- Born: Abt 1512, Kendal Castle, Cumbria, England
- Marriage: King Henry VIII Tudor on 12 Jul 1543 in Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, England
- Died: 5 Sep 1548, Sudeley Castle, near Winchcombe, Gloucestershire, England about age 36
Catherine Parr (c.1512 \endash 5 September 1548), also known as Katherine or Katharine Parr(e), was the last of the six wives of Henry VIII of England. She was Queen Consort of England during 1543\endash 1547, then Dowager Queen of England. She was the most-married English Queen, with four husbands.
Catherine was born at Kendal Castle in Westmorland, North West England, where her ancestors had resided since the fourteenth century. She was the eldest child of Sir Thomas Parr of Horton House, Northamptonshire, descendant of King Edward III, and Lady Maud Green (6 April 1495-20 August 1529), daughter of Sir Thomas Green of Greens Norton, Northamptonshire. She had a younger brother, William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton and a sister, Anne Parr, Lady Herbert. Sir Thomas was Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Master of the Wards and Comptroller to King Henry VIII. Her mother, Lady Maud, was an attendant of Catherine of Aragon.
At the age of fifteen in 1527, she became the second wife of Edward Borough, 2nd Baron Borough of Gainsborough. He died in the spring of 1533.
In the summer of 1534, she married John Neville, 3rd Baron Latymer of Snape, North Yorkshire. In 1536, during the Pilgrimage of Grace, Catherine was held hostage by northern rebels, along with her two stepchildren. John Nevill died in 1543.
It was in the household of Henry's and Catherine of Aragon's daughter, Mary, that Catherine Parr caught the attention of the King. After the death of Catherine's second husband, the rich widow began a relationship with Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, the brother of the late Queen Jane Seymour, but the king took a liking to her and she was obliged to accept his proposal instead.
Queen Consort of England and Ireland
Catherine married Henry VIII on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace. She was the first English Queen Consort to enjoy the new title Queen of Ireland following Henry's adoption of the title King of Ireland. As Queen, Catherine was partially responsible for reconciling Henry with his daughters from his first two marriages, who would later become Queens Regnant, Mary and Elizabeth. She also developed a good relationship with Henry's son Edward, later Edward VI. When she became Queen, her uncle Baron Parr of Horton became her Lord Chamberlain.
For three months, from July to September 1544, Catherine was appointed Queen Regent by Henry as he went on his last, unsuccessful, campaign in France. Thanks to her uncle having been appointed as member of her regency council, and to the sympathies of fellow appointed councillors Thomas Cranmer and Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Catherine obtained effective control and was able to rule as she saw fit. She handled provision, finances and musters for Henry's French campaign, signed five Royal proclamations, and maintained constant contact with her lieutenant in the northern Marches, the Earl of Shrewsbury, over the complex and unstable situation with Scotland. It is thought that her actions as Regent, together with her strength of character and noted dignity, and later religious convictions, greatly influenced her stepdaughter Elizabeth I.
Her religious views were complex, and the issue is clouded by the lack of evidence. Although she must have been brought up as a Catholic, given her birth before the Protestant Reformation, she later became sympathetic to and interested in the "New Faith." It has been hypothesised that she was actually a Protestant by the mid-1540s, as we would now understand the word. We can be sure that she held some strong reformed ideas after Henry's death, when the Lamentacions of a synner (Lamentations of a Sinner) were published in late 1547. The book promoted the Protestant concept of justification by faith alone, something which the Catholic Church deemed to be heresy. It is extremely unlikely that she developed these fews in the short time between Henry's death and the publication of the book. Her sympathy with Anne Askew, the Protestant martyr who fiercely opposed the Catholic belief of Transubstantiation, also suggests that she was more than merely sympathetic to the New Religion.
Regardless of whether or not she formally converted, which is unlikely, the queen was reformist enough to be viewed with suspicion by Catholic and anti-Protestant officials such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner and Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton who tried to turn the king against her in 1546. An arrest warrant was drawn up for her, but she managed to reconcile with the King after vowing that she had only argued about religion with him to take his mind off the suffering caused by his ulcerous leg.
Final marriage, childbirth and death
Following Henry's death on 28 January 1547, Catherine was able to marry her old love, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral. Having had no children from her first three marriages, Catherine became pregnant for the first time, by Seymour, at age thirty-five. But her happiness was short-lived.
She had a rivalry with Anne Stanhope, the wife of her husband's brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset.
Thomas Seymour was alleged to have taken liberties with the teenaged Princess Elizabeth (Catherine's step-daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I), who was living in their household, and he had reputedly plotted to marry her.
Catherine gave birth to her only child - a daughter, Mary Seymour - on 30 August 1548, but Catherine died only six days later, on 5 September 1548, at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, from what is thought to be puerperal fever or puerperal sepsis, also called childbed fever. Coincidentally, it was the same illness that killed Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour.
Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason less than a year later, and Mary was taken to live with Catherine Willoughby, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Catherine's. After a year and a half, Mary's property was restored to her by an Act of Parliament, easing the burden of the infant's household on the Duchess. The last mention of Mary Seymour on record is on her second birthday, and although stories circulated that she eventually married and had children, most historians believe she died as a child.
In 1782, a gentleman by the name of John Locust discovered the coffin of Queen Catherine at the ruins of the Sudeley Castle chapel. He opened the coffin and observed that the body, after 234 years, was in a surprisingly good condition. Reportedly the flesh on one of her arms was still white and moist. After taking a few locks of her hair, he closed the coffin and returned it to the grave.
The coffin was opened a few more times in the next ten years and in 1792 some drunken men buried it upside down and in a rough way. When the coffin was officially reopened in 1817, nothing but a skeleton remained. Her remains were then moved to the tomb of Lord Chandos whose family owned the castle at that time. In later years the chapel was rebuilt by Sir John Scott and a proper altar-tomb was erected for Queen Catherine.
Some of Catherine Parr's writings are available from the Women Writers Project.
In film and on stage
Catherine first appeared in cinemas in 1933, in Alexander Korda's masterpiece The Private Life of Henry VIII. Charles Laughton played the king, with actress Everley Gregg appearing as Catherine Parr. The film makes no attempt to depict the historical Parr's character, instead portraying the Queen for comic effect as an overly-protective nag.
In 1952, a romanticised version of Thomas Seymour's obsession with Elizabeth I saw Stewart Granger as Seymour, Jean Simmons as the young Elizabeth and screen legend Deborah Kerr in the popular film Young Bess.
In 1970, in "Catherine Parr", a 90-minute BBC television drama (the last in a 6-part series, entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII) Catherine was played by Rosalie Crutchley opposite Keith Michell's Henry. In this, Catherine's love of religion and intellectual capabilities were highlighted. Crutchley reprised her role as Catherine Parr in Part 1 of a 6-part series on the life of Elizabeth I in 1971, called Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson in the title role.
In 1973, Barbara Leigh-Hunt played a matronly Catherine in Henry VIII and his Six Wives, with Keith Michell once again playing Henry. In 2000, Jennifer Wigmore played Catherine Parr in the American television drama aimed at teenagers, "Elizabeth: Red Rose of the House of Tudor". A year later, Caroline Lintott played Catherine in Professor David Starkey's documentary series on Henry's queens.
In October 2003, in a two-part British television series on Henry VIII, Catherine was played by Clare Holman. The part was relatively small, given that the drama's second part focused more on the stories of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard.
In March 2007, Washington University in St. Louis performed the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition winner "Highness" which documents the life of Catherine Parr and her relationships with King Henry and his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, to whom she was a stepmother.
She has been the subject of several novels, including two entitled The Sixth Wife, and she is a supporting character in the fourth Matthew Shardlake mystery, Revelation.
The popular myth that Catherine acted more as her husband's nurse than his wife was born in the 19th century from the work of Victorian moralist and proto-feminist, Agnes Strickland. This assumption has been challenged by David Starkey in his book Six Wives in which he points out that such a situation would have been vaguely obscene to the Tudors, given that Henry had a huge staff of physicians waiting on him hand and foot, and Catherine was a woman expected to live up to the heavy expectations of Queenly dignity. Dr Starkey also suggested that it was "99% certain Catherine was not born in Kendal, and 90% that she never visited it" (source; lecture 19/09/08 Brigsteer, nr Kendal Cumbria)
Catherine's good sense, moral rectitude, passionate religious commitment and strong sense of loyalty and devotion have earned her many admirers among historians. These include David Starkey, feminist activist Karen Lindsey, Lady Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir, Carolly Erickson, Alison Plowden, and Susan James.
Catherine married King Henry VIII Tudor, son of Henry VII Tudor and Elizabeth of York, on 12 Jul 1543 in Hampton Court Palace, East Molesey, Surrey, England. (King Henry VIII Tudor was born on 28 Jun 1491 in Palace of Placentia, Greenwich, London, Middlesex, England and died on 28 Jan 1547 in Palace of Whitehall, London, Middlesex, England.)