Queen of England

Born: ABT 1508/12/20, probably Blackfriars, London, England

Died: 5 Sep 1548, Sudeley Castle

Buried: St Mary's Church, Sudeley Castle

Father: Thomas PARR of Kendal (Sir)

Mother: Maud GREEN

Married 1: Edward BOROUGH (Sir) ABT 1526, Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, England

Married 2: John NEVILLE (3° B. Latimer) 1533, London, Middlesex, England

Married 3: HENRY VIII TUDOR (King of England) 1543, Hampton Court chapel

Married 4: Thomas SEYMOUR (1° B. Seymour of Sudeley) 4 Apr 1547



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The last of the six wives of Henry VIII, she was the eldest daughter of Thomas Parr of Kendal Castle, Controller of the Household to Henry VIII, though it is more likely that she was born in her Father's house at Blackfriars in London. Thomas Parr died in 1517, after which Catherine was brought up by her mother, Maud Greene, who was then 22, an intelligent woman who despite being widowed at a young age retained her place at court, and encouraged her children in their studies at ages as early as three and four, and she became ‘an accomplished scholar in Greek and Latin’. This is a trait that Catherine would eventually inherit in her encouragement of her step children the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth and Prince Edward.

Catherine's mother, in the tradition of the nobility in renaissance England began the search for Catherine's first husband when she was just nine years old. Her first betrothal was sealed at the age of twelve, she was offered in marriage to Lord Scrope’s son, which was declined because it did not meet the conditions set out in her father’s will. At some point she married a Edward Borough of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire, of whom very little is known. Catherine travelled up to Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, with the Duke of Richmond and his entourage. Richmond was going to Sherrif Hutton which is near York. There is a controversy about who is the Edward who married Catherine. Some sources states that he was the second Lord Borough, a man in his late fifties. Other sources says that she married the eldest son of Thomas, 3rd Lord Borough, and his wife Agnes Tyrwhitt, so he was not old - and he never became Lord Borough either. Through recent research of documents and the will of Catherine Parr's mother, biographers confirm that Catherine married the 2nd Baron's grandson, who coincidentally shared his first name. As the dowry had not been fully paid, Maud Parr in her will, dated May 1529, mentioned Sir Thomas, father of Edward, saying ´... I am indebted to Sir Thomas Borough, knight, for the marriage of my daughter...'. At the time of his son's marriage, Sir Thomas, was thirty-five which would have made Edward around Catherine's age. Whether his physical health was frail or whether he inherited the bad seeds of his grandfather's lunacy is uncertain. There were also rumours that Edward may have been homosexual. Whatever his condition, Edward was competent enough for his father to allow him the duties and responsibilities of part of his inheritance — he served as both a feofee and a justice of peace.

For a time, Edward and Catherine lived with Edward's family at Gainsborough Old Hall. If his wife was homesick or unhappy, she had reason to be and wrote frequently to her mother for advice. Maud Parr would travel north in 1530 to see Catherine and it is most likely at her urging that the couple move out of the Old Hall after two years of marriage. Sir Thomas was a steward to the manor of the soke of Kirton-in-Lindsey, a small village about ten miles above Gainsborough. Thomas was persuaded to secure a joint patent in survivorship with his son. In Oct 1530, Edward and Catherine moved to Kirton-in-Lindsey. It was a modest residence, but mainly it was away from Edward's family and was a household in which the couple could manage their own affairs. Instead of becoming the passive lady of the household, Catherine, took control of the household immediately. It brought both Edward and Catherine great joy to be away from the Old Hall.

In 1532, Edward was named to the various commissions of peace that held session in the area, but by Apr 1533, Edward and Catherine's marriage came to a fragile end when Edward Borough died. Catherine, unable to remain at Kirton-in Lindsey, which belonged to her father-in-law, had limited options. Her in-laws showed no desire to have her move back into Gainsborough Old Hall. Sir Thomas turned over the income of two of his manors in Surrey and one in Kent as her dowry and that was the end of it. With no children from their marriage, she no longer had ties to the Boroughs.

The fifteen year old was in no hurry to remarry and the autumn saw her return to the court of Henry VIII where he was in the process of trying to divorce his first wife Catalina de Aragon.

