Archive for Catherine Parr
I hope you all enjoyed Part 1 of Claire Ridgway’s guest post on Alison Weir’s “Tudor women” talk (click here if you missed it). Let’s go to Part 2!
Obviously King’s wives were not like the average Tudor woman, but even though they were in charge of large households and budgets, Alison pointed out that the decisions were still made by the King. The queen’s role was to produce heirs and be the perfect model wife for the court.
But, what was the model wife? Here, Alison used Catherine of Aragon’s words when she pleaded with Henry VIII at the divorce hearing, saying that she was his “true, humble, obedient wife.” This summed up what a wife should be and her accepted role in the divine order. Even Catherine Parr applauded this ideal in her book Lamentations of a Sinner, writing that young women should be “sober-minded.” Alison pointed out the mottoes of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard – “Bound to Obey and Serve” and “No Other Will but His” – these women accepted their role!
Alison emphasised that on marriage a woman became a man’s property and that it was even a man’s legal right to kill his wife on the spot if he caught her in the act of adultery. An adulterous woman brought shame on her family. Here, Alison mentioned Catherine Parr’s brother, William Parr, and his call for his unfaithful wife to be put to death. Fortunately, a divorce was granted instead! But look at Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, both accused of adultery and both executed. The man’s word was law and although Weir stated that Anne was the “victim of a bitter court struggle” and was “framed by her enemies,” the adultery charge stood and Anne lost her life. After Catherine Howard was executed, a law was passed that it was high treason for a woman of dubious past to marry the king.
In Medieval times, people believed that women should not be taught to write unless they were nuns and that the only education they needed was in home-making, to make them fit to be a good wife. However, the Renaissance made education for women more acceptable and Alison gave the examples of Margaret Roper (Sir Thomas More’s daughter), Catherine of Aragon, and Catherine Parr as models of educated and virtuous women. Too much learning could get a woman into trouble though–take the example of Catherine Parr, who was plotted against.
Mary and Elizabeth:
Alison pointed out that the only experience England had had of a female ruler was Empress Matilda in the 12th century and she didn’t last long. Mary I was England’s first real female monarch and she had many difficulties to contend with. For example, she couldn’t even do the ceremony of the Knights of the Bath because she couldn’t get into a bath with a bunch of men! Then, there was the question of marriage because of the traditional roles of husband and wife, with the woman being submissive to the man, yet she was Queen of England!
Alison spoke of how it was Elizabeth I who proved that a woman could rule successfully, but she wasn’t afraid of using her femininity to her advantage and using her feminine wiles to get her own way. The marriage issue was still a problem for Elizabeth though, but she solved it by remaining single while encouraging suitors to gain political advantage. Alison quite rightly noted that Elizabeth paved the way for future queens and that she was “one of the most important women to wield power.”
Alison Weir concluded her talk by stating that although 16th century women were seen as second to men, they still managed to rule countries and run businesses and estates. Life certainly was not easy for Tudor women, but, according to Alison, it did have its compensations and many marriages were loving relationships.
It really was a joy to hear Alison speak and to talk to her afterwards. She has so much knowledge and is happy to share this and answer questions. It was a great night and it raised £600 for the Mary Rose Appeal too.
Yet another prominent Anne of the Tudor era was Anne Stanhope, who became Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, when she married the comparatively mild-mannered Edward Seymour. She was ambitious and a smart cookie, but certainly rhymed with “witch” by all accounts. The Duchess of Somerset fancied herself the most powerful lady in the land when her husband became the protector of young Eddie VI. If Edward was sort-of the king, Anne figured she was sort-of the queen.
Hold on, Sally, not so fast: Turns out the lady was still outranked by former queen Catherine Parr (and also by the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, as well as Anne of Cleves). Catherine was now married to The Other Seymour Dude. Yes, about three months after Henry VIII became history, his widow married that slimy flirt, Thomas Seymour. Although she was no longer queen on paper, she was rolling in the late king’s dough and was expressedly elevated to that high former position as per his will. She was even still allowed to wear the “queen’s jewels” until Eddie should get himself a bride in the future. (That didn’t happen.)
This made Anne Seymour seethe! She was not about to lie down and let that happen, so she stamped her feet and demanded she should have them instead. It was a stalemate for a month or so, with neither lady decked out in the goods. When Catherine finally showed up at court again, she [within her rights] slyly suggested that the Duchess attend to her train. Anne said “Absolutely not!” and gave as her reason that Catherine was the lowly wife of her husband’s little brother. Nice.
Eventually, the noble fishwife convinced her husband to notify Catherine via letter that she was not to have the jewels, period, end of story. Accustomed to being treated like a doormat by the Duchess, he agreed. No surprise, then, that Catherine Parr came to refer to Anne Seymour as “that hell.” I can think of a few names that would have been more effective.
You might think Henry was, near the end of his life, a fervent anti-Catholic after all the “Great Matter” hoopla and needing to stick it to the Pope in order to divorce Cat of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Which, by this time, was four to five wives ago. On the contrary, Henry was still strongly Catholic in his beliefs and very happy to persecute Protestant heretics.
Enter one Anne Askew. Anne, age 23, had been kicked out of her house in Lincolnshire by her husband for preaching Protestant ideas. She moved her preaching to London where she was arrested.
Poor Anne has the fine distriction of being the only woman to be tortured at the Tower and then burnt to a crisp. She was stretched and broken on the rack but wouldn’t deny her faith. They laid her, bones all askew (sorry), on the floor for two hours of further questioning. No dice. She was burned at the stake the following month.
Catherine Parr had been Wife #6 for three years at this point. She didn’t know Anne but held a certain sympathy toward her and other Protestants who were viewed as heretics (probably because Catherine herself still believed in the new faith but kept it hush-hush from the king). She was especially upset that Anne had to be carried to the stake, as she couldn’t walk on her broken legs.
Catherine’s sympathy + her spirited religious debates with her husband + Henry’s state of mind (paranoid, angry, and in pain from his oozing leg sore) = his idea to have a warrant drawn up for Catherine’s arrest when the rumor got out that she was trying to bring down the king’s faith. Though he signed it, his servant dropped it and it was found by Catherine’s servant. Whew!
The queen was hysterical at the news and was sure she’d be the next Headless Wife of Henry VIII. When he finally had a chat with her about it, she calmly and diplomatically told him that she’d only debated religion with him to distract him from his leg pain, and also to learn more about religion for herself.
Success! He bought it and spared her. She kept her mouth shut for the next six months and became the “survived” in the famous mnemonic. But it certainly was close!
The Six Ladies of Henry VIII were part of a fraternity that fascinates history buffs as well as those who just plain love a good, juicy soap opera. While it may have seemed the Massive Monarch blew through the line quickly, the amount of time he was married to each may surprise you. Here’s how long each gal wore that traveling wedding band:
1. Catherine of Aragon About 24 years, not together for the last few (June 1509 – May 1533)
2. Anne Boleyn 3 1/2 years(January 1533 – May 1536)
3. Jane Seymour 1 1/2 years (May 1536 – October 1537)
4. Anne of Cleves A measley six months (January 1540 – June 1540)
5. Katherine Howard 1 1/2 years (July 1540 – February 1542)
6. Catherine Parr 3 1/2 years (July 1543 – January 1547)