The arrival of Catherine Parr (and family) and preparations for war in France. And rather a lot of digressions.
Download Podcast - 247 Queen Catherine the Third (Right Click and select Save Link As)
Last week I mentioned that after his despair at Catherine Howard’s betrayal, Henry turned to his first love for consolation – I speak of course about war with France. Maybe he could at least restore his battered reputation as the great renaissance prince by emulating Henry V, and capturing Paris. I should just warn you at this point that if you have joined to hear about death, destruction and warfare, it won’t be until next time. Sorry about that. We must follow due process.
Henry probably enjoyed the whole diplomacy thing. It was without dispute the stuff of kings. He was now mighty experienced at it, and would probably feel that the indignities of his youth, run ragged by Ferdinand of Spain, were behind him. And he’d been sparring with Francis and Charles V for decades now. And he wasn’t bad at the manoeuvring, though we have yet to see much evidence that the military follow through could compete with Henry V, but then fair do’s Henry V had the most remarkably favourable diplomatic situation, and an opponent who helpfully played to his strengths. But anyway, maybe this would be the moment. And he started by indulging in the sort of outrageous duplicity that both Francis and Charles would have loudly applauded – given they were playing exactly the same game. He strung Francis along with the idea of a marriage between his daughter Mary and Francis’s son, all the while insisting that he would not make Mary legitimate – quite understanding that this would be a deal breaker for Francis. And anyway, Francis himself was simply trying to stop Henry from talking to Charles.
As I mentioned last week, there was a spot of trouble with Charles over Henry’s title; they finally resorted to use that old favourite, Defender of the Faith, rather than Supreme Head, and the deal was on. By February 1543 then, as Scarisbrick remarked, Christendom could rejoice in the sight of a war between one group formed of an alliance between the HR emperor and a schismatic king, against the Most Christian king and his ally, the infidel Turk.
Here was the plan. By June 1544, Henry would put 42,000 men in the field, and march along the traditional invasion route along the Somme to Paris. Meanwhile, Charles would invade from the east. The helpless Francis would be squished between thumb and index finger like a rotten grape. Easy peasy, squeeze the lemon. By May, Francis had been presented with the obligatory challenge and preparations began.
So that’s all very nice, and Henry enjoyed himself in his preparations, always eager to offer a view and a helpful opinion to the armoury experts. It would be of course the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk that would command next year when the balloon went up.
Which brings me to a digression – would you mind terribly? I hope not. The digression is that something has been weighing on my mind, which is that a while ago I started the story of the Princess Mary, Henry VIII’s sister, that one Mary out of the many millions of Marys we seem to have to deal with, and Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk. And then I forgot to keep going.
Which is a shame in a way because as far as one half of the story is concerned, we were almost there. I think I had relayed Mary’s refusal to countenance Anne Boleyn, her firm support for Catherine of Aragon and traditional religion. And so Mary had refused to go with Anne to Calais back in 1533, and had not been present at the little wedding. And actually by then, Mary had been ill for a while and was suffering, but she had enough strength to celebrate the marriage of her daughter, Frances, to the 3rd Marquis of Dorset, Henry Grey. Frances was to be the longest lived of her 4 children as it happens, and Frances would have 3 daughters herself, including one called Jane, known to history as Lady Jane Grey. As the Princess Mary’s granddaughter, this Lady Jane was not far away from the descent of the crown, in the extremely unlikely event that all of Henry’s children died childless. Anyway the wedding cost a fortune – £1,166 which would have maintained a labourer and his family for 500 years or 500 labourers and their families for 1 year, which ever makes the obscene cost of the thing clear. But as we know, weddings are not supposed to be for those getting married they are designed for the parents so hopefully Charles and Mary were happy with their outlay. The king came, and one has to hope that the Duke didn’t indulge in too much dad dancing.
