July 31 – Elizabeth writes to her stepmother, Catherine Parr
Posted By Claire on July 31, 2022
On this day in Tudor history, 31st July 1544 and 1548, in the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, the future Queen Elizabeth I wrote letters to her stepmother, Catherine Parr.
The letters were written at very different times in Elizabeth’s life.
In 1544, Catherine was married to Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, and Elizabeth had been separated from her stepmother for a while. In 1548, Catherine was married to Thomas Seymour and she had removed Elizabeth from their household.
Le me share Elizabeth’s letters and explain the context…
On this day in Tudor history, 31st July 1544, the future Queen Elizabeth I wrote her earliest surviving letter. The daughter of King Henry VIII by his second wife, Queen Anne Boleyn, was just ten years old at the time and she wrote the letter to her stepmother, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife, Queen Catherine Parr, when Catherine was acting as regent while the king was in France. It was written in Italian and in a beautiful italic hand:
“Inimical fortune, envious of all good and ever revolving human affairs, has deprived me for a whole year of your most illustrious presence, and, not thus content, has yet again robbed me of the same good; which thing would be intolerable to me, did I not hope to enjoy it very soon. And in this my exile, I well know that the clemency of your highness has had as much care and solicitude for my health as the king’s majesty himself. By which thing I am not only bound to serve you, but also to revere you with filial love, since I understand that your most illustrious highness has not forgotten me every time you requested from you. For heretofore I have not dared to write to him. Wherefore I now humbly pray your most excellent highness, that, when you write to his majesty, you will condescend to recommend me to him, praying ever for his sweet benediction, and similarly entreating our Lord God to send him best success, and the obtaining of victory over his enemies, so that your highness and I may, as soon as possible, rejoice together with him on his happy return. No less pray I God, that He would preserve your most illustrious highness; to Whose grace, humbly kissing your hands, I offer and recommend myself.
From St. James’s this 31st July.
Your most obedient daughter, and most faithful servant, Elizabeth”
Although past historians like Agnes Strickland have picked up on the word exile and assumed that Elizabeth had done something to anger her father, the king, David Starkey has pointed out that Elizabeth’s relationship with her father was good at this point. She had been restored to the succession, and she had dined with her father and half-siblings just a month earlier, she just hadn’t seen the queen recently due to what she describes in her letter as “ever revolving human affairs”, i.e. the royal family’s busy schedules.
The main purpose of the letter, anyway, as David Starkey notes, is to show off Elizabeth’s scholarship, her courtly Italian, to her stepmother.
And exactly four years later to the day, on 31st July 1548, the now-fourteen-year-old Elizabeth was writing another letter to her stepmother, who was now Dowager Queen and married to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. It is the last known letter between the two women and was written just before the pregnant Catherine took to her chamber, and just weeks before Catherine died of puerperal (childbed) fever.
In a beautiful Italic hand, Elizabeth wrote:
“Although your Highness’s letters be most joyful to me in absence, yet, considering what pain it is for you to write, your Grace being so sickly, your commendations were enough in my Lord’s letter. I much rejoice at your health, with the well liking of the country, with my humble thanks that your Grace wished me with you till you were weary of that country. Your Highness were like to be cumbered, if I should not depart till I were weary of being with you; although it were the worst soil in the world, your presence would make it pleasant. I cannot reprove my Lord for not doing your commendations in his letter, for he did it; and although he had not, yet I will not complain on him; for he shall be diligent to give me knowledge from time to time how his busy child doth; and if I were at his birth, no doubt I would see him beaten, for the trouble he hath put you to. Master Denny and my lady, with humble thanks, prayeth most entirely for your Grace, praying the Almighty God to send you a most lucky deliverance, and my mistress wisheth no less, giving your Highness most humble thanks for her commendations.
Written with very little leisure this last day of July.
Your humble daughter,
Elizabeth had been sent away from Catherine’s household to reside with Catherine’s good friends, Sir Anthony Denny and his wife, at Cheshunt. Catherine’s husband, Thomas Seymour, had been reported as acting inappropriately with Elizabeth, and Catherine had also found Elizabeth and Seymour in each other’s arms. Catherine had to send Elizabeth away, not only to protect Catherine’s marriage, but also to protect Elizabeth’s reputation. Catherine gave birth to a daughter, Mary, on 30th August 1548 but Catherine died on 5th September 1548. Little Mary disappears from the records after March 1550 and it is thought that she died in early childhood.
