Monday, February 13, 2012
Consort Profile: Katherine Parr
Katherine had stepchildren older than she was but this odd arrangement was not to last long as Lord Borough died not long after in 1528, leaving Katherine a widow and probably giving her a rather pragmatic or even cynical view of marriage. She was a free woman briefly but only a couple of years later in 1530 she was quickly snatched up by John Neville, Lord Latimer of Snape Castle. She was 18, he was in his late 30’s and had been married twice before. It was during her time as Lady Latimer that Katherine first caught the eye of King Henry after the execution of his fifth wife Katherine Howard. She was 31 with a husband whose health was failing and the King began sending her presents. After his last marriage he had been a little reluctant to marry again and even when he made up his mind to, he found brides much harder to come by. Most of the princesses of Europe had come to view the “job” of Queen consort of England as anything but desirable. No perks could be worth the risk of ruinous divorce or beheading. So, once again, the only option the King seemed to have was marrying one of his own subjects.
Her reluctance notwithstanding, Katherine Parr was probably the most qualified of any of the recent consorts to be the wife of Henry VIII. She was experienced at being a wife and being a nurse to a dying husband. She had a winning personality, was very charming, an excellent conversationalist and seemed interested in everything. What could have been problematic was her intelligence. She was very well read and loved religious arguments and theological discussions. In the past, the King had shown very little tolerance for this, especially when the source was his wife who he traditionally preferred to be demure, submissive and obedient. However, after his last wife, he might have considered this less important that the fidelity that Katherine Parr was quite known for. There would certainly be no surprising revelations concerning the past when it came to Katherine Parr. She would also be acceptable to the Protestant faction at court as she was very vocal about her belief that the King was supreme in religious matters and that the Pope in Rome was a horrible monster who was a worse persecutor of the people of God than the Biblical Pharaoh of Egypt. Just what Henry liked to hear.
So it was that on July 12, 1543 King Henry VIII and Katherine Parr were married, one of the witnesses being Henry’s ex-wife Anne of Cleves, and almost everyone was happy at the news. Her submission to the King in religious matters was immediately tested when he had three Protestants burned for heresy in Great Park at Windsor but the new Queen made no objection even though her Lutheran sympathies were well known and a cause for concern in more Catholic quarters. As Queen consort, one of things Katherine is most known for is her work in bringing about a reconciliation in the often dysfunctional Tudor Royal Family. Mary and Elizabeth had both, at various points, been declared bastards by their own father. Mary had seen her mother cast aside and waste away under house arrest until her death at the hands of the King, Elizabeth knew her father had her mother put to death on absurd charges of adultery and the little prince Edward had been a source of intrigue and a jockeying for position almost since the day he was born. Reconciliation was both needed and long over due if the House of Tudor was to be expected to long survive.
In affairs of state, the influence of Queen Katherine was negligible. After Queen Marie of Guise rejected the proposal that her daughter marry Prince Edward, Henry VIII sent an English army to invade Scotland which sacked and burned numerous cities, religious houses and ultimately accomplished nothing more than making the Scots hate England more than ever before and make them even more dependent on their alliance with France. Henry VIII had done what few Scottish kings ever managed to do: uniting the squabbling nobles of Scotland, at least for a time and on the sole basis of their hatred of England. Katherine played little to no part in this but she did surprise some by influencing the King to keep Princess Mary as second-in-line for the throne after her younger brother, despite the two having very different religious views. It was good for peace in the family and would be good in keeping on friendly terms with the Empire at a time when England had been acquiring more enemies than was healthy for a country not exactly at the peak of its power. So impressive was Katherine in her dealings with the family, foreign officials and so remarkable was her intelligence that Henry felt no hesitation about naming her regent to rule on his behalf when he left for his long-planned invasion of France.
As with almost everything in post-Catherine of Aragon England, the one most controversial aspect of Queen Katherine was her religion. It is often misunderstood that England was Catholic before Henry wanted a divorce and then Protestant after he broke with Rome in order to give himself one. It was not that simple. There were traditional Catholics like Princess Mary who despised giving up an inch of the “old religion”, there were pro-Lutheran Protestants who wanted a total religious “do-over” in the country and then there were the people like Henry VIII often was who were somewhere between these two. They might have despised the papacy and the religious orders but they still considered themselves part of the historical Catholic Church and viewed Protestant beliefs in many instances as heretical. Because of this it can sometimes be disputed as to whether this or that individual fit into the Catholic or Protestant camps. There were also numerous people who crossed back and forth between the two depending on the prevailing political winds.
Thomas Seymour quickly returned to Katherine and less than a year after the death of Henry the couple were finally married. This caused some raised eyebrows at court but it was nothing no one couldn’t get over. She continued to write, her works being quite well received and, to the surprise of all, at the age of 35 she gave birth to her first child, a daughter, Mary Seymour who was born in 1548. Sadly, Katherine died of fever less than a week later.