In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Katherine Parr

  • Introduction
  • General Biographies
  • Six Wives Collections
  • General Period Context
  • The Parrs of Kendal and Early Life
  • Pilgrimage of Grace
  • As Queen
  • As Art Patron
  • As Music Patron
  • As Queen-Dowager
  • Legacy

Renaissance and Reformation Katherine Parr
Susan E. James
  • LAST REVIEWED: 31 May 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0070


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.

General Biographies

Publications on the life and works of Katherine Parr have grown substantially since the turn of the 21st century, since the publication of Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen (James 1999). Prior to that publication, Strickland 2011 constitutes the first comprehensive biography of Parr, while Martienssen 1973 is the first modern biography focused solely on this queen. Since 1999 several biographies have appeared. James 2009 is a slightly revised edition of the 1999 publication, with some additional material but without the extensive appendixes of the earlier work. James 2004, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, is the most recent synopsis of Parr’s life by this author and is a useful introduction to her career. Individual popular biographies, such as Porter 2010 and Norton 2011, have taken the same material to a broader audience, and Withrow 2009 presents Parr’s life from a religious viewpoint.

  • James, Susan E. Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 1999.

    This is the first definitive biography of the queen, her life, her works, and her importance to English history. Extensive appendixes provide further information on various aspects of Parr’s life, death, burial, and exhumation.

  • James, Susan E. “Katherine Parr.” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 30, Jenner–Keayne. Edited by H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    This article offers a summary of the material in James 1999 and James 2009 and is a convenient introduction to Parr’s life. Available online by subscription.

  • James, Susan E. Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love. Stroud, UK: History Press, 2009.

    This book contains some revisions of the 1999 text and additional contemporary materials that help in understanding certain pressures in Parr’s life, such as her deep desire for motherhood as evidenced by her adoption of her sister Anne’s baby son. It does not contain the extensive appendixes of the original work.

  • Martienssen, Anthony. Queen Katherine Parr. London: Secker and Warburg, 1973.

    The first modern biography to concentrate on Parr alone, Martienssen takes the traditional view, complete with historical inaccuracies, but with some emotional insight into Parr’s turbulent life.

  • Norton, Elizabeth. Catherine Parr. Stroud, UK: Amberley, 2011.

    Norton’s book is a popularization of Parr’s life, based on earlier published scholarly material.

  • Porter, Linda. Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr. New York: St. Martin’s, 2010.

    Porter’s work is a popular retelling of Parr’s biography, based mostly on secondary sources.

  • Strickland, Agnes. Lives of the Queens of England. Vol. 3. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    Strickland made the first real attempt to draw together materials on Parr’s life. Extensive subsequent research has revised and augmented much of this early work, but it contains interesting insights and a popular approach to its subject. Originally published in 1851. Available online.

  • Withrow, Brandon. Katherine Parr: A Guided Tour of the Life and Thought of a Reformation Queen. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2009.

    One in a series of books written from a religious perspective, Withrow’s brief gloss of Parr’s life contains some inaccuracies and prefaces a transcription of Parr’s Prayers and Meditations and Lamentation of a Sinner, together with some selected correspondence. Mueller 2011 (cited under Critical Analysis of Parr’s Works in the 21st Century) supersedes this volume.

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