Happy International Women’s Day!
“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.” – Gloria Steinem
If you’ve read this blog before, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’m a feminist. I’ve mentioned this fact a few times, but it bears repeating. Equality shouldn’t be something that varies by gender (or race or sexual orientation or economic status or religion or any other factor other than your actions). It drives me crazy that we have to have ‘women in leadership’ programs – it should just be called leadership. I don’t like that we still have to distinguish the novelty of a situation whenever a woman does something exceptional. However, because we still have a LONG way to go, that is the reality. I’m proud to be a woman, and I am proud to stand with the women who have come before us whose shoulders we now stand on.
So I’ve been wanting to do a feature on some historic women who maybe are lesser known than they deserve to be. There are so many incredible women across the globe and across history who deserve to be remembered- I think the film Hidden Figures really spoke to that. I’m hoping to do this on a semi-regular basis, but thought I’d start with a women who gets glossed over in Western History as I recently read a book about her, so she’s been at the top of my mind. Additionally, while this particular installment is focused on a woman from western Europe- I plan to do features across the globe.
Catherine Parr was Henry VIII of England’s last wife. Most people are familiar with Katharine of Aragon and Anne Bolyen as that love triangle dramatically changed the face of Britain, Catholicism, and, honestly, Europe as a whole. Most people are also familiar with Henry VIII’s proclivity for killing his wives, so the fact that Catherine outlived him is a win.
She was an incredibly compelling figure, but managed to fly under the radar while accomplishing a significant agenda. Catherine was a very well educated woman, and actively worked to educate the women of her court and her step-children (one of whom was Elizabeth I of England- who is widely recognized as one of the most successful rulers ever. Catherine being Elizabeth’s step-mother during her formative years had a large impact on her eventual ruling style and legacy). Catherine also restored both of Henry’s daughters (Mary & Elizabeth) to the line of succession. Basically, she fought with her insanely unstable husband to mend his very complex relationships with his children- and she succeeded. That alone speaks to how selfless, loyal, and persuasive she could be.
Catherine Parr was one of the first females to publish a book in England, although she did so anonymously. She did eventually claim credit for her first book and published a second book post-Henry’s death. Essentially, her books were based on her reformer views around the Protestant faith, and as Henry VIII was very fickle and often looked for excuses to find a new wife, he tried to have her arrested (with the goal of execution) on the basis of her religious beliefs, so her publishing anonymously was paramount to her survival. In fact, it’s notable to mention another amazing woman here. Anne Askew was the first woman burned at the stake primarily because she refused to name Catherine Parr as a Protestant reformer. The enemies of Catherine Parr basically offered to let Anne go if she would give up the queen, but she refused and was killed. The fact that Catherine’s friends and associates were so loyal that they willingly died to protect her should clue you into the fact that this woman was pretty spectacular. As an additional note, she managed to change Henry’s mind about her arrest by saying she only engaged in these religious debates with him to take his mind off of his pain, and he bought it and turned on her enemies. That is some master manipulation of an egotistical maniac by an intelligent and strong woman.
She also ruled as regent while Henry was off at war. In her three months in power, she ruled without challenge, and did effectively maintain her authority. She dealt with finances and supplies for Henry’s war while also passing royal proclamations at home, and effectively controlling the dangerous and evolving situation with Scotland. This time specifically is thought to have shown Elizabeth I what was possible for a female ruler of England (spoiler alert- EVERYTHING). Catherine was renowned for her morality and loyalty, but she was able to remain committed to her passions (religion and education) while navigating through an incredibly dangerous marriage and role as queen.
In summary, Catherine should be remembered as a pioneer and an example for women as she was able to write, speak, and act with dignity and implementing progressive views into society in a time when her predecessors met very messy ends for less.
So let’s bring this back to today- here’s hoping Melania or Ivanka pulls some sweet Catherine Parr maneuvers, and subtlety (or overtly) influences the actions of their version of Catherine’s egotistical unstable Henry VIII. We could use a little bit of her influence these days.
So ladies, let’s get out there and inspire!