The new queen’s immediate priorities demonstrated both her warm nature and her shrewdness. Katherine was determined to please her husband and to get to know his offspring. Mary and Elizabeth spent time with her before the wedding and were present at the ceremony itself on July 12th, 1543. It was a low-key affair at Hampton Court. No great celebrations or public appearances followed. The marriage licence had been issued by Cranmer but the service was conducted by Stephen Gardiner, the conservative Bishop of Winchester. Such a compromise was typical of Henry VIII – in that year Gardiner had been bent on proving heresy in Cranmer’s diocese of Canterbury. And the sweet-smelling herbs that Katherine ordered for her bedchamber were typical of his last consort, a highly intelligent but also sensual woman who had thought hard about how to make a success of her role. She took her marriage vows, to be ‘bonaire and buxom in bed and in board’, seriously. Equally important to her was to be a loved and loving stepmother.Share
Henry had been a distant father (not unusual for an English monarch) but realised, as old age and illness strengthened their hold, that he needed to think about the future of his family and the succession. Katherine understood his concerns and considered how she could turn them to everyone’s advantage. She was certainly aided by circumstances in the first year of her marriage. A prolonged outbreak of the plague in London meant that Henry and his new wife stayed away from the capital. They were continuously in each other’s company for almost six months. During the autumn they visited Edward and Elizabeth at Ashridge in Hertfordshire. Mary accompanied them until overtaken by recurring ill-health. They were not a family in the modern sense, since they were seldom all together under one roof, but the ties between them were drawn tighter by Queen Katherine’s attentions. She was a frequent letter writer, took a keen interest in the two younger children’s education and shared Mary’s love of jewels and fine clothes. Only four years separated the queen and her elder stepdaughter, who passed the happiest period of her adult life in Katherine’s company.
Prince Edward soon felt the benefit of the new queen’s presence. It was not often a physical one since, as heir to the throne, he had always lived well away from court. He passed his time in the smaller royal palaces on the fringes of London. Access to the prince was carefully restricted and a rigorous regime of food-tasting and meticulous laundering of clothes protected the royal person. Pampered and cosseted, he was a happy and active boy. But he could not escape his destiny. His father’s visits were infrequent but nerve-racking; the child knew he was on display. At the age of seven, his education began in earnest. Katherine Parr became his stepmother at a crucial point in his life and she was close to the group of outstanding men chosen to educate the future king.