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Sketch of a "Lady Borough"
Copy of a Holbein Sketch

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Portrait identified as Catherine
Painted by an unknown artist.
At Lambeth Palace

Catherine Parr is certain to have met her second husband at court functions after Anne Boleyn had married Henry VIII. John Neville, Lord Latimer had been married twice and had two children aged seven and ten when he married Catherine in Jan 1531, he was forty-two and Catherine was being wed for the second time at the age of nineteen. She now became the lady of the huge household of Snape Hall in Yorkshire. Although Lord Latimer preferred to remain at Snape Hall, he and Catherine became embroiled in the intrigue of Anne Boleyn and Henry and also Cromwell, after Anne was executed they came very close to losing their own lives. They returned to London in 1536 where Queen Jane Seymour was three months pregnant. This had put King Henry in an exceptionally good mood and for the moment, the political nightmare came to an end for Catherine. Prince Edward was born to Queen Jane in Oct, much to Henry's grief, she died only nine days after. BEF Lord Latimer died in 1542, Henry would marry and divorce Anne of Cleves and then marry the frivolous, nineteen year old Catherine Howard. Catherine Howard was accused of committing adultery and was eventually executed.

Although the Parrs had been gaining power at court throughout Catherine's marriage to Lord Latimer, both she and her brother William were entirely at Henry's disposal. John Neville died in 1542 or 1543. She then was about to marry Thomas Seymour, when ‘it was overruled by a higher power’ (Henry VIII). Catherine was at first shocked by Henry's marriage proposal, but eventually accepted though she insisted on a period of mourning for Lord Latimer before the public ceremony could take place. Not much is known about Henry's courtship of Catherine. However, before the King stepped in, she may have been considering marrying Thomas Seymour, brother to the late Queen Jane and uncle to Prince Edward. Catherine rejected Seymour's proposal in order to marry the King, although she probably didn't have much of a choice in the matter. 18 months had gone by since Catherine Howard's execution by the time Henry and Catherine Parr were married. On the 12 Jul 1543, the ceremony took place in the Queen's Privy Closet at Hampton Court. This was the more private of the Queen's two oratories. Similarly, the wedding itself was a quiet, almost private affair. But it was by no means a hole-in-corner one. The celebrant was Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester. And the congregation, which numbered about twenty, was made up of the Gentlemen of the King's Privy Chamber, as well as close family members of the bride and groom. Both Henry's daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were present, as was Lady Margaret Douglas, his niece. Catherine's family was represented only by her sister and brother-in-law, Anne and William Herbert. But the three aristocratic ladies who were then closest to her - Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, Anne, Countess of Hertford, and Jane, Viscountess Lisle -were also present. Henry certainly liked her, and in many ways she was similar to Henry’s first wife, Catalina de Aragon. On becoming Queen, the prudently political side of Catherine really came into practise. Rather than try and involve herself excessively in affairs of state like Anne Boleyn or prove that the Queen's role is one of decadence like Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr showed herself to be the renewer of Henry's court as a family home for his children. Princess Mary who was only a few years younger than Catherine respected her superior intellect and remembered the friendship her mother had had with Catherine's mother Maud Parr. Prince Edward, motherless almost from birth was soon viewing Catherine as his own mother. Princess Elizabeth was more difficult. She was a highly precocious ten year old, and she was as suspicious of her father's actions as he was of hers. Eventually, she was won over and took her place at court with Princess Mary. Having the King's children dependent on her in this way meant that Catherine was in a far stronger position than any of Henry's previous wives had been. Catherine was determined to present the royal household as a closeknit one in order to demonstrate strength through unity to Henry's opposers. This was no mean feat considering Prince Edward's poor health which meant that Henry constantly moved the prince's household in order that he should avoid the extreme cold at various times of the year. Nevertheless it was achieved at Ashridge in Aug 1543 and the foreign ambassadors saw it as such a success that it was included in their dispatches.

