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Lucky No. 6 of Henry VIII's wives was Catherine Parr

April 1, 2016
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@dcn.davis.ca.us

Catherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII's six wives, very nearly failed to out-live her husband. An arrest warrant accusing her of heresy was drawn up but never served before she and the king reconciled. Fortunately for her, Henry later died not very long afterward. They were married for a little more than three years.

"The Taming of the Queen" by Phillipa Gregory (2015) is a fictional look at Catherine Parr's marriage to Henry VIII. It also describes the passionate love affair she had with Thomas Seymour before and after her marriage. Catherine was smart enough not to commit adultery but her commitment to Henry came at a high emotional price.

Gregory has written a wonderful book about a fascinating piece of history. She is skilled at describing life at court and Catherine's motivations. Catherine was a widow, an older woman (in her 30s), a modest and devout woman who felt that it was her duty to marry a man she did not love (the King)and to give up her lover, Seymour. She studied theology with her ladies, nursed the King (who was in great pain due to a chronic wound in his leg) and was a warm and loving stepmother to Mary, Elizabeth and Edward.

Still, Catherine almost lost her heard, too.

The Queen's religious views were Protestant, so you'd think that her husband, the King who fought with the Pope, would have no theological problems with her. However, the lines between "Catholic," "Protestant" and "Church of England" were perilously murky during his reign.

Catherine was raised Catholic, but was later thought to be a Protestant sympathizer. Ironically, she discovered a love of learning and study during her years as Queen, when she had access to religious scholars and thinkers.

"The Wives of Henry VIII" by Antonia Fraser (1992) is a great historical resource describing the documented events of the era, the events that are so compellingly recounted in "The Taming of the Queen."

"Queen Catherine had travelled a long way down the road to heresy -- even if she did not actually cross the boundary," writes Fraser.

From 1536-38 King Henry sanctioned evangelical doctrine and was prepared to incorporate evangelical ideas into his new church. But from 1539 on he reversed most of his previous policies. It was a dangerous time in the kingdom to experiment with theology. In 1539 the Act of Six Articles returned the Church to Catholic thinking with the exception of papal supremacy. The articles reaffirmed transubstantiation and confession while clerical marriage was condemned, and vows of chastity were ordered to be inviolate. And heresy again became a felony. Henry was making the rules. Protestants were punished for violating the Six Articles, while Catholics were punished for denying royal supremacy. Domestically, the King did not like his wives arguing with him. Catherine apparently crossed the line once, was secretly informed of the serious charges against her, and quickly made peace with her husband.

Yet she was sympathetic to a young woman named Anne Askew, a Protestant martyr who opposed the Catholic belief of transubstantiation. Askew was one of a number of theologians of the day who came to the Queen's chambers and gave sermons and explanations of faith to the Queen and her ladies. The Queen gave her a purse of coin -- the two were clearly friends. Yet in 1546, Askew was cruelly racked, tortured and burned at the stake -- the Queen could not save her.

The Queen also published two religious books, an amazing feat for a woman in the 16th Century. The second, "Lamentations of a Sinner," was published in late 1547 (the King died earlier that year). The book promoted the Protestant concept of justification by faith alone, which the Catholic Church called heresy.

After the King's death, Catherine was free to marry Thomas Seymour. She did so. He was her fourth husband and greatest love. And to the great surprise of everyone involved, Catherine became pregnant and delivered a baby girl. Catherine died six days after the death of her daughter.

Printed Matter mourns the loss of four great writers

It's sad to note the deaths of four wonderful people who I wrote about in my column over the years.

The most recent was Jane Lotter, who died on Feb. 28, 2016. She wrote "To Africa With Spatula" about her years in the Peace Corps (Malawi) with her family -- four boys and her husband, Will. It was a great book and I recommend it still. Jane also generously came and gave a talk to a writing class I taught through University Extension a few years ago. She shared all the details of self-publishing "Spatula" including the costs. She was a lovely woman and the information she shared with my class was very helpful.

I was shocked to learn of the Jan. 15, 2016 death of bi-national poet Francisco X. Alarcon. He was a Chicano activist and educator with a special interest in children's poetry. Alarcon taught at UC Davis and mentored many Chicano students in both Spanish and social justice. He, too, came to my class in Sacramento and talked about publishing children's books. He also gave a program for children at International House Davis. His adult poetry was darker, dealing with among other issues the taboo of Chicano homosexuality. Thank you, Francisco.

UC Davis Professor Arnie Bauer died on July 30, 2015. He wrote about Latin America and also was a great mentor and friend to many students. He was a funny man and a great storyteller who made history seem like one of the most interesting things in the world.

French-Italian illustrator Yan Nascimbene died on Feb. 1, 2013. He and his wife, Joan, had not lived in Davis for a few years before his unexpected and untimely death, but when they were Davis residents he gave talks and showed is artwork throughout the area. He is well known for a poster he drew for Putah Creek Council. I loved his work and am happy to say I have several pieces. Yan, too, was a great storyteller and his children's books are magnificent.

Good-bye, friends!

For More Information, Visit These Links:

  • Catherine Parr at Wikipedia
  • Lotter, Jane B.
  • Alarcon, Francisco 8/29/99
  • Alarcon, Francisco
  • Bauer, Arnold J.
  • Nascimbene, Yan 10/17/99
  • Nascimbene, Yan 12/28/97
  • Nascimbene, Yan 12/17/95
  • Nascimbene, Yan 8/20/95

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