This was in fact the last time Mary came to London, and the last time she saw her brother. She died on 25th June 1533 at the age of 38, a death identified by the Spanish Chronicle as being the result of the king’s marriage to Anne. There was a great requiem mass in Westminster Abbey, and then a real funeral in Suffolk. There was a bit of an awkward incident when two of Mary’s daughters, Frances and Eleanor, placed a pall of cloth of Gold on their Mother’s coffin – and then, shock horror, there appeared the Duke of Suffolk’s daughters by his first marriage – you know with Anne Browne who Brandon have dumped when something better came along. Just to remind you who we are dealing with here. Anyway, Frances and Eleanor retired in horror and were not seen at the funeral again. Families, eh, can be awkward.
One of the people who was not at the funeral was Charles Brandon himself. We know not why, but sadly it could be that the noble Charles Brandon had already moved on, because the death of his wife put him into a bit of a quandary; a financial quandary. Mary had been getting a handsome stipend from the King of France, as an ex Queen, and how that was stopped – so Charles needed a new source of wealth, otherwise known as a wife. You may remember that is Charles’s marriage history is a measure of the man, he was something of a worm, and sadly I suspect that worm is the only appropriate worm. In their household, Mary and Charles had one Katherine Willoughby. She was Charles’s ward, and they had planned that when she grew up, it would be nice to marry her to their son, Henry, who was a similar age. When Mary died on 25th June, Katherine Willoughby she was just 14 years old. And indeed just a couple of months later, Katherine was indeed married – but not to the 10 year old son, but to the 49 year old Charles. Just in case you think this is all perfectly normal in Tudor times, it really isn’t. Chapuys was moved to write to Charles V
Although it is not worth writing to your majesty, the novelty of the case made me mention it.
As it happens, Catherine Willoughby was to prove something of a character, and a couple of stories survive about her. She was intelligent, sharp witted, and not afraid to show it. She was also of an evangelical turn of mind, a strong advocate of reformation, and as such she influenced her husband towards reform as much as Mary had influenced him towards conservatism. Catherine would become part of Catherine Parr’s household and inner circle, a group of women at court all strong supportive of the reformation. She reportedly had a dog, which she decided to call Gardiner, after the conservative Bishop of Winchester, which isn’t a bad gag actually. You can imagine her ordering Gardiner to behave or come to heel or sit down. It’s not a bad idea. Sadly in 1551, Catherine would suffer the horror of seeing both her young sons by Charles Brandon die in the same epidemic of the seating sickness.
Anyway, sorry, that’s a long digression, but I feel as though I have at least done my duty, unless I have mentioned it before in which case I apologise. Incidentally, by way of a link, I might mention that Stephen Gardiner, while being named after Catherine Willoughby’s dog, also acquired a nickname at this time, because he was put in charge of all the victualling and supply of the army that was to bring France to her knees the following year; I suppose this is in the tradition of Cardinal Wolsey, who had made such a good fist of providing the army with salad back in Henrys salad days and his first campaign. As he struggled to develop a source of supply for beer and meet and fish, the Bishop of Winchester became Stephen Stockfish. It works, it works well, Stephen Stockfish it shall be.
In 1543, then, Henry had decided that he was going to war in 1544, and no doubt his dreams were full of martial glory, but everything was not quite right, there was still a hole in his life. Henry was lonely, Henry’s court was once more empty of a Queen’s household. Henry had want of a queen.
However, Henry had created a new problem for himself should he want to marry, though it’s unlikely he thought of it as his fault. Because there is one thing I forgot to mention with all the Catherine Howard execution and stuff, of which you will all probably remind me as and when we come to discuss the matter of whether or not Henry’s should be considered a tyrant. This was an act of Attainder, introduced in January 1542 to deal with Catherine. It stipulated that if anyone married the king
‘without plain declaration before of her unchaste life unto his majesty’
It was treason, and adultery by or with the Queen was now treason. OK, so it was passed by parliament, so was it technically not a tyranny, but in this case it was used to convict Catherine, and therefore it’s all a very retrospective which is deeply deeply dodgy. But I mention it here because it did make the qualification criteria for another queen even harder. Chapuys remarked that if the king was looking for a wife, it could be something of a struggle to find some one since they’d have to fess up any of their unchastities.
And so it was a bit of a surprise that on 12th July 1543 the King married his sixth wife Catherine Parr, and no one is very sure how it came about; but of course as a widow, she was a pretty good choice in terms of the rules of the attainder.
Now, I think I have gone through the same process with Catherine Parr as have many. When I was a lad at school, in the very brief period I did the Tudors, Catherine Parr was represented as an older woman, there was even a smell of frump hanging around in her general vicinity, and she was essentially presented as more of a nurse to the old warhouse and his smelly leg than a real wife, or, person, indeed. It appears that the venerable 19th century writer Agnes Strickland was largely responsible for this powerful and remarkably durable image; our Agnes was really very influential. Like the rest of the world I have then been surprised to learn about a person with a pretty strong character, influential in a more subtle way than Anne Boleyn maybe, but an interesting character and story none the less. I do not mean to make comparisons, and might at this point refer you to John Lydgate who wrote in 1440
“Odyous of olde been comparisonis, And of comparisonis engendyrd is haterede
Or comparisons and from them springs hatred. Funnily enough I always thought that quote was Oscar Wilde. I clearly have nothing to declare but my ignorance. Anyway, you can as always make up your own mind about Catherine.
Catherine came of a well established and successful gentry family from the north of England who had done that most critical thing – played the most popular game of the 15th century so successfully as to have made their fortune. The game was of course, Kingmaker, the wars of the Roses. Catherine’s Grandfather, William Parr, had supported Edward IVth at the vital moment. And then Catherine’s father, Thomas Parr, married into a Northamptonshire family, the Vaux, and that was very clever, very clever indeed, because the Vaux were Lancastrians, and so when Henry VII won at Bosworth they won a second time from the turn of fortune’s wheel. Phew.
The Parrs were also courtiers – they are insiders, with a house on the Strand, and Thomas Parr won service with the king in France and was knighted by him, and won public office. He was doing well the lad, his wife Maud was a lady in waiting for the Queen, that is Catherine of Aragon, and they had three children together – Catherine, William and Anne. Of course, if life’s going well you know there’s trouble round the corner, and sure enough in 1517 Thomas made the foolish mistake of dying. This was bad. Catherine was just 5 years old, Maud Parr herself was only 25 and now faced with the prospect of raising a family. She was not alone it must be said with an uncle called William Parr; Thomas, very unusually, had left his wife an interest in the family estate for the rest of her life. This is unusual – it would normally have gone to his heir, and into ward therefore, and so although Maud would still have to take note of the king’s rights with regards to her son’s marriage for example, she had an unusual amount of financial freedom.
Maud Parr seems to have been a very capable person, well able to manage both the upbringing of her children to prepare them for a possible life at court, and to manage the family estates. She decided that she would not remarry, but do devote herself to said looking after. She took advice, turning to Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall for example for advice about the education of her children. So, there is some debate about Catherine’s capability at Latin for example, largely due to her own very English self deprecation when she’s grown up. But actually it’s a pretty good bet that she knew Latin quite well, and corresponded with scholars in the language. She was also fluent in French and Italian. And of course she was taught all the more normal skills of the Tudor noble woman too – dancing, singing, etiquette and manners, playing music. Her upbringing then prepared her unusually widely, which would show itself in her publications which we’ll come to; but she also had the example of her unusually independent mother before her. She seems to have valued that lesson well; one biographer notes that Catherine continues to project her own independent name by using the initials KP when she is queen – Katherine Parr, ignoring the names accreted from 3 marriages.
Maud knew of course that the making good marriage for her children was one of her most important duties. And with her son William, Catherine’s younger brother, she pulled off something of a coup. To do so, she had to take a considerable financial risk, buying back the right to arrange his marriage from the king, for the outrageous sum of £1,000 which must have meant significant debt. But it was worth it – William was married to Lady Anne Bourchier, heiress to the honour of the Earl of Essex. Now that’s a tangled story. William Parr, Catherine’s younger brother, himself turns out to offer a mixed sort of picture; he’s clearly also well educated and cultured, but he turned out not to be particularly skilful politically, rather naïve, and while not quite a cipher in the politics of the following reigns, he never has the force of character to drive events. In his marriage he seems to have been most unfortunate. Lady Anne Boucher was married at the age of 10; the two of them seem to have been curiously unenthusiastic about the idea of getting started being properly married and Anne seems to have been unenthusiastic about the idea of life at court. The first record of her appearance there was not until 1539 when she’s 22. If you will allow me to speculate mindlessly, you have to suspect that Anne wanted the quiet life she found in the wilderness of Surrey, and the attractions of William Parr were not enough to drag her to and keep her at court. So after the experience in 1539, her reaction two years later was to flee – and she eloped with a local cleric called John Lyngfield, and they soon started having a family together.
For William this was tricky. He couldn’t get an annulment, and try as he might he struggled to get a divorce – Anne herself seems absent from the documentary record, and hopefully her choice for obscurity was one she or her children, all of whom were declared illegitimate, did not regret; only one of her children seems to have survived to maturity. It took years though for William Parr to get a divorce, finally achieved with an act of parliament in 1552; although in 1543 he was able to confirm that Anne had given up any right of inheritance for her or her children. Given the extent of her riches, Anne paid a high financial price for her freedom.
Parr meanwhile started an affair in 1541 with the 17 year old lady at court Dorothy Bray; until in 1543 he took up with her niece Elizabeth Brooke. Niece, he took up with the niece of a 19 year old, well I have to say ladies and gentlemen that I was alarmed, but Elizabeth was only two years younger than her Aunt as it happens. This relationship lasts, and when the divorce finally came through Parr, who was Earl of Northampton by then, married Elizabeth.
But the path of true is never smooth. When Queen Mary came to the throne with her more traditional view of life, Parr was visited with the absurdity of being ordered to return to Anne Boucher, which neither of them wanted, along with the re-establishment of religious orthodoxy, and only with Elizabeth I did some kind of sanity assert itself, as in so many things, and he and Elizabeth Brooke were finally able to relax. Elizabeth Brooke died in 1565. Parr was not yet finished, and 6 years later in 1571, then aged 57, married again. one Helena, a 16 year old. Now I realise and publicly accept that I have moved from history smoothly and seamlessly into what can only be described, frankly, as gossip, or if you want to be kind, mindless tittle tattle. The ages of these marriages just never seeks to astound me. It could just be me, but it seems to have a got a lot worse recently. I apologise.
