HERstory: The Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence

The way Amy Licence writes the story of the wives and the mistresses is so unique and beautiful and this is a must-read for everyone that hasn’t read about the wives yet. Amy starts with setting the stage by explaining about the different beliefs regarding sex, conception, and the many methods used in each. Religion also played an important part in this period, so a lot of the book focuses on the religious aspect from Catholicism to the different sects of Protestantism that were taking over England. The book dedicates a huge chunk on Henry’s first wives and deconstructing these women from what is believed to what actually happened. There were many other things that I wasn’t completely aware of this period that blew my mind when I found out. And this is how Amy writes, she does it in such a way that she dispels all the myths regarding these elusive figures, namely the women who are still seen through a male objective lens. She starts by Katherine of Aragon, including all the important details regarding her education, her preparation for her future role as Princess then Queen of England to all the contributions she did when she finally became queen, from being a great patroness of artists and humanists, to being the first of Henry’s wives to become Regent and on top of that, enjoy a very amorous and passionate relationship with him. The image that we have of Katherine as prude and old is not very accurate. As she got older she did become more pious and secluded from the material world -though she still enjoyed many of his banquets and participated in the jousts, observing her husband ride like he was still the passionate youth from his younger days. But in her youth she was a highly pragmatic, energetic, passionate and attractive young woman who probably caught Henry’s attention since he led her down the aisle to marry his older brother, the crown heir, Arthur. But there was also another aspect to Katherine and that was that in her years of political limbo, when her father’s enmity with her older sister and her husband forced her to be stranded on England with little to no help from anybody, made her highly dependent on her lecherous priest Friar Diego which in turn, turned out to damage her reputation for a while.

"Katherine was old and prudish" That’s how we think of Henry VIII’s first wife but read a good history book and about the attitudes they had of sex back then and it wasn’t as prudish as you think and yes! It shows KOA was no prude. "Judging by the rapidity of Catherine’s conception in the early years of the marriage, their physical relationship was close. A surviving manuscript from 1440, ‘Jacob’s Well’. outlines contemporary expectations for moderate, appropriate sex withing marriage […] The text also reminded married couples that foreplay could lead to impurity and sin …” But the other literature of the day also encouraged foreplay and judging by how passionate their relationship was described, and how passionate Katherine became each time she saw Henry (and it was Henry who sought her more than she him as he was a young man in love who’d been besotted by her since childhood), it is fairly obvious to assume they couldn’t keep their hands off one another. So before we go ‘oh but that was only with Anne Boleyn and Kitty Howard’, read the story of these two and as for the latter, read a good book on Katherine Howard because I can’t tell you how mad I get when people have this erroneous view of Katherine Howard as this sex-kitten, lust-driven woman when in fact she was much different and she *did* try to bring all the family together as they all had their separate establishments (and the issue with Mary was resolved in less than a month and before you knew it, she and the queen were out in progresses and giving each other gifts like crazy. And she also did a lot to help Mary’s imprisoned friend and former governess, Margaret Pole by sending her tailor and new shoes for her to wear and whether or not she appealed to her husband to have mercy on her -it is likely given how attentive she was, that she did- he obviously didn’t listen to her).  Furthermore, Amy Licence adds: "The literature of the day suggests a fairly pragmatic and direct approach to sex, with an emphasis on the need for female enjoynment -within the correct religious lines- and far less prudish than might initially be supposed. It was considered imperative for a woman to ‘emit seed’ in order to conceive, so her husband was instructed to ‘smoothly stroke his lady, breasts and belly to excite’. Another fourteenth century text, written by Edward II’s doctor of physic, advised a man to ‘arouse a woman to intercourse’ by speaking, kissing and embracing her, ‘to caress her breasts and touch her between the perneum and vulva and to strike her buttocks with the purpose that the woman desires … and when the woman begins to speak with a stammer, then they ought to copulate’. Another technique suggested by a medieval advise manual was ‘froting’ or ‘rubbing, ‘when a man hath great liking between him and his wife in bed’. With the imperative to conceive an heir, Catherine and Henry need have felt little guilt in attempting to achieve the Church’s primary concern of wedlock, whatever foreplay they decided to employ.”  So their relationship, cold, strictly puritanical and less sexy when we compare it to his second marriage? I don’t think so.
