A/N: This is the first in a series of fics where I will (eventually) explore Mary's relationships with all of the wives. Taking center stage in this fic is Jane Seymour!
Mary did not know what to think of the new queen by her side.
She felt guilty for her uncharitable hesitancy towards Queen Jane (though no guilt would ever outweigh the shame of signing the Oath that beat within her like a second heart). But caution was a hard-learned lesson that she would not fail to employ, even as they strode together through the gardens of Hundson House.
For all that Queen Jane had been kind to her so far, Mary did not know this woman too well. But she had been a close friend of her mother's, was of the Catholic faith, and had been surpassingly kind to Mary, and so good. She had visited Mary along with her father soon after her submission and had made every effort to welcome her back to court. Queen Jane had sent her a fine array of jewels, as befitted a princess, and she was currently describing the new rooms being prepared for Mary at Hampton Court and Greenwich Palace.
Yet Mary also worried about the fact that this woman was only a knight's daughter, and lacked political experience. It was being the opposite of Anne that had drawn the King to Jane, after all. While Mary was obviously glad that her new stepmother was nothing like Anne, it also meant that Jane did not possess the concubine's courtly education, charisma, or fervor. She barely knew how to read and write, and was not educated in music, dancing, or languages.
It was times like this that Mary missed her mother desperately, odd as it was. Jane and Katherine might share the same kindness, but kindness did not make a Queen. Jane might very well be her best ally at court, and Mary wanted to make sure that she had a good head upon her shoulders.
"How is the King?" Mary asked. It was a loaded question, with implications that any courtier worth their salt would grasp.
Jane seemed to take the question at face value, brightening up. "He is well and happy, something I have daily experience of."
Mary wondered cynically how true that was. He was supposedly happy in his new marriage, yet he had not restored Mary to her status or returned to the Pope, and had threatened to execute Mary if she did not agree. And just a few weeks ago, his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy had died, his treasured only son.
"I pray there is nothing troubling him, then?" Mary asked pointedly. "How has he taken the death of the Duke of Richmond?"
Queen Jane blanched at this, so quickly that Mary regretted her words, though she did not understand why Jane should become so upset. It was not as though Fitzroy was any great asset to her, and his death had neither profited nor cost her. Yet Mary guided her to a small marble bench tucked away in a shady corner, tactfully shooing away the hovering ladies-in-waiting.
Once they were both seated, Jane seemed to regain a little color in her face, though her expression remained haunted. "May I confide in you, Your Grace?" she asked, her voice low.
Mary was struck both by the fear in Jane's eyes, and the fact that Jane was just a few years older than her. She nodded automatically.
"Richmond's death has greatly shaken your father," Jane began. "He now has no heir at all, not even a bastard son he can legitimate- and so soon after passing an Act of Parliament giving himself the right to do so."
The Queen swallowed, a sound that Mary could hear. "And he is angry with me for not becoming with child yet. In public he is gracious, but when we are alone, he is cold and perfunctory. There are times… when I am so terrified that…"
She did not need to finish that sentence. Everyone knew what happened to queens who failed to deliver sons.
Mary knew she should say something to reassure her stepmother, but she found herself tongue-tied for a moment. In a way, Jane was not nearly as much of a mother to her as she was a sister; hardly surprising, considering Mary was twenty, an age when she should be a mother herself. The thought made her feel desperately lonely, but she shook off her self-centered musings.
"You have been married scarcely two months- surely there is no need to worry. You are young and healthy, and God will be kind to you, when you have done so much for England."
Jane smiled and clasped a hand over Mary's in gratitude. But the mention of the Duke of Richmond brought to the fore thoughts that Mary tried to tamp down. As unnerving it was to be placed in a position where she comforted the Queen of England, she was also somewhat… encouraged by the knowledge of Jane's fear. She felt privileged, in a strange way, to see a Queen scared. Mary had never gotten an insight into her mother's fear; until they were separated when Mary was fifteen, Katherine of Aragon had always maintained her dignity and cool confidence that God would help them triumph. But now that Mary looked back, she knew her mother must have been terrified, both before and especially after they parted.
