Anne & Jane: The Double Standard amongst writers and fans

Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour with their respective heraldic badges, the white falcon crowned and the phoenix reborn from the ashes with the crown on top. Through centuries they have pitted against each other, and while history is said to be more objective and fair to these women, they have rescued one while condemning the other.
Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour with their respective heraldic badges, the white falcon crowned and the phoenix reborn from the ashes with the crown on top. Through centuries they have pitted against each other, and while history is said to be more objective and fair to these women, they have rescued one while condemning the other.

One of the many things that I hate is the double-standard that exists between Jane and Anne Boleyn. Whereas Anne Boleyn is finally given her due and seen as a woman who stood against the forces of Catholicism and her rival’s powerful friends, her successor is seen as a drab and unattractive and almost no one tries to say the contrary. I mean why should we? She was the bitch who got poor Anne Boleyn killed. It was Henry who permitted it, but if Jane, that drab and meek, passive fat and ugly bitch had never gotten in his way, then he would have never wavered from his loving wife.

This is all fun and romantic and the type of fairy tale I loved when I was a kid, before reality came crushing down on me and I realized that fairy tales were not only untrue, but a bunch of bull-shit designed to keep people content, regardless of what are the state of things.

Jane was not beautiful. She was not outspoken, or alluring, or exotic. But guess what? Neither was Anne Boleyn. The Anne Boleyn we are presented with today is drop-dead gorgeous. A vivacious, young and beautiful woman who is ahead of her times. Starkey wonders how a woman such as her could have ever enchanted Henry. Henry is reported to have said after he married Jane that he saw two beautiful courtiers and he looked at them with regret. Perhaps the King did regret his decision to marry Jane but it was too late to turn back time. Or, he looked at his next conquests as Licence theorizes in her latest book about the many mistresses and six wives of Henry VIII. We will never known and we cannot defend Anne Boleyn in all good conscience and say what fault did she have, when she was only doing what she could to survive, rejecting the King’s advances until she couldn’t because he was becoming too much of a stalker and so, she had to accept his suit and even though she said things that might seem appalling to us about Katherine of Aragon, she said them in haste and desperation after she had become frustrated that Katherine wasn’t being reasonable and accepting for all their sakes’ the course of action that Campeggio offered of becoming an Abbess. Of course Katherine of Aragon is defended in this point as well, historians and fictional authors alike stressing that she would not -and could not- abandon a position that she believed was meant for her or pre-ordained by God Himself. Whether or not this is what Katherine believed and whether or not Anne was pushed into that position, the fact of the matter is that we cannot claim we are giving these women justice when we are ready to be ‘mean girls’ to Jane Seymour, a woman who played the same game as Anne and who was also not attractive, just because of the way Anne died.

Anne did not deserve her death. Certainly, even her rivals such as the Savoyard and Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys admitted it when he related to the Emperor days after her death how brave she was in the face of her demise, and he expressed deep admiration for the woman he had once called ‘Concubine’.  Anna Whitelock in her biography of Mary Tudor, England’s first Queen Regnant mentions that during Anne Boleyn’s last days she told Master Kingston and his wife how sorry she was for the ill treatment of the Lady Mary and told them to go and visit her to tell her she was sorry. As Whitelock puts it, it is not clear what Mary thought, we can assume based on her reluctance years earlier not to acknowledge her as her father’s true wife and stay loyal to her mother. But perhaps Mary did forgive her as she must have believed as many of her enemies did, that the accusations against her were false.