“Katherine was old and prudish” That’s how we think of Henry VIII’s first wife but read a good history book and about the attitudes they had of sex back then and it wasn’t as prudish as you think and yes! It shows KOA was no prude. “Judging by the rapidity of Catherine’s conception in the early years of the marriage, their physical relationship was close. A surviving manuscript from 1440, ‘Jacob’s Well’. outlines contemporary expectations for moderate, appropriate sex withing marriage […] The text also reminded married couples that foreplay could lead to impurity and sin …” But the other literature of the day also encouraged foreplay and judging by how passionate their relationship was described, and how passionate Katherine became each time she saw Henry (and it was Henry who sought her more than she him as he was a young man in love who’d been besotted by her since childhood), it is fairly obvious to assume they couldn’t keep their hands off one another. So before we go ‘oh but that was only with Anne Boleyn and Kitty Howard’, read the story of these two and as for the latter, read a good book on Katherine Howard because I can’t tell you how mad I get when people have this erroneous view of Katherine Howard as this sex-kitten, lust-driven woman when in fact she was much different and she *did* try to bring all the family together as they all had their separate establishments (and the issue with Mary was resolved in less than a month and before you knew it, she and the queen were out in progresses and giving each other gifts like crazy. And she also did a lot to help Mary’s imprisoned friend and former governess, Margaret Pole by sending her tailor and new shoes for her to wear and whether or not she appealed to her husband to have mercy on her -it is likely given how attentive she was, that she did- he obviously didn’t listen to her).
Furthermore, Amy Licence adds: “The literature of the day suggests a fairly pragmatic and direct approach to sex, with an emphasis on the need for female enjoynment -within the correct religious lines- and far less prudish than might initially be supposed. It was considered imperative for a woman to ‘emit seed’ in order to conceive, so her husband was instructed to ‘smoothly stroke his lady, breasts and belly to excite’. Another fourteenth century text, written by Edward II’s doctor of physic, advised a man to ‘arouse a woman to intercourse’ by speaking, kissing and embracing her, ‘to caress her breasts and touch her between the perneum and vulva and to strike her buttocks with the purpose that the woman desires … and when the woman begins to speak with a stammer, then they ought to copulate’. Another technique suggested by a medieval advise manual was ‘froting’ or ‘rubbing, ‘when a man hath great liking between him and his wife in bed’.
With the imperative to conceive an heir, Catherine and Henry need have felt little guilt in attempting to achieve the Church’s primary concern of wedlock, whatever foreplay they decided to employ.”
So their relationship, cold, strictly puritanical and less sexy when we compare it to his second marriage? I don’t think so.
This is not to say that Katherine wasn’t strong. She was but she was also human and very young at the time and with her mother gone, her father and sister far away and at war with each other, she had very few people she could trust, and there was also that cunning and ambitious element of her that is often neglected. Katherine did everything she could after her father came with a temporal solution to alleviate her status by making her his unofficial ambassador. She sought Henry out more, she ingratiated herself with his sister, made sure she was pleasing to both of them, especially the young boy who turned out to be more handsome and athletic than his late brother at his age. By all means, crowned jointly and enjoying equal status, Katherine believed her marriage would be successful but two things happened: Her new year baby died and she suffered a horde of miscarriages and as she did, she also lost her figure and as her looks faded Henry turned his attention to other women. And this is where the author provides evidence that defies the notion that Henry was a prude with only two official mistresses.
Henry wasn’t the libertine monarch that Francis was. He didn’t flaunt his mistresses in Katherine’s face or showed them off to everyone or gave them official status of mistresses as he did. Henry, always concerned with his image, was cautious and with a great network of servants who were willing to do anything to please their king, they helped him keep most of these affairs secret. But occasionally word got out and on two of these occasions it put a strain on his first marriage. Katherine was humble and loyal but she could not accept at first that there was another woman besides her sharing her husband’s bed, she didn’t believe his servant was sleeping with Anne Hastings and argued ferociously with Henry about it but she soon became pliant and docile but her anger turned up again after he had a son with Bessie Blount which he showed off to prove that the fault lay in Katherine not in him for his lack of legitimate sons. Katherine’s discomfort became well known when Henry ennobled him with titles and mansions and gave him almost equal status to that of her daughter.


The most opposition that Henry would face however would not come from his first wife but from Anne. Katherine despite failing to keep her anger and hatred over his affairs secret at times, was true to her motto of ‘Humble and Loyal’ and became beloved by the people for the charity work she did, her time as Regent defending the English borders from the Scots and emulating the virtues that were expected of women -especially royal consorts- at the time. Anne was very different in that respect. She was a cosmopolitan and highly energetic and like Katherine, highly educated woman who sported different religious ideas and whose path with him might not have been intentional as Amy Licence points out. After all, who could refuse the king of England? Nobody. Anne’s strong moral convictions and her refusal of Thomas Wyatt years before, as well as learning from experience after Wolsey had broken up her intended union with Percy, echoed those found in Vives’ books that women had to be on the look out for men’s attentions and refuse any sexual advances. Yet, the author also defies the notion that Henry abstained himself from sex the entire time and the proof of this once again lies in the contemporary sources listing the women present at the time who served or whose husband served Henry and whom he might have fathered illegitimate children with.

"With Henry’s letters making his desire clear, was Anne intimidated by his courtship and status into complicity? Did she see an opportunity and take it? Or had she, by the end of 1526, fallen in love with the king, or with the idea of becoming Queen?  A number of possible interpretations for her actions could make sense, depending upon different readings of the tone of the king’s letters. If Anne was not in love with Henry, she may have agreed to marry him as the ultimate prize in the marital stakes. This would not have been a cynical move; it would be entirely consistent with the arranged matches that families made to advance their fortunes and establish strong dynastic connections. Everyone was looking to ‘marry up’, and Anne was no exception. Perhaps she was exhilarated by the rewards Henry could offer and decided to play the game. She may also, along the way, have developed feelings for him. She may have not. This would make her an absolutely typical woman of her times and no different from Henry’s other wives. However the romantic possibility remains that she fell in love with him; either at the start while resisting his advances out of loyalty or belief that they would not lead to marriage, or as their relationship developed. We will probably never know.” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII.
“With Henry’s letters making his desire clear, was Anne intimidated by his courtship and status into complicity? Did she see an opportunity and take it? Or had she, by the end of 1526, fallen in love with the king, or with the idea of becoming Queen?
A number of possible interpretations for her actions could make sense, depending upon different readings of the tone of the king’s letters. If Anne was not in love with Henry, she may have agreed to marry him as the ultimate prize in the marital stakes. This would not have been a cynical move; it would be entirely consistent with the arranged matches that families made to advance their fortunes and establish strong dynastic connections. Everyone was looking to ‘marry up’, and Anne was no exception. Perhaps she was exhilarated by the rewards Henry could offer and decided to play the game. She may also, along the way, have developed feelings for him. She may have not. This would make her an absolutely typical woman of her times and no different from Henry’s other wives. However the romantic possibility remains that she fell in love with him; either at the start while resisting his advances out of loyalty or belief that they would not lead to marriage, or as their relationship developed. We will probably never know.” ~Amy Licence, Six Wives and the many Mistresses of Henry VIII.

Anne’s tragic fall from grace lay in her failure to deliver (as her predecessor) a son. Shortly after her brother and alleged lovers and her own execution, Henry remarried. His third wife, Jane Seymour is more of a mystery and I wish there was at least one more chapter dedicated to her but this is possibly owed to the fact that her reign was very short. However she does dedicate a great deal of attention regarding the time of her son’s conception to Edward’s birth and her death and the possible causes for it. It is well known that Jane died of childbed fever but what led to it? At the time of the birth she was attended by male doctors who did not have the experience or knowledge that midwives did. It is at this point that women stories start to get omitted and women’s labor changes drastically because of it. Midwifery is start to be seen as superstitious whereas ‘learned’ men such as doctors are the new norm. Unfortunately theory is very different from practice and if they had just bothered to ask one of their female counterparts for directions like washing their hands, etc, Jane could have avoided her death.

Between the period of his mourning and courting for royal matches, Henry might have been spending time with other women and this is not such as a stretch as we have seen by the earlier examples. But as a king he needed to marry and unlike two of his wives, he needed a royal match to cement an alliance and the lucky bride was Anne of Cleves whom he later declared was unattractive and that she was not a virgin just by looking at her. The notion is so ridiculous as Amy notes, yet once Henry’s mind was made up, it was made up! And what could you do about it? Poor Anne of Cleves knew very little about the country she was about to get married in. She had been pre-contracted to the Duke of Lorraine and that was used as an excuse to annul her marriage. As a girl she had been trained to be the perfect duchess, not a queen. When she reached Calais her brother wrote to Wriothesley and other royal officials to teach her sister of the English ways and they did just that, but they failed in teaching her about the masques that her future husband loved to engage in. This one omission made a great difference. When Henry met her in disguise, Anne had no idea he was the king and turned away from him coldly exclaiming she didn’t find his attentions funny. This was the whole catalyst for his dislike of her. His next wife was the contrary. She was energetic, to his judgment she was a virgin, and like his third wife Jane Seymour she adopted a similar motto that was meant to express she would be the perfect docile wife. But her past soon caught up with her and when Henry was told of it in a letter he devastated. Katherine Howard would share the same gruesome fate as her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. But her relationship with Thomas Culpeper is also put into question. Was it sexual or just platonic? We will probably never know.

Katherine Parr as Henry's sixth wife according to Amy Licence who dispels the myths about the wives and his mistresses, was more than just a 'nurse' to Henry. Henry had more than enough nurses and physicians to attend to his health, as she notes. At this stage, Henry realized it was less likely he would ever have another son, so he married Katherine for companionship and he'd been drawn to her early on for her charisma.  Katherine went on to become very popular with his subjects and family. "Catherine was a good catch. At almost thirty-one, she was experienced and wise [...] According to John Foxe, she possessed 'rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favor and a comely personage; things wherein the king was delighted', as well as the 'virtues of her mind'. Her appearance was 'lively' and 'pleasing' and her 'cheerful countenance', as painted by William Scrots, shows a round, open face with brown or auburn hair and the fashionable pale skin. A second image by Lucas Horenbout depicts her with a slimmer face and lighter hair."   She was as Henry's first wife and probably her namesake (due that her mother Maud Parr was fiercely loyal to Katherine of Aragon, and Katherine Parr was very connected to almost every prominent family in court, far more than his other two English wives), deeply religious, although she her opposite in terms of her religion. She encouraged both of her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to do a translation of Erasmus' 'Paragraphs of the Gospel of St. John' and Marguerite of Navarre's 'The Mirror of the Sinful Soul' respectively. As a Queen, she excelled in her position and she was very beloved by everyone, including the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who shortly before his leave in May 1545, described her as "worthy of her position". The only person who showed discomfort at their union was Anne of Cleves. And this was because there were rumors as she points out in her book, that Henry would take her back and reinforce the Cleves alliance, but these came to nothing after he'd executed Katherine Howard. Anne of Cleves' main disappointment was that he had married a woman "not nearly as beautiful as she". Regardless of this, Katherine went on to do a lot during her nearly four year reign as Queen consort. Besides encouraging her stepdaughters' education, she also surrounded herself with prominent scholars and like-minded and prominent women, some who were related to the king by marriage or by blood.  "Catherine's household included her close friend Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, and her cousin Maud, along with many ladies who had formerly served Henry's previous wives: Mary Countess of Arundel; Joan, Lady Denny; Lady Margaret Douglas; Jane Dudley, Lady Lisle; Anne Bassett; Jane, Lady Wriothesley; and Mary Wotton, Lady Carew [...] Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford. A Francis Goldsmith, writing to give thanks to Catherine for giving him a place as chaplain in her household, lavished her with praise: 'God has so formed her mind for pious studies that she considers everything of small value compared to Christ. Her rare goodness has made every day like Snday, a thing hitherto unheard of, especially in a royal palace [...] In addition to her ladies, George Day, Bishop of Chicester, served her as her almoner and humanist scholar Sir Anthony Cope as her vice-chamberlain, along with her master of the horse, secretary, chaplains, physicians, apothecary, clerk of the closet and her learned council which contained lawyers."  And in addition, she was the second and last wife to serve as his Regent. The other one was her namesake, Katherine of Aragon when she had been appointed by Henry as well when he was off fighting in France. In spite of his delicate condition and his doctors' advice, Henry went on to Calais and then to Bologne anyway, keen on fulfilling his wishes of grandeur. Catherine was appointed Regent on July the seventh of 1544, a council was set up to help her govern headed by Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and secretary Sir William Petre "who were to report to her once a month on the state of the country." As Regent, Licence notes, she wasted no time. She took her position seriously combining the role of the humble and obedient wife with "the strength and steel required to oversee the running of the country, from dealing with the Scottish prisoners to equipping the French campaign." She enforced her will on his ministers and urged the officials in the Northern borders to send her regular reports.  But not all was well. When Henry was back, one of the most important English reformers, a woman by the name of Anne Askew was sentenced to die as a heretic and she was burned at the stake. An investigation was conducted where the Queen's ladies were interrogated but all conducted themselves with dignity and said nothing to incriminate their mistress. Some wonder whether Foxe's account in the book of martyrs is truly true or just a fabrication. Historian Leanda de Lisle in her recent biography of the Tudors, says it was probably a mixture of both while Amy Licence believes it was mostly true. According to Foxe, Katherine had challenged Henry on the gospel and this encouraged him to agree to Gardiner's demands to investigate her and find evidence that would incriminate her. None was found and this was probably owed to the fact that someone in the king's confidence had tipped her off. This 'someone' was probably Doctor Butts who was a staunch Protestant and therefore, had every reason not to wish the queen see a similar fate to that of the poor Anne Askew. Before his ministers could go to Henry and convinced him any further, she went to his chambers and dropped to her knees in a very humble gesture as she had showed him before in private and told him that "Your Majesty has very much mistaken me, for I have always held it preposterous for a woman to instruct her lord." No doubt she was terrified. But "her clever and quick response" worked and Henry afterwards acted as if nothing had happened.  Katherine had been instrumental in the reinstatement of her royal stepdaughters into the line of succession and was a great friend to Mary whom she was closer to in age, and contrary to the image of the bookworm, she was very outgoing. When she was not busy encouraging her stepdaughters to translate or discussing humanist and reformist thought with the circle of women and family who attended her, she danced, wore the latest fashions and engaged in other diversions, expected of queens. "The new queen enjoyed dancing and poetry as much as her predecessors."  She was away when Henry was dying but she recognized the signs having been married before, especially to Lord Latimer, her second husband.   "Henry made provisions for her future, allowing her a generous annual allowance of 7000 pounds and stipulating that she should be afforded the treatment due to a queen, although she was not appointed to act as regent for the young king to be."   Immediately following his death, Katherine considered remarrying and months after she did to Thomas Seymour, the man she had always intended before Henry came into the picture. Her marriage to Seymour however turned out to be a sadder affair for her. After she discovered his intentions with Elizabeth, she dismissed her stepdaughter with a warning. She was pregnant at this time and following her stepdaughter's removal and her heartbreak over the situation, she somehow made peace with her husband (probably for practical reasons or because she felt there was nothing else she could do) and the couple moved to Sudeley Castle where she went into labor six weeks later and died six days after her only offspring's birth. Her husband followed her when he was discovered conspiring with her brother William Parr and the Greys and was found having a secret dinner with Jane Grey's uncle discussing the removal of his brother, the Protector among other "treasonous activities including the wooing of Princess Elizabeth." He was executed and their daughter, named Mary after her stepdaughter, Mary Tudor, was given to her friend, the Duchess Dowager of Suffolk but the infant also died.  "Her tomb in the chapel at Sudeley Castle is inscribed with the words of her chaplain, Dr. Parkhurst:  In this new tomb, the royal Katherine lies  Flower of her sex, renowned, great and wise.  A wife by every nuptial virtue known  A faithful partner once of Henry's throne.  To Seymour next her plighted hand she yields  (Seymour who Neptune's trident justly wields.)  From him a beauteous daughter blessed her arms  An infant copy of her parents' charms  When now seven days this tender flower had bloomed  Heaven in its wrath the mother's soul resumed.  Great Katherine's merit in our grief appears  While fair Britannia dews her cheek with tears,  Or loyal breast with rising sighs are torn With the Saints she triumphs, we with mortals mourn."
