Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter

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Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter

Category: Biography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Probably the first Queen of England to be accorded a Protestant burial; and in having had some say in the upbringing of Princess Elizabeth, the latter's 44-year reign was in effect 'her abiding achievement'. An excellent read and definitely recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 456 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Macmillan
ISBN: 978-0230710399

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Katherine Parr was the last and arguably the most fortunate of King Henry VIII's six wives. Apart from Anne of Cleves, the speedily divorced 'Flanders mare', she was the only one to survive him. And while all six of the queens consort remain rather shadowy figures, this biography gives the impression that she was probably the most intelligent and well-rounded personality of them all.

Yet many of the details of her life remain shrouded in some mystery. The author begins with a full account of her ancestry, especially of her antecedents during the Wars of the Roses and their allegiances towards Lancastrians and Yorkists. Her precise date of birth is not known, and the nearest date anyone can supply is probably some time in August 1512.

Apart from being held hostage with her stepchildren by rebels in the north during the uprising of 1536, the 'Pilgrimage of Grace', Katherine's early life was relatively tranquil. Twice she was married to men considerably older than herself, and twice she found herself a childless widow, before she married the King in July 1543. Not surprisingly, in view of his previous track record, she seems to have done so with some reluctance. She had hoped to marry Thomas Seymour, but instead she found herself writing to him resignedly that she had to 'renounce' her own will; it was evidently God's desire that she should become the King's wife instead.

Although she was Queen Consort for less than four years, the author finds plenty to tell us about the period, and much more than elaborating on the general and perhaps false assumption that she was merely a convenient wife who went to the altar in order to act as matron and nurse to a dying sovereign. When the King went on his last futile expedition to France in 1544, she was appointed regent. A little later her interest in religion led to her implication in a trumped-up charge of conspiracy by certain individuals who hoped to discredit her with her husband. Her innocence seems to have been beyond doubt, and she was astute enough to save herself by telling him that she was only arguing with him on issues of faith so she could learn from him, and at the same time take his mind off other troubles such as his ulcerated leg. Nevertheless the author takes the view that Katherine had not helped herself. Being childless, increasingly opinionated and over-confident, she did not realize from the example of her predecessors how quickly she could forfeit her capricious husband's good will.

Soon afterwards Henry died, leaving her a widow for the third time. At last she was free to marry Thomas Seymour, and soon afterwards she was with child for the first time at the age of 35. Sadly there was to be no happy ending. Her pregnancy was overshadowed when her husband was suspected of making improper advances towards her adolescent stepdaughter Elizabeth, the future Queen. Katherine had been devoted to the girl, and on her had devolved much of the responsibility for her upbringing and education, but the potential for scandalous gossip in the family was considerable. Elizabeth was sent away from the household, and she never saw the stepmother she had loved so much again.

Within a few days of giving birth to a daughter, Mary, Katherine suddenly died from puerperal fever. Less than a year later her husband was executed for high treason, and surviving records suggest that baby Mary died not long before or after her second birthday.

Linda Porter has done an excellent job in fleshing out such details as we have of the life of this obscure but very interesting lady. Katherine comes across as a woman of ambition, yet not unduly so, of considerable intelligence and character. She was clever enough to keep her head in more senses than one, at a dangerous time when the least indiscretion, or whispering campaign by one's enemies, could mean a one-way trip to the tower.

As the last page tells us, Katherine did leave her mark on history. She was probably the first Queen of England to be accorded a Protestant burial; and in having had some say in the upbringing of Princess Elizabeth, the latter's 44-year reign was in effect 'her abiding achievement'.

Our thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending Bookbag a copy for review.

For further reading on the subject, why not also try Wives of the Kings of England: From Normans to Stuarts by Mark Hichens; Elizabeth's Women: The Hidden Story of the Virgin Queen by Tracy Borman; or for the life of Katherine's stepson, Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore.

Buy Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr by Linda Porter at Amazon.com.


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