It was on the 24th October that Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour died having just given him the male heir he was so desperate for. Here is an extract from my work in progress showing how Alice Petherton hears the news.
Twelve days after she gave birth the Queen gave up the ghost. That’s what Susan Dunster said at any rate. Cruel, I know, but witty. Susan never had much time for the Jane Seymour.
It was not news for anybody in the Court if truth be told. Jane had never recovered from the rigours of childbirth. Her strength of body, unlike that of her ambition, had never been noteworthy.
But at the time the Court was more than usually a hotbed of rumour and gossip.
The night the prince was born, rumour had it that the child had only come into the world after the Queen’s legs had been stretched so wide her hips were almost dislocated. Nobody could say whether or no this was true. There had been no midwife in her chamber for the Royal physicians had attended her. These venerable old men were learned in the words of ancient doctors, herbs and astrology. But not one of them had ever before helped a woman give birth. They probably had many Latin and Greek authorities to support the racking of limbs.
Darker rumours whispered that the Queen had been cut open while still alive and relatively hale. That she had lingered on her bed, in agony, her life ebbing from her, screaming curses on the King for valuing an heir more than his queen’s life.
I doubted Jane would ever have cursed in such a fashion. Her motto had always been, ‘Bound to obey and serve.’ She was, despite her fierce ambition, a simpleton, and I thought she would hold to her motto even to her death.
Others said that Jane was very much alive days after the birth of the child. She was said to be strong enough to see the boy immediately after his Christening when he was three days old. However, her weak constitution meant that she was not allowed to leave her chamber. Her non-appearance served only to fuel the more lurid rumours.
At any rate, a week after the Christening, whether from the rigours of natural childbirth, dislocated hips or the cut from the surgeon’s knife, the Queen had died.
I received the news with a horror which surprised me.
Jane and I had been friends when I first came to Court, two Maids of Honour to the newly crowned Anne Boleyn. I may have grown to dislike her but there was still that early tie between us. I prayed that her death had been the first one rumoured, a natural one of gentle sleep and drifting to her end, her mind made easy at having given birth to the King’s heir.
I feared that it might the second. That the King had, indeed, valued his dynasty more than his wife and had ordered that the child be ripped from her belly. That the gash had never healed and the life had been bled from her as if she were a traitor to the Crown, tortured and left to die a lingering and agonising death. Yet, all the while she had continued to send her love to her murderer, rejoicing in her self-sacrifice.
I pressed my forehead to the window to cool it. Rumours spread faster than the plague. Any of them might be true, none of them might. Child birth was a chancy thing at the best of times. It was even more so when the mother was nearing thirty.
I stared out of the window. Whichever of the rumours was true there was one thing for certain now. Henry was a widower once again. Three Queens gone. All lying in their cold, cold graves.
A cold chill clutched my stomach at the thought.
- Alice Petherton #SampleSunday #HistNov (martinlakewriting.wordpress.com)