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Romancing the Renaissance:
the Feminization of Early Modern Culture in Twentieth Century Mass Media

English 339

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Katherine Parr
Imogen Lillywhite



Katherine Parr was the last of the six wives of Henry VIII. Unusually, for a wife of Henry VIII, Katherine was never arrested, so her papers were never seized nor were particular pains made to preserve them, so much of the information on her life is based on circumstantial evidence rather than concrete fact. She was the eldest daughter of Thomas Parr of Kendal Castle though it is more likely that she was born in her Father's house at Blackfriars in London. Her Mother, Lady Maud Parr was an intelligent woman who despite being widowed at a young age retained her place at court, and encouraged her children in their studies at ages as early as three and four. This is a trait that Katherine would eventually inherit in her encouragement of her step children the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and Prince Edward.

Katherine's mother, in the tradition of the nobility in renaissance England began the search for Katherine's first husband when she was just nine years old. Her first betrothal was sealed at the age of twelve, to Edward, Lord Borough of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, he was in his late fifties. She did not live with Edward until she was fourteen as her mother was allegedly too much of a humanist to inflict marital relations with a sixty year old on one so young. Edward died in 1529 however, little is known about his death other than that this was the time that Katherine's stay at Gainsborough came to an end.

The fifteen year old was in no hurry to remarry and the autumn saw her return to the court of Henry VIII where he was in the process of trying to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon.

Katherine Parr is certain to have met her second husband at court functions after Anne.

Boleyn had married Henry VIII. John Neville, Lord Latimer had been married twice and had two children aged seven and ten when he married Katherine in January 1531, he was forty-two and Katherine was being wed for the second time at the age of nineteen. She now became the lady of the huge household of Snape Hall in Yorkshire. Although Lord Latimer preferred to remain at Snape Hall, he and Katherine became embroiled in the intrigue of Anne Boleyn and Henry and also Cromwell, after Anne was executed they came very close to losing their own lives. They returned to London in 1536 where Queen Jane Seymour was three months pregnant. This had put King Henry in an exceptionally good mood and for the moment, the political nightmare came to an end for Katherine. Prince Edward was born to Queen Jane in October, much to Henry's grief, she died only nine days after. Before Lord Latimer died in 1542, Henry would marry and divorce Anne of Cleves and then marry the frivolous, nineteen year old Catherine Howard. Catherine Howard was accused of committing adultery and was eventually executed.

Although the Parrs had been gaining power at court throughout Katherine's marriage to Lord Latimer, both she and her brother were entirely at Henry's disposal. Katherine was at first shocked by Henry's marriage proposal, but eventually accepted though she insisted on a period of mourning for Lord Latimer before the public ceremony could take place. They were married on 12 July, 1543. On becoming Queen, the prudently political side of Katherine really came into practise. Rather than try and involve herself excessively in affairs of state like Anne Boleyn or prove that the Queen's role is one of decadence like Catherine Howard, Katherine Parr showed herself to be the renewer of Henry's court as a family home for his children. Princess Mary who was only a few years younger than Katherine respected her superior intellect and remembered the friendship her mother had had with Katherine's mother Maud Parr. Prince Edward, motherless almost from birth was soon viewing Katherine as his own mother. Princess Elizabeth was more difficult. She was a highly precocious ten year old, and she was as suspicious of her father's actions as he was of hers. Eventually, she was won over and took her place at court with Princess Mary. Having the King's children dependent on her in this way meant that Katherine was in a far stronger position than any of Henry's previous wives had been. Katherine was determined to present the royal household as a closeknit one in order to demonstrate strength through unity to Henry's opposers. This was no mean feat considering Prince Edward's poor health which meant that Henry constantly moved the prince's household in order that he should avoid the extreme cold at various times of the year. Nevertheless it was achieved at Ashridge in August 1543 and the foreign ambassadors saw it as such a success that it was included in their dispatches.

Although Katherine's role for Henry was more of a nurse in his old age and poor health than a wife, his spirits were greatly improved by her treatment of him. His new confidence was instrumental in the initial unexpected English victory at Flanders in November 1543. Katherine's success was rewarded with her brother being created Earl of Essex in December of the same year, and she herself was somewhat morbidly rewarded with the settlement of all the lands that were originally intended for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Perhaps Katherine's most significant acheivement was Henry's passing of an act that confirmed both Princess Mary's and Elizabeth's line in succession for the throne, despite the fact that they had both been made illegitimate by divorce or remarriage. Katherine's role in Henry's life was primarily a peaceful one. She was a humanitarian and had a keen interest in the Protestant church. This was nearly her undoing as courtiers who were jealous of her influence over the King tried to link her with Heracy. Luckily, Katherine was sensible enough to make a show of her submissiveness to the King by allowing him to rest his now heavily bandaged leg on her knee at court.

Such was Henry's trust in Katherine that he chose her to rule as Regent while he was attending to the War in France and in the unlikely event of the loss of his life, she was to rule as Regent until six year old Edward came of age. This was a very singular indication of Henry's trust and love for Katherine. However, despite Henry's obvious fondness and trust for her, he did not name her as Regent or as having any particular function in Government in his will. Instead, she became a wealthy Queen Dowager with no particular involvement in politics.

A month after Henry's death, the once prudent Katherine was swept off her feet by Admiral Thomas Seymour, she accepted his offer of marriage in March 1548 stating that there should be a decent period of mourning for King Henry before the wedding. She married Thomas in August of the same year. It was suggested that Thomas Seymour tried to initiate an affair with the young princess Elizabeth who was eventually sent toCheshunt to prevent the Admiral from further temptation. Not long after, despite three barren marriages, it was ascertained that Katherine was pregnant. The baby, a girl, was born in Sudley Castle on 30th August 1548. Katherine was 36 and Seymour was confident that she was strong and would go on to bear him strong sons. The admiral was proved wrong however as Katherine never rose from her childbed. She died on 5th Septemer 1548. Her remains lie in the restored St Mary's Church at Sudley Castle.





(for Parr image)


Queen Katherine Parr by Anthony Martienssen Martin Secker & Warburg Limited

London England 1973


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