Back to Catherine then; it so happens that her father Thomas Parr had specifically set aside £400 as a dowry for her and £400 also for her sister Anne, which meant she’d have shot at a good marriage too. Her mother had aimed high for her boy, and she did the same for her girls. She negotiated hard with the Scrope’s, and when they would not accept the right deal, she turned her back on the whole thing – she wasn’t settling for second best. Eventually she landed Catherine a reasonable marriage to a Baron’s son, one Edward Brough. It was fine – his dad was a bit of an ogre and there was madness in the family, but hey, I have been led to accept that that’s what fathers are like so there you go. Maud died in 1531; her second daughter Anne would also marry well into the Herbert family in 1538 so she would have been well content. Anne Parr was part of Anne Boleyn’s household, and this seems to have made her an enthusiastic evangelical. The same would apply eventually to her older sister, Catherine, who also became a champion for the evangelical cause; So the question then was, – how and why was that? After all, folks have said, she lived in, eek, the north, in the frozen wastes, north of Watford Gap services, among the wild people, surely she must have had 3 heads and loved the traditional religion, along with the rest of the Grace seeking Pilgrims? I parody of course, southern attitudes, considering myself more a product of the north than south. Anyway, on this basis, it’s been speculated that Catherine came late to her evangelical views maybe as late as 1544. Also, to support the late developer argument, we know that Catherine did start off with traditional views, because later in life she cried that
I sought for such riffraff as the Bishop of Rome had planted in his tyranny and kingdom, trusting with great confidence by the virtue and holiness of them to receive full remission of sins
Interesting to see the expression riff raff there, which it turns out is indeed a 15th century expression, of a rather unclear origin, but maybe from the 14th century Norman French for every single one, one and all sort of thing – a sense of indiscriminate lack of choice leading to a negative – all that rubbish sort of thing. Hmm, anyway, it seems just as likely though that her views were formed earlier that 1544. There were plenty of Evangelicals in the north too – witness Francis Bigod and his evangelical views in his rebellion of 1537 for example. And her experience in 1536 and 7 with the pilgrimage of Grace might just as easily have horrified her with its violence, danger, and the implied, and sometimes explicit, threat to social order. Because Edward Borough died pretty quickly and by 1534 Catherine was married once more to Baron Latimer. Latimer was one of those who claimed to have been forced into a leading role in the pilgrimage of Grace. As we know the commons did not entirely trust their gentry to keep the faith, a lack of trust which as we have seen was entirely vindicated by events; and in January 1537 Lady Latimer, Catherine Parr that is, was captured at a place called Snape in Yorkshire, and severed from her freedom, along with her husband’s two children. Now that was probably a little scary, and could well be enough to put your back up, and Catherine seems to have largely deserted the beautiful north for their southern estates from here on in. So we will probably never be sure; but the long and short is that it seems perfectly reasonable to suppose that Catherine came to court already inclined to speak with the evangelical tongue.
Now, in the winter of 1542, Catherine Parr joined the household of Princess Mary, and this brought her consistently to court, and it brought her to the attention of the king. That’s all very well, but in the meantime Catherine was more interested, married woman though she was, in securing the attentions of one Thomas Seymour, and indeed she seems to have succeeded in securing said attentions.
Thomas Seymour, was a dangerous man to know. He would have been about 33/34 in early 1543, and still single; he was the younger brother of Edward Seymour Lord Hertford, and Jane Seymour, dead queen. To say that he had none of his brother’s substance seems one way of putting it, but may have had a good deal more charisma. He was fiery, ambitious, intelligent; rather wild. Much later, his servant would say that
if he had oones conceyved opynion by his owne perswasions, neyther Lawyer nor other could tourne him’
On his execution, the Princess Elizabeth would say he had had been
‘a man with much wit, and very little judgment’
While a childhood friend described him as
“hardy, wise and liberal … fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter”
Well those quotes are not all universally compatible, but you get the message hopefully – form over substance, the all that glitters-is-not-gold sort of category. But like fool’s gold, sparkly, attractive.
The fact that Catherine clearly found as unreliable a bloke as Thomas Seymour attractive oddly adds to her reputation rather than detracting; Largely I suppose because in so many other aspects of her life she chose duty, good sense, steadfastness, thoughtfulness and learning. All of which puts her into a ‘worthy but dull’ pigeonhole, and her passion for Thomas Seymour rather adds colour. Not sure ifd that’s a worthy thought, but there we go.
We appear to have no idea what the form this relationship took in the early days; the evidence which is quoted everywhere is a letter Catherine would write to Thomas after Henry’s death:
“I would not have you think that this, mine honest goodwill towards you, to proceed of any sudden motion of passion; for, as truly as God is God, my mind was fully bent, the other time I was at liberty, to marry you before any man I know.”
But, of course, fate intervened. On the one hand her husband Lord Latimer died on 2nd March 1543 There appears to have been no argy bargy between husband and wife, no suggestion that Catherine had been playing away or anything; she was allocated 2 manors in his will, all very civilised. I’m not for a moment suggesting that Catherine would have been pleased that he’d died, but given that she had, maybe her thoughts turned to the possibilities that opened up to the rather more thrilling Thomas Seymour. But once again, the moving finger was writing. One chronicle has Henry announcing to his council
“Gentlemen, I desire company, but I have had more than enough of taking young wives, and I am now resolved to marry a widow”
His gaze had settled in a male kind of way on Catherine Parr. And it seems that he popped the question not long after Latimer’s death.
Catherine took her time. I have to say that I am a little unsure as to how much choice she had. The regular story when talking about Catherine Howard for example seems to be that it was essentially a rhetorical question, or Hobson’s Choice, a question with but one answer. But Anne Boleyn never seemed to assume she had to say yes, and Catherine Parr now certainly behaves as though she had a choice.
It must have been a tricky decision. Bit fat bloke with a smelly leg and a life without privacy; or the power of the queen and marriage to a character seen as the closest thing to God? It seems that duty and ambition won out. There are a couple of things to bear in mind. I have often thought that it’s relatively easy to empathise with the depth of religious belief in early modern times, because we have examples all around us in the modern world, and may indeed share those very same beliefs – so fine. But that the level of reverence accorded monarchs is much, much more alien to us. Suspend your cynicism when I tell you that Catherine would write of Henry as ‘our Moses’ who
Hath delivered us out of the captivity and spiritual bondage of Pharaoh…hath taken away the veils and mists of errors, and brought us to the knowledge of the truth by the light of God’s word.
So while we in the 21st century might delight in pouring scorn on the man, things were different then. This was not to be an offer she would take lightly, but probably not because, as the cynical Chapuys wrote, from a sense of danger, but from a sense of the enormity of it, and the cost to her personal happiness.
So Catherine, a deeply religious person, spoke to God, she knew that he’d understand because she’d stick by him and let him be her guiding hand. And it appears that God did indeed, after a few weeks delay help her. She must give up her instinctive and heartfelt desires, and follow the path of duty. Again she would later write:
Through His grace and goodness he made that possible which seemed to me impossible: that was, made me renounce utterly mine own will and to follow His most willingly
Which makes it clear that she actively chose Henry. It makes it equally clear that she might have preferred that the cup of poison not to have been presented to her at all, and that it was not an easy decision.
On 12th July 1543, then, Henry and Catherine were married at Hampton Court, privately as was Henry’s way, with Bishop Gardiner officiating – Cranmer at this point, as you might remember, was teetering on the brink of disaster at Stephen Stockfish’s hands. There were about 20 guests, including Catherine’s younger sister Anne, and 3 of her closest friends and ladies in waiting – Catherine Willoughby, Anne Seymour, wife of Edward Seymour Earl of Hertford, and Joan Viscountess Lisle.
You might also remember that at pretty much the same time, three evangelicals were burned for heresy. In Strasbourg, a man called Richard Hilles was following events eagerly. It is a feature of the English reformation that every twist and turn sees a group of those with more extreme views flee to the continent, which give a sort of barometer of progress. At this time exiles were probably dominated by disappointed evangelicals, like our Richard Hilles. And then with Mary’s return we’ll have the Marian Exiles, while with Elizabeth we’ll be talking about the catholic exiles and recusants. Anyway, in September 1543 Hilles doesn’t sound very impressed:
Our king has, with these two months, burned three godly men in one day…[but then] he is always wont to celebrate his nuptials by some wickedness of this kind’.
It’s an interesting comment and not just because it’s a reasonably good, if rather black gag, but because it lends some weight to the idea that Catherine came to evangelicalism as late as 1544, since Richard doesn’t seem to be celebrating Catherine’s arrival with any enthusiasm. It’s not clear if others knew that Catherine would be as important an advocate as any for the evangelicals, and that poor Thomas Cranmer had at last acquired himself an ally.