One family’s tragedy writ large

Jane Seymour, the third wife of King Henry VIII of England, was hardly the first woman to die in childbirth. However, her status as the mother of Henry's only son made her death in 1537, probably from puerperal fever, an outsize event at the time. Although she was never crowned Queen of England -- Henry perhaps withheld that honor until after she had borne him an heir -- Jane was the only one of Henry's six wives to receive a queen's funeral.

Jane Seymour

Jane died about two weeks after the long, difficult birth at Hampton Court Palace of her son, Edward, who would briefly reign as King Edward VI. She was mourned by all of England, and by Henry to a singular degree. He wore black for a year, refrained from marrying again for more than two years, and was buried next to Jane -- and Jane alone -- in St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle when he died in 1547 at the age of 55.

Even though her importance to the country derived wholly from her status as wife and queen of one of the world's most powerful men, Jane's death in childbirth would reverberate through history.