Review of Jane Seymour The Haunted Queen by Alison Weir

In the case of England’s Queen Jane Seymour, there is little evidence for historians like Alison Weir to go on since Jane did not leave letters behind. Jane is therefore the perfect subject for a historical novel like Weir’s Jane Seymour The Haunted Queen. In this novel, Weir makes a little-known and seemingly dull queen come to life.

We see Jane first at her beloved home, Wulfhall. From an early age, she learns that life for women in the sixteenth century is often unfair. Her father has an affair with his daughter-in-law, but the girl is the one who is sent away to a nunnery. Jane also sees how her mother suffers as she pretends that the affair never happened. Obviously, married women have few choices.

When Jane goes to court to serve Queen Katherine of Aragon, she learns that even queens have little power in their marriages. Katherine is putting on a brave front, but Henry VIII is in love with Anne Boleyn. He eventually breaks with the Catholic Church in order to marry Anne and puts aside Katherine and his daughter Mary.

Jane serves Katherine joyfully because they are both devout Catholics. Weir even has Jane consider becoming a nun, though there is no proof of this. Yet even the scant historical evidence suggests that Jane was sincere in her faith. When Henry tires of the reform-minded Anne and shows an interest in Jane, she hopes that she can use her influence to help the Catholic church as well as Princess Mary. “Was it presumptuous to wonder of God had appointed her, Jane, to put an end to these ills…By her means, true religion might be reestablished, and the rights of the Princess Mary recognized.”

Jane_Seymour,_Queen_of_England_-_Google_Art_Project

Jane Seymour, Queen of England, 1536

Jane successfully urges reconciliation between Henry and Princess Mary. Jane welcomes the younger women to court and promises to make her first among her ladies.

Her efforts on behalf of the monasteries that Henry has ordered to be broken up are unsuccessful, however. Weir has Jane plead with the king, “Sir, I beg you, for the sake of peace and of those your loving subjects who regret the passing of the old ways, please think kindly upon the monasteries. I urge you to restore those you have closed.” Henry does not take kindly to her plea, but even broaching the subject with him demonstrates Jane’s courage and her religious convictions. In this novel, Jane loves her husband but does not, as her motto suggests, simply exist to “Obey and Serve” him.

Throughout the novel, Jane feels responsible for indirectly bringing about Anne Boleyn’s death. When Henry started to seek Jane out and profess love for her, Jane thought he might set Anne aside like he did with Katherine. Yet when Anne is charged with adultery and conspiring to kill the king, Henry insists on putting her to death. Jane has no idea whether all of the charges are accurate, and feels sick over her part in Anne’s execution.

During Jane’s marriage to Henry, she repeatedly sees a shadow on the wall of her bedroom at night. She believes the shadow is Anne, thus the reference to the haunted queen in the book’s title.

Days after she gives birth to Prince Edward VI, Jane sees the shadow again. “Moonlight shone through it [the window], illuminating a shadow on the wall. No! Not now! And then, for the first time, she could clearly see those unmistakable features: the narrow face, the pointed chin, the dark eyes flashing with menance, glaring at her malevolently. Now she could not doubt who it was who had visited her in the dark reaches of the night, or of what her appearance heralded. I am going to die, she thought desperately.” Of course, no one knows exactly how Jane reacted to Anne’s death, but she would have likely been surprised since there was no precedent for killing an English queen. Obviously we don’t know if she ever thought Anne was haunting her, though it does make for interesting reading.

I recommend this novel for readers who want the known facts about Jane Seymour to be accurate, but are also looking for an interesting interpretation of what the real Jane might have been like.

Elizabeth I: The Education of the Future Queen of England

King Henry VIII once said, “without knowledge our life would not be worth our having.” In fact, he took pride in the intelligence of his wives and determined that his daughters would be equally smart. Since his first daughter Mary Tudor received an education that included not only “women’s work” but also the study of other languages and the classics, it made sense that his second daughter should be similarly educated.

