Tudor Series: Katherine Parr

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Born: 1512, Blackfriars

Daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Green

Married: 1) Sir Edward Burgh, 1529 – d. 1533, 2) John Neville, 1534 – d. 1543, 3) Henry VIII, 1543 – d. 1547,  4) Thomas Seymour, 1547 – 1548 (her death)

Died: 5th September 1548, Sudeley Castle

The final wife of Henry VIII and the wife that truly ‘survived’ him! Katherine’s life is interesting to research as being Henry’s sixth wife, she was therefore older and had forged her own life before hand – very different to her predecessor, Catherine Howard. The most striking thing to me about Katherine is her four husbands. It seems very shocking that three husbands should all die while married to her! However, this is easy to judge in a modern context, but was fairly common in Tudor England.

Katherine’s parents were part of a notable family of the north of England and were both at the court of Henry VIII. Her mother Maud was a Lady-in-Waiting to Katherine of Aragon, who it is likely that Katherine is named after and was allegedly her Godmother. Maud was in charge of Katherine and her siblings education, and it seem to have had a strong impression, as Katherine spent much of her life fascinated by learning. She was also fluent in French, Italian and Latin and later learnt Spanish.

In 1529 at only 17-years-old, Katherine married Edward Burgh, however the marriage did not last long as he died only four years later. She quickly married the recently widowed John Neville, who was twice her age and already had two children from his previous marriage. John was a devote catholic and had been strongly opposed to the break with Rome and the subsequent marriage of the King to Anne Boleyn. He was later involved in a rebellion against the formation of the Church of England. During this time Katherine and her two step-children were held hostage at their home of Snape Castle. The aftermath put John in precarious position as to many at court he was perceived as a traitor. His health was in decline and he died in 1543.

After her 2nd husbands death she made use of her mother’s connections and became friendly with Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII’s daughter Mary. By 1543 she was installed in Mary’s household and it was there that she caught the eye of the king. Henry was keen to marry again and the two were wed in July 1543 at Hampton Court. As Queen, Katherine was a very positive influence on the ageing and and prone to tempers king. She even help reconcile Henry and his two daughters. Katherine’s thirst for knowledge and deep religious conviction was the force behind her interest in the reformation. This was not always popular with the King and many of her religious opponents used this against her. Steven Gardner, the Bishop of Winchester was strongly against her and had an arrest warrant commissioned. Katherine was clever, and managed to convince the King that she had been naive and begged for his forgiveness, which he did. It appeared that the King had become much more mellow in his old age!

Henry died in January 1547 at the age of 55, leaving Katherine as a widow for the 3rd time. She was not however left in difficult means. Henry had left a sizable financial settlement for her. Not long after his death, Thomas Seymour the brother of Henry’s 3rd wife and the Uncle of the new King Edward returned to court and proposed marriage to Katherine. She accepted and eventually got the family of her own that she had always wanted. A year after they were wed, Katherine gave birth to a daughter Mary. Yet her joy was not to last long as she succumbed to the same end as her sister-in-law Jane, and died a short while later.

Katherine was the final wife that outlived Henry. She has often been perceived as the caring wife that narrowly escaped death, which seemed to have been the case.

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