This Moonday, we meet Katherine Parr and bid our Heroic Hunk for the last month, King Henry VIII (Tudor), farewell. Henry changed his kingdom profoundly. During Henry’s reign, England reduced the power of the clergy, closed the Catholic religious institutions, and became a predominantly Protestant nation. In his quest for male heirs, he set something of a record with his six marriages. His first marriage ended in divorce, his fourth marriage ended in annulment, two wives (#s 2 and 5 who happened to be first cousins) were executed by decapitation for treason, his third wife actually gave him the son and heir that he craved but died of childbed fever.
Katherine Parr was Henry’s sixth and final wife. Ironically, Henry’s last wife who was born in 1512 was named after his first. Katherine’s mother served as lady in waiting to Queen Katherine of Aragon. When her husband died, Lady Maud returned home and ran her estates and raised her three children. The education she provided for them far exceeded that of the time. Katherine was fluent in three modern languages and Latin. She served competently as Regent of England when Henry was on his last overseas campaign. In later life, she was the author of two books on religion.
Just as Henry was the most-frequently married English King, Katherine who married four times was the most-frequently married English Queen. Katherine married Edward Borough in 1529 when she was 17 years old. He died a few years later in 1533. In 1534 she married John Neville, third Baron Latimer, when he was 41 and she was 22. He died in 1543 and she went to Court.
Katherine fell in love with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Queen Jane and uncle of Edward, Henry’s heir. Unfortunately, she had caught Henry’s eye also. He proposed and she felt compelled to accept. They were married in July of 1543. She was close to all of her stepchildren. She was instrumental in reuniting the Princesses, Mary and Elizabeth, with their father. She also oversaw the education of Elizabeth and Edward.
Like Henry’s previous wives, she had trouble with the Court. Her ardent Protestantism was feared by the more moderate, especially because of her influence with the King. Some went so far as to torture outspoken Protestant activist Agnes Askew, seeking info to use against Katherine. While they didn’t get the info they wanted, they were able to obtain an arrest warrant based on finding banned books in her apartment. Fortunately, one of the accusers dropped the warrant on the floor. One of Katherine’s courtiers saw it and reported to her. She took to her bed sick until Henry visited and she convinced him that her interest was only to entertain him with the info.
By the time of their marriage, Henry’s health had deteriorated significantly. While his early armor was designed for a man with a 34-36 inch waist who weighed about 180-200 lbs, his later armor had a waist measurement of 58-60 inches for a manwho weighed 300-320 pounds. His leg abscesses reported last week had spread to both legs and feet. Towards the end of his life, his toes became gangrenous. He also suffered numerous strokes indicating possible circulatory problems and high blood pressure. During his last weeks, the stench of his sickroom he was confined to was overpowering. Unfortunately, it was illegal to discuss the King’s death. It was days before Archbishop Thomas Cranmer summoned the courage to tell the King he was dying. He died on January 27th, 1547. Prior to his burial at Windsor, though, the guards answered a disturbance where his coffin lay awaiting burial. The coffin had burst open and dogs were licking his body as one of his victims had predicted. He was interred in St. George’s Chapel beside Queen Jane Seymour. Their child Edward succeeded Henry and the Seymour family with the now Duke of Somerset in charge ruled as regents until their fall years later.
Within six months, Katherine married her former lover Thomas Seymour, Lord Sudley. The teenaged Princess Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey lived with them. Thomas, however, was thought to have too great an interest in Elizabeth and she was moved from one of the few places where she’d had a real home life. She never saw Katherine, who was pregnant for the first time, again. They corresponded regularly but when Katherine delivered her daughter, she died (September 5th, 1548) within days of childbed fever. Her husband was executed for treason within the year. Elizabeth, when she ruled as queen, may have taken the talented and capable Katherine as her model. Next week, we zoom through Edward & Mary with a look at a few bizarre paintings by one of King Phillip’s favorites. Then on to Elizabeth Tudor, my favorite historical figure in one of history’s most intriguing periods AND HER MEN—those gorgeous Elizabethans. ‘Til Moonday, Rita Bay