Posted By Claire on April 15, 2010
It’s easy to tell when I have found a book useful for my research because it has pages turned down, post-it notes protruding from it, pencil scribbles and stars in the margins and book marks falling out of it, plus a rather worn appearance. Well, that pretty much describes my copy of “Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr” by Linda Porter! Useful? Incredibly so!
I was dying for this book to be released because I loved Porter’s book on Mary I (“Mary Tudor: The First Queen”), which, I would go as far as to say, is THE Mary I biography and a complete guide to the Queen. Porter’s book on Katherine Parr is just the same, a must-read for those who want to know more about Henry’s sixth and final wife, and a complete guide to Katherine’s life, from a background on her family to the discovery of Katherine Parr’s tomb at Sudeley Castle in the late 18th century. It covers everything, nothing is missed, and I heartily recommend it.
Rather than writing a straight review, I like to give a breakdown of what is covered in the book as I myself find that helpful when I’m considering a book. Here is a breakdown of what Porter covers in “Katherine the Queen”:-
- Family Trees – Family trees of the Tudors, the Parrs and the Seymours.
- Prologue – The book’s opening scene is Whitehall Palace on the 28th January 1547, the day that King Henry VIII died. I love this prologue because it’s like the start of a novel and explores Katherine’s feelings about Henry, her stepchildren and Thomas Seymour.
Part One: The Northern Inheritance 1512-1529
- Chapter One: The Courtiers of the White Rose – This chapter gives the background to Katherine Parr’s family’s beginnings in Westmoreland, border country. Porter writes of how the family made their money, their role in the War of the Roses and the rewards they reaped afterwards, Sir William Parr and Richard III’s regime, Thomas Parr and family under Henry VII, how the family’s situation was transformed by the accession of Henry VIII, Maude Parr as lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon and the birth of Maude’s daughter, Katherine Parr, named after the Queen, and the death of Katherine’s father, Sir Thomas Parr.
- Chapter Two: A Formidable Mother – The opening quote of this chapter shows just how well respected Maude Parr was: “Remembering the wisdom of my said Lady Parr… I assure you he might learn with her as well as in any place that I know” (Lord Dacre’s advice on the education of his grandson”, and this chapter explores the woman who shaped Katherine Parr: her mother. Porter also looks at people like Katherine’s uncle, Sir William Parr, and Cuthbert Tunstall, archdeacon of Chester, who became a major influence on the young Katherine when her father died and who was a friend of Sir Thomas More and even Erasmus. This chapter also covers Katherine’s education, her interests and her mother’s search for a suitable husband for her and her brother. It ends with William Parr’s marriage to Anne Bourchier and Katherine travelling to Lincolnshire to marry Edward Borough.
Part Two: Wife and Widow 1529-1543
- Chapter Three: The Marriage Game – Here, Porter covers Katherine’s arrival in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, the Borough family, her new home of Gainsborough Old Hall, the fact that Katherine was married to the younger Edward Borough and not his elderly father, the death of Maude Parr and the death of Katherine’s husband in 1533, and the impact that this had on the twenty year old Katherine. The chapter ends with Katherine becoming the third wife of John Neville, Lord Latimer, and moving to Snape Castle in Yorkshire.
- Chapter Four: Lady Latimer – Porter considers Katherine’s marriage to Lord Latimer, who was twice her age, their relationship, what kind of man he was, his background, his children, Katherine’s relationship with her stepdaughter Margaret, the changes sweeping over England due to Henry VIII’s break with Rome and marriage to Anne Boleyn and how this affected Katherine, her good friend Tunstall and the North.
- Chapter Five: The Pilgrimage of Grace – Porter discusses the rebellions of 1536 and their impact on Katherine and her family who lived in Yorkshire. Katherine’s husband, Lord Latimer, took “The Oath of Honourable Men”, the oath composed by rebel leader Robert Aske, and became one of the rebels. The rebellion was happening on Katherine’s doorstep – Snape Castle was near to Jervaulx Abbey, where the King’s troops were heading to stamp on the rebels, and her husband was involved in the rebellion. Katherine and her step-children were actually held hostage for a time by the rebels to ensure that Latimer stayed true to the cause.
