Katherine Parr

Susan E. James

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online June 2012 | | DOI:
Katherine Parr

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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Once characterized as the marginally memorable sixth wife of Henry VIII, Katherine (Kateryn, Catherine) Parr (b. 1512–d. 1548) has earned a significantly more important place in Tudor history than previously understood, due to new research. Primary source analysis has clarified some of the more notorious details of her career and assembled a catalogue of her accomplishments that both illuminate the cultural concerns of her own lifetime and mark an enduring legacy that survived her. Unique among Henry’s queens as a woman of gentry stock who, prior to her royal marriage, had spent most of her adult years in the North of England, away from court, Parr’s importance to English history can be measured in many arenas. One of these lies in her successful campaign in 1544 to have the princesses Mary and Elizabeth reestablished in the line of Tudor succession. Another lies in her work to strengthen the foundation of the English church and to encourage the nascent book-publishing industry as well as in her writings in the English vernacular, which she published during her lifetime, the first Englishwoman to publish an original work of prose under her own name. Her contributions to education culminated in the founding of Trinity College, Cambridge, which she persuaded the king to establish in 1546. Parr’s love of painting, particularly portraits, helped to popularize the miniature format, which flourished for the next three centuries, and her patronage of an influx of Continental artists helped to change the face of English art. In the field of music she employed the Venetian Bassano brothers, musicians and instrument makers, in her household and was a patron of composer Thomas Tallis. In the performing arts, her employment of scholar and writer Nicholas Udall resulted in the first known English comedy, Ralph Roister Doister, in which Udall made Katherine the central character, and which acted as an early source play for Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. In 1544, while on campaign in France, the king appointed Katherine regent of England. Perhaps one of her most important acts at that time was to take under her guardianship the Princess Elizabeth, a firsthand witness to her stepmother’s performance as, albeit temporarily, the acting head of state. Katherine Parr’s efforts on behalf of the English vernacular in the service of the English church, in the expansion of the emerging English Renaissance in all its many manifestations, and in the education and futures of her stepchildren, particularly of Elizabeth, formed a legacy that lasted long after her death.

Article.  5383 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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