Vidya Makan Parr

Six – The History Behind the Hit: Katherine Parr

After a hit season on West End, ‘Six’ recently debuted in Australia and on Broadway. A historically inspired musical, it reimagines Henry VIII’s wives as a pop group, telling their funny and heart-wrenching stories through song. In this series, discover more about the real-life figures behind the show, with “six facts” for each of the six queens.

The sixth and final queen in our series, and Henry VIII’s sixth wife, is Katherine Parr.

Katherine Parr

“I wrote books and psalms and meditations, fought for female education.”
(Katherine Parr in the musical ‘Six’)

Katherine Parr was a twice-widowed English gentlewoman who caught the eye of Henry after the execution of Katherine Howard. Despite already being in love with Thomas Seymour, Katherine was obliged to marry Henry, becoming his sixth and final wife. During their marriage, she championed Protestantism and published several books on religious topics, but produced no children. After Henry’s death, she was finally able to marry Seymour and also fostered Princess Elizabeth, before later dying in childbirth. 

Katherine Parr - Six
Left: Anna Uzele from ‘Six The Musical’ Broadway © 2020 / Right: Portrait of Katherine Parr by an unknown artist.
Fact 1 – Katherine was named after Henry’s First Wife

Katherine Parr’s mother was lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon and named her daughter after the queen. Aragon also served as Parr’s godmother, taking spiritual responsibility for the girl, who would eventually follow in her footsteps as queen.

Fact 2 – Predicted Her Own Reign

Katherine hated needlework as a young child and frequently asked to be excused from practicing. Her excuse that “my hands are ordained to touch sceptres and crowns, not spindles and needles” was quite an extraordinary prediction, considering that women of her rank almost never attained royal status.

Fact 3 – First Female Author in English

Early in her marriage, Katherine anonymously published an English translation of ‘Psalms or Prayers’. However, when she released ‘Prayers and Meditations’ and later ‘Lamentations of a Sinner’, they were both under her own name. With these publications, she became the first woman to publish books under her own name in English.

Fact 4 – Nearly Didn’t Survive

Katherine was determined to push religious reform, hiring Protestant tutors for Prince Edward and associating with religious radicals. However, this opened her up to accusations of heresy and eventually convinced Henry to sign a warrant for her execution. Only prior warning allowed her to placate the king with a dramatic display of submission, insisting that she was “a silly poor woman, so much inferior in all respects of [his] nature”.

Fact 5 – Most Married Queen

With six wives, Henry was the most married King of England, and Katherine was his equivalent as the most married queen, having four husbands during her lifetime. She was married to and widowed by Sir Edward Burgh and Lord Latimer before marrying Henry and made a love match with Seymour after his death.

Fact 6 – Married a Pervert (after Henry)

Though Katherine was swept off her feet by the charming Seymour, he developed a disturbing obsession with her stepdaughter, Princess Elizabeth. The 13-year-old princess, to whom he had once proposed, lived with the couple after the death of her father. He repeatedly stormed into her bedroom to engage in rough horseplay, which eventually escalated into cutting her dress to pieces and kissing her. After this occurred, Katherine sent Elizabeth to stay in another household.

The Show

In ‘Six’, Katherine is forced to marry Henry, but she remains true to herself and uses the marriage as an opportunity to publish and encourage education for women.  

‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ is part goodbye letter to Seymour and part internal mantra; a refusal to emotionally sacrifice herself to Henry and a reaffirmation of her own individual identity outside of marriage. Check out the Studio Cast Recording featuring Izuka Hoyle on Spotify.

I have the privilege to get to be astounded, every day, by the goodness in people. And the love and respect I have for these ladies is a LOT. Here’s to another week in court!
(Vidya Makan)

Vidya Makan is playing Katherine Parr in the currently postponed Australian tour of ‘Six’.

Makan is a 2015 graduate of the Queensland Conservatorium’s Music Theatre Program, during which she played the roles of Laurey Williams in ‘Oklahoma’ and Diana Morales in ‘A Chorus Line’. After graduating, she made her professional film debut as Maria Krish in ‘The Colour of Darkness’ followed by her professional stage debut as Little Inez in Harvest Rain’s ‘Hairspray: the Arena Spectacular’. Makan has toured as Alysha understudy/ensemble in ‘American Idiot’, played Lady Capulet in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ with the Australian Shakespeare Company and is currently developing her debut musical ‘I Am Woman’. Most recently she was seen in her Green Room-Nominated run as Dot/Marie in ‘Sunday in the Park with George’ by Watch This.

Vidya Makan Parr
Vidya Makan in ‘Six The Musical’ Australia © 2020

For more on ‘Six’, you can follow the musical on Facebook and Instagram, listen to the cast recording on Spotify or see the National Tour in Melbourne, Adelaide or Wellington, which will recommence at an unconfirmed date. To learn about Katherine Parr, check out the historical fiction novels ‘Katharine Parr: the Sixth Wife’ by Alison Weir and ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ by Philippa Gregory, as well as the television series ‘The Tudors’.

Photos sourced via Facebook and the Daily Art Magazine.

Read more about Henry VIII’s prior wives – Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anna of Cleves or Katherine Howard

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