There is immense detail in this chapter on the Pilgrimage of Grace and I like the way that Porter gives a fantastic rundown on what went on but also makes it personal to Katherine and her family. In the end Latimer had a lucky escape but “knew he would need to dance to the tune of the king and his ministers for the rest of his days”. The family moved to Worcestershire then Northamptonshire, and Porter believes that it was at this time (late 1530s) that Katherine went to court. The chapter ends with Latimer’s death in early 1543.
Part Three: “Kateryn the Quene” 1543-1547
- Chapter Six: Two Suitors – This chapter opens with Katherine’s own words on how she came to marry the King: “God… through his grace and goodness… made me to renounce utterly mine own will” and carries on to explain and explore Katherine’s dilemma. In 1543, Katherine was a widow at court and she caught the eyes of both Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Jane Seymour, and King Henry VIII, and Porter attempts to “disentangle” Katherine’s emotions in 1543, saying that “it is worth the effort of unravelling what happened because it illuminates her later attitudes and behaviour… there are strong hints that the decision she eventually made was one that her intellect, if not her heart, had accepted sooner than she subsequently acknowledged.”
A great chapter on Thomas Seymour, his background and interest in Katherine; Henry VIII, his character, his beliefs and his search for a suitable wife; and Katherine’s position, caught between a man she loved and the King. The chapter ends with Katherine and Henry’s wedding on the 12th July 1543 at Hampton Court. Katherine was Queen.
- Chapter Seven: The Queen and Her Court – In this chapter, Linda Porter gives us details on reactions to the marriage and to Katherine as Queen, including that of Anne of Cleves, the development of a bond and affection between Henry and Katherine, how Katherine approached her role as Queen and developed her image, Katherine’s household, “her inner life” and beliefs, and what Katherine was like as a woman. I am so glad that Porter dispenses with the old Victorian idea of Katherine as a nursemaid to the sickly King and I love the way she portrays Katherine as an intelligent woman who loved books and cultural pursuits, but who also loved clothes and jewels.Porter concludes this chapter by saying:-
“These details paint a picture of an energetic, determined but also vivacious woman who very consciously set about establishing an image and role for herself”.
- Chapter Eight: The Royal Children – Katherine Parr has often been credited with reuniting Henry VIII with his children and bringing the family back together, but Porter points out that Henry had something to do with it too as he had realised that he needed to think of the future. In this chapter, Porter gives detailed information on each of Henry’s children, and their upbringing up until this point, and the influence that Katherine had on each one of them. Porter end the chapter with Elizabeth: “While Elizabeth watched, Katherine governed England. This practical lesson was far more valuable than anything her tutors could have devised, and it left an indelible impression.”
- Chapter Nine: Regent of England – A chapter on Katherine’s regency as Henry leaves England for France. It includes a look at the members of the council Henry had chosen to help Katherine – Cranmer, Thirlby, Edward Seymour, Wriothesley and Petre – Katherine as an active regent, rather than a passive one, the situation in Europe at the time, Henry’s relationship with Charles V and Francis I, the prayer that Katherine wrote for the English men to say before battle, Katherine’s correspondence with the King, Charles V’s betrayal and its consequences, Katherine’s prayer for the King and their “second honeymoon” at Leeds Castle on Henry’s return.
- Chapter Ten: The Queen’s Gambit – This long and detailed chapter opens with Chapuys’s records of a conversation between himself and the Queen, proving what a brilliant diplomat Katherine was and how involved she was in royal affairs. It also covers Katherine’s sadness at the death of her stepdaughter, Margaret Neville, Katherine’s “epiphany” and her decision to express her faith publicly, her faith, her relationships with Cranmer, her almoner George Day and Nicholas Udall, Katherine’s “Lamentation of a Sinner”, Katherine’s relationship with the King, Henry’s realisation that Katherine was upstaging him, Henry’s Christmas Eve 1545 oration to Parliament, tensions in the royal marriage and Henry’s declining health, Katherine’s links to Anne Askew, the plot against Katherine and how she escaped, the campaign against reformers, the story of Anne Askew, her arrest, torture and burning, Henry’s love for Katherine and his death on the 28th January 1547.
Part Four: The Last Husband 1547-1548
- Chapter Eleven: The Secrets of Spring – The opening lines of this chapter are from a poem by Thomas Seymour for Katherine: “Set doubts aside, And to some sporting fall” – I didn’t know that he wrote a poem for her! This chapter covers Henry VIII’s burial, Katherine’s dismay on learning that she would not be Regent and her struggle for power, the secret relationship between Katherine and Thomas Seymour, their marriage, Mary’s disapproval, the relationship between Thomas Seymour and Edward Seymour, the relationship between Katherine Parr and Edward Seymour’s wife, Anne Stanhope, and Elizabeth and Lady Jane Grey arriving to live with Katherine and Seymour. The chapter concludes with “So, in the summer of 1547, Thomas Seymour effectively controlled the destiny of three royal ladies and had good grounds for believing that his quest for greater power could progress still farther. Soon, though, he was to find that maintaining a queen was an expensive undertaking and that sheltering a king’s daughter would tempt him down the path of scandal and ruin.”
- Chapter Twelve: “This Frail Life” – Chapter Twelve opens with Katherine’s dying words: “Those that be about me careth nothing for me, but standeth laughing at my grief.” How tragic that Katherine felt that as she lay dying. This chapter explores how she went from being a happy bride to uttering those words. In this chapter, Porter covers a lot of ground: Katherine’s work on religious publications -“Lamentation of a Sinner” and “Paraphrases of Erasmus”, her relationship with William Cecil, Katherine’s involvement in the upbringing and education of Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth, Thomas Seymour’s discontent with his lack of power and his sexual jealousy, Seymour’s scandalous behaviour with Elizabeth (and Porter’s explanation for it) and Katherine’s involvement, Elizabeth’s move to live with Sir Anthony Denny, Katherine’s pregnancy and her move to Sudeley Castle, the couple’s joy at having a child, the preparations for the baby, the birth of Mary Seymour, Katherine’s illness and her delirium, Katherine’s death on the 5th September and her burial, Seymour’s grief, his scheming and downfall, and his execution. Interestingly, Porter also has a section on Mary Seymour, Katherine’s baby daughter, what happened to her after her father’s death and how she disappears from records after 1550.
The chapter ends in 1782 with some ladies exploring the ruins of Sudely Castle and finding Katherine’s uncorrupted body. When the body was examined again a few years later “the face was worn to bone. But a crown of ivy had wound itself around Katherine’s skull, a poignant reminder that this remarkable woman, attractive and sensual, intelligent and capable, deeply loving God as well as man, had been the last queen of Henry VIII.”
The epilogue takes us to Hatfield on the 17th November 1558, the day that Elizabeth learns that she is Queen of England. Porter makes the point that:-
“The adult Elizabeth was very much the product of Katherine Parr. Her education, her religious beliefs, her consciousness of personal image owed much to the stepmother who guided and loved her during those formative years. Katherine had brought up a talented and determined girl, open-minded by the standards of her day, who was not afraid to rule… Her long reign, with its flowering of culture and the establishment of a small country on the north-western fringes of Europe as a world power, is Katherine Parr’s achievement.”
Here Linda Porter talks about how Katherine has been portrayed and the stereotypes that exist, and how Katherine was much more than any of them. Porter expresses the hope that her biography “will bring her to life for a wider audience” and that hope has been accomplished, Porter has definitely brought Katherine to life and has delved into her background, her character, her life and the times in which she lived in such a detailed way that you feel that you really know Katherine at the end of the book. You understand what drove her, what Henry and Seymour (and her other husbands) saw in her and why she was such a major influence on the young Elizabeth. Thank you, Linda, for challenging the myths regarding Katherine and portraying her as a vibrant and influential queen, not a nursemaid. “Katherine the Queen” is a fitting tribute to my second favourite of Henry VIII’s wives.
Linda Porter’s book also includes illustrations (photos of portraits and places), Notes with references meticulously cited and a bibliography.
This book was published in hardback by Pan Macmillan in the UK on the 19th March 2010 and can be found at Amazon UK – click here and other UK book sellers.
Article by Linda Porter
You can read an article by Linda Porter, “Last But Not Least: The Enduring Fascination of Katherine Parr”, over at The Anne Boleyn Files – click here