Biography of Catherine Parr, Sixth Wife of Henry VIII

Catherine Parr

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Catherine Parr (c. 1512–Sept. 5, 1548) was the sixth and last wife of Henry VIII, king of England. She was reluctant to marry him—he had had his second and fifth wives executed—but saying no to a proposal from the king could have had serious consequences. She eventually was married four times, the last to her true love.

Fast Facts: Catherine Parr

  • Known For: Sixth wife of Henry VIII
  • Also Known As: Katherine or Katharine Parre
  • Born: c. 1512 in London, England
  • Parents: Sir Thomas Parr, Maud Greene
  • Died: Sept. 5, 1548 in Gloucestershire, England
  • Published Works: Prayers and Meditations, Lamentation of a Sinner
  • Spouse(s): Edward Borough (or Burgh), John Neville, Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour
  • Child: Mary Seymour

Early Life

Catherine Parr was born in London around 1512, the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Greene. She was the eldest of three children. Her parents were courtiers during the early years of Henry VIII's reign. Her father was knighted at the king's 1509 coronation, and her mother was a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon, his first queen, after whom Catherine was named.

After her father died in 1517, Catherine was sent to live with her uncle, Sir William Parr, in Northamptonshire. There, she received a good education in Latin, Greek, modern languages, and theology.

Marriages

In 1529 Parr married Edward Borough (or Burgh), who died in 1533. The next year she married John Neville, Lord Latimer, a second cousin once removed. A Catholic, Neville was the target of Protestant rebels, who briefly held Parr and his two children hostage in 1536 to protest the king's religious policies. Neville died in 1543.

Parr had been widowed twice when she became part of the household of Princess Mary, the king's daughter, and attracted Henry's attention.

Parr wasn't the first woman to draw the king's eye. Henry had put aside his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and split with the Church of Rome to divorce her, so that he could marry his second wife, Anne Boleyn, only to have her executed for treason for betraying him. He had lost his third wife, Jane Seymour, who died from complications after giving birth to his only legitimate son, who was to become Edward VI. He had divorced his fourth queen, Anne of Cleves, because he was not attracted to her. He noticed Parr not long after he had had his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, executed for deceiving him.

Knowing his history and, apparently, already engaged to Jane Seymour's brother Thomas, Parr was naturally reluctant to marry Henry. But she also was aware that refusing him could have serious consequences for herself and her family.

Marriage to Henry

Parr married King Henry VIII on July 12, 1543, four months after her second husband died. By all accounts she was a patient, loving, pious wife to him in his last years of illness, disillusion, and pain. As was typical in noble circles, Parr and Henry had a number of common ancestors and were third cousins once removed in two different ways.

Parr helped reconcile Henry to his two daughters, Mary, daughter of Catherine of Aragon, and Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn. Under her influence, they were educated and restored to the succession. Parr also directed the education of her stepson, the future Edward VI, and advanced her stepchildren with Neville.

Parr was sympathetic to the Protestant cause. She could argue fine points of theology with Henry, occasionally infuriating him so much that he threatened her with execution. She probably tempered his persecution of Protestants under the Act of the Six Articles, which reasserted some traditional Catholic doctrine into the English Church. Parr herself narrowly escaped being implicated with Anne Askew, a Protestant martyr. A 1545 warrant for her arrest was canceled when she and the king reconciled.

Deaths

Parr served as Henry's regent in 1544 when he was in France, but when Henry died in 1547, she was not made regent for his son Edward. Parr and her former love Thomas Seymour, who was Edward's uncle, did have some influence with Edward, including obtaining his permission to marry, which they received sometime after they had secretly married on April 4, 1547. She also was granted permission to be called the Dowager Queen. Henry had provided her with an allowance after his death.

She also was the guardian of Princess Elizabeth after Henry's death, though this led to a scandal when rumors circulated about a relationship between Seymour and Elizabeth.

Parr apparently was surprised to find herself pregnant for the first time in her fourth marriage. She gave birth to her only child, Mary Seymour, on Aug. 30, 1548, and died only a few days later, on Sept. 5, 1548, in Gloucestershire, England. The cause of death was puerperal fever, the same postpartum complication that had taken Jane Seymour. There were rumors that her husband had poisoned her, hoping to marry Princess Elizabeth.

Thomas Seymour was executed for treason in 1549, a year after his wife's death. Mary Seymour went to live with a close friend of Parr, but there are no records of her after her second birthday. Although there have been rumors, it isn't known whether she survived.

Legacy

Catherine Parr sacrificed her love for Seymour and married Henry VIII, a display of loyalty to the crown that has maintained her good reputation throughout English history. She took good care of her stepchildren, providing education and culture, and strongly encouraged stepdaughter Elizabeth's education, which helped to make the future Queen Elizabeth one of the most learned monarchs in English history. Additionally, her support of Protestantism encouraged the translation of religious works into English and furthered the cause of the Protestant Reformation in England.

Parr left two devotional works that were published with her name after her death: "Prayers and Meditations" (1545) and "Lamentation of a Sinner" (1547).

In 1782, Parr's coffin was found in a ruined chapel at Sudeley Castle, where she had lived with Seymour up to her death. In time, a proper tomb and memorial were built there.

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