Monday, September 23, 2013

I, Jane: In the court of King Henry VIII

When I saw this book at the library, I wasn't sure if I wanted to read about Jane Seymour.  She was the third wife of King Henry VIII, and from what I've read about her she seemed fairly boring.  I thought I may as well give it a shot- I've been reading three other books at the same time which means none of them are pulling me in very well.  I read this book in just a few days, I really enjoyed it.  Jane was born to a quiet father and strict mother in Wiltshire at her home of Wolf Hall.  She had two brothers, Edward and Thomas, and a sister younger than her that was beautiful where Jane was plain.  She was teased as a young girl for being quiet and plain.  Having a harsh and strict mother that was not very loving, she often felt loveless.  Her mother Margery was very beautiful, and her mother had an ancestral connection to King Edward III.  She believed this gave her the right to find connections for her children at court.  Jane's brother Thomas was very handsome and close to her.  Her mother had several miscarriages and children that died young.  Jane would help with them; she also loved to read religious works, finding comfort in them.  At a young age, her father at his wife's ambitious pushing, was able to send Edward and Jane to France as part of the bridal retinue of Mary Tudor.  Jane was only nine and very shy and plain.  She saw King Henry VIII from a distance, and at the French court she met Mary and Anne Boleyn.

She quickly finds that she does not like Anne Boleyn, for her teases her and goes out of her way to make her look stupid.  The relationship between them is set early on, which is important to Jane's story.  She is sent back after only a month or so, when King Louis wants his new bride to send home her English women.  Jane goes back to the quiet countryside, where she has made friends with her neighbor William Dormer.  They don't meet often, but he is kind to her and very handsome.  Her brother Edward slowly rises at court, much to her parent's happiness.  Their cousin Francis Bryan, who is a close friend to the King, tries to help Jane escape her lonely life.  Her sister Elizabeth is getting married soon, and her brother Thomas also wants to join the court life.  Jane is called to serve Katherine of Aragon, the King's wife.  She goes to court a bit smarter, and once again sees Anne Boleyn.  She soon discovers that the good queen is declining in popularity, and this Anne Boleyn is bewitching King Henry right in front of the court.  Jane grows to dislike Anne even more as she watches the poor queen bear all in stoic and brave silence.  Jane learns loyalty, honesty and that blending in the background is not so bad after all.  The queen values her service and knowledge of spiritual matters.

Jane's brothers soon tell her she has to abandon Katherine, the queen, to serve Anne Boleyn.  It was obvious that it was time to pitch in with the winning side.  Jane reluctantly did as she was told, while trying to stay loyal to her queen.  She sees her sister married and again runs into William Dormer.  He tells her he desires marriage and that he has never forgotten her, and he will ask his parents for permission to wed.  Jane is home again, and soon there is hope she will finally be married.  Her parents had resolved that she would be their caretakers for life.  William meets his parent's displeasure, for they are richer and think themselves far greater than the Seymour's, her father being a sheriff and all.  William doesn't have to the heart to tell Jane, and is soon married off.  Jane is told the news by Francis Bryan, her cousin who has befriended and looked out for her.  Her heart hardens even more, and she withdraws into herself.  Her brothers call her back to court to serve Anne Boleyn, and she is surprised that her name is accepted.  Once again at court, things are much changed. 

The King is heavier and seems unhappy, Anne has delivered the King a daughter Elizabeth but no son yet.  The King had broken off with Rome and started a new church, for which he had been excommunicated for.  Many, including his close friend Thomas More, had been killed for not supporting his new marriage.  The good queen, left alone in the country without her daughter, had passed away.  Jane comes to court at this time, and sees Anne flaunting her happiness at her rival's death.  The court all wears yellow, and Jane is glad with all her training to blend in the background once again.  She meets up with William Dormer again, and it's hard for her to see him married.  He seeks her out to explain what had happened, but she pretends not to care.  It is not long before the King sees Jane and seeks her out for talk.  He likes her plain manner, knowledge of spiritual books, and her loyalty and soft manner.  Anne Boleyn had become quite shrill and flirtatious with many men, and was wearing the King out.  Jane was someone he looked to for comfort, and she readily gave it to him.

Her brothers watch her closely and start to guide her in this new relationship.  It seems everyone had underestimated her, as the King becomes driven to Jane.  Anne Boleyn watches this haughtily, but is soon powerless as she has miscarriages and produces no son for the King.  Jane is driven by her unfulfilled desire to be married and loved, and her hatred for Anne Boleyn.  She does it in memory of the good queen she served, and seeks to be a comfort to the King.  Things happen quickly, most of which Jane has no knowledge or power over.  Anne Boleyn is found guilty of treason, adultery and even incest with her brother.  The day she is beheaded with a French sword, Jane is busy picking her wedding clothes.  About 18 months later, she gives the King his long for desired son.  Edward IV, his legitimate heir and son.  What Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn could not do in 28 years, Jane had done.  She passed away less than two weeks after his birth, from child bed fever.

My Thoughts:  The basis of this book was from a book written by Life of Jane Dormer, written by the daughter of William and Mary Dormer.  The love connection between William and Jane as well as her growing hatred for Anne Boleyn really shaped her in this book.  A lot of books portray Jane as plain and quiet, but what history has shown me multiple times is that the quiet ones often have ambition and passion but just hide it well.  Jane's quiet demeanor brought about bullying as a child, but later served her very well in catching King Henry VIII.  He wanted the opposite of Anne Boleyn, and that was her.  She gave him his long desired son, a legitimate heir, and even though she died not longer after childbirth, the king was buried next to her upon his death.  With Jane, I think the King was able to find peace again and happiness.  After everything he did to put aside his wife of over 20 years, Katherine of Aragon, and all the people that died and the changes in religion...he was not a well man.  His leg sore was also grieving him, and Jane seems to have calmed that all down for him.  She had served Katherine, and was able to talk to him of his first wife.  Even though it seemed hard to believe, Jane seems to have fallen in love with the King.  I always believed she had to be ambitious somewhat to want to be Queen, but women couldn't always control everything.  If the King wanted you, he would have you.  It is sad of course things didn't work out with William, and that she died so young.  I thought it was a good book, and that the author explained very well how Jane went from being an old maid to the Queen of England.  I enjoyed reading about her and figuring her out, and finding out more about her family.

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