Katherine Parr as Henry’s sixth wife according to Amy Licence who dispels the myths about the wives and his mistresses, was more than just a ‘nurse’ to Henry. Henry had more than enough nurses and physicians to attend to his health, as she notes. At this stage, Henry realized it was less likely he would ever have another son, so he married Katherine for companionship and he’d been drawn to her early on for her charisma.
Katherine went on to become very popular with his subjects and family. “Catherine was a good catch. At almost thirty-one, she was experienced and wise […] According to John Foxe, she possessed ‘rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favor and a comely personage; things wherein the king was delighted’, as well as the ‘virtues of her mind’. Her appearance was ‘lively’ and ‘pleasing’ and her ‘cheerful countenance’, as painted by William Scrots, shows a round, open face with brown or auburn hair and the fashionable pale skin. A second image by Lucas Horenbout depicts her with a slimmer face and lighter hair.”
She was as Henry’s first wife and probably her namesake (due that her mother Maud Parr was fiercely loyal to Katherine of Aragon, and Katherine Parr was very connected to almost every prominent family in court, far more than his other two English wives), deeply religious, although she her opposite in terms of her religion. She encouraged both of her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to do a translation of Erasmus’ ‘Paragraphs of the Gospel of St. John’ and Marguerite of Navarre’s ‘The Mirror of the Sinful Soul’ respectively. As a Queen, she excelled in her position and she was very beloved by everyone, including the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys who shortly before his leave in May 1545, described her as “worthy of her position”.
The only person who showed discomfort at their union was Anne of Cleves. And this was because there were rumors as she points out in her book, that Henry would take her back and reinforce the Cleves alliance, but these came to nothing after he’d executed Katherine Howard. Anne of Cleves’ main disappointment was that he had married a woman “not nearly as beautiful as she”. Regardless of this, Katherine went on to do a lot during her nearly four year reign as Queen consort. Besides encouraging her stepdaughters’ education, she also surrounded herself with prominent scholars and like-minded and prominent women, some who were related to the king by marriage or by blood.
“Catherine’s household included her close friend Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, and her cousin Maud, along with many ladies who had formerly served Henry’s previous wives: Mary Countess of Arundel; Joan, Lady Denny; Lady Margaret Douglas; Jane Dudley, Lady Lisle; Anne Bassett; Jane, Lady Wriothesley; and Mary Wotton, Lady Carew […] Anne Stanhope, Lady Hertford. A Francis Goldsmith, writing to give thanks to Catherine for giving him a place as chaplain in her household, lavished her with praise: ‘God has so formed her mind for pious studies that she considers everything of small value compared to Christ. Her rare goodness has made every day like Snday, a thing hitherto unheard of, especially in a royal palace […] In addition to her ladies, George Day, Bishop of Chicester, served her as her almoner and humanist scholar Sir Anthony Cope as her vice-chamberlain, along with her master of the horse, secretary, chaplains, physicians, apothecary, clerk of the closet and her learned council which contained lawyers.”
And in addition, she was the second and last wife to serve as his Regent. The other one was her namesake, Katherine of Aragon when she had been appointed by Henry as well when he was off fighting in France. In spite of his delicate condition and his doctors’ advice, Henry went on to Calais and then to Bologne anyway, keen on fulfilling his wishes of grandeur. Catherine was appointed Regent on July the seventh of 1544, a council was set up to help her govern headed by Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and secretary Sir William Petre “who were to report to her once a month on the state of the country.” As Regent, Licence notes, she wasted no time. She took her position seriously combining the role of the humble and obedient wife with “the strength and steel required to oversee the running of the country, from dealing with the Scottish prisoners to equipping the French campaign.” She enforced her will on his ministers and urged the officials in the Northern borders to send her regular reports.
