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Catherine Parr

Catherine Parr, also spelled Katharine, was the Queen consort of Henry VIII of England 1543-1547; the last wife of his six. She has a special place in history as the most married queen of England, having had four husbands in all.

Catherine was born about 1512, either in London or in the north of England. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal in the Lake District, and his wife, Maud Green. At the age of about 15, she married Edward, Lord Borough, who died in 1529. Some time between 1530 and 1533, she married John Neville, Lord Latimer, who died in 1542. After his death, the rich widow began a relationship with Thomas Seymour, the scoundrel brother of the late queen Jane Seymour, but the king took a liking to her, and she was obliged to accept his proposal instead.

The marriage took place on July 12, 1543, at Hampton Court Palace. As queen, Catherine was responsible for reconciling Henry to his daughters from his first two marriages, who would later become Mary I of England and Elizabeth I of England. She did, however, hold some radical religious views, and Henry quarrelled with her over what he regarded as her extreme Protestantism. Restored to his favour, she nursed him during his last illness. It has been suggested that her strength of character and noted dignity, as well as her religious convictions, greatly influenced her stepdaughter, Elizabeth.

Following Henry's death on January 28, 1547, Catherine was able to marry her old love, Thomas Seymour (now Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral), but her happiness was short-lived. Her husband is alleged to have taken liberties with the teenaged Princess Elizabeth, who was living in their household, and he reputedly intrigued to marry his wife's stepdaughter. Having had no children from her first three marriages, Catherine became pregnant for the first time, by Seymour, in her mid-thirties, and died from complications of childbirth on September 7, 1548, at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where she was buried. Her only child, a daughter, Mary, born August 30, did not long survive her.

As for Thomas Seymour, his marital intrigues got him nowhere. For the trouble of forcing himself on Princess Elizabeth, and for generally proving himself untrustworthy, disreputable, and bound to do something more serious as time went on (he made an apparent attempt to kidnap the young Edward IV, his nephew), he was executed on the grounds of high treason in 1549. Upon hearing of the successful beheading, the teenage princess said, "Today died a man of much wit and very little judgement." Seymour's daughter by Catherine Parr was taken into the household of the Duchess of Somerset, and she disappears from the historical record after the age of two; Mary Seymour presumably died as a child.

In 1782 a gentleman by the name of John Lucas 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. At that time it was 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.

Catherine Howard
Wives of Henry VIIINext: