Guest Article by Meg McGath
Repost from TudorQueen6 – The Life and Family of Queen Katherine Parr (10 August 2012)
Your Excellency, what I have done for the Lady Mary is much less than I would like to do; as well as being my duty in every respect. As for the friendship between our two countries, I have done and will do nothing to prevent it from growing still further as the friendship is so necessary and both sovereigns [are] so good.”
Katherine’s relationship with Mary was one of friendship rather than motherly. When Katherine became queen the royal children were by then acquainted with her. It is not known whether it was Katherine herself that suggested meeting the Ladies Mary and Elizabeth before the wedding, but Henry obviously approved. In any case, Katherine wanted to establish a good rapport with the king’s daughters before the wedding. While Katherine had been contemplating the kings proposal there is no doubt that the three children and the role in which she would play came to mind. With Mary, Katherine wanted nothing more than to become a supporter and friend to her. Being a mother to another woman’s child was a responsibility that Katherine assumed with grace and dedication.
History may not have viewed Henry as an attentive parent but he cannot be judged by our modern standards as times were different back then. Henry did not visit his children’s establishments on a regular basis, but claimed to love them all. Royal children were brought up separately. A separate household was always established for the Prince of Wales while princesses, often living together, had smaller establishments. As in Katherine’s time, court was not a place for small children and Mary as Princess had a household of her own until her parents’ divorce when she was forced to live with her half-sister, Elizabeth. Buried in a legacy of failed marriages and just the everyday duties of a king, Henry’s affections towards his children were understandably lacking. Katherine was convinced that Henry needed to be more involved with his children. The uncertainty that filled all of their lives, especially Mary and Elizabeth, needed to be relieved. Katherine promised and made sure as long as Henry was alive and she was consort that the children would have a stable future.
Katherine’s marriage to the King gave Mary the longest period of unbroken happiness she had known since childhood. It was much needed after a decade of turmoil. Katherine was a staunch champion of the princess and her regard for Mary certainly helped improve her prospects, as well as enriching her life. Soon after the wedding, Katherine gave Mary a present of gold bracelets. Katherine would go on to exchange purses of money with Mary as was done throughout the aristocracy as a token of female friendship. The two shared a love for clothes and jewels. They also had a love of music in common. The two thrived on conversation and diversion. Both were dedicated to studying and religion. History has made it seem that Katherine and Mary were so set in their ways of religion that they had absolutely nothing in common. In fact some people have gone as far as saying that if Katherine had lived into Mary’s reign, Mary would have had Katherine burned at the stake! Truth be told, within their relationship, neither was firmly set in their ways and their relationship never suffered. Mary had somewhat accepted her father’s religious changes. Katherine’s faith as queen would eventually develop along different lines than that of Mary. But much would change in Mary’s life before she became pegged as “Bloody Mary”.
The Imperial Ambassador, Chapuys, recounts that the two were almost always together and would come to thank Katherine in time, in the name of his Master Charles V, for all that she had done and would continue to do for the Lady Mary.
By 1544, a new act of succession was introduced. Since becoming queen, Katherine had set out to reconcile Henry and Mary and to restore her as a potential heir to the throne. Chapuys was most impressed with the queen’s attempts at favoring the Princess and wrote frequently to Charles V about it. Charles was also most pleased and encouraged Chapuys to continue good relations with Queen Katherine. The act was the first succession act in England to give females the right to succeed to the throne as queen. Lady Mary and Elizabeth were again part of the succession after their brother Edward. Though both Mary and Elizabeth remained illegitimate and were denied the title of princess, they were Henry’s official heirs. This Act signified the rehabilitation of the royal children with their father; which Katherine could take more than a little credit for. Based on ambassadorial reports, it was Katherine who was the chief instrument of Henry’s decision to name all of his children in his will as heirs to the throne. The terms of Henry’s Will would later legitimize both Mary’s seizure of the crown from Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth’s succession after Mary’s death. It was Katherine who helped insure their legitimacy as queens.
It was in 1544, that Mary would be painted by an artist commemorating her re-in-statement to the succession. In the portrait, attributed to Master John, Mary is still young and quite beautiful. Portraiture was another common interest of Katherine Parr. Throughout her reign she would have portraits done of her and the two daughters of Henry. It is thought that perhaps these portraits of Katherine were done to make up for the fact that Henry had commissioned a painting of the royal family during her reign; only to put Jane Seymour in posthumously as queen. Perhaps that is the case, but the portrait of Mary is memorable and a favorite of many admirers to this day.
By summer of 1544, Katherine had been appointed Regent of England as Henry went off to battle in France. During her reign, most historians believe it was Elizabeth who was most affected by watching her step-mother rule over the country. Mary, herself, would also pay close attention to Katherine’s regency which no doubt influenced her. Both daughters would come to see that it was possible for a queen to handle all that was expected of a king; that perhaps one day they too could rule as queen of England. As regent, Katherine possessed a considerable amount of power. During Katherine’s regency five proclamations were issued and she was granted the right to disburse money from the Treasury. Throughout his time in France, Katherine would write often informing Henry of her progress. Often included were her sentiments, her time with the children, and worries about his health.
At the end of Henry’s reign as King he started to not only distant himself from Queen Katherine, but also from his children. Henry knew that his health was failing and that he must make provisions for his son Prince Edward’s minority as the next Tudor king. Henry’s final Christmas was spent alone at Whitehall, apart from Katherine and Mary who were at Greenwich Palace. On 11 January, it is accounted that the queen’s apartments were prepared for her arrival, but there is an uncertainty as to whether or not Katherine saw her husband one last time. On 28 January 1547, King Henry died. Neither Katherine nor his children were present.
After the death of King Henry, Mary was not told of his death for several days. Edward’s minority council took elaborate precautions to ensure all was in place before they made an official announcement. This action made Mary extremely angry, but she could do nothing about it. Yet how ever wary Edward’s councillors were, nothing could alter the fact that Mary was in her own right heiress to the throne. For the time being, Mary would stay with Katherine who was again for the third time, a widow. At the time of her father’s death Mary was aged 31. Mary’s reaction to her father’s death was never recorded as she never publicly mourned his death. She was apparently more irritated at the fact that no one had told her that her father had died until days later. Most likely her reaction to the news was mixed grief and some kind of relief. At Henry’s death both Mary and Elizabeth became two of the richest women in England. They both had an income, the promise of a dowry, and extensive holdings of property. Mary was now an owner of 32 houses and manors. These lands had previously belonged to the Duke of Norfolk and his son Surrey but were attained by the King after their arrest. It is noted that after all that the Howard’s had put Mary through she still came out on top owning most of Norfolk, Suffolk, and land in Essex.
Until April 1547, Mary remained in the household of the Dowager Queen Katherine. Mary went into deep mourning and it is not recorded whether or not she attended her father’s funeral or even her brother’s coronation. In her mourning, Mary went into deep reflection upon the way the country was now being run. While Henry was alive, she didn’t dare questioning his advisers. Now with Edward’s council, many of the members she had known for quite a while now, she came to her own opinion and was no longer afraid to voice her opinion as she did not think much of the men who ruled in her brother’s name. By Spring, Mary had left the household of the Dowager queen as a dispute between the Lord Protector and his family was about to devolve. Truth being that Mary was a lady with many households and of age; she was mistress of her own manors and needed to start living her own life. While her father had been alive, Mary had been denied her very own family. She missed out on many marriage proposals and the chance to bear children of her own. Before Henry died, he promised the queen many things and gave her permission to marry again if it pleased her. Within months of his death Mary would find that her step-mother had renewed her liaison with her former love, Sir Thomas Seymour. Thomas was the younger brother of the Lord Protector. Thomas was jealous of his older brother as he had no part in the regency council. Therefore it has been proposed that perhaps he saw that by marrying the queen dowager he would obtain some sort of recognition. After surviving nearly four years of marriage to Henry, which was a feet among itself, Katherine was now letting her heart rule over her head. As she had no political role in Edward’s reign, Katherine looked to the possibility of her own happiness. The two would marry on an unknown date. Of course Katherine’s marriage was solemnized by God, but it had not been sanctioned by the king and his council. There was nothing in the will of Henry saying that Katherine could not marry again – but some saw the marriage as untimely as it was too soon after the king’s death. In attempts to gain favour and have the marriage be accepted, Seymour wrote to Mary asking for her approval and consent. The jest of the letter was strong, but at the same time clever and revealing. Mary knew what had been happening in the household before she left and was not one to play dumb. Mary knew Seymour’s reputation with women and was not fooled by his appeal to win her favour. Mary was still upset over the fact that Katherine would even consider marrying so soon after her father’s death and in a way felt it insulted the memory of her father. Although Mary was unhappy about Katherine’s choices, she realized that she would no longer share in the company of her step-mother who had done so much to re-store her relationship with her father and to re-instate her into the Act of Succession. Katherine had been regarded as an equal by Mary. The two had shared so much time together that it most likely hurt her deeply when she heard the news of Katherine’s death.
- Susan James. Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love, The History Press, 2009.
- Linda Porter. Katherine the queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr, the Last Wife of Henry VIII, MacMillan, 2010.
- Linda Porter. The Myth of “Bloody Mary”: A Biography of Queen Mary I of England, St. Martin Griffins, 2010.
- Anna Whitelock. Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2009.
About the Author
Meg McGath is the author of the website tudorqueen6.com and started the Facebook page “Queen Catherine Parr” years ago. Her minor in college was women in British History; specifically Medieval and Tudor England. She is a fact checker and works very hard to preserve historical accuracy. A musician and music teacher by trade, Meg got caught up in the history of women during the Tudor period after finding genealogical connections in 2007. Surprising to some Tudor enthusiasts, her main focus is Queen Kateryn Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII. Yes, that would be the “nobody from nowhere” and the ever famous nickname, “nursemaid”. Meg has found new information on Parr through research on her own and by staying up to date with Parr’s primary biographers. Her passion for the Tudors made her seek to study three summers of British History and Shakespeare in London at Richmond University (surprisingly named after Henry VII). In 2012, her main focus was to make it to the 500th anniversary of Kateryn Parr birth celebrations at Sudeley Castle. It was at Sudeley that Meg found all kinds of trinkets that actually passed through Parr’s hands. She got to walk the halls where Parr roamed and see Parr’s magnificent tomb which stands on the grounds of Sudeley. Meg now focuses on the extended family of Parr which includes the Nevilles of Raby and a connection to the “royal” Beaufort children of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster.