An Ideal Stepmother: Katherine Parr, the Intelligent and Ambitious Last Queen of Henry VIII, Had a Profound Influence on the Development of Edward VI and Elizabeth I. Linda Porter Looks at Her Relationships with the Royal Children and Shows How She Helped Shape the Mind of One of England's Greatest Monarchs
Porter, Linda, History Today
At the end of July 1544 the 10-year-old Lady Elizabeth, younger daughter of Henry VIII, composed a heartfelt letter in faltering Italian. Its English translation began: 'Inimical Fortune, envious of all good, she who revolves things human, has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence, and still not being content with that, has robbed me once again of the same good: the which would be intolerable to me ifI did not think to enjoy it soon.' From this impressive opening--Elizabeth's tendency to hyperbole began early in life--the child went on to acknowledge that' ... I am not only bound to serve you but to revere you with daughterly love, since I understand that your most illustrious highness has not forgotten me every time that you have written to the king's highness...' After expressions of hope that her father, then leading his armies in his final campaign on French soil, would prevail against his enemies, the letter was signed: 'Your most obedient daughter and most faithful servant, Elizabeth.' Written in her fine italic hand, it is the earliest of Elizabeth's letters to survive.
The recipient of this missive was not, of course, Elizabeth's natural mother, Anne Boleyn, then eight years buried in the Tower of London, but her stepmother, Katherine Parr, Henry's sixth and last wife. At the time, Katherine was regent in Henry's absence, ruling a country at war and firmly established in the affections of the king and his children. Elizabeth could not wait to join her at Hampton Court to enjoy her lively and affectionate company and share her love of music, plays and dancing.
But Katherine's impact on young Elizabeth went far beyond pleasant pastimes. She was a crucial influence in the upbringing of both the girl and her brother, the future Edward VI, and a friend and supporter of their long-suffering elder sister, the dispossessed Mary. Henry's last queen brought love, direction and order to the lives of the king's younger children and expanded their horizons. The milieu of religious evangelicalism in which Katherine increasingly moved would encourage her own intellectual ambitions and her commitment to further reform. Her ideas were taking shape in 1544, probably discreetly encouraged by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. Soon she became the first queen of England to be published, her religious writings a shining example to Elizabeth and Edward, who both clearly adored her. And this is hardly surprising, for she was the only stable maternal figure in their young lives as well as the conduit to their father. History has cast her in the role of fortunate survivor, a patronising view that overlooks her achievements. Henry's sixth wife was one of the most important queen consorts in English history.
Katherine has been described as the queen who came from nowhere, yet her pedigree was similar to that of Henry's other English queens and she was well educated. The Parrs were originally a northern Yorkist family, knighted but not ennobled, who had risen during the Wars of the Roses. Both Katherine's parents were courtiers but marriage took Katherine first to Lincolnshire and then to Yorkshire. Her life had been dramatic even before she became Henry's wife. Twice widowed and childless, she had learned, while married to Edward Borough, how to manage a domestic tyrant of a father-in-law, Thomas Borough, Baron of Gainsborough, and raised the two motherless children of her second husband, Lord Latimer.
In 1537 she was held hostage by an angry mob in her home, Snape Castle near Ripon, during the Pilgrimage of Grace, the northern protest against Thomas Cromwell's religious reforms. She feared also for her absent husband. Coerced by the rebels into joining their cause, he was caught between local fury and royal censure. Latimer survived the king's wrath but, moving south at his wife's behest, did not fully restore his reputation. …