Katherine Parr – Queen, Author and Stepmother of Monarchs
What’s in a name? The Queen Katherine School is named for Katherine Parr, the last of Henry VIII's six wives - the one who 'survived' in the famous rhyme.
The Parr family took control of Kendal Castle at the of the 14th century (1300s). The Parrs were the most powerful family in South Westmorland. However, they were ambitious and spent increasingly large amounts of time and money in London.
By 1471, William Parr was one of Edward IV’s most important advisers. Wisely, the Parrs did not support Richard III. This meant that William and then his son Thomas were able to ensure that the Parr family were still important when Henry VII became king in 1485.
Thomas Parr was heavily in debt by the time Henry VIII became king in 1509. He owed about 9000 marks, which would be about £16,000,000 today! Fortunately, Henry VIII cancelled the debt. Thomas Parr became increasingly powerful and wealthy under Henry VIII.
In 1512, Thomas’ wife Maud gave birth to Katherine. She was not born in Kendal Castle which, by the early 16th century, was neglected and starting to crumble into ruins. She was probably born at Blackfriars in London because Thomas and Maud had a house there and they would later be buried in St. Ann’s Church in Blackfriars.
Katherine became queen in 1543 when she married Henry VIII. She was interested in religion because she was a committed Protestant and wanted England to become more Protestant.
Henry left Katherine a huge amount of property and wealth in his will. Katherine continued to look after Henry’s three legitimate children, all of whom would go on to be monarchs of England and Ireland: Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I.
Katherine rapidly remarried (some people at the time were shocked by how quickly she remarried). Katherine’s final (and fourth) husband was Thomas Seymour. She had fallen in love with Seymour before marrying Henry – once Henry died, she did (finally) marry for love. However, their relationship was significantly soured by the fact that Thomas seemed far more interested in the teenage Princess Elizabeth (who would become Elizabeth I in 1558) who was in the care of Katherine.
Katherine died of puerperal fever shortly after giving birth to her only child, Mary Seymour, in 1548.
Katherine Parr is most widely known as the final wife of Henry VIII. Her personal links to Kendal were familial and historical – but there is lots to celebrate in the school’s connection to her name. She has other significant accolades to celebrate. As a rich woman with power, she used her position to promote other women whose talents were overlooked in the patriarchal society. For example, she commissioned three female artists to paint her portraits – Susannah Hornebolt, Levina Terrlinc and Margaret Holsewyther. Katherine was also the first female author to publish books in the English language – her first book, Psalms and Prayers was originally published anonymously but she did go on to publish two more books in her name: Prayers of Meditations and The Lamentation of the Sinner.