I, Jane: In The Court of Henry VIII (2 page)

According to historians, the details of Jane Seymour’s childhood have been a mystery for ages.
The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
, as well as Dr. Pamela Gross, associate professor of history at Adams State College—herself a descendant of Jane Seymour—and other scholars consulted for this work, find there is no record of the birth or baptism of Jane Seymour or her siblings. Dates given in historical works are based on scant evidence. Jane is thought by most to have been born between 1505 and 1509, and while I have consulted many sources, there is no absolute consensus. Thus, for the purposes of this work, I have chosen the year 1505. The few clues that history has left us about her early life, including her years at Wolf Hall and her brief engagement to William Dormer, were used as threads to weave this beautiful tale lost to time.

Accept the things to which fate binds you,
and love the people with whom fate brings you
together, but do so with all of your heart.


MARCUS AURELIUS

I, Jane

Table of Contents

Prologue

Part I: Jane and Margery

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Part II: Jane and Katherine

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Part III: Jane and Francis

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Part IV: Jane and William

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Part V: Jane and Henry

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Epilogue

Author’s Note

About the Author

Prologue

October 24, 1537

Hampton Court

“Q
uickly, fetch pen and ink and some paper, Anne, for I will soon die.”

Jane murmured the declaration to her brother’s wife, already knowing the truth. Anne Seymour had been sitting vigil at her bedside, cloaked in the amber glow of a candle and the dark and shadows beyond the swagged bed curtain. Everyone else had gone to bed, so it was just the two of them now. They had been reminiscing as wind and cold English rain beat hard against the window glass.

“You’ll not die; such a thing is unimaginable!” Anne replied a little too vehemently for the truth that lay before them.

“Yet there is much to life that happens, whether we can imagine it or not. And death still comes to each of us…So you must write it down, Anne, all that I am telling you. I know Hal well enough, and there shall be another queen soon after me—another mother for my son. I want my precious Edward to have this much of his real mother. I want him to know about my life. I fear this shall be the only way. I shall talk for as long as I can, and you shall write it all down.”

Tears glistened in Anne Seymour’s weary eyes. “It shall be done, Your Majesty.”

“Every word of it, Anne, do you promise?”

“… Even about William?”

“Especially about William,” Jane said with a sigh as memories flooded her mind at the sound of his name. “Few know of him, especially in relation to me, so the words shall be William’s legacy as well as my own.”

“Will the king not be very angry with you if we do this?” the languid-looking blue-eyed woman dared to ask. She leaned forward into the light, revealing her stiff, embroidered white collar and pearl necklace, which hung over the tightly laced bodice of her gown, so she would not be overheard if there were spies about. Usually there were.

“In another day or so I think it shall matter very little who is angry with me but the wood and the worms.”

Anne gasped. “Oh, sister, please speak not of such things, I bid you!”

Jane glanced over to the small cradle she insisted on having beside her, where her days-old infant son lay peacefully sleeping. “Now it only matters to me that he, whom I so dearly love, knows how little Jane Seymour of Wiltshire—who might have been Lady Dormer—came to be Jane, Queen of England, instead. The story shall be my legacy to him. That I lived a life much richer than people thought of me. So, pray, fetch that pen now. I can feel the heat of the fever rushing through me like a wildfire. Now we must begin. There’ll not be much time.”

PART I
Jane and Margery

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death;
jealousy is cruel as the grave.


SONG OF SOLOMON
, 8:6

Chapter One

August 1514

Wiltshire, England

S
he ran swiftly. They were faster. Brambles and thorns cut into her soft-soled shoes, but she could not stop. She need not turn around. They were upon her, near enough for her to hear them giggling as they chased her through the broad meadow carpeted with the waving wild bluebells of summer. They darted across the timbered estate of Wolf Hall, the big house nestled among rolling grassy hills, tall fragrant flowers, and endless fields, then down the gentle slope, ever nearer to Savernake Forest.

Jane was not to go into the forest. None of the Seymour children were permitted that folly. Not even Edward, the eldest. The favorite son. Their father had made that more than clear to them. Jane was a child of eight years old, and her little heart quaked at the thought of the repercussions of disobeying their father. But at this desperate moment there was no other option. They would catch her and torment her as only cruel, bored children could.

The broad beams of sunlight, like great silvery fingers through the arching boughs of trees, warmed her buttoned, velvet-clad back but gave way to heavy shadows as she darted between the tree trunks
and low-lying ferns. As she ran, she felt perspiration drip from her neck down the length of her spine beneath the layers of cotton and heavy velvet. She was nearly out of breath, but deep within her, the instinct to survive flickered like a flame in the wind. She was so young, so untested, but she knew how to survive.

Deeper into the forest she was drawn, panic now guiding her. It was not an unfounded fear. She had been hotly pursued by this group before.
Just a bit of fun,
her brother always said as she wept afterward, her dress caked in mud, her face covered with dirt and tears. But this torment had nothing to do with fun. At least not for her. To Jane, the reason they singled her out was because she was common looking. With her broad forehead, weak receding chin, mousy hair, and pale blue eyes, she looked nothing like the other young girls who lived around the Wiltshire countryside that flanked her family’s home. They had glowing, round, and ruddy cheeks, bright eyes, and shiny hair that reflected the sun like silk.

“’Tis settled, then. Little Mistress Seymour is going to be an old maid someday with dozens of cats, like the milkmaid round back of her house. No one else will want her with such a plain face as that,” fat-faced Cecily Strathmore declared once they had caught her.

The cruel taunts predictably came as the collection of girls pulled off her headdress and began tossing it among themselves like a ball, giggling as they did. But it was Lucy Hill’s blithe tone, full of delight at the taunting, that hit Jane like a physical blow. She once had thought they might become friends. In the next moment, as she stumbled and lost her balance, Jane felt the tight clasp of a firm hand on her shoulder. Then the heat of fingers through the velvet sleeve. It was not Lucy’s hand but a male one, more certain in its grip. She was spun back around by that same hand and lost her footing with the force of it. Her dress billowed up around her and she stumbled
back, tumbling with a little splash directly into a blue-black pond beside them.

“Forgive me, I meant to catch you!” the boy exclaimed, drawing her back up out of the mossy muck with the same awkward movement that had caused her to stumble. As the words left his lips, he pivoted back toward the others, shielding her.

“A wet rat. How appropriate,” Lucy said.

“That is the end of it, Lucy!” he announced, with far more maturity than any ruddy-skinned, sandy-haired boy his age should have possessed. Through the fog of her tears and the water dripping from her hair, he appeared to Jane only slightly older than herself but possessed of a confidence that was striking.

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