Thursday, June 9, 2011

Elizabeth Tudor's Letter to Katherine Parr (1548)

As promised, here is the first primary document for my
Being Bess readers

The primary mother figure for Elizabeth Tudor, save for her lifelong attendant and friend Katherine (nee Champernowne) Ashley, was undoubtedly Katherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII. A fellow reformist, Katherine and Elizabeth shared their faith and a dedication to higher learning. Elizabeth went to live with Katherine and her husband Thomas Seymour for a time (more on this time in her life in an upcoming article) after the death of her father. Katherine was responsible for facilitating Elizabeth’s superb education, and giving her motherly affection and guidance.

The letter below was written by Elizabeth to her stepmother a few weeks before Katherine gave birth to her first and only biological child, thought to be a girl. Unfortunately, Katherine Parr did not live long. Katherine became ill due to childbirth complications, and died shortly thereafter. Her child disappears from the records, so it is thought that she too died around the same time as her mother.

July 31, 1548

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,

     The relationship between Elizabeth and her stepmother brings us many touching, intimate glimpses into Elizabeth’s young life, a childhood that was more often than not plagued with neglect, paranoia and disinterest from her father. One of my favorite stories of Elizabeth and Katherine Parr is appropriate to mention here:

     At the tender age of eleven, child prodigy Elizabeth translated from French The Mirror of the Sinful Soul as a gift for Katherine. For a comprehensive explanation of the incredible significance of this text for Elizabeth, Katherine Parr, and Anne Boleyn, please visit Claire Ridgway’s wonderful article at Elizabeth Files.

The cover of eleven-year-old Elizabeth's translation of The Mirror of the Sinful Soul. Elizabeth embroidered the cover with Queen Katherine Parr's initials, "KP". Picture acquired through Wikimedia Commons. Image public domain.