Katherine Parr and Her Role in the English Reformation

She was the last wife of King Henry VIII and an important writer.

Whatever her personal feelings (which, given the fate of her predecessors, must have included great caution), she accepted the proposal and embraced her new role with energy and wisdom, proving to be a godsent to Henry in many ways.

 

Katherine Parr (1512-1548) is often remembered as the only wife of King Henry VIII who survived the marriage (the previous five were either beheaded or divorced). But she was much more than that. She was an important writer and a major player in the English Reformation.

Early Life

Katherine was raised in the royal palace where her parents, Thomas and Maud, were in service. Maud was one of Catherine of Aragon’s main ladies-in-waiting and one of her closest friends. Katherine and her two siblings were raised and educated with Princess Mary (who was just two years younger than Katherine).

After Thomas’s death, Maud continued to foster her children’s education and prepare them for a comfortable life. For Katherine, she arranged a marriage with a young nobleman, Edward Borough. However pleasant Edward might have been, their marriage was marred by the presence of his overbearing father, who was known for violent outburst of anger. When Edward died in 1529 (after three years of marriage), Katherine was deprived of any inheritance because she was childless. By then, her mother had died so she stayed with a compassionate family.

In 1533, she accepted the marriage proposal of John Neville, Lord Latimer, who was twenty years her senior. With him, she was able to lead a more secure life – at least most of the time. In 1536, a group of rebels against the king’s religious reforms (during a revolt called “Pilgrimage of Grace”) kept her and her stepchildren hostage in an attempt to force Latimer to join their side. Latimer pacified the rebels through some compromises that marred his reputation.

King Henry’s Last Wife

Henry VIII proposed soon after Neville’s death in 1543. It was the first of Henry’s marriage proposals to be directly arranged by him. It came as a surprise to 31-year old Katherine. She was actually in love with the king’s brother-in-law, Thomas Seymour, a charming man only a few years her senior. Henry was in his fifties, overweight and plagued by various ailments. But saying no to a king was not a viable option.

“As truly as God is God, my mind was fully bent… to marry you before any man I knew,” she later wrote Seymour. “Howbeit, God withstood my will therein most vehemently for a time and, through his grace and goodness, made that possible which seemeth to me most unpossible… to renounce utterly mine own will and to follow His will most willingly.”[1]

Whatever her personal feelings (which, given the fate of her predecessors, must have included great caution), she accepted the proposal and embraced her new role with energy and wisdom, proving to be a godsent to Henry in many ways.

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