Katherine Parr: In Fact and Fiction

A Reading List

Chapter 1: Fact

If, as is sometimes claimed, Katherine Parr was once Henry's least well known queen, she has certainly emerged in the last few years from the obscurity in which she has been languishing.

To mark the quincentenary of her birth in 1512, three detailed, full-length biographies were published.

Reviews of these are in our Book Review section, but to summarise, we would suggest:

Catherine Parr, Henry VIII's Last Love - Dr Susan James, if you are interested in very detailed, scholarly analysis and additional information about Katherine's siblings.

Katherine the Queen, the Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr - Dr Linda Porter, if you would like to form a balanced picture of Katherine in the context of her time, seeing both light and shade.

Catherine Parr - Elizabeth Norton. This is aimed at the general reader, and forms an excellent introduction to Katherine, and her relationship with Henry VIII.

In addition, Katherine plays her part in earlier joint biographies by, of course, Agnes Strickland, and, in modern times David Loades, Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir and David Starkey.

The joint biographies are all very different in tone.

Lives of the Queens of England – Vol V – Agnes Strickland. This classic work in XIII volumes was first published in the 1840s and has been referred to by every biographer of queens thereafter. Miss Strickland, who moved in very exalted circles, had access to huge quantities of original papers and letters. She is a sympathetic portraitist of all of the queens, and is particularly attached to Katherine Parr, because of the relationship of the Parrs to her own Strickland ancestors.Although superseded in many ways, it is still worth reading for atmosphere and the human touch.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir. Weir's book was published back in 1991, before the extensive research undertaken by Dr James was available. It is therefore reliant upon earlier research, particularly Strickland's rather romantic stories and perpetuates the myth of the nurse. Interestingly, however, Weir correctly identifies the portrait once labelled Lady Jane Grey, but now proved conclusively by James to be of Katherine Parr. Weir has not received (so far as I am aware, but please correct me) any credit for this early identification.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Dr David Starkey. Dr Starkey's work is as challenging to received opinion as most of his books. As a worshipper of Henry VIII, he sees Henry's wives only as adjuncts to the great man, rather than having much of an interest in the ladies themselves. He does, however, raise a very interesting point around the possibility that Katherine's religious views were influenced by Sir Francis Bigod, which has been taken up vigorously by Elizabeth Norton.

The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Antonia Fraser. Although published more than twenty years ago, this has stood the test of time well. Fraser manages to convey a wealth of information in a very readable format. All of the key information about Katherine is here, and some interesting comparisons with Henry's other wives too.

The Tudor Queens of England – Dr David Loades. Dr Loades' slim volume covers thirteen queens in a mere 220 or so pages, so cannot be expected to be a detailed account. In fact, the only details Dr Loades seems much interested in relate to Katherine's sex life. In the four pages devoted to her, he manages to mention that she was sexually frustrated on each one (although how he knows this is a mystery). He is dismissive of her role as Regent, and scathing about her writings.

The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII – Amy Licence. This work concentrates solely on the persoal relationships between the King and his various love interests. By the time he was married to Katherine Parr, the fires of passion were somewhat dimmed, although there is no question that he consummated the marriage. There were rumours that she would be replaced by her friend, Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, but Katherine Parr continued to please him enough to keep her place.