This is an exceptional biography that does justice to the sixth and last consort of Henry VIII. For centuries, Katherine Parr was seen in an auxiliary role. The nurse, the one that survived because she was tactful where two of her predecessors were not, and finally, the surrogate mother.
Out of these three, there is truth to the last two.
The real Katherine Parr was a reformer. She had an active role in the English Reformation. While Anne Boleyn is credited with being the first royal consort to embrace Protestantism -and she certainly does deserve some of that credit- the truth is that it was Katherine Parr who was England’s first full fledged Protestant queen.
Where Anne believed that religious reformers should thread carefully and still embraced some of her forefathers’ traditions, Katherine Parr wanted to do away with almost every aspect of the old world.
In her view, women were the Protestant Reformation greatest asset. Women were supposed to be -according to the bible- virtuous. For this very same reason, Katherine encouraged her young charges to live up to the highest standard. Among her charges were the ill-fated Jane Grey and the future Gloriana, Elizabeth Tudor.
Linda Porter understands the period and her audience, including those who are new to this era. For this reason, she decides to cut straight to the chase and exclude details that might make newcomers lose interest.In spite of this, she weaves every thread to form a rich tapestry that presents us with a remarkable woman. Out of all of the Tudor consorts, she and Henry VIII’s first wife, Katharine of Aragon whom her mother -lady Maud Parr- served and whom she was named after) were the only queens to be appointed regents in their husband’s absence. Henry VIII saw in Katherine a nobility of spirit and intellect. When he left the country to seek glory in France, he entrusted the well-being of his nation and offspring into her hands. Though he had also left competent men who’d guide her through her new duties, the sole weight of England rested on her shoulders.
Katherine proved to be more than capable.
After having a brief brush with death, she spent her last years building a friendship with many members at court.
Porter is also quick to point out that while she did not want to take any credit for the English reformation, she was one of the de-facto leaders of this religious movement. Her last book, published months one year after Henry VIII died, helped shape Anglican thought.
Aside of her strict moral code, this biography also sheds light on her social life. Katherine fulfilled the other important functions of a consort by being an exceptional hostess. She loved to dance, hear her husband’s minstrels, and dress in rich gowns that would reflect well on the crown.
Porter is not afraid to touch on the controversy surrounding her youngest royal stepdaughter and ward, lady Elizabeth Tudor and her fourth and last husband, Sir Thomas Seymour, Baron of Sudeley.
Since most of our knowledge of that incident comes from sources that were written much later; she tries to be as factual as possible, delivering the most likely scenarios and the reason behind Katherine Parr reacting the way she did.
Lastly, this is one of the few books that paints a more complete picture of her noble ancestry. Out of all the four non-royals that Henry VIII married, her lineage was the most distinguished.
As previous stated, Linda Porter is not afraid of including the darker aspects of her life. In a perfect world, in a perfect time, she would have had it all. A learned and courteous woman, who was recognized for her intellect and her active role in the religious reformation, living happily ever after with a husband who loved and appreciated her with a child that will take after her mother. Nevertheless Katherine’s legacy lives through her writings and what she taught through her actions and her self to Elizabeth.
On July 31st, 1544 the Lady Elizabeth Tudor wrote to her fourth stepmother, Queen Katherine Parr, expressing her desire to spend more time with her. Some historians have interpreted this as a symbol of the King’s annoyance with his youngest daughter, however it could have simply been a demonstration of her affection for the queen, namely because her father was away at the time (fighting in France). The letter goes as follows:
“Inmical fortune, envious of all good and ever revolving human affairs, has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence, and not thus content, has yet again robbed me of the same good; which thing would be intolerable to me, did I not hope to enjoy it very soon. And in this exile I well know that the clemency of Your Highness has had much care and solicitude for my health as the King’s majesty himself. By which thing I am not only bound to serve you, but also revere you with filial love, since I understand that your most illustrious Highness has not forgotten me every time you requested from you. For heretofore I have not dared to write to him. Wherefore I now humbly pray your most excellent Highness, that, when you write to His Majesty, you will condescend to recommend me to him, praying ever for his sweet benediction, and similarly entreating our Lord God to send him best success, and the obtaining of victory over his enemies, so that Your Highness and I may, as soon as possible, rejoice together with him on his happy return. No less pray I to God, that He would preserve your most illustrious Highness; to whose grace, humbly kissing your hands, I offer and recommend myself. From St. James this 31st July Your most obedient daughter and most faithful servant, Elizabeth.”
The letter was written in flawless Italian and there is nothing weird about her location since Henry, conscious that he could die during the war, had left specific instructions for the council, including his wife’s regency during his absence and the places his children would stay. St. James was the designated place for his youngest daughter. As one historian pointed out in her latest book, Bess learned so much from Katherine Parr -namely the power a woman could wield through her smile (courtly manners) and intelligence- that she could not get enough of her. She wanted to spend time with her as much as possible.
Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
Henry VIII married Katherine Parr at the Queen’s Privy Closet on Hampton Court Palace on July 12th 1543. Katherine Parr was Henry VIII’s sixth wife. She was a rich widow who’d been married twice, first to Sir Edward Burgh and then to John Neville, Lord Latimer. In Katherine Parr, Henry VIII got a Consort who many agreed was worthy of her position. The Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuys who was very critical of the English court, had nothing but good things to say of her, saying that besides Queen Katherine of Aragon, Katherine Parr was the only other wife worthy of being Queen. There were some rumors that Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, now the King’s sister, was very angry when she found out that Henry chose the Lady Latimer as his next consort. She reputedly said that she could not understand why he did this when she (Anne) was more attractive. We have to be careful to take these sources as the ultimate truth. It could be that Anne felt jealous because Henry chose someone she didn’t consider beautiful, or she simply didn’t approve of Katherine. Regardless of this, Henry’s new Queen had many notable qualities. Born in 1512, she was a close friend of the Lady Mary who was four years her junior. She was a descendant of Edward III through her father Thomas Parr, and related to the King’s great-grandmother Elizabeth Woodville, through her mother Maud Parr (who had served under the first Queen Katherine and stayed loyal through her throughout Henry’s marriage to Anne). It is very possible that she was named after Henry’s first wife who made education for girls fashionable, and like her namesake, she followed in her footsteps.
The marriage contract had been drawn up two days before by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The ceremony had been conducted by Bishop Gardiner “in the presence of noble and gentle persons” being “private” and “without ceremony”. There is no record of what Katherine Parr wore to the ceremony but records display the names of the people present. Among them was her family, including her brother William Herbert and the Earl of Hertford and his wife Anne Stanhope. The Earl of Hertford, Edward Seymour was brother to Sir Thomas Seymour, the man that Katherine wished to marry. He was obviously not present because the King had sent him abroad so he could marry Katherine. Other guests included Catherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk (married to the King’s best friend and brother-in-law, Charles Brandon), John Dudley’s wife Jane, the King’s niece Margaret Douglas, and his daughters the ladies Mary and Elizabeth Tudor.
The vows that had been written for the King and Queen-to-be are still went as followed:
“I. Henry, take thee, Katherine to my wedded wife to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, and thereto I plight thee my troth” “I, Katherine, take thee Henry to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be Bonaire and buxom in bed and at board, till death do us part, and thereto I plight unto thee my troth.”
These words are still being used for Anglican weddings. After the King and Queen said their vows, the King put on her wedding ring, then the Bishop pronounced them man and wife.
People noted how Henry spoke his vows “with a joyful countenance”. A member of Katherine’s household once said that her “rare goodness” made “every day a Sunday.” Everyone soon found out this was true. The new Queen was intelligent and lively. She loved to dance and dress in the latest fashions, and engage in good debate, as well as enjoy a good poetry book. And what was more, she got along with all of her royal stepchildren, especially the Lady Mary Tudor whom she spent more time (since the two were closer in age). She had been very influential making sure that Prince Edward’s tutors continued with his Protestant instruction, and she developed a relationship with the youngest Tudor that influenced her in more ways than one.
Her chaplain Francis Goldsmith remarked that “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 Sunday, a thing hitherto unheard of, especially in a royal palace. Her piety cherishes the religion long since introduced, not without great labor, to the palace”. She surrounded herself with other religious intellections such as George Day, the Bishop of Chichester who worked as her almoner, and the humanist Sir Anthony Cope who acted as her vice-chamberlain. It is also worth to point out that during her time as Queen, Henry VIII restored his daughters to the line of succession.
Linda Porter in her latest book Tudors vs Stewarts notes that “in observing Katherine Parr as regent and Queen consort, Elizabeth learned a good deal about how women could think for themselves and govern. She greatly admired her stepmother’s literary output and clearly discussed religious ideas with her when they met, which was not nearly often enough for Elizabeth’s liking”.
Katherine Parr is the only other Consort besides Katherine of Aragon who was appointed Regent when Henry left to engage in another expensive war against France in 1544. Katherine Parr remarried almost immediately after Henry’s death to Sir Thomas Seymour who was elevated to Baron Sudeley after her stepson became King. Sadly, her life took a turn for the worst when she found her household embroiled in scandal. It is unclear what the nature of Thomas Seymour’s relationship with Elizabeth was, if he had forced himself on the fourteen year old, or if it was something else. But it upset Katherine greatly and although Thomas Seymour tried to make it up to her, in her delirium (after giving birth to her only daughter whom she named after her eldest royal stepdaughter) she blamed Thomas for all her ills. She died days after and her husband soon followed after he was involved in a plot to depose his brother the Lord Protector and Duke of Somerset. Their daughter, Mary Seymour probably died a year after in 1549.
Great Harry: The Extravagant Life of Henry VIII by Carolly Erickson
Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
The Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser
Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII by Linda Porter
Tudors vs Stewarts: The Fatal Inheritance of Mary, Queen of Scots by Linda Porter