Friday, April 28, 2017

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII-Catherine Parr-Survived

A Brief Overview of the Wives of Henry VIII is an eight part series outlining, you guessed it, the wives of Henry VIII. It was going to be all one post, but then it turned out to be...not so brief. I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about these ladies.

It is very likely that Henry's final queen was named after his first. Catherine Parr's mother, Maud, was a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon, and the then queen was named godmother to Maud's baby.

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Catherine Parr
Royal associations aside, Catherine was destined to live the first part of her life in obscurity. She was married a grand total of four times, with Henry as her third, and most prestigious, husband. We'll focus on her other marriages in the series 'The Four Husbands of Catherine Parr', but for now we're going to focus on her relationship with the ageing and ailing Henry VIII.

The year was 1543. Henry had just ended his disastrous fifth marriage, and Catherine's second husband, Lord Latimer had just died, leaving her widowed for the second time, this time with two young stepchildren. Being the resourceful woman she was, Catherine decided to call upon the Princess Mary, and use her connections with the late Catherine of Aragon to secure a place in Mary's household. It was there that she caught the eye of both the King and Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Jane Seymour.

Catherine was in her early thirties, which was a bit like the Renaissance equivalent of today's mid forties, but she was still quite the catch. She was very intelligent, speaking four languages (in addition to English), and by the time of her marriage to Henry had already published one religious book anonymously, and was on her way to publishing a second. She was also, as all of Henry's wives were, reportedly quite beautiful. Smart and beautiful, two of the top things that Henry looked for in a woman, is it really any surprise that he proposed?
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A surviving copy of
Catherine's book Lamentations of a
Sinner

The couple were married in July of 1543, and Thomas Seymour, Henry's rival, was discreetly sent on a diplomatic mission to the continent. Henry had already had enough brushes with adultery.

Henry and Catherine were only married for about two and a half years, but during that time Catherine managed to accomplish some pretty big things, like:
  • Finishing the work of Jane Seymour, and restoring Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession.
  • Publish another book
  • Act as Queen Regent, one of only two of Henry's queens to do so, while Henry fought another fruitless war with France. That entailed:
    • Raising troops and money
    • Managing the situation with Scotland. As history shows, managing the Scots is never easy.
    • Signing at least five royal proclamations 
  • Personally overseeing the education of the young Elizabeth
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The original of this portrait hangs in Sudeley
Castle, where Catherine died and is buried.
Most importantly, she managed to bring the Tudor clan into a sort of semblance of a family, building trust and goodwill that would come in very useful to Edward and Mary at the beginnings of their reigns. 
If you've ever taken a history class, you've most likely heard the rhyme, "Divorced, beheaded and died; divorced, beheaded, survived.". Well, Catherine 3.0 survived. She outlived Henry by an entire year. (Anne of Cleves survived by more than that, but Henry divorced her, so she doesn't really count?), and this, in itself, is a miracle, because like so many of Henry's wives, at one point Henry grew tired of her, and tried to have her arrested.

You see, Catherine was not only a very intelligent woman, but a woman extremely interested in religion as well. The three books she published were all religious in subject. She was a staunch devotee of the Church of English, but the Church of England straddled a fine line between Catholic and Protestant, and her views tended to swing too far Protestant for the tastes of both Henry and the Catholic faction at court. The fact that she liked to argue religion with Henry didn't help her either. It didn't take much coaxing from Henry's Catholic counselors to convince him to have Catherine arrested on the grounds of being a Protestant sympathizer. After all, rumors were flying that Henry had his eye on a new wife...

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Catherine Parr's tomb at Sudeley castle.
Lucky for both Catherine and anyone else who has ever undertaken the task of documenting Henry's marital exploits, Catherine got wind of the warrant for her arrest before it was put into action. She immediately humbled herself before the king, and in the biggest move of catering to fragile masculinity in the history of womankind, she managed to convince Henry that she was merely arguing with him to distract him from his pain, and so that she could be instructed by his wisdom. This thinly veiled bullshit put Henry at ease, and spared Catherine's life.


It wasn't long after that that Henry died. He left Catherine the title of Queen Dowager, and 7,000 pounds a year. But most importantly, he left Catherine free to marry once again, this time to a man she loved.

Part One  Part Two  Part Three  Part Four  Part Five  Part Six  Part Seven  Part Eight

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Sources

englishhistory.net
tudorhistory.org

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