of Aragon; the names Peter and Mary are likely to have been allusions to the saints, especially as Henry’s visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in January 1511 shows his allegiance to the Virgin Mary at this time.

The
Mary Rose
, built from elm and oak, was a carrack: a four-masted ship with a high forecastle and aftercastle and a low waist, which meant she was excellent for hand-to-hand fighting alongside an enemy vessel. Besides her surviving hulk, we have a good idea of what she looked like in her prime because she is included in a set of depictions known as the Cowdray Engravings, which was the roll of Henry’s fleet made by Anthony Cowdray, a Clerk of the Ordnance in 1546. She is also portrayed in the
Embarkation at
Dover
painting (at both L
EEDS
C
ASTLE
and H
AMPTON
C
OURT
P
ALACE
) where Henry stands on his great warship,
Henry Grace á Dieu
. The
Mary Rose
is on the far right.

The Cowdray Engravings show that she was indeed a flagship: she would have been decked with flags, banners and pennants, including the three gold lions of England, the three gold fleursde-lis of France (Henry’s paltry holdings in Calais meant he claimed to be the King of France too), the red cross of St George and impressive billowing pennants in the Tudor livery colours of green and white, up to fifty yards in length. Camouflage was not the overriding concern here.

The
Mary Rose
first saw service in 1512, in the first of Henry VIII’s rather futile wars against France. The decision, unusual at the time, to keep her after the cessation of hostilities meant that she could be regularly recaulked and pumped out, ready to sail whenever Henry needed her, including to the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Or, as when Henry entertained the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, on board in May 1522.

She was, however, a warship above all. According to an inventory of 1541, she was loaded with ninety-six guns in total, over three decks. These were the single-bored muzzle-loading guns preferred by the early Tudors; the largest recovered from the
Mary Rose
is a 4,7831b bronze cannon. Others are smaller and more ornate, decorated with the Tudor rose and inscriptions praising Henry VIII. Tudor warfare did not rely wholly on artillery: 172 longbows were also found in the ship, reminding us that by law, all English men were required to practise archery.

Looking at some of these items of war, you can see the individuality of the men who wielded them. For example, the linstocks — carved poles along which a slow fuse was wrapped in order to ignite gunpowder from a safe distance — have been whittled into garish animal mouths by the gunners who owned them. There are
personal items found on board, too, and now on view at the museum: more than eighty combs for brushing hair and removing lice, manicure sets, ear scoops for wax, wooden bowls, ballock knives (the suggestive shape of the hilt was intentional), tankards and sewing kits. Musical instruments, such as the shawm (an early type of oboe), dice for illegal gambling, Bibles and rosary beads attest to how the sailors on the ship spent their spare time. Although most of them slept uncomfortably on deck, their lot was better than that of most ordinary people in Tudor England, who faced the rising prices and rents, poor harvests and enclosure of common land that contributed to Kett’s Rebellion of 1549 [see K
ETT

S
O
AK
].

Having been ‘new made’ in 1536, the
Mary Rose
was brought out again in 1545 to face the French peril. The renewed threat from Catholic Europe after Henry VIII’s break with Rome and the subsequent publication of a papal decree authorising the invasion of England in 1538 was one reason why Henry VIII invaded France in 1544 and seized Boulogne. The other was his ongoing desire to achieve the legendary military glory won by former kings of England: Edward III and Henry V at Agincourt. The French responded by sailing into the Solent (the strait that separates the Isle of Wight from mainland England) in 1545 with a fleet of 324 vessels: more ships than the Spanish Armada. It was the single greatest foreign threat of Henry VIII’s reign, and it was during this battle that the
Mary Rose
sank.

BOOK: A Journey Through Tudor England
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