Katherine Parr: Step-Mother

Definitely not a wicked step-mother

Chapter 2 : Step-Mother to Royalty

There is no evidence as to whether Katherine and the Lady Mary were childhood friends. Maud Parr had remained in Queen Katharine's household until 1531 and it is probably safe to assume that the two girls had at least met, but the extent of their acquaintanceship was probably slight, especially given the four year age gap.

Lady Mary had spent the years 1525-8 in Ludlow as de facto, if not de jure, Princess of Wales, and Katherine left the south in 1528 to be married. Nevertheless from early 1542 Lady Latimer appears to have been closely connected with the Lady Mary's household. Dr James states that Katherine was a member of the Princess' privy chamber, but Porter points out that there is no evidence of payment to Katherine in the princess' accounts.

The Lady Mary, by Master John, about a year after Katherine became her step-mother. (National Portrait Gallery)

Lady Mary was, of course, well acquainted with Katherine's siblings. Anne Parr had received gifts from her, and was mentioned as in attendance on her in 1543 and this may be how the women became reacquainted. Whenever it happened, it is clear that a warm friendship sprang up between them.

Mary was present at the marriage of her father to Katherine and appears to have spent a good deal of time with the new Queen. In particular, they shared intellectual interests. Katherine promoted the translation of Erasmus' Paraphrases of the Gospels from Latin in to English, and persuaded Mary, as a very accomplished Latinist, to undertake the translation of St John. In a letter to Mary, regarding the work's publication, she encouraged the Princess to let the work go forward under her own name:

"You will, in my opinion, do a real injury, if you refuse to let it go down to posterity under the auspices of your own name, since you have undertaken so much labour in accurately translating it…"

Edward, when Prince of Wales. (Compton Verney Collection)

These intellectual interests were also the basis of relationships with her other two new stepchildren. Prince Edward was not yet six when Katherine became his stepmother. Up until this point his elder sister had been the closest to a mother he had known, but even allowing for the epistolary style that seems ludicrously overblown to modern readers, it appears from the letters between Katherine and Edward that a genuine love sprang up.

She wrote to him (when he was aged 8!)

"I affectionately and thoughtfully consider with what great love you attend both me, your mother, and scholarship, at the same time."

He wrote to her in similar style.

"Most honourable and entirely beloved mother, I have me most humbly recommended to your grace with like thanks both that your grace did accept so gently my simple and rude letters, …[and that you] give me so much comfort and encouragement to go forward."

Katherine Parr’s signature, with KP after it, as was her custom.

The level of influence Katherine had over the selection of tutors for the young Prince is unclear. Certainly, all his tutors were men who reflected her religious views (which were decidedly more progressive than Henry's) but it is difficult to imagine that the King would have left the choice to her entirely. It may be, of course, that the tutors kept their more radical views under wraps during Henry's reign, and that we are looking at them with the benefit of hindsight.

Elizabeth too, was charmed by her new step-mother, and, it appears, strongly influenced by her (although it is interesting to note that later, when choosing a new tutor she rejected Katherine's choice). Her letters are also deeply humble and flattering, and the effort she put in to translating her step-mother's writings into several languages, and embroidering a beautiful book cover for a presentation copy of her work, suggest genuine admiration.