Katherine Parr – an Influential Queen

Katherine Parr was an intelligent and highly literate woman, a capable ruler, and a promoter of religious reform.

Katherine’s administrative abilities shone in the summer of 1544, when King Henry led a military expedition and left her in charge as queen-regent. She proved herself capable, signing five royal proclamations (mostly war-related) and addressing other important issues. This appointment created jealousies at court, increased by her limited experience and by her evangelical convictions. These concerns, combined with the fact that Henry’s health was deteriorating, prompted some men to plot against her life.

 

Katherine Parr’s life is punctuated by danger, action, and scandal. We usually remember her close brush with death, when a powerful group of courtesans plotted to destroy her. Some may remember her contested marriage to Thomas Seymour, who kept the gossiping tongues of London happily wagging. Beyond this fascinating drama, Katherine was an intelligent and highly literate woman, a capable ruler, and a promoter of religious reform.

Early Life

Born in 1512 to a noble family with close connections to the crown, she lost her father at age five, and was raised by her mother Maud, a strong, capable woman who ran her household and properties and provided for the education and marriages of her three children (Katherine, William, and Anne).

As most noble children, Katherine became fluent in the most important languages of her time: French, Latin, and Italian. She was particularly interested in medicine, a discipline which was often exercised by women at a local level, and kept an impressive collection of antique and foreign coins.

Queen Katherine

King Henry VIII first noticed Katherine while she served as lady of Princess Mary. By that time, Katherine had outlived two husbands, Edward Borough and John Neville, and had survived a frightening kidnapping experience by a group of rebels who had tried to force Neville to join their ranks. In the royal court, 30-year old Katherine nurtured hopes of marrying Sir Thomas Seymour, a tall, red-haired baron who exercised a particular charm on women.

King Henry changed her plans by asking her in marriage – a request that was strongly supported by her family. In the end, reluctant Katherine saw her acquiescence as an act of submission to God’s will. The wedding took place on 12 July 1543.

Queen Katherine had plenty of resources to cultivate her studies, promote the arts, and indulge in one of her passions: fine clothes and jewels. Most of her time, however, she was busy learning the duties and protocol of queens and securing the affection of Henry’s children. This last task was not difficult. She was already a friend of Princess Mary, and Princess Elizabeth and the young Prince Edward shared Katherine’s passion for learning. Ultimately, it was Katherine who persuaded Henry VIII to keep Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession.

Katherine’s administrative abilities shone in the summer of 1544, when King Henry led a military expedition and left her in charge as queen-regent. She proved herself capable, signing five royal proclamations (mostly war-related) and addressing other important issues. This appointment created jealousies at court, increased by her limited experience and by her evangelical convictions. These concerns, combined with the fact that Henry’s health was deteriorating, prompted some men to plot against her life.

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