Katherine Parr

Portrait of Katherine Parr, artist unknown (16th century). Image Credit: National Portrait Gallery, London.

By Johanna Strong

Katherine Parr was born in 1512 in London and grew up in a noble family. She was well-educated and was twice widowed by the time she caught Henry VIII’s eye. She didn’t immediately accept his proposal, though, asking for time to consider it, presumably to ponder her potential role as queen given her personal devotion to the Reformation and the religious tensions arising in England. To further complicate matters, she had also fallen in love with Thomas Seymour, brother to Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour.

Ultimately, Katherine and Henry were married in a private ceremony at Hampton Court Palace on July 12, 1543. She became his sixth wife, famously known as the ‘survivor’. She nursed him as his health complications became worse and served as a political advisor, significantly being named regent in mid-1544 when Henry VIII went on campaign to France. She was also dedicated to each of Henry’s children and strove to reunite Mary, Elizabeth, and Edward with their father.

Despite Henry’s love for her, Katherine’s devotion to the Reformation almost saw her arrested, though Henry had mercy on her and forgave her before the arrest took place. She was the first English queen to write and publish her own books under her own name, including prayers, Scriptural meditations, and a theological reflection.

With Henry’s death in 1547, Katherine gained custody of Elizabeth and continued to oversee her education as well as – later – that of Lady Jane Grey. Katherine went