In July of 1543, Henry VIII married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr. After a six month period of domestic bliss, at least on Henry’s part, international forces were colluding again to take England to war. In the 1543-4 Christmas season, a timetable was agreed upon for Henry and Charles V of Spain to invade France. The King himself would return to the battlefield in France to claim his share of glory, but who could be left behind to manage England?
Reminiscent of his first foray into France in 1513, he left England in the charge of his newly wedded Queen. It seemed as though they truly missed one another as Catherine wrote to him soon after his departure, “Although the discourse of time and account of days neither is long nor many of your Majesty’s absence, yet the want of your presence so much beloved and desired of me, maketh me that I cannot quietly pleasure in anything until I hear from your Majesty.” However, she had much on the homefront to distract her from any loneliness.
Henry had left Catherine in charge of overseeing the movement of men, supplies and money for the war effort. It was her responsibility that the King had everything he needed to bring home victory from France. A huge charge as any misstep could be used to make the Queen a scapegoat for any defeats; A very real possibility as Catherine had enemies circling her at court because of her reformed faith.
Catherine was also responsible for decisions on the Scottish front as well. The situation was in flux, so this was a heavy responsibility. James V of Scotland had been killed at Solway Moss, leaving only a week old daughter Mary. The country was in the hands of James’ widow, Marie of Guise. This put England’s northern neighbor under French influence, which was not good. To counteract this, Henry arranged for the his niece, Lady Margaret Douglas, to marry Matthew Stuart, Earl of Lennox. Lennox was against the Marie of Guise’s Regency, and promised to be in Henry’s pocket if he became Governor of Scotland. The situation seemed to be in hand, but any developments were to be handled by Catherine. They were duly reported to Henry in France, but by the time he received the news the deeds would have been done.
Catherine took the opportunity to improve relations with the King’s children from his various marriages. She had begun reconciling them to each other and their father from the start, but now she made greater strides. On July 21, she visited Edward in his household at Hampton Court and Mary joined her there, closely followed by Elizabeth.
It was here that young Elizabeth watched her stepmother Catherine deal with the powerful Council and Lords in a practical way. Catherine eased her way into a completely masculine world and was able to enforce her command of them. All of her letters rang with authority and she signed them “Catherine, the Queen KP”. This small nod to her maiden name gives the historical observer the sense that she never lost who she was even after becoming Henry’s Queen. It is obvious that Catherine had a great influence on the the Queen Elizabeth was to be come. In fact, many of the men and women who served Catherine at this time were later recruited into Elizabeth’s household. As David Starkey says in The Queens of Henry VIII, “In short, if Catherine had a legacy, it was Elizabeth herself.”