This article is by Gillian.
Born 1512, Catherine is most well known for being King Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, outliving him by about a year. However, Catherine was much more than just a wife- she was an academic, a theologist, and genuinely interested in politics and the governing of the kingdom. Catherine was the first Queen to be styled as Queen of England and Ireland, the first ‘commoner’ Queen, as well as the most married Queen, having survived two previous husbands prior to marrying Henry, and marrying once again after his death, to the true love of her life.
Before Henry VIII proposed, Catherine had been in love with Thomas Seymour, Henry’s third wife’s brother. Thinking she ought not to say no to a King, Catherine accepted Henry’s proposal despite her love for Seymour, yet knowing that she would become the most important woman in England.
Whether or not it was a love match between Catherine and Henry is debatable. It can be argued that the King was attracted to Catherine’s intelligence and wit, especially after the youth and fickle heart of Katherine Howard. After all, Catherine was notably the only person that survived a warrant for her arrest, convincing Henry- a man who must always be right and never questioned- to change his mind.
The warrant was in regards to the Queen’s passionate enthusiasm for theology. At the time, religious debates between Reformists and Catholics were common and abundant. Catherine’s written works, as well as her sympathy and friendship with Anne Askew- a known reformer who was burned at the stake- cast great suspicion upon her. Anti-Protestants Stephen Gardiner (Bishop of Winchester) and the Lord Chancellor convinced the King that Catherine was a reformer and that she was dangerous. However, Catherine convinced the King to meet with her and explained her way out of the arrest and probable execution by telling Henry that her ideas were only chatter to distract him from the pain in his injured leg.
Acquired in a jousting tournament while still married to Anne Boleyn, Henry’s leg was a constant issue, and one that made him extremely irritable and constantly in pain. Catherine, however, was an expert at calming Henry, who trusted her enough to make her Queen Regent while he embarked on his last ever military campaign, his first wife to be so named since Catherine of Aragon.
Catherine had allies in court at the time and was pretty much able to govern the Kingdom as she saw fit. This meant that Catherine had control over finances, provisions, and daily court life. She also signed five royal proclamations and kept control over the skirmishes and unrest in Scotland.
The grace and power with which Catherine Parr ruled as regent was an inspiration to her step-daughter, the high minded Elizabeth I, who would one day become one of England’s most powerful and famous rulers. Seeing an example of an intellectual, capable woman in a ruling role influenced Elizabeth greatly.
Despite the dangers of purporting reformist ideas at court, Catherine managed to publish a work anonymously, entitled Psalms of Prayer. Later, she would publish two more books, Prayers or Meditations– the first book by an English Queen under her own name- and Laminations of a Sinner, which was published after Henry’s death.
Only six months after the death of King Henry VIII, Catherine and her real love Thomas Seymour married in secret. Despite her three earlier marriages, the previously childless Catherine gave birth to a baby girl, Mary. However, Catherine later died due to complications, at her and Thomas’ home, Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire.
This great Queen was unlike any other, and certainly among the most interesting and intelligent royal women in history.