Meet the Wives Handbook: Catherine Parr

King vs. Queen

Though Catherine's relationship with Henry is usually portrayed as exemplary for its patience and understanding, a taste for religious debate nearly cost her her head.

The background for this crisis lay in the on-going political struggle between religious reformists and conservatives. Under the leadership of Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, a campaign to wipe out so-called "heretics" was gathering pace and the king's own reform sympathies had evaporated..

The conservative faction saw Catherine, well-known for her Protestant interests, as a possible obstacle to their ascendancy. To ferret out the necessary information, the Protestant evangelical Anne Askew was interrogated on the rack about her connections with the court. It did not work.

Inadvertently, Catherine herself provided the way. A vigorous religious argument between king and queen had been overheard by the anti-reform Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who warned Henry against harboring "a serpent within his own bosom," chronicler John Foxe recounted. His suspicions aroused, Henry listened, then signed a warrant for Catherine's arrest on grounds of heresy.

When a loyal servant dropped the warrant outside the queen's rooms, she collapsed in hysterics. Then, regrouped, determined to be the conformist queen. While her ladies discarded banned books on religion, she hastened to the king.

response: "I am but a woman, with all the imperfections natural to the weakness of my sex; therefore in all matters of doubt and difficulty I must refer myself to your Majesty's better judgement, as to my lord and head."

The strategy worked. Wriothesley would next be greeted with cries from the king of "Knave!," "Fool!" and "Beast!," while Queen Catherine would be given a set of gorgeous new jewels.

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