“We cannot possibly know what Jane may or may not have felt about Anne’s death -there are no accounts of their personal feelings- just as we do not truly know if Anne felt any sympathy for Katherine when she usurped her. Both women had ambitions and played their own personal games of seduction.
As with Eustace, we must accept that there are nuanced shades of grey in between the black and white depictions of these two figures.” (Mackay)

The accusations were without a doubt false, but to lay the blame on the Seymours, a not-so-prominent family (as Anne’s maternal one, the Howards), a family of evil, who did not seem to mind installing their puppet as their Queen, their vessel to give the King his long-awaited heir is not only unfair but hypocritical. Could Anne have said no to the king, a stalker whom she tried to avoid for so many years until she saw no other choice but to accept his advances when she realized she could have no better prospects and that further refusal would have been political death for her family? Of course not. It is unfair to accuse Anne of being a temptress. Then why do we apply the same treatment to Jane? Is it because deep down we really want to extol one woman to near Christian status. Does some Christian values still exist deep within us, or some religious-like feeling (which scares me) where we want to see some people as messianic or heroic? Life would be easier if it all narrows down between good and evil but life is not that easy. If there were only two sides or “dos sopas” as we say in my native country, then voila! Let’s all choose the side of good and go with it!
But that’s not how things work. There are always more than two sides to every story.

Jane played by Anne’s same rules. Anne was a victim of Henry’s wooing and ambitions much as Jane was of his, and of course her family’s, but was Anne’s family not ambitious? Anne’s brother as Ridgway and Cherry point out was not this philandering fool that  was depicted in “The Tudors” but a hardworking man who never missed parliament. Whose attendance was really spectacular.

“In 1534, during the fifth session of Parliament, George’s attendance rate was prodigious, particularly bearing in mind the fact that he was on a diplomatic mission abroad for a total of two months, and was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from June onwards. Despite these other onerous duties, he attended more sessions in Parliament than many other Lords Temporal. Out of the Lords Temporal attending Parliament, only the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Wiltshire, George’s father, attended more frequently than George: on 45, 44, and 42 occasions respectively, with George appearing 41 times. The average attendance was just 22 out of 46. George’s high attendance demonstrates hi commitment to his own career, as well to Reform and to his sister’s cause.” (Cherry & Ridgway)
“In 1534, during the fifth session of Parliament, George’s attendance rate was prodigious, particularly bearing in mind the fact that he was on a diplomatic mission abroad for a total of two months, and was also Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports from June onwards. Despite these other onerous duties, he attended more sessions in Parliament than many other Lords Temporal. Out of the Lords Temporal attending Parliament, only the Earl of Arundel, the Earl of Oxford and the Earl of Wiltshire, George’s father, attended more frequently than George: on 45, 44, and 42 occasions respectively, with George appearing 41 times. The average attendance was just 22 out of 46. George’s high attendance demonstrates hi commitment to his own career, as well to Reform and to his sister’s cause.” (Cherry & Ridgway)

Similarly, Edward Seymour was equally hardworking and before Jane became the object of the King’s desire, he was rising through the ranks and became the star of his family ever since he got knighted in the Italian Wars when he and other young men eager for fame, went to fight with the royal forces to France where a select few were knighted for their valor by the Duke of Suffolk and among these few was none other than Ned Seymour. Of course Ned in his new position was eager to promote the new religion as his predecessor George Boleyn and just as he, he was invested in looking the part of the courtier. He was not a poet, but he was a good solider and politician and like with George Boleyn he was not without his flaws. John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland (then Lord Lisle) was outspoken against Ned Seymour when he agreed with Henry VIII to go into Scotland and steal the toddler Queen of Scots from under her mother’s noses. The poor toddler had just lost her father and was not yet crowned, such a thing in John Dudley who was a dedicated family man as Ned Seymour, was barbaric and he successfully convinced most of the men in the privy council against such actions.

Ned would not be dissuaded however and the Scottish wars he invested on weighed greatly on the country. As a man however he was quite shy and not as blunt or someone who enjoyed cruelty as depicted in “The Tudors” and his second wife Anne Stanhope was in fact very loyal to him and she was the only who advocated for his release (when not even his remaining brother, Henry Seymour would) and the two loved each other dearly and had a plethora of children. Yet Ned Seymour’s true mistake was in being too popular and “too lenient” as William Seymour and Leanda de Lisle in their respective biographies of the Seymours and the Grey Sisters, demonstrate with the commons. While he showed great favor and clemency to the commons and wanted to show them great favor, he was alternatively arrogant with the nobles and this was a big no-no when you wanted to keep your head in an age where the nobles’ favor mattered more than the commons.