"I hope it would not be opportunistic of me to ask if you would return the favor," Mary said. Jane was still a stranger to her in so many ways, but she could see signs of a confidante and someone she could trust. The words Mary spoke next might be treason, but she wanted a friendly ear.
"The day the Lady was arrested, my father had asked the Duke of Richmond to be brought to him. He broke down and said that she tried to poison us both, myself and Fitzroy, and that we both owed God a great deal that we were still alive. My father wept over it- you might have heard of it…"
"I didn't," Jane admitted. "I was away from court when… but forgive me, continue."
"He also said that she had my sainted mother poisoned." Mary kept her gaze trained on her lap, smoothing her hands over her skirt. "He wept for it, and wept to think of what could have happened to me. Barely a month later, he ordered me to sign the Oath."
Her voice shook.
"He sent the Duke of Norfolk to tell me that if I were his daughter, he would have smashed my head against the wall until it was as soft as a boiled apple. And the King threatened me with execution."
"Princess, you must understand that I did everything in my power…"
"I know. I heard of the risks you took for my sake, and I am grateful that you did what you could. I know that no man can command the King, or any woman. But barely a month after weeping to learn how close I came to death, he is ready to order it himself because I won't agree to be complicit in heresy."
Mary paused here, fisting and unfisting her hands in her skirt before clasping them firmly together. She took a deep breath, drumming up her courage for the next words. "And a month after that, his cherished son Fitzroy sickens and dies in the prime of his life."
Queen Jane was clearly taken aback by this last comment. Mary herself had been unsettled to discover such a sentiment in her own thoughts, but once she realized it, she had not been able to shake that conviction. She had not hated Fitzroy, though they had been virtual strangers to one another, but there certainly was a ring of holy justice to the symmetry of this black summer's events. Just as Anne had miscarried her son the same day as her mother's funeral.
"I would not claim to know all the ways of God," Queen Jane said steadily after a long silence. She smiled weakly. "After all, that is your father the King's prerogative, is it not?"
Mary smiled blackly in return. "And yet it is hard not to think such things, especially in the dead of night when I have no company except for my conscience berating me. I know," she said before Jane could break in. "I had no choice but to give in, and England is best served if I am alive. But when I wonder why the King didn't take advantage of the opportunity to make things right, why he still expected me to renounce everything… and to know that he was aware of how close he came to losing me…."
A lump had risen in her throat, and Mary stopped there, knowing if she spoke any more, she would begin crying.
Queen Jane's voice broke into her thoughts. She was speaking slowly, thoughtfully, as though she was unsure of herself. "I would caution you against accepting everything the King says as gospel, especially what he may have said in May. There are… whispers about the charges that brought Lady Anne to her death."
"I heard those rumors," Mary said, unconcerned. Chapuys himself had admitted that the concubine and her brother had acquitted themselves well at their trials, and at Rochford's trial in particular, the spectators had been betting ten to one in his favor. "It matters little to me what charges brought her to her death. She committed enough crimes that she merited whatever came her way, and if they were false, well then, the harlot deserved no better."
Jane winced slightly at the word harlot, though why she did so Mary could not imagine. Perhaps it was because Jane was a lady of good breeding and shied away from such language. Anne didn't deserve such respect, but no matter, she could respect Queen Jane's whimsy.
"That may be so, but if you are to maintain your father's favor, you must remember this: the greatest crime Lady Anne committed in the eyes of the King, more than anything else, was failing to give him a son. Even more than any of the ways she treated you," Jane said baldly, "or attempting to have you poisoned."
Mary nodded grimly. Until just a few months ago, such a thought would have broken her, but now, it was simply a nugget of information to tuck away. She had signed a paper naming her mother a whore, she could handle this information too. "And if she really did try to poison me, I suspect my father was as angry over the fact that someone other than him tried to dictate my life, as over the fact that I was in danger at all. After all, deciding who lives and who dies is his prerogative, since he believes himself to be equal to none but God- and perhaps even to God Himself."