So, on this day in Tudor history, 1544 and 1548, two letters from Elizabeth to her beloved stepmother, written at very different times in her life.
1 thought on “July 31 – Elizabeth writes to her stepmother, Catherine Parr”
Elizabeth truly had a very fine hand and this is evident in not only the scholarly words she produced but also in her famous signature which accompanied every written letter, the flowery scrolls which she always used after her name, she was indeed every inch a Tudor possessing their fine and fertile Renaissance academic brain, their lust for learning not only in languages but in musical ability as well, part of their welsh heritage, Elizabeth also being part Boleyn must have inherited her ability for languages from her grandfather Thomas Boleyn and her mother to could also play the virginals other instruments and sing well, these two letters four years apart show the deep love and reverence she held her stepmother in, the first written at the tender age of just ten in Italian is incredible and puts many a scholar twice her age at shame today, and Catherine encouraged Elizabeth in her learning, she was indeed close to all her stepchildren even Mary who had differing views on religion, though no child ever believes their parents will die, they must have realised apart from little Edward that she would be their fathers last wife, Mary his eldest had seen five stepmothers come and go, Elizabeth had only known two, Anna from Cleves and Catherine Howard and the latter’s death was said to have made a deep impact on her, so we can see with Catherine Parr she was the only stepmother she had grown close to and grown to love and maybe even idolise, her separation from this kindly woman had caused her much pain, so we can understand her grief when she was sent from Sudeley after the indiscreet romping’s with her waste of a space stepfather, the dashing but conceited and power hungry Thomas Seymour, that she still communicated with both of them shows that they had decided to put the past behind them, and I believe Thomas truly loved his wife, they had been engaged before she married the king, the flirting with Elizabeth was just his way of amusing himself, he knew she had a fancy for him as she was known to blush when his name was mentioned, mere horseplay on his part but for Elizabeth a girl bordering on puberty it was quite an emotional thing to have to experience, the throes of first love always are and Seymour thought it was an amusing thing to do, flirting with a kings daughter, but it went too far and the happy family were split, Elizabeth lived quietly afterwards with Sir Anthony Denny and his wife and studied and dressed in sober black, and she and Catherine must have missed each other dreadfully, by now the young girl must have realised she loved the stepmother more than the stepfather, and her last letter to her is full of regard for her health and that of her infant, how she felt when she heard of her death we do not know, but she must have wept and Thomas himself was grief stricken but it did not stop his overweening ambition, and by now the council were deeply suspicious of him including his brother the Lord Protector, there were rumours he planned to marry Elizabeth but she distanced herself from him and her studious religious life was almost nun like in comparison to the carefree days at Sudeley, she tried to put the scandal behind her and she was succeeding but for Thomas, questioned by the council she kept her head and the reports of her were that she was wise above her years, as for her beloved stepmother Catherine Parr she lived quietly with her husband and Lady Jane Grey their ward, but she never trusted him again as the mask had slipped, on her death bed the infection she caught caused delirium and she rambled at her erring husband that he had given her very shrewd taunts, her death was very sad, this queen had been married four times and had only conceived during her last one, and it seems the baby named Mary after her eldest stepdaughter did not survive longer than a year either, she disappeared from the household accounts of her guardian the Duchess of Suffolk her mother’s friend, who had taken care of her, had little Mary survived I feel Elizabeth would have offered her a place at court when she became queen in homage to the mother, Elizabeth survived the scandal at Sudeley the death of her stepmother and Thomas Seymours execution, it in fact made her wiser and more discreet and glory was hers when she became queen at the age of twenty five, the hope of the realm was invested in this slight rather tall young woman with the fiery golden red hair of her father the great ‘Harry’ and her mother Anne Boleyn ‘ that scandal of Christendom’ with her dark knowing eyes, but the memory of her beloved stepmother must have always been with her, she had embraced her when she was sick, and overseen her studying, she had seen her father merry with her at family occasions, she knew of her fathers regard for his sixth wife and most importantly she had called her ‘mother’, and her death must have affected the young Elizabeth more than the deaths of maybe Catherine Howard and Anna from Cleves, I feel Anne Boleyn herself would have been doubly grateful her daughter had had such a champion of kindness and wisdom.