Meet the Wives Handbook: Catherine Parr

Role as Queen

The idea of Catherine Parr as queen was met with near universal approval among Henry's court. (It wouldn't last - see King vs. Queen.)

Praised for her "certain virtue, wisdom and gentleness," Catherine provided the closest thing to a stable family life that Henry's three children had known. She proved an effective nurse to Henry VIII, now weakened by oozing leg ulcers. (Catherine kept the king supplied with comfits, pastiles and suppositories, reportedly also advising him to wear reading glasses. ) She could dance and make merry or speak intelligently with visiting ambassadors and scholars. In all this, she played the traditional queen.

But Catherine did not forget her religious leanings. She secured the release of reformers imprisoned for their views. She placed leading Protestant thinkers in her own household and that of the heir, Prince Edward. She conducted Bible studies among her ladies-in-waiting and talked religion with the king.

Queen Catherine also became a best-selling author . . . with the king's approval, of course. Her "Prayers and Meditations," an anthology work published in November 1545, was hailed by scholars and fired female education among the nobility. A second book, "The Lamentations of a Sinner," analyzed correct behavior for Christians, observing that married women "learn of St. Paul to be obedient to their husbands . . ."

As proof of his faith in Queen Catherine, Henry named her regent when he departed in July 1544 on yet another invasion of France. It was a role held by only one other of the king's wives, Catherine of Aragon, Yet, unlike her predecessor, Catherine Parr's letters did not boast of her own capability in his absence. Instead, she regularly assured the king of her love and reliance on his wisdom. (See In Her Own Words.)

It was a tactic that brought success. On his deathbed, Henry reportedly thanked God for sending him "so faithful a spouse" and declared to the assembled Privy Council that they should pay Catherine the colossal annuity of £7,000 and the possession of all her jewels as queen.

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