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Parr, Catherine (Catharine, Katharine, Kateryn) (c. 1512–1548) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

henry parr’s seymour king

Catherine Parr’s life is poorly documented. Eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Greene, Catherine Parr was born around the year 1512 in either Kendal, Westmoreland, at her father’s castle or in his London house in Black-friars. At the age of five her father died, leaving her mother to raise three children alone. The mother saw to her children’s education, through the appointment of humanist Juan Luis Vives as their tutor. Parr received an education unusual for women of her age, and later in life she was to ensure that King Henry’s daughters received an equally strong education. When Parr came of age, her mother, selecting among the various suitors, chose Edward Borough, son of Thomas, Lord Borough. In 1527 Parr moved with her husband to his family home in Gainsborough, a home visited by two kings: Richard III in 1485 and Henry VIII in 1509. The marriage was short-lived, however, for only two years later, Lord Borough died.

With her mother’s death the year before, Parr was left alone until her marriage to the Catholic Lord Latimer, which occurred sometime before 1533. Lord Latimer, considerably older than Parr, had failing health by 1542. Catherine began to receive attention both from the ambitious Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane, and from Henry VIII, who sent her a gift of “pleats and sleeves.” It is clear from later correspondence that Catherine Parr’s heart lay with the younger and more attractive Seymour. Years later, after Henry’s death, she was to write to Seymour of this time, “[A]s truly as God is God, my mind was fully bent, the other time I was at liberty, to marry you before any man I know.” In 1542, though, Henry VIII witnessed their growing affection and intervened by sending Seymour on permanent embassy to Brussels. Not long after Seymour’s departure, Parr received an offer of marriage from the king, and despite her lack of enthusiasm, she could not refuse. They were married on 12 July 1543.

Suffering from health problems and ill temper, Henry found a sympathetic and competent mate in Catherine, a woman who took as her motto “To be useful in all I do.” She brought together Henry’s family as no previous wife had done, uniting Mary, Edward, and Elizabeth* within her household. Not only did Parr secure education for the children under the leading humanist scholars, just as her own mother had done for her, but she also can take credit for restoring Mary and Elizabeth to succession rights to the Crown. In addition to these notable achievements, she received the highest praise at court for her virtue and intellect. Henry himself praised and relied on these traits, making Parr regent during his absence in 1544, an honor granted on only one other occasion, to Catharine of Aragon.

Despite the affection and trust shared by the king and his wife, Henry suspected her, as he had his other wives. Specifically, Henry distrusted Parr’s religious allegiance. If her intellect initially seemed a virtue, it proved a liability by 1546, when Henry, suffering from both physical pain and pressure of ministers, disciplined his wife for her outspokenness. According to John Foxe, who provides the primary record of the events, Parr, in speaking with her husband on the subject of religion, had “in the heat of discourse gone very far.” Her outspokenness, made much of by those courtiers such as Lord Chancellor Wriothesley, who had suspicions about her Lutheranism, led the king to bring charges against her. Informed of the charges through an anonymous source, Parr reassured the king of her own subordination to him, claiming that through her discourse on religion she had hoped merely to divert him from his pain. Back in favor, she tended to Henry during his increasingly ill health. On 28 January 1547 the king died, leaving Parr a widow for the third time.

Less than four months after the king’s death, Thomas Seymour had regained enough of Parr’s affections to sign a letter to her as “him whom you have bound to honor, love, and all things obey.” While the exact date of their marriage is unknown, the fact that it occurred, unconventionally, within a year after Henry’s death, is certain. That they married for love seems clear. Parr continued to provide for Henry’s children, and Elizabeth lived with Catherine and Thomas Seymour until Seymour’s flirtations with the young girl resulted in her relocation. Shortly after Elizabeth’s move from the Seymour home, Parr bore her first and only child, a girl. As a result of the labor, she contracted puerperal fever, dying six days later, on 5 September 1548.


“Lorde, Jesu, I praye the grant me grace, that I never sette my herte on the thynges of this worlde, but that all worldly and carnall affeccions maie utterlye dye and be mortified in me.” Parr may pray for release from the material world in her Prayers or Meditations , but much of the critical attention she has received results from her quite substantial earthly power. Inheriting the estates of her first two husbands, Parr came to Henry VIII a wealthy woman. At the head of a group of powerful court women, Parr wielded considerable influence during some of Henry VIII’s most difficult and reactionary years. In her position as queen and especially as regent, her piety created suspicion among the Catholic faction at court. Balanced between Henry’s Catholicism and the emergent Protestantism, Parr steered a delicate and ultimately successful course that brought her increasing commendation from the time of Elizabeth’s reign. Foxe celebrated her as a great Reformist. Her Prayers or Meditations went through ten editions in the sixteenth century alone. Praised by contemporaries for her patronage, Parr has been celebrated recently for her position as an early modern woman writer. Recent work addresses the issues of Parr’s authorship, her female friendships, and her religion, rather than focusing solely on Parr’s relation to Henry. While Parr’s biographers, such as Martienssen and Fraser, trace Parr’s life in political and personal, rather than literary, terms, Janel Meuller and John King are among the recent scholars who focus on Parr as a writer and patron.

Parsons, James A., Jr.(1900–1989) - Inventor, scientist, educator, Begins Teaching Career, Chronology [next] [back] Parks, Rosa

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