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Another portrait identified as Catherine
by an unknown artist.
At Lambeth Palace

Although Catherine's role for Henry was more of a nurse in his old age and poor health than a wife, his spirits were greatly improved by her treatment of him. His new confidence was instrumental in the initial unexpected English victory at Flanders in Nov 1543. Catherine's success was rewarded with her brother William Parr being created Earl of Essex in Dec of the same year, and she herself was somewhat morbidly rewarded with the settlement of all the lands that were originally intended for Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Perhaps Catherine's most significant acheivement was Henry's passing of an act that confirmed both Princess Mary's and Elizabeth's line in succession for the throne, despite the fact that they had both been made illegitimate by divorce or remarriage. Catherine's role in Henry's life was primarily a peaceful one. She was a humanitarian and had a keen interest in the Protestant church. The Protestant friends of Queen Catherine Parr, who met regularly, included: Lady Herbert, later Countess of Pembroke and sister of the Queen and chief of her privy chamber; Lady Jane of the Privy chamber, a cousin germane; Elizabeth Tyrwhitt, wife of Sir Robert; Catherine Willoughby, half-Spanish, wife of one of the realm's most powerful, men the Duke of Suffolk; Anne Stanhope, Countess of Hertford, wife of Edward Seymour; Joan Champernowne, wife of Sir Anthony  Denny; Jane Fitzwilliam, the third wife of alderman Sir William Fitzwilliam of London, a close friend of Lord Russell; Anne Calthorpe, second wife Henry Radcliffe, second Earl of Sussex, who differed with her husband on religious matters; Jane Guildford, wife of the Lord Admiral Dudley; and Maud Parr, widow of Sir Ralph Lane and a cousin to Catherine Parr.

Some courtiers who were jealous of her influence over the King tried to link her with heresy. Stephen Gardiner and other hard-line bishops, such as Bonner of London, were by no means a spent force and they had an ally in the Lord Chancellor, Thomas Wriothesley. By the end of 1545 they were becoming increasingly disturbed by the spread of religious dissidence, especially in London and the south-east, and had no doubt who to blame for the growing strength of radical views in high places. Having failed with Anne Askew, the Queen's enemies were obliged to fall back on charges of a more general nature, such as the possession of banned books which they felt pretty certain would be found in her apartments, or which could always be planted there. A list of charges had, in fact, been drawn up by early Jul and the stage set for the queen's arrest. But Henry, who had become sufficiently irritated lately by some of his wife's freely expressed progressive views - she had on one recent occasion been unwise enough to forget that in any debate, especially theological debate, the King must always win hands down - that he had been willing to listen to hints being dropped about her dangerous opinions so 'stiffly maintained'. Now, though, he evidently decided matters had gone far enough and he allowed Catherine to be warned of what was being prepared for her. She quickly seized her chance to explain that she had only been bold enough to seem to engage in argument with her lord and master in order to distract him from the pain of his ulcerated leg and also that she herself might profit from hearing his learned discourse. An affecting reconciliation followed and when Wriothesley arrived with forty yeomen of the guard at his back and a warrant for the Queen's arrest in his pocket, he was greeted with a tirade of royal abuse and sent packing with his tail between his legs.

Such was Henry's trust in Catherine that he chose her to rule as Regent while he was attending to the War in France and in the unlikely event of the loss of his life, she was to rule as Regent until six year old Edward came of age. This was a very singular indication of Henry's trust and love for Catherine. However, despite Henry's obvious fondness and trust for her, he did not name her as Regent or as having any particular function in Government in his will. Instead, she became a wealthy Queen Dowager with no particular involvement in politics.

A month after Henry's death, the once prudent Catherine was swept off her feet by Admiral Thomas Seymour, she accepted his offer of marriage in Mar 1548 stating that there should be a decent period of mourning for King Henry before the wedding. She married Thomas in Aug of the same year. It was suggested that Thomas Seymour tried to initiate an affair with the young princess Elizabeth who was eventually sent to Cheshunt, the house of Sir Anthony Denny, to prevent the Admiral from further temptation. Not long after, despite three barren marriages, it was ascertained that Catherine was pregnant. The baby, a girl named Mary, was born in Sudeley Castle on 30th Aug 1548. Catherine was 36 and Seymour was confident that she was strong and would go on to bear him strong sons. The admiral was proved wrong however as Catherine never rose from her childbed, she died seven days later, of puerperal fever. 

Her remains lie in the restored St Mary's Church at Sudeley Castle.

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 The tomb of Catherine Parr, St. Mary's Church, Sudeley Castle

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Close-up of Catherine's tomb
Photograph by Lara E. Eakins

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