Death of Queen Jane, The [Child 170]

DESCRIPTION: Queen Jane has hard labor. She begs her attendants to remove her baby surgically. They call King Henry; he will not permit the operation. Queen Jane falls unconscious; the baby is delivered but she dies. King, baby, and court mourn
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1776 (Percy)
KEYWORDS: royalty pregnancy death
1536 - Execution of Henry VIII's second wife Anne Boleyn. His marriage to Jane Seymour (one of Anne's women in waiting) follows swiftly
Oct 12, 1537 - Birth of the future Edward VI
Oct 24, 1537 - Death of Jane Seymour
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South,West),Scotland(Aber,Bord)) US(Ap,SE)
REFERENCES (21 citations):
Child 170, "The Death of Queen Jane" (9 texts)
Bronson 170, "The Death of Queen Jane" (10 versions)
BronsonSinging 170, "The Death of Queen Jane" (2 versions: #3, #5)
Bell-Combined, pp. 333-335, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text)
BarryEckstormSmyth p. 466, "The Death of Queen Jane" (brief notes only)
Davis-Ballads 35, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text)
Scarborough-SongCatcher, pp. 254-255, "Queen Jane" (1 text, the Lunsford version which has no true plot; tune on pp. 422-423) {Bronson's #7}
Leach, pp. 478-480, "The Death of Queen Jane" (4 texts)
Friedman, p. 285, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text)
SharpAp 32, "The Death of Queen Jane" (2 texts, 2 tunes){Bronson's #4, #5}
Sharp-100E 29, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #3}
JonesLunsford, p. 198, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 short text, 1 tune) {same source as Bronson's #7, but the transcription shows differences}
Wells, p. 47, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
Niles 50, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text, 1 tune)
Sharp/Karpeles-80E 21, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #4}
Vaughan Williams/Lloyd, p. 31, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #2}
GreigDuncan3 693, "Queen Jean" (2 texts)
DBuchan 52, "The Death of Queen Jane" (1 text)
Abrahams/Foss, pp. 56-57, "Queen Jane" (1 text, 1 tune) {Bronson's #7}
Silber-FSWB, p. 212, "Queen Jane" (1 text)

Roud #77
Douglas Kennedy, "The Death of Queen Jane" (on FieldTrip1)
Bascom Lamar Lunsford, "Death of Queen Jane" (on BLLunsford01; a lyric fragment in which everyone comes to Jane and says simply, "The red rose of England shall flourish no more.") (on BLLunsford02) {Bronson's #7}
Archie Sturgill, "Queen Sally" (on CloseHomeMS)

cf. "Six Dukes Went A-Fishing" (lyrics)
NOTES: [A. L. Lloyd reports,] "We do not know how old this ballad is, nor if it derives from a piece called "The Lamentation of Queen Jane", licensed for publication in 1560."
This ballad is also, as "Dronning Dagmar (Queen Dagmar)," found in Danish tradition. - PJS
If actually the same song, the Danish version would appear to be much older; the most famous Dagmar in Danish history was the daughter of Ottocar I of Bohemia and the wife of Valdemar II (c. 1170-1241; reigned 1202-1241; the name of the Danish king in "Dronning Dagmar" is in fact Valdemar). They were married in 1205; she died in 1212 (so Birch, p. 63; I've seen online sources which say 1215-1222), leaving a son who, in an interesting coincidence, predeceased his father (the victim of a shooting accident, according to Birch, p. 67), meaning that the Danish throne went to younger half-brothers, beginning with Eric, co-King with his father from 1232.
Mitchell, p. 32, observes that most Danish historical ballads seem to be very old and only very slightly altered by tradition, and adds that "The substance of the ballads about Queen Dagmar dates from about 1205." The reason may be that they aren't really folk songs; they are minstrel work, targeted to the upper class; "the common man, the peasant, was not commemorated in song." The other side of that is, a minstrel song would perhaps be more likely than a true folk song to be transmitted to another nation and language. - RBW
Re "Queen Dagmar's Death" translated in R.C. Alexander Prior Ancient Danish Ballads (1860), Vol. II, No. LXII, pp. 136-140: "Dagmar, the first wife of King Waldmar the second, died at Ribe in the year 1212, and is buried at Ringsted by the side of her husband." The plot is very close to "The Death of Queen Jane." However, the king reaches her side after she has died. The king asks that everyone pray that he be allowed to hear her wishes. The Queen wakes, asks that all prisoners be released, that Berngerd [Berengaria] not be taken as a wife, and that her youngest son Knud be heir to the crown. Finally, she explains the reason for her death and damnation: "Had I on a Sunday not laced my sleeves, Or border upon them sewn, No pangs had I felt by day or night, Or torture of hell-fire known." She returns to death. - BS
Note therefore the (minor) differences between the songs: Valdemar arrives at his wife's bedside only after she dies, and she attributes her death to dressing too gaily on a Sunday. She also speaks after death; I know of no supernatural versions of "Queen Jane." Still, it's noteworthy that "Queen Jane's" plot, where it differs from the facts, always differs in a way that brings it closer to "Dronning Dagmar." - (RBW, PJS, BS)
Of all the strange events in the history of Henry VIII, his romance with Jane Seymour may be the strangest.
