This book, published recently by Amberley Publishing and written by Dr Donald Matzat, sheds new light on the often overlooked sixth wife of King Henry VIII. Often viewed as meek and forced to marry the ageing king, this work shows Katherine as an ambitious woman, an author and a religious reformer.
This is a wonderful book on Katherine Parr, and it is clear how thoroughly researched it has been. The book is lovely to look at; it is substantial, packed full of 46 illustrations and has an extensive bibliography referencing numerous primary sources. Written by a Lutheran Pastor and author, Dr Donald Matzat, this book certainly has a different feel to it than many other books on the wives of Henry VIII. Matzat focuses on Parr from a mainly theological perspective and follows her journey from being a Catholic to believing some new Erasmian ideas to her eventual Protestant conversion and discovery of Luther’s justification by faith.
The religious narrative is not laid out without explanation; however, Katherine Parr’s background, family and marriages are thoroughly explained so that we may understand what led her to her religious conversion and her publication of religious works. Also explained are Henry VIII’s earlier marriages and a background on English history at the time.
Whether you know all about the English reformation or have never studied it before, this book goes deep enough into the timeline of how everything unfolded without overwhelming the reader. We start off by hearing about King Henry’s break with Rome and England still carrying on with many Catholic practices, and by the end of the book, we see how by the reign of King Edward VI, England is a truly Protestant kingdom. Throughout the book, Don Matzat explains how this happens, and this story is interwoven with an overview of Katherine Parr’s life and Henry VIII’s reign to make for remarkably easy reading considering the complex themes.
I found that I learned a lot about the Parrs as a family from the first sections of this work despite having studied Tudor history extensively. The first half also covers Katherine’ first three marriages, which was really interesting, as well as the fact the Katherine was in love with Thomas Seymour when she agreed to marry the king. The text disagrees with the much-used argument that Katherine was forced to marry the king, but by looking at some of her letters, we can see that while she was reluctant to marry the 52-year-old Henry, she did so in order to advance herself and her family and to enjoy the comforts of a queen.
Matzat also shows that Katherine did not marry the king in order to promote the English reformation as it was years before she saw herself as a Protestant, and we see how her conversion unfolded over time. Donald explains that we can see Katherine’s conversion pan out by following her publications; in 1545, she published Prayers or Meditations, which was a pretty much Catholic devotional text, and in 1547, after Henry’s death, she published The Lamentation of a Sinner. Lamentation is a completely different text, almost anti-Catholic and focusing on the Lutheran justification by faith. Here we see how Katherine was not simply following her husband’s lead but was, in fact, a ‘bold reformer’ in her own right. Had Katherine Parr lived more than 18 months after the death of King Henry VIII, we would surely have seen much more of her influence over religious doctrine and the Reformation during the reign of her stepson King Edward VI.
Aside from the thorough examination of Katherine Parr’s religious path, Matzat gives the reader a great insight into the life of Katherine as a woman, her hobbies, her love interests, her family and her friends, and I feel I know much more about her after reading this excellent work. I would recommend this book to those interested in the history of the Reformation or anyone who wishes to delve slightly deeper into Tudor history.
At the end of the book, you will also find a full copy of The Lamentation of a Sinner, published in 1547 by Katherine Parr and modernised by the author Don Matzat.