Like Priscilla (Rom. 16:3-4), Queen Katherine was a true servant and a scholar who was willing to take great risks for the furtherance of the Gospel. As a result, God used Katherine’s determination “to be useful in all I do” to profoundly impact on the advancement of the English Reformation. “The fact that the Reformation was preserved in England can be attributed to the amazing presence of mind, and maturity of Katherine Parr.”
The year was 1512. Michelangelo’s magnificent Sistine Chapel frescos were unveiled. Twenty-nine year old Martin Luther earned his Doctorate in Theology at Wittenberg U, but didn’t understand justification by faith. And a precocious three year old named Jehan Cauvin was busy exploring his world in northern France. God was setting the stage for a Reformation that would soon rock the world.
Sir Thomas Parr and his wife Maud Greene, a prominent couple from Westmoreland, welcomed their baby daughter into the world that year. Katherine, named after King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, received a fine education learning several languages fluently. But by the age of twenty-one, she had lost both parents and her first husband.
The Parr family was acquainted with some of the early Reformers and Katherine zealously embraced this “New Religion”.
“[Catherine] lamented the fact, that she had once been an enthusiastic Papist. ‘I sought’, she confessed, ‘for such riffraff as the Bishop of Rome had planted in his tyranny and kingdom, trusting with great confidence by virtue and holiness of them to receive full remission of sins.’ … That she underwent conversion, as all the first generation of Reformers did is clear.”1 Devoted wholly to Christ, Katherine’s life motto became “to be useful in all I do”, even if it meant sacrificing her own happiness.
After losing a second husband, Katherine’s piety caught the attention of King Henry. Denying her heart’s desire to marry Sir Thomas Seymore, Katherine accepted the King’s marriage proposal. On July 12, 1543 the attractive 31 year old widow became the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII. Without fanfare Katherine was proclaimed Queen at Hampton Court Palace. Her affection for Henry was sincere, although the prospect of marrying a man who had sent two of his wives to the scaffold must have been terrifying! Just months before the marriage, a plot to execute Reformers in Henry’s household had been underway at the behest of Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester.
Henry remained Catholic after breaking from Rome to form the Church of England when the Pope refused to grant him an annulment from his first wife. Desiring a wife who could produce a male heir to the throne the King set his sights on the captivating young Evangelical, Anne Boleyn.
“Anne understood her providential mission to be this: to bring the Reformation to England and to employ every single instance of patronage and influence to that end. … In fact it was through Anne that the New Religion entered England.”2
Anne Boleyn, the most controversial of Henry’s wives, was beheaded on trumped up charges of adultery, incest, and treason, leaving behind her little daughter Elizabeth. The new Queen’s kindness and motherly affections endeared her to Henry and his children; Mary, Elizabeth, and young Edward.
“besides the virtues of the mind, she was endowed with very rare gifts of nature, as singular beauty, favor and comely personage, being things wherein the king was greatly delighted.”3
But Katherine would not allow herself to be caught off guard by Henry’s affections as he was a fickle man, sending both Catholics and Protestants alike to the Tower for execution—Catholics for treason and Protestants for heresy. While Henry turned a blind eye, his wife hosted Bible studies and prayer meetings at court. Katherine’s guests included influential preachers and numerous high ranking women including Anne Askew and the young Lady Jane Grey.