Catherine Parr is often known by her legacy of ‘surviving’ Henry VIII, being his sixth wife and the one who outlived him. Catherine was however, an interesting and intelligent woman who achieved much more than merely ‘surviving’.
Here are 10 facts about her fascinating life.
1. She was likely named after Catherine of Aragon
Born in 1512 to Sir Thomas Parr, lord of the manor of Kendal in Westmorland, and Maud Green, an heiress and courtier, Catherine belonged to a family of substantial influence in the north.
Her father was given a number of important positions at court such as Master of the Wards and Comptroller to the King, while her mother was employed in Catherine of Aragon’s household and the two were close friends.
Catherine Parr was likely named after Catherine of Aragon, as the queen was also her godmother, an interesting and largely unknown link between Henry VIII’s first and last queens.
2. She married twice before wedding Henry VIII
Though best known as Henry VIII’s sixth queen, Catherine was in fact married twice before. In 1529, while aged 17, she married Sir Edward Burgh, who was himself in his 20s and a Justice of the Peace. Tragically they were only married 4 years before Burgh died, leaving Catherine a widow aged 21.
In 1534, Catherine remarried John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer, becoming only the second woman in the Parr family to marry up into the peerage. This new title afforded her lands and wealth, and although Latimer was twice her age, the pair were well-matched and held great affection for one another.
3. Catholic rebels held her hostage during the Northern uprisings
Following Henry VIII’s break with Rome, Catherine found herself in the crossfire of the Catholic rebellions that followed.
As her husband had been a supporter of the Catholic Church, a mob of rebels marched to his residence during the Lincolnshire Rising to demand he join their efforts in reinstating the old religion. He was taken away by the mob, and Catherine was left to protect two young step-children.
In 1537, during the subsequent rebellions in the north, Catherine and the children were held hostage at Snape Castle in Yorkshire while rebels ransacked the house. They threatened Latimer with their deaths should he not return immediately. These events likely swayed Catherine towards her future support of Protestantism.
4. When she married Henry VIII, she was actually in love with someone else
Following her second husband’s death in 1543, Catherine recalled her mother’s friendship with Catherine of Aragon and struck up a relationship with her daughter, Lady Mary. She joined her household and moved to court where she began a romantic relationship with Thomas Seymour, brother of Henry VIII’s third wife Jane.
At the same time however she caught the attention of the king and, as is infamously known, rebuffing his proposals was out of the question.
Thomas Seymour was removed from court to a posting in Brussels and Catherine married Henry VIII at Hampton Court on 12 July 1543.
5. She was very close with Henry VIII’s children
During her queenship, Catherine established very close relationships with the king’s children – Mary, Elizabeth and Edward, who would all become future monarchs.
She was partially responsible for reconciling the king with his daughters, whose relationships with him had been hampered by their mothers’ respective falls from grace. Elizabeth in particular formed a very close relationship with her step-mother.
Catherine’s own step-children were also afforded a role at court, with her step-daughter Margaret and step-son’s wife Lucy Somerset given positions in her household.
6. Whilst the king was at war, she was made regent
In 1544, Henry named Catherine as regent when he went on a final campaign to France. Her flair for politics and strength of character aided her success in this role, while her ability to forge loyal alliances meant the regency council she inherited was already full of faithful members.
During this time she managed finances for Henry’s campaign and the royal household, signed 5 royal proclamations, and maintained a constant correspondence with her northern Marches lieutenant over the unstable situation in Scotland, all the while informing Henry via letter of how his kingdom fared.
It is thought that her strength in this role greatly influenced the young Elizabeth I.
7. She was the first woman to publish work in her own name
In 1545, Catherine published Prayers or Meditations, a collection of vernacular texts assembled for personal devotion. It followed an earlier anonymous publication named Psalms or Prayers, and was very successful among English readers in the 16th century, helping to develop the new Church of England.
When Henry VIII died, Catherine went on to publish a much more blatantly Protestant-leaning pamphlet in 1547, called The Lamentation of a Sinner. It supported a number of clearly reformative ideas, such as the focus on scripture and justification by faith alone, and even referred to ‘papal riff-raff’.
She boldly identified herself as the Queen of England and Henry VIII’s wife in this writing, a move that openly contrasted her high status with her sinfulness in a manner that was unprecedented. The Lamentation of a Sinner was used heavily by the Nonconformists of the following century, and may have had some influence over Edward VI’s Protestant rule.
8. Her religious views almost sent her to the Tower
Though raised a Catholic, in adulthood Catherine clearly harboured a number of reformative religious views as seen in her writing. While queen, she held readings of the newly-published English translation of the Bible, and employed humanist supporters of the Reformation as tutors for Elizabeth and Edward.
Henry soon grew agitated by her increasing independence and insistence on debating religion with him, which anti-Protestant officials such as Stephen Gardiner and Lord Wriothesley seized upon. They began attempting to turn the king against her, and an arrest warrant was eventually drawn up.
When Catherine discovered this she artfully set about trying to reconcile with the king. When a soldier was sent to arrest her as they were out walking together, he was sent away – she had succeeded in saving her own neck.
9. Her fourth marriage caused a court scandal
Following Henry VIII’s death in 1547, Catherine looked again to the man she had fallen in love with in 1543 – Thomas Seymour. As Queen Dowager, remarrying so soon after the king’s death was out of the question, however the pair married in secret.
When, months later, this came to light King Edward VI and his council were furious, as well as his half-sister Mary, who refused the couple any assistance. She even wrote to Elizabeth imploring her to break all contact with Catherine.
The 14-year-old Elizabeth was however moved into the couple’s household, as Catherine had become her legal guardian upon Henry VIII’s death.
There more unsavoury activity unfolded. Thomas Seymour, who had in fact proposed to the young Elizabeth mere months before, began visiting her chamber in the early mornings.
Testimonies from her staff say he would often act inappropriately towards her, tickling her and sometimes even climbing into bed beside her, despite their protestations of impropriety and Elizabeth’s likely discomfort.
Catherine, perhaps believing it to be mere horseplay, humoured this and even joined in with her husband on occasion until one day catching the pair in an embrace.
The following day Elizabeth left their household to live elsewhere. Many suggest this early experience scarred her, and had a hand in her infamous vow to never marry.
10. She died due to complications in childbirth
In March 1548, Catherine realised that she was pregnant for the first time in her life, aged 35. In August, she gave birth to a daughter named Mary, named so after her step-daughter.
Five days later on 5 September she died of ‘childbed fever’ at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, an illness that often occurred due to bad hygiene practice during deliveries.
In her final moments she reportedly accused her husband of poisoning her, and whether there was any truth in this, Seymour would again attempt to marry Elizabeth following his wife’s death.
A Protestant funeral, the first of its kind delivered in English, was held for Catherine in the grounds of Sudeley Castle, where she was laid to rest in the nearby St. Mary’s Chapel on 7 September.