But not all was well. When Henry was back, one of the most important English reformers, a woman by the name of Anne Askew was sentenced to die as a heretic and she was burned at the stake. An investigation was conducted where the Queen’s ladies were interrogated but all conducted themselves with dignity and said nothing to incriminate their mistress. Some wonder whether Foxe’s account in the book of martyrs is truly true or just a fabrication. Historian Leanda de Lisle in her recent biography of the Tudors, says it was probably a mixture of both while Amy Licence believes it was mostly true. According to Foxe, Katherine had challenged Henry on the gospel and this encouraged him to agree to Gardiner’s demands to investigate her and find evidence that would incriminate her. None was found and this was probably owed to the fact that someone in the king’s confidence had tipped her off. This ‘someone’ was probably Doctor Butts who was a staunch Protestant and therefore, had every reason not to wish the queen see a similar fate to that of the poor Anne Askew. Before his ministers could go to Henry and convinced him any further, she went to his chambers and dropped to her knees in a very humble gesture as she had showed him before in private and told him that “Your Majesty has very much mistaken me, for I have always held it preposterous for a woman to instruct her lord.” No doubt she was terrified. But “her clever and quick response” worked and Henry afterwards acted as if nothing had happened.
Katherine had been instrumental in the reinstatement of her royal stepdaughters into the line of succession and was a great friend to Mary whom she was closer to in age, and contrary to the image of the bookworm, she was very outgoing. When she was not busy encouraging her stepdaughters to translate or discussing humanist and reformist thought with the circle of women and family who attended her, she danced, wore the latest fashions and engaged in other diversions, expected of queens. “The new queen enjoyed dancing and poetry as much as her predecessors.”
She was away when Henry was dying but she recognized the signs having been married before, especially to Lord Latimer, her second husband.
“Henry made provisions for her future, allowing her a generous annual allowance of 7000 pounds and stipulating that she should be afforded the treatment due to a queen, although she was not appointed to act as regent for the young king to be.”
Immediately following his death, Katherine considered remarrying and months after she did to Thomas Seymour, the man she had always intended before Henry came into the picture. Her marriage to Seymour however turned out to be a sadder affair for her. After she discovered his intentions with Elizabeth, she dismissed her stepdaughter with a warning. She was pregnant at this time and following her stepdaughter’s removal and her heartbreak over the situation, she somehow made peace with her husband (probably for practical reasons or because she felt there was nothing else she could do) and the couple moved to Sudeley Castle where she went into labor six weeks later and died six days after her only offspring’s birth. Her husband followed her when he was discovered conspiring with her brother William Parr and the Greys and was found having a secret dinner with Jane Grey’s uncle discussing the removal of his brother, the Protector among other “treasonous activities including the wooing of Princess Elizabeth.” He was executed and their daughter, named Mary after her stepdaughter, Mary Tudor, was given to her friend, the Duchess Dowager of Suffolk but the infant also died.
“Her tomb in the chapel at Sudeley Castle is inscribed with the words of her chaplain, Dr. Parkhurst:
In this new tomb, the royal Katherine lies
Flower of her sex, renowned, great and wise.
A wife by every nuptial virtue known
A faithful partner once of Henry’s throne.
To Seymour next her plighted hand she yields
(Seymour who Neptune’s trident justly wields.)
From him a beauteous daughter blessed her arms
An infant copy of her parents’ charms
When now seven days this tender flower had bloomed
Heaven in its wrath the mother’s soul resumed.
Great Katherine’s merit in our grief appears
While fair Britannia dews her cheek with tears,
Or loyal breast with rising sighs are torn
With the Saints she triumphs, we with mortals mourn.”

The last wife to take the center stage is the rich (twice) widowed, Katherine Parr. Like the first Katherine she inspired confidence and she was kind, humble and loyal. She was married to Henry for nearly four years, his second longest marriage. She encouraged him to see his children more and she was partly responsible for reinstating Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession. And far from the ‘nurse’ stereotype that is attached to her figure, she was an educated, highly pragmatic and religious advocate whose work helped fast forward the Reform movement in England.

Like with all her books, Amy Licence lays out the facts for you but it is up to you to make the decision whether you believe them or not.
This book is a great addition to the Tudor shelves and to women’s histories which she tells in such a way that hasn’t been told before.

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