Catherine Parr, Sixth Wife of Henry VIII

Sixth Wife of Henry VIII

Catherine Parr
Catherine Parr. Hulton Archive/The Print Collector/Print Collector/Getty Images

When Henry VIII of England noticed the widowed Catherine Parr, he had just had his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, executed for deceiving him. He divorced his fourth queen, Anne of Cleves, because he was not attracted to her.

He'd lost his third wife, Jane Seymour, after she gave birth to his only legitimate son. Henry 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 Anne executed for treason for betraying him.

Knowing that history, and apparently already engaged to Jane Seymour's brother, Thomas Seymour, Catherine Parr was both reluctant to marry Henry, and aware that refusing could have serious consequences for herself and her family.

So Catherine Parr married Henry VIII of England on July 12, 1543, and by all accounts was a patient, loving, and pious wife to him in his last years of illness, disillusion, and pain.

Catherine Parr was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, who served as Henry's Master of the Household, and Maud Green. She was educated well, including in Latin, Greek, and modern languages, and she also learned theology. Catherine was first married to Edward Borough until he died in 1529, and then to John Neville, Lord Latimer, who died in 1542.

Catherine 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.

Catherine Parr also directed the education of her stepson, the future Edward VI.

Catherine was sympathetic to the Protestant cause -- and 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.

Catherine herself narrowly escaped being implicated with Anne Askew.

Catherine Parr served as Henry's regent in 1544 when he was in France but, when Henry died in 1547, Catherine was not made regent for Edward. Catherine and her former lover, Thomas Seymour -- he was Edward's uncle -- did have some influence with Edward, including obtaining his permission to marry, which they did on April 4, 1547.

Catherine gave birth to her only child, a daughter, in August 1548, and died a few days later of puerperal fever. There have been suspicions that her husband poisoned her to marry Princess Elizabeth. Lady Jane Grey was a ward of Thomas Seymour until his execution for treason in 1549.

Catherine Parr left two devotional works that were published after her death. She wrote Prayers and Meditations (1545) and Lamentation of a Sinner (1547).