Princess Elizabeth, later Queen Elizabeth I, took her first lessons from her governess Katherine Champernowne. Katherine taught her student the fundamentals of languages such as French, Italian, and Spanish. She also introduced the young girl to history, math, and science. Since Elizabeth’s mother died when she was very young, she had a close bond with her kind, intelligent governess. Katherine took motherly pride in Elizabeth’s accomplishments, but she knew her bright student would need to continue her studies with a more accomplished teacher.

When her father married Katherine Parr, the new stepmother took an interest in Elizabeth’s education. She appointed a private tutor for the young girl. William Grindal was a Latin scholar who also excelled in teaching Greek. Under his instruction, Elizabeth mastered both languages, exceeding her sister Mary’s knowledge of them as well as her father’s.

After William Grindal died of the plague, Grindal’s teacher Roger Ascham became Elizabeth’s tutor. The schedule Ascham arranged for his pupil makes today’s school day seem easy by comparison. In the morning Elizabeth studied Greek, including the Greek New Testament and Greek literature. In the afternoon she worked on Latin authors, and in the evening she learned history and studied oratory. Unlike other teachers in the sixteenth century, however, Ascham thought that learning should be enjoyable. He believed in praising rather than punishing students. He wrote, “I have dealt with many learned ladies, but among them all the brightest star is my illustrious Lady Elizabeth.” He also thought his students should learn about a variety of things, so in addition to her schoolwork Elizabeth also played musical instruments, hunted, and rode horses.

Although her father never intended her education to aid her as a ruler, her tutors gave her a love of learning that aided her when she took the throne. Her knowledge of languages and speech-making skills helped her talk with foreign ambassadors. As Queen she “entered…first into the school of experience” and had to devote herself, as she stated, to “the study of that which was meet for Government.” Her desire to learn new things and her education helped her to become a successful ruler.

The Education of Mary Tudor

Though her father Henry VIII still wanted a son to rule England, in the 1520s Mary Tudor was his only legitimate heir. Her mother Katherine of Aragon thought women could rule just as well as men—after all, Katherine’s own mother had ruled as queen of Castile. Katherine decided that Mary needed an education that went beyond the role of women as wives and mothers if, as it happened, she ruled England someday.

Katherine did not teach Mary how to read and write herself. Like other princesses, Mary had male tutors. Her mother was very involved in the planning of her education, however. Katherine asked Spanish humanist Juan Luis Vives to write a manual for the education of the future queen. In Katherine’s opinion, his original version encouraged girls to be educated only so that they could raise children and be intelligent companions to their husbands. To be fair to Vives, no one in sixteenth century England knew what sort of education to recommend for a female ruler since the country never had one.

When Mary was seven years old, Vives wrote a more specific guide called On a Plan of Study for Children, which he dedicated to the princess. It emphasized how to pronounce Greek and Latin and recommended books by authors such as Thomas More, Erasmus, and Plato’s dialogues “particularly those which demonstrate the government of the commonwealth.” Mary was not allowed to read romances since, according to sixteenth century educators, they gave young girls immoral thoughts.

Mary’s intelligence was evident in her ability to learn new languages quickly. By age nine, she could write a letter in Latin. She also learned Greek, French, some Italian, and could understand Spanish.

Although Mary’s lessons might sound dull to today’s students, she also had opportunities to enjoy herself by playing music—something she excelled at and loved since she was a toddler. The Italian Mario Savagnano met Mary as a teenager and said that in addition to her knowledge of languages “she sings excellently and plays on several musical instruments, so that she combines every accomplishment.” Dancing and hunting were other favorite pastimes.

Like all Englishmen and woman, Mary was instructed by her mother to serve God. Young Mary was taught to attend mass several times a day and prayed regularly. At the time, her countrymen were all participating in the same religious rituals. Once Catholicism became unpopular with her father and others, however, Mary, like her mother, would remain Catholic.  When she ruled Mary would seek to bring the country back to the Catholic Church and get rid of other religions.