Henry had not initially expected to succeed his father Henry VII. There was an older brother, Arthur, who had been groomed for the throne and had married Catherine, princess of Aragon. But Henry VII's children seemed cursed -- four of eight died very young, and then, in 1502, Arthur died also (Ashley, pp. 630-631). The only surviving boy, Henry, became heir to his father -- and to Catherine of Aragon. Nor was Catherine the only legacy from his relatives: Henry also inherited, in different form, the suspicions and power-hungriness of his usurping father.
And he also inherited that bad genes that went back to the mad king Charles VI of France, whose daughter Catherine had been Henry VII's grandmother. There is no reason to think Catherine of Aragon was infertile -- her sisters generally had no problems with child-bearing. But Catherine's many pregnancies mostly ended in miscarriages or in the birth of children who died very young; only one girl, Mary, survived infancy. By 1526, Henry was sure that Catherine of Aragon (who was 40 years old, six years older than her husband) would not give him a son (Ashley, p. 632). And, in this period, he also became interested in Anne Boleyn -- who, however, refused his advances unless she could marry him.
You know the rest; Henry couldn't get a divorce from Rome, so he founded his own church, divorced Catherine, disinherited Mary (Scarisbrick pp. 351-352, notes how the poor girl was forced to give up her claim to the throne, her legitimacy, and even her religion; he suggests she might have been executed had she not given in), married Anne -- and found that the whole cycle started again. There was one healthy child, Elizabeth, born 1533. But there were also three miscarriages (Lofts-Anne, p. 124), and no son.
And then Jane Seymour caught his eye. Hers was not a very exalted family, but sufficiently notable that Jane had been a lady in waiting first to Catherine of Aragon and then to Anne (Ives, p. 292).
Soon after the birth of Elizabeth, Henry VIII's roving eye seems to have started roving again. Scarisbrick, p. 348, thinks he noticed Jane Seymour in mid-1534, and stories began to circulate about them later in that year. Ives, pp. 292-293, however, thinks he only became serious about Jane in January 1536. But most sources I checked think he began courting her some time in 1535.
It was rather surprising -- no one then or now seems to have regarded Jane as particularly beautiful. Lofts-Anne, p. 136, says, "[u]nless her portrait maligns her vilely, she may have been the original Plain Jane"; Loach, p. 2, refers to a "pale and puffy" appearance. The imperial ambassador said "nobody thinks she has much beauty. Her complexion is so whitish that she may be called rather pale. She is a little over 25... not very intelligent, and is said to be rather haughty" (Ives, p. 302)
But Anne Boleyn hadn't been considered a great beauty, either (although certainly prettier than Jane); Henry VIII seems to have wanted something other than conventional good looks. The odd thing was Jane's age -- we don't know it exactly, but Lofts-Queens, p. 99, claims she was fully 33 at the time her son was born. This is almost certainly high, but Ashley, p. 630, gives her birth date as c. 1508, making her 29, OxfordCompanion, p. 539, says she was born c. 1509, making her 28. (One suspects her late marriage is additional evidence of her lack of looks.)
Ives, p. 302, hints that Henry was attracted by Jane as a sort of anti-Anne -- she was "fair, not dark... gentle rather than abrasive; of no great-wit, against a mistress of repartee; a model of self-effacement, against a self-made woman." Skidmore, pp. 14-15, seems to think it was her submissiveness that caught Henry's fancy: she was willing to be utterly subservient.
By then, Anne seems to have been living on sufferance. Henry -- who had been so ardent as long as she had refused to share his bed -- no longer loved her, and apparently was spending just enough time with her to try for another child. Anne did become pregnant in late 1535 -- but had another miscarriage in early 1536. (If Henry had been rational, this should have proved to him that Anne was being faithful, because he was the one with the genetic defects. But Henry was not rational.)
The miscarriage came shortly after Henry took a fall which caused great fears for his health (Scarisbrick, p. 348). More than ever, Henry wanted a son -- and that, in his warped mind, meant another wife (he actually considered his failure to beget a son to be evidence that God disapproved of his marriages). In an additional convenience, Catherine of Aragon had died in early 1536 (OxfordCompanion, p. 175), so if Anne could be set aside, further marriages would be free of doubt. And Anne could easily be eliminated, because -- unlike Catherine -- she was not popular; the people resented her replacement of the much-loved Catherine.
There was, in fact, a song written about this business, which cast Henry to scorn and caused Jane some pain. Henry vowed to "straitly punish" the author, but never managed to catch him (Ives, p. 305). This song does not appear to have gone into tradition.
Henry had Anne and a handful of others accused of adultery and other crimes -- some merely unlikely, some, such as of engaging in incest with her brother (Lofts-Anne, p. 158), absurd. Her brother's chief crime seems to have been saying aloud that Henry might be impotent (Lofts-Anne, pp. 159-160). Henry and Cromwell arranged a kangaroo trial (there were no witnesses, according to Lofts, p. 160, and no impartial judges, either), and executed her on May 19 (the execution had to be hasty, because, apparently, the false conviction earned her sympathy for the first time in her career. The only hint of mercy, according to Lofts-Anne, p. 168, was that she was beheaded rather than being drawn and quartered, the normal sentence for treason -- and adultery by the Queen was called treason. The crown did try to keep things relatively quiet -- Anne was executed on a low scaffold, and the execution was postponed from May 18 to May 19 in hopes of causing spectators to go home (Lofts-Anne, p. 171)
That day, Archbishop Cranmer issued a dispensation allowing Henry to marry Jane Seymour (who was distantly related). They became engaged the next day, and married on May 30 (Scarisbrick, p. 350). She became pregnant about half a year later -- a pregnancy which would result in her death.
There are surprisingly many stories about the death of Jane Seymour -- that she died in childbirth, or due to the after-effects of a Caesarean operation. Our information is sadly conflicting.
It does seem certain that Jane Seymour went into labor on October 11, 1537. The future Edward VI was born early on October 12. Jane died twelve days later.
The labor is said to have been hard and to have lasted thirty hours (Skidmore, p. 14). Henry was not present at the time and made no decisions about the birth; Skidmore, p. 15, says that he was at Esher when Edward was born.
The story that Henry was told at the time that "one of the two must die" is very early, apparently first found in 1538, with a variant, that the prince would be "as great a murderer as his father," apparently being known in 1539. Apparently some of this was used as Catholic propaganda. And Scarisbrick, p. 353, says that "At Hampton Court, on 12 October 1537, Queen Jane was delivered by Caesarean section of a son, christened Edward shortly afterward -- just ten years since Henry first set out on the task of getting rid of Catherine to save his dynasty.
But Loach, pp. 4-5, notes that, while the Caesarean operation was known at the time, it was a course of desperation and usually killed the mother. Jane did live twelve days, and at first was well enough to see her child. She therefore thinks it unlikely that surgery was involved in Edward VI's birth.
Loach on p. 7 considers and rejects the suggestion of puerperal fever (caused presumably by the dirty hands of doctors), which Lofts-Anne, p. 156, considers the cause of death. On p. 6 Loach notes the activities Jane was able to engage in immediately after the birth. It was not until October 23 that she became ill. She died "during the night of Wednesday, 24 October." Even then, no fever was reported -- but heavy bleeding was. Loach's speculation is that the incompetent doctors did not fully remove the placenta, and it haemorrhaged.
Skidmore, p. 19, also accepts the diagnosis of incompetent removal of the placenta, and speculates that it was because Jane was treated by academic doctors rather than midwives with hands-on experience. Skidmore adds that rumors about caesarean operations or other surgeries arose very early -- and notes on p. 20 that, in an era when politics was dominated by religious propaganda, Catholics would be willing to swallow almost any story that fit their views of Henry the heretic.
Even Edward seems to have accepted it in part; he was recorded as saying he slew his mother at his birth (Skidmore, p. 22).
Jane's funeral took place on November 12, and she was buried the next day (Loach, p. 7).
The statement about "fiddling and dancing" at the baby's birth are likely enough; Henry VIII was himself a good musician, and exceptionally fond of music and dance; Williams, p. 14, notes that Henry's father Henry VII had been indifferent to music and celebration (or almost anything in life except money and power), and had kept only a very small musical establishment, and observes on pp. 36-37 that when Henry VIII succeeded, he immediately enlarged his staff of minstrels and musicians.
The mention of Henry wearing mourning for Jane is true and quite interesting, because he had blatantly refused to wear mourning when Catherine of Aragon died; indeed, he forbade others from dressing in mourning (Lofts-Anne, p. 139). And, of course, he completely refused to mourn for Anne (hardly surprising, since to do so would be, in effect, to admit that she was innocent and that he had had her judicially murdered).
The description of the colors in the song is interesting. Black mourning was a new fashion at this time (Skidmore, p. 21). Jane was buried in cloth of gold; the banners in the procession were white.
When Henry died, he ordered that he be buried next to Jane (Skidmore, p. 1). Of course, of the other five wives, one was still alive, two he had divorced, and two he had executed; Jane was the only dead one with whom he had not had some sort of fight. The decision was probably by process of elimination in more senses than one.
Incidentally, Jane Seymour's ghost is alleged to still appear at Hampton Castle, one of Henry VIII's primary residences and the place where Jane died. The other side of the coin is, the place is alleged to have quite a few ghosts, very many of whom have been explicitly identified with one or another historical person. One can't help but wonder if the real explanation isn't someone (perhaps in a tourism office) with an overactive imagination.... - RBW
Bibliography Last updated in version 4.1
File: C170

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