Edward Seymour, a man who as in the portrait saw himself as the true beacon of Protestantism was a true friend of the people, but at the same time he was arrogant with the nobles and even slapped one during his Protectorate and this was one of the many last straws for the upper class when they finally acted against him. As Leanda de Lisle, William Seymour, and Elizabeth Norton put it, he was a hardworking man and unlike what was shown in the hit period drama
Edward Seymour, a man who as in the portrait saw himself as the true beacon of Protestantism was a true friend of the people, but at the same time he was arrogant with the nobles and even slapped one during his Protectorate and this was one of the many last straws for the upper class when they finally acted against him. As Leanda de Lisle, William Seymour, and Elizabeth Norton put it, he was a hardworking man and unlike what was shown in the hit period drama “The Tudors” he was rather shy and very much in love with his wife Anne Stanhope who was a strong religious matron who formed strong friendships with women on both ends of the religious scale, both Catholic and Protestant. Before his sister became the object of the King’s desire, he was given many posts and his first step towards fame was during the first phase of the Italian Wars when he fought in France at a young age and was among the few who was knighted by the Duke of Suffolk. He was later employed in Wolsey’s service and kept on rising, always a work-a-holic and like George Boleyn, a man who did not like leaving things unattended.

Of course this is the story no one wants to hear because it destroys the fantasy of Anne Boleyn, of the villain Jane Seymour, of the fairy tale we need so hard to believe because if we don’t what can we believe in? Who or for which woman can we root for?

The answer is simple. Let us root for ourselves, our friends, our communities and our loved ones. As humans we are capable of creating great things or screwing things up big time. We are all walking contradictions and the Tudors and the courtiers that lived alongside of them were no different.

So if we are going to defend Anne, we should try and put ourselves in Jane’s as well. Could anyone really say no to the King? And if they had, as we saw with Anne, that would have meant the political death of her family and when Henry was keen on getting what he wanted -what he viewed should have been his- you as a woman had no other choice. Women did not have it easy; Anne could not say no to Henry’s advances. She tried but Henry kept on going and Jane, whether or not she thought badly on Anne, could not have said no either. But perhaps it is the eternal struggle of pitting one woman against other that has become so appealing and prevented us from seeing the truth. Anne and Jane have been reduced to the roles of the heroine-martyr and the scheming woman. 

“Both Anne and Jane were ladies-in-waiting who seduced the king away from their mistresses*; Anne from Katherine and Jane from Anne. The similarity is intriguing; so too is the disconnect, in that history has judged both women so differently. Anne’s harsh treatment of Katherine is often eclipsed by her passionate love affair with Henry and her tragic end. Yet Jane’s usurpation of Anne has tarnished her image. Anne is seen as a victim, but Jane as ‘accessory-after-the-fact to the judicial murder of Anne’.
As Chapuys reported, Henry was sailing up the Thames to his betrothed within minutes of the execution of his previous wife. Therefore, the view has arisen that Jane was complicit in her death. Yet there is no evidence that she was an accessory, that law pertains to an individual who receives or assists another person, who is, to his or her knowledge, guilty of any offence against the law. Yet Henry WAS the law. No one at court truly emerged from Anne’s execution and that of the condemned men without some blood on their hands.” -Mackay

Sources:

  • Inside the Tudor Court: Henry VIII and his Six Wives through the Writings of the Spanish Ambassador Estauce Chapuys by Lauren Mackay
  • Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen by Anna Whitelock
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
  • Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
  • Divorced, Beheaded, Survived: A feminist reinterpretation of the six wives of Henry VIII by Karen Lindsey
  • George Boleyn: Tudor, Poet, Courtier and Diplomat by Clare Cherry and Claire Ridgway
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Jane Seymour: Henry VIII’s True Love by Elizabeth Norton
  • Jane Seymour by David Loades
  • Ordeal by Ambition by William Seymour
  • Sisters Who Would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle
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8 thoughts on “Anne & Jane: The Double Standard amongst writers and fans

  1. TopazRoses January 12, 2015 / 12:36 am

    Interesting blog, but I have to say I have never seen anyone refer to Jane as the bitch who got Anne killed. I think most people see Jane as a victim- she was probably pushed by her family into the marriage and is unlikely to have had much of a say in it. Historians pretty much agree that she had virtually no influence over Henry and didn’t even try to- which was why he liked her as she was such a contrast to Anne who refused to be submissive.

    Like

    • Minerva Casterly January 12, 2015 / 3:24 am

      I have many times, more than ten on facebook and other social networks. Some fans take things way too far and it gets very verbally violent to the point that if you disagree you get called names too. She did not have the influence that her predecessors had because her duration as Consort was cut short because of puerperal fever she developed shortly after giving birth to Edward. She did some acts that helped some Abbesses. Three great Seymour bios are Ordeal by Ambition by Seymour, and Jane Seymour by Norton and another one by Loades. All three are great though the latter two offer more insight on her. She lived as you said in an age where she was pushed by her family, though everyone was someone else’s tool or being just as ambitious. Marriage was the way up for women, the higher the marriage, the better. Anne viewed marriage in the same terms that Jane did and other women did. Both were products of their times. My favorite books on Anne are by Ives, and Ridgway and Cherry’s bio on her brother which says the same, that she was a woman of her time, ambitious, smart and cosmopolitan. And also Licence has recently gotten out her biography on the six wives which is one of the best Tudor books I’ve read.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Lilla February 5, 2015 / 12:03 pm

    I consider both of them villains – succumbing to the advances of a married man and, most importantly, showing no mercy towards their predecessors. Saying they were the product of their times is not absolving them – some people were able to behave in a moral way, like Thomas More for example.

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    • divorcedchristiangal May 20, 2015 / 11:27 am

      Oh what a naive view. Do you really think women during that time period had much of a say in their lives? If the King wanted you, he got you. Neither Anne or Jane were homewreckers deliberately going after a married man, they were women with ambitious families who were only too happy to encourage the King’s infatuation with them.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Nikki May 20, 2015 / 1:05 pm

    I was really looking forward to reading this article but from the second paragraph down, I began to lose interest.
    What evidence does the writer have to describe Jane Seymour as a bitch? She was certainly no shrinking violet. She played the same games with the king as Anne Boleyn had done, but she never went so far as to publicly state she would rather see her dead, unlike Anne and there was never any open hatred for Elizabeth from Jane in the way that Anne had hated and feared Mary!

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    • Minerva Casterly May 20, 2015 / 2:47 pm

      Hi Nikki! Thank you so much for the respobse. I love your feedback. It is not my intention to confuse you. Hope you read beyond the second paragraph to see how I pointed out that is the thinking among many fans regarding Jane and why I think this doesn’t help understanding this period more.
      I wish a good week. If you reply soon, I will try to do so asap while they are changing my bandages at the hospital so if you see one grammar error in my response, please forgive me. I know you’ll understand. It is hard typing on the phone when your therapist is talking all about intensive care and wounds lol

      Like

  4. Janet Wertman May 21, 2015 / 3:08 pm

    Wonderful article! As someone writing about Jane Seymour, I spend a ton of time defending her against the bashers! But like all the characters in the great Tudor saga, she was a product of her time. Your article beautifully reminded us how to remember that, thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Janet Smyth April 9, 2016 / 12:05 pm

    they were both a victim of the times. Unless anything new is discovered, everything is speculation and difficult to prove

    Liked by 1 person

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