She let out a long sigh, feeling much older than her twenty years suddenly. "And the King does not like having his prerogatives taken away from him."
A prerogative I have given my consent to in ink and blood, Mary added silently, after all the prerogatives he took from me.
Jane took Mary's hand again, squeezing it tightly. "The King is genuinely happy to be reunited with you, and you have no reason to doubt his paternal affection. And I swear to you that no matter what, you can rely on me as an ally and friend."
Mary clasped her other hand over the Queen's, and for a moment, they simply sat like that, hands interlocked.
They set off back to the manor soon afterwards, Mary feeling considerably warmer to the new Queen than at the start of their walk. She was not as naive as Mary had feared, and though Mary could sense she had shocked Queen Jane with some of her thoughts, she felt safe confiding in her.
"I was wondering, what happened to the set of ruby-encrusted crosses that I sent you?" Jane asked suddenly, a sly glint in her eye.
Mary was taken up short, then remembered. "I sent them to the Lady Elizabeth's household, so that her guardians might have money for her upkeep," she confessed.
The Queen laughed. "There is no need to look so abashed- I heard of what you did, and it was a most Christian act on your part."
"It was no more than my duty," Mary said. "Especially when the King refuses to pay for her. Is it true that he swore she was Norris' bastard?"
Mary shook her head in disbelief. "Whatever the paternity of the Lady's other pregnancies, Elizabeth was definitely his. And Norris was one of his close friends too!"
The thought of Elizabeth had soured Mary's mood again, stirring up the familiar feelings of resentment and indignation. "He keeps her away not because of who her putative father is, but because of her mother. Never mind that it was his own folly that led to her creation, and he must take responsibility for her, if he wishes for her to grow up untainted by her mother."
"Her plight clearly affects you a great deal," Jane observed softly. "I take it you must have been close while at Hatfield?"
Mary nodded. "I could never blame her for who her mother was, no matter how hard I tried. And as she became older, she was just about the only person at Hatfield who didn't despise the sight of me."
They continued walking in companionable silence for a few more minutes, then-
"Would you mind telling me more about the young Lady?" Jane's voice was hesitant, almost apologetic. "For safety's sake, I do not mention her to the King. And I dare not write to Lady Bryan. But it is my duty to help her as much as I can. I would not wish for her to think when she is older than I displaced her mother and then neglected her."
"She loves sweets." It was the first thing that came to Mary's mind. "She's fussy about it, always hankering for comfits, and when she has pains from her teeth coming in, she uses it to her advantage by guilting Lady Bryan for sweets."
They took a few more steps in silence, as Mary mused. "I do not think she will resent you; at least, she took the news that she is now a Lady much better than I did."
Mary smiled, remembering how she had reacted when the Duke of Norfolk had arrived at Ludlow to tell her that her life as a princess was over, and that she was to be summarily dragged to her new life as a bastard at Hatfield.
"But she's sharp, she recognized that her title had changed right away, when people no longer addressed her as 'My Lady Princess'. I remember her governor Sir John Shelton was so flustered to explain why!"
The words came from her like honey tipped out of a jar; talking about Bess was soothing, almost therapeutic. It eased her spirits, and the murmuring guilt at signing the Oath faded for a bit. It was only after a good while that Mary realized just how long she had been talking, but Jane did not mind the rambling. She was eager to know all she could about her youngest stepdaughter.
"As Queen and her stepmother, I ought take more of an interest in her than I have been able to so far. In a way, you are more of a mother to her than I am.".
"I have usurped your prerogative," Mary replied with a chuckle.
"You have indeed!" But Jane's eyes were sparkling, and Mary was glad to know the new Queen would be as kind a stepmother to her sister as she had been to Mary so far.
Queen Jane grew pensive. "I do not know if you can call a duty a prerogative, moreover when it is a duty that all women carry. We are much put upon in this world, and if we have the power to ensure it is not so, we must act."
The words were so reminiscent of her mother, and while Queen Jane was a world away from the cultured and cultivated daughter of Spanish monarchs that Mary had revered as her mother and ideal Queen, Mary still felt fortunate to have this woman by her side. She was glad that the new Queen would not mistreat her little sister, who needed all the allies she could get. She was glad that although England was mired in heresy, she still had a fine Queen to guide her. Jane was kind but not simple-minded; she was smart and even witty, yet had the good sense to disguise it. She could be tempered by fear but was still bold enough to take up unlikely causes in the name of doing what was right.
Mary would pray as fervently for Queen Jane to bear a son as she had once prayed for her mother to do so.
"I think I will mention Elizabeth in my next letter to the King," Mary said. "Even if just in passing, it might remind him that while he has been reconciled with daughter, he has another daughter yet who needs him."
"A good idea- but do not mention how straitly her circumstances are. Just bring up her good qualities, just as you did to me."
"I will," Mary agreed. "I should also make sure to mention how much of a credit she is to His Majesty- appeal to his paternal pride."
She would also make sure to say that she prayed God sent him and his new Queen a prince, though she didn't voice this to Jane. She was already worried enough about failing in her most important duty.
"Perhaps that is all we can do for now: simply bring her up to the King and hope that he makes the connection," Queen Jane said. "And in the meantime, we will watch over her as best she can."
"Maybe even sell off more jewels, if need be," Mary suggested, on an impish impulse.
"I had those ruby crosses designed specifically for you!" Jane replied chidingly.
Mary was mortified. "I had thought them to be rather ostentatious," she confessed. "They were the jewels I felt the least sorrow at parting with."
"'Tis no matter- they will bring my stepdaughter great joy, which was my intended purpose in commissioning them."
They had reached the manor, and the women stepped out of the muggy August heat into the cool antechamber with twin sighs of relief. "If the King does persist in his obstinacy, we will indeed send more jewels," Jane said as their ladies rushed forward to refresh them. "But on one condition."
"And what may that be?" Mary asked, slipping off her sweat-soaked hood and accepting a proffered glass of cool wine with gratitude.
Queen Jane turned her head over her shoulder, already cooling herself with a fan of ostrich feathers and wearing a mischievous grin. "Choosing which jewels to send shall be myprerogative."
Mary smiled in gracious defeat, yielding one prerogative she was not sorry about losing.
A/N: We have no idea what Mary historically thought of Anne's innocence; however, Chapuys made it clear in his reports that he was highly skeptical about the validity of the charges against Anne and George Boleyn. Considering Chapuys was Mary's go-to source for court gossip, she may well have shared his conclusions that Anne was innocent, at least of the charges against her.
Mary also sent some jewels to pay for Elizabeth's upkeep, when Henry refused to do so after Anne's execution. She also wrote this paragraph at the end of a letter written around July 1536: "My sister Elizabeth is in good health (thanks to our Lord), and such a child toward, as I doubt not, but your highness shall have cause to rejoice of in time coming (as knoweth Almighty God), who send your grace, with the queen my good [step]mother, health, with the accomplishment of your desires."
Jane Seymour is perhaps the least well-known of Henry's wives, and I hope I did her justice here. Unlike many popular interpretations, I don't think she was responsible for Anne's death or craved the Queen's crown. But I do think she had her fair share of ambition and intelligence, which she was cunning enough to hide under a veneer of meekness that endeared Henry to her. She does not seem to have taken a public interest in Elizabeth during her brief tenure as Queen, something for which she has been unfairly judged; her husband effectively killed two wives who defied him in less than five months, and Jane was no fool. Unfortunately, we will never truly know who she was beneath the face she presented to the King and the world, as she didn't live long enough to have much of an impact.
I am planning to write at least one fic for each of Mary's other stepmothers, though the order and nearness of those future fics are subject to my fickle muse. Stay tuned for more!