“Separated, suppressed, died; separated, suppressed, saved”: This rhyme has helped generations of students of the history of the British monarchy to avoid confusion. The six wives of King Henry VIII.
History can be remembered Catalina Parr, Henry’s sixth wife, as someone who simply “survived” her marriage, but her life (now the subject of cinema) neither began nor ended with the English king. On the contrary, Catherine was a brilliant scholar and capable queen who played an important role in shaping the future of her kingdom..
Born in 1512, Catherine Parr learned from a young age to accept the power of her own mind. His mother Maud, lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon (Henry’s first wife), understand the importance of learning, especially for women. So he designed a humanistic education for his daughter, which probably included Latin, French, religious studies, and mathematics.
The same fate awaits Catalina as most daughters of the upper class: marriage. By the age of 31, he had been married twice and was widowed.. Her first husband, Sir Edward Burgh, died in 1533 after four years of marriage. John Neville, Catherine’s second husband, was 19 years old and died in 1543.
Catherine followed in her mother’s footsteps in 1542, when She became the lady-in-waiting of Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII. When Catherine arrived at court, a new man caught her attention: Thomas Seymour, brother of the king’s third wife, Jane Seymour, who died in 1537. Her attraction to the handsome and charismatic Seymour became love. As she later confided to him, “my mind is more fully determined (…) to marry you than any other man I know.”
But before Catherine could marry the love of her life, a courtier pursued her: Henry VIII. Suffering from leg ulcers and gout, Henry in 1542 was a shadow of his former glory as England’s golden prince. He is also single. In the same year he killed his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, 18 years old.. So, when Enrique, 52, chose Catalina Parr, 31, as his sixth wife, many believed that he was not looking for a wife, but a wet nurse.
At first, Catalina rejects Enrique’s advances without a problem. But Enrique did not agree. Ultimately, Catherine saw in marriage a divine duty that “made me completely renounce my own will,” as she wrote years later. They were married on July 12, 1543.
“By marrying the King and not (Seymour),” writes historian Jane Dunn, “Catherine Parr sacrificed her heart for duty“.
Catherine took advantage of her sacrifice and accepted her royal role. Her tenure as queen consort reflected what historian Sarah Gristwood calls “a role that went beyond the wife’s usual function as a reproductive machine.”
When Henry spent three months in France in 1544, he handed Catherine the keys to the kingdom. As regent, Catalina scrutinizes papers and works with advisers to monitor state affairs.. Her role also gave Henry’s two daughters “the opportunity to observe the kingdom run by a queen,” argues academic Janel Mueller, an opportunity that proved useful.
Indeed, Catalina has another important role: the healing of the family. Enrique has a complicated relationship with his children and even his daughters are removed from the line of succession.
Mary was the eldest, and her marriage to her mother, Catherine of Aragon, had deteriorated so badly that she severed England’s ties with the Catholic Church to divorce her. Henry’s second daughter was Elizabeth, whom he declared illegitimate in 1536 after the murder of her mother, his second wife Anne Boleyn.
Finally, Henry’s third son and heir was Edward, whose mother, Jane Seymour, died shortly after giving birth in 1537.
Catherine forms loving relationships with all her stepchildren and works to restore Henry’s broken family and the birthright of his daughters. He advises Enrique to put his daughters back in the line of Edward’s succession. In early 1544, Henry made it official by giving his consent to the Third Act of Succession, which would shape England for the rest of the century as each of his sons took a turn on the throne.
Following her mother’s legacy, Catherine Parr is a scholar in her own right. In 1545 she became a pioneer by becoming the first English woman to publish a work in English under her own name: Prayers or Meditations a religious text.
He shared his love of learning with his stepchildren, shaping their education. His bond with the precocious and energetic Elizabeth was very strong, and Catherine aroused the young princess’s warm thoughts. He helped secure the scholar William Grindal as Elizabeth’s tutor, and his mastery of Greek may have enhanced Elizabeth’s gift for languages. Isabel even translated the published publications and gave them to her stepmother. When he presented his French translation of Margaret of Angoulême’s Mirror of the Sinful Soul, he asked Catherine to “erase, polish and amend” the errors in her translation of the religious poem.
However, Catherine’s devotion to Protestantism earned her criticism at court. The English Reformation was still in progress and many nobles rejected what they considered zealous Protestantism. They complained that Catherine was trying to have too much influence on the king. Some even called him a heretic.
But any hint of rebellion against him ended when Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547. Catherine was once again widowed.
Henry’s death ended Catherine’s reign as queen, but not her relationship with her stepchildren, especially Elizabeth. With Mary in charge of her own estates and Edward with a council of regents, the young princess (now second in line to the throne) became part of Catherine’s household at the Old Manor of Chelsea.
Isabel is not the only newcomer. The years of Henry’s marriage did not calm Catherine’s feelings for Thomas Seymour, her former love. Then, Just four months after becoming a widow, she married Seymour, an act that shocked the court..
But Seymour soon turned his attention to 14-year-old Isabel. According to several accounts, he behaved inappropriately, teasing and hugging the young princess. To separate them, and probably to protect the girl, Catherine sent Isabel to live with friends.
Unknown to either of them, it was a final separation. On August 30, 1548, Catherine gave birth to a daughter whom she named Princess Mary; never recovered. When Catherine died, on September 5, 1548, she was only 36 years old..
Catherine outlived her royal husband, but she also created a legacy beyond the two of them. When Catherine’s beloved daughter inherited the throne in 1558 as Elizabeth I, she did so with the great intelligence and confidence instilled in her by her stepmother.