Catherine Parr was a loyal and sympathetic companion who nursed an increasingly irritable Henry VIII in his declining years by creating a domestic family life at court.
Henry’s sixth wife was born in 1512, the eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Green of Kendal.
Catherine was married twice before and recently widowed. Catherine planned to marry Thomas Seymour for love after her second husband, Lord Latimer, died in 1543.
Henry’s offer was unwelcome, so Catherine turned to God in prayer before accepting. He could hardly expect Catherine to be a “pure and clean maid” despite the 1542 Act of Attainder.
They were married in a quiet ceremony at Hampton Court on 12 July 1543.
Catherine was a mature, well-educated and a thoughtful woman who had experienced with “husband management”. She proved an excellent wife, a kind and conscientious stepmother determined to provide a loving family environment for the royal stepchildren. Catherine’s domesticating influence was reported in ambassadors’ dispatches sent abroad.
She was an accomplished needlewoman, fond of music, loved flowers, and fluent in French and Italian and with a passion for shoes. She ordered 47 pairs in one year.
She ensured there was always a warm welcome for Princess Mary at court as they became firm friends. They wrote often when Mary was away from court.
Prince Edward and Princess Elizabeth received a high standard of education from leading academics. Edward was genuine fond of Catherine and began calling her “Mother” almost immediately. Elizabeth, without friends or influence at court, became her protégé.
Catherine held daily evangelical Bible studies with her ladies-in-waiting or they listened to preachers such as Nicholas Ridley or Hugh Latimer.
The New Faith placed importance on personal devotions rather than organised sacramental religious observances.
The average man (or woman) could read and interpret God’s Word for himself rather than relying on a priest to act as intermediary. Emphasis was placed on the individual, ignoring the effects of grace through the sacraments, and concentrated on salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
However, the Catholic party, headed by Bishop Gardiner and Baron Wriothesley, were determined to stamp out heresy. They were aware of Catherine’s regular Bible Studies but they assumed she had no influence.
Henry departed on his last warlike adventure in 1544, but he was now a bulky invalid who was winched onto his horse and his armour was cut away from his swollen leg. Catherine was appointed Regent on 7 July 1544.
The English succeeded in taking Boulogne and left two months later. They lost their gains after their departure. Henry was old, tired, in ill health and lapsed into depression.
Henry was often irascible as his sore legs caused severe pain and limited mobility. He took dozens of medications to alleviate the pain. The Protestant martyrologist John Foxe claimed Catherine engaged her husband in a theological debate. He later vented his frustration upon Gardiner and his physician Dr Thomas Wendy.
A warrant was issued for the Queen’s arrest. A copy was mysteriously dropped outside the passage in the Queen’s chamber. The Queen was initially shocked, but she later approached her husband protesting her weakness as a woman and acknowledging the God-given superiority of men. Catherine insisted she was trying to divert Henry’s attention from his painful leg and benefit from his excellent learning. They kissed and made-up, just before Lord Chancellor Wriothesley arrived with forty guards to arrest the Queen. Wriothesley received an outburst of the royal wrath instead, so Catherine’s position remained safe.
Henry died on 28 January 1547, aged 55, generously providing for Catherine in his will. Catherine was now the Queen-Dowager, not Queen Regent, but she remained the first lady in the land.
The Lord Protector’s wife, Anne Stanhope, felt she should have precedence rather than Catherine.
The young Edward VI missed his step-mother and step-sisters as his guardians didn’t want any outside influences.
Catherine moved to Chelsea taking Elizabeth with her. Lady Jane Grey soon joined the household.
Thomas Seymour resumed his courtship with Catherine. They secretly married three months later.
She was pregnant for the first time in 1548.
Catherine did not take her husband’s behaviour with Elizabeth too seriously at first. Catherine had enough when she found Elizabeth in her husband’s arms and sent Elizabeth to stay at Cheshunt.
Lady Mary Seymour
Lady Mary Seymour was born at Sudeley Castle on 30 August 1548. She was named after Catherine’s stepdaughter. Catherine became ill from puerperal fever and died on 7 September 1548. Catherine was buried in the chapel at Sudeley.
Thomas Seymour was executed for treason less than a year later.
Lady Mary Seymour was stripped of her inheritance and sent to live with the Duchess of Suffolk, a friend of her mother’s.
Mary Seymour disappeared from the records before her second birthday. Most historians believe she died in early childhood.
Erickson, Carolly, Royal Panoply, St Martin’s Press, New York, 2003
Fraser, Antonia, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1992 (Seventh Impression 1993)
Lacey, Robert, The Life and Times of Henry VIII, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1972 (Reprinted and reissued 1992)
Plowden, Alison, Tudor Women: Queens & Commoners, Sutton Publishing, Stroud, 2002 (Reprinted 2007)
Ross, Josephine, The Tudors, Artus Publishing Company Ltd, London, 1979
Schama, Simon, A History of Britain: At The Edge of the World 3000BC-AD1603, Volume 1, BBC Worldwide Ltd, London, 2000
Starkey, David, Six Wives The Queens of Henry VIII, Vintage [Random House], London, 2004
Weir, Alison, Henry VIII King and Court, Jonathan Cape, London, 2001
Weir, Alison, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Pimlico, London, 1991 (Reprinted 1992)
© 2009 Carolyn Cash
This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 11 July 2009.