Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Katharine Parr (1512–1548)

Katherine Parr, more commonly known as Catherine Parr, was born in 1512 in London, England. She is best known for being the sixth and final wife of the infamous King Henry VIII, who ruled as the King of England between years 1507 and 1547.[1] During her time at court, Katherine wrote several devotional writings including 'Prayers or Meditations', and was one of the first women, and first English Queens to publish her works under her own name. She was a key supporter of the English Reformation.

Katharine Parr
Queen Catherine Parr
Blackfriars, London, England
Died5 September, 1548
Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire, England
SpouseSir Edward Burgh (1529 - 1533)

John Neville (1534 - 1543)

Henry VIII, King of England (1543 - 1547)

Thomas Seymour (1547)

Early Life edit

Katherine Parr was born at Blackfriars, London, England in 1512. She was the eldest daughter of Maud Greene and Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal, who were both courtiers during the early years of King Henry VIII's reign. Thomas Parr was knighted at the King's coronation in 1509 and Maud was a lady in waiting to his first wife, Katherine of Aragon.

Katherine Parr was one of three children and was raised in Rye House in Hertfordshire by her mother after her father's unexpected death in 1517.[2] Maud Parr was advised by one of Thomas’s cousins Cuthbert Tunstall, who was the Bishop of Durham, on the education of her children. They were educated by one tutor and their studies included Latin, French, Italian, arithmetic, and basic medical lore. Later in her life, Katherine also learnt Spanish once becoming Queen.[3]

Katherine was married twice before King Henry, first to Edward Borough in 1529 when she was sixteen years old. The marriage was arranged by her mother, however she bore no children and the marriage was short-lived as Edward died in 1532. With her siblings being married off far away and her mother’s passing in 1531, she was left alone with little money, and no inheritance due to having no children with Borough, she was invited to live with her relative Catherine Neville, Lady Strickland in Westmorland.

Katherine married a second time in 1532 to a second cousin of her father, John Neville, Lord Latimer, who already had a son and daughter. While Neville was experiencing some financial difficulties, Katherine was provided her own title, a home, and a successful husband.[4] In 1536 October, the family would be the target of Catholic rebels who threatened Latimer, a Catholic supporter, if he did not join then in reestablishing the links between Rome and England. Latimer's refusal saw him dragged away from the family home and captured. In January 1537, Katherine and her step-children were held hostage by the Catholic rebels during the Pilgrimage of Grace as a plea to make Latimer return from London.[4] The ordeal was talked down by Latimer, however would lead to the King's suspicion of his position in the rebellion. Katherine met King Henry when she and Lord Latimer were called to London, where Latimer had to explain his involvement in a supposed rebellion against the King's decision to diminish the monasteries, known as The Pilgrimage of Grace. It was all a misunderstanding, however, the stress and exhaustion that the situation caused had depleted him to illness, so they stayed in London. Katherine and her family lived quietly for several years until 1542 where Latimer's health had began to worsen. In 1543, Latimer died, leaving a wealth for Katherine behind and making her guardian of his daughter.

While Latimer was on his deathbed Katherine spent this time tending to her husband while also enjoying the luxuries that court life had to offer and caught the eye of a man named Thomas Seymour.[4] They fell in love and Katherine had hoped to marry him after Latimer’s death. However, not only did she catch Seymour’s eye, but she also became of interest to the King. When King Henry proposed a marriage with Katherine, regardless of her relationship with Seymour, she saw it as a duty to accept the King's offer.

Queen of England edit

Catherine and King Henry VIII were married on the 12th of July, 1543 at Hampton Court Palace and Katherine took on the title as Queen of England. This would soon be accompanied by title of Queen of Ireland, after Henry became the King of Ireland. Katherine took care of her step-children quickly after becoming Queen, giving her step-daughter Margaret the position of Lady-In-Waiting.[4]

In 1544, Henry left Katherine as his regent during his campaign to France, where she handled the campaign management, signed royal proclamations and successfully showcased her abilities as a leader. Similarly, Katherine was outspoken in her religious views, which were often seen as suspicious by anti-Protestant officials. In the 1546, court officials attempted to turn the King against Katherine, quoting her outspokenness about her religious views. While an arrest warrant was sent out, Katherine was able to reconcile with the King peacefully.[5]

King Henry VIII died in 1547, and left a great wealth and status to Katherine. After the King's death, Katherine retired from the court.

Later Life and Death edit

Only four months after the death of the King, Katherine was reunited with her former lover Thomas Seymour, who once again offered his marriage proposal. With no interference from the King this time, Katherine accepted. However the marriage was kept a secret for some time, to avoid any issues with the Queen remarrying so soon after the King's death.[6] As Katherine turned 35, she was surprised to discover that she was pregnant. However this was overshadowed by rumors of Seymour's affair with Lady Elizabeth. This would continue for most of Katherine's pregnancy, with Seymour being arrested for attempting to marry Elizabeth.[7]

On the 30th August, 1548, Katherine gave birth to her daughter, Mary Seymour. However poor hygiene practices led to Katherine dying only days later on 5 September, 1548 due to childbed fever.[8] Katherine received a funeral on 7 September 1548, where she was buried at St Mary's Capel.

Works edit

Katherine was the first woman to publish works under her own name and the first English queen to do so. The main theme for publications of the time was devotion, meaning publications surrounded a devotion to religion and faith. Her complete works are Psalms or Prayers (1544), Prayers or Meditations (1545), The Lamentation of a Sinner (1547) and Personal Prayerbook (1544-1548). Her last work, Personal Prayerbook, was unfinished due to her death in 1548.[9] While there is a tradition from the late medieval period of women writers, like the anchoress Julian of Norwich, composing devotional works, Katherine Parr greatly extends and builds upon this tradition, as noted by Andrew Hiscock (179-180), by actively attaching her name and reputation to her writings, and using her writings to leverage for social and religious reform.[10]

Her first work, Psalms or Prayers, is a translation from Latin to English of John Fisher’s work Psalms which was originally published in 1525. Katherine’s work was published under the name of the King’s printer Thomas Berthelet. Mueller (2011) argues that this was written by Katherine as only twenty copies were printed and were distributed within Katherine’s inner social circle, along with the notion that there were changes made to the original text, especially in ‘A Prayer for the King’, that reflect on contemporary events as Henry VIII prepared for war.[9]

Parr’s second work, Prayers or Meditations, was the first book that was published under Katherine’s own name and the first by a woman in English. It is a book of her own personal devotion that adapts Thomas à Kempis' The Imitation of Christ to her own beliefs and the Church of England. This publication was a success among readers of the time.

The Lamentation of a Sinner was Katherine’s first original work and was published after King Henry VIII’s death in 1547. It describes her personal religious experiences and confessions. Parr’s feminine voice is obvious throughout and is one of the great literary achievements that would be reflected upon later in the Reformation in England.

Reputation/Legacy edit

Katherine Parr, while being married to King Henry VIII, was known for her support of the English Reformation and her constant expressions of personal opinions on evangelical Protestantism. At the time, noblewomen (woman of high class) were allowed to read the Bible, though were not allowed to engage in debates about religion. Katherine, according to accounts, used to anger Henry when she discussed religion and the King’s council tried to persuade him to have her arrested. Her critics sought to discredit and implicate Parr in heresy by associating her with Anne Askew, who had been interrogated and convicted on the grounds of religious heresy and would be later burned at the stake (Hiscock 179). Upon learning of these attempts to convict her, Katherine pleaded for mercy and forgiveness, which her husband King Henry gave to her. A narrative of Parr's attempted persecution follows Askew's story in John Foxe's Acts and Monuments (Hiscock 178-9).

Most of her works were well received. In fact, a lot of her work and personal attributes influenced her stepdaughter, Princess Elizabeth (who would become Queen Elizabeth I). It is important to know that Elizabeth took inspiration from her stepmothers’ beliefs throughout her reign as Queen (Katherine Parr).

Parr's literary and political contributions have been increasingly noted and celebrated by contemporary scholars like Andrew Hiscock (179-180) and Micheline White (554-5). White goes as far as to argue that Parr's Psalms or Prayers is "one of the most important and influential acts of royal representation produced in the last four years of Henry's reign" (554-5).

However, her accomplishments are often not realised outside the academy. Her achievements are popularly overlooked, and she remains largely known for being the only wife (out of six) to have survived King Henry VIII, as the rhyme reminds us: “Divorced, beheaded, died / divorced, beheaded, survived”.

Further Reading edit

Parr, Katherine. Katherine Parr : Complete Works and Correspondence, edited by Janel Mueller, University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Parr Katherine , The Queen of English Reformation. White Horse Inn.

White, Micheline. "The psalms, war, and royal iconography: Katherine Parr's Psalms or Prayers (1544) and Henry VIII as David." Renaissance Studies, vol. 29, no. 4, 2015, pp. 554-575. EBSCOhost, doi: 10.1111/rest.12161.

References edit

  1. Catherine Parr | Biography, Death, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica.
  2. Robin, Diana; Larsen, Anne R.; Levin, Carole (2007). Encyclopedia of women in the Renaissance: Italy, France, and England (hardback). Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1851097722.
  3. Starkey, David (2004). Six wives: The Queens of Henry VIII. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 069401043X.
  4. a b c d James, Susan (2009). Catherine Parr: Henry VIII's Last Love (hardback). Stroud: The History Press. ISBN 978-0752445915.
  5. Foxe, John. "Katherine Parr". The Acts and Monuments of John Fox. Exclassics.com. Retrieved 29 January 2014.
  6. Parr, Katherine (2011). Mueller, Janel (ed.). Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondence (hardback). Chicago: University of Chicago Press. doi:10.7208/chicago/9780226647265.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-226-64724-1.
  7. Haynes, Samuel (1740). A Collection of State Papers Relating to Affairs in the Reigns of King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, From the Year 1542 to 1570. Transcribed from Original Letters and Other Authentick Memorials, Never Before Publish'd, Left by William Cecill Lord Burghley... London.
  8. Campbell, Sophie. Sudeley Castle: the curious life and death of Katherine Parr, Telegraph. 14 August 2012.
  9. a b Parr, Katherine. Katherine Parr : Complete Works and Correspondence, edited by Janel Mueller, University of Chicago Press, 2011.
  10. Catherine Parr | Biography, Death, & Facts. Encyclopedia Britannica.