Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. The ancient rhyme, of course, recalls the fates of the six wives of King Henry VIII. But a popular misconception still bedevils the reputation of the last of them. Queen Katherine Parr is often depicted as the sober, middle-aged widow whose soft lap and quiet demeanour eased the final years of an obese, syphilitic despot – an autocrat positively Trump-like in his irascible unpredictability.
In fact, the real Katherine couldn’t be more different. A writer and theologian with an occasionally bawdy wit and an instinct to make peace, not war, Henry’s final spouse survived by being a shrewd political operator. And now a bit of musical detective work by musicologist and conductor Dr David Skinner reveals her to be a royal propagandist of the first order thanks to a previously unsuspected collaboration with Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer and the composer Thomas Tallis.
Katherine Parr (1512 – 1548), attributed to William Scrots.
Skinner’s intriguing research throws new light on all four protagonists – Henry (who almost certainly never had syphilis), Katherine (just 31 years of age when she married the King), Cranmer and Tallis...