Catherine Parr: Sixth Wife of Henry VIII

Last Wife of Henry VIII Survived His Death

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 had 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 reluctant to marry Henry. She was also aware that refusing him 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.

Background

Catherine Parr was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, who served as King Henry VIII's Master of the Household, and Parr's wife, born Maud Green. Catherine was educated well, including in Latin, Greek, and modern languages. She also studied theology. Catherine was first married to Edward Borough or Burgh until he died in 1529.  In 1534, she married John Neville, Lord Latimer, who was a second cousin once removed.  Latimer, a Catholic, was the target of Protestant rebels, and was later blackmailed by Cromwell.

 Latimer died in 1542.  She was a widow when she became part of the Princess Mary's household, and attracted Henry's attention.

Marriage to Henry VIII

Catherine married Henry VIII on July 12, 1543.  He was her third husband.  She likely already had been developing a relationship with Thomas Seymour, but she chose to marry Henry and Seymour was sent to Brussels.

 As was typical in the circles of nobility, Catherine and Henry had a number of common ancestors, and were third cousins once removed in two different ways, and also double fourth cousins once removed.

Catherine 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.  She advanced several of her Neville stepchildren.

Catherine 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. Catherine herself narrowly escaped being implicated with Anne Askew. A 1545 warrant for her arrest was cancelled when she and the king reconciled.

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 love, Thomas Seymour -- he was Edward's uncle -- did have some influence with Edward, including obtaining his permission to marry, which they obtained sometime after they secretly married on April 4, 1547.

 She was granted permission to be called the Dowager Queen.  Henry had provided her with an allowance after his death.

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

Catherine was apparently surprised to find herself pregnant for the first time in her fourth marriage. 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, hoping to marry Princess Elizabeth. Lady Jane Grey, who Catherine had invited to her home in 1548, remained a ward of Thomas Seymour until his execution for treason in 1549.  The infant daughter, Mary Seymour, went to live with a close friend of Catherine, and there are no records of her after her second birthday.

 We don't know whether she survived.

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

After Death

In the 1700s, Catherine's coffin was discovered in a ruined chapel. The coffin was opened several times in the next decade, before her remains were returned and a new marble tomb was built.

Also known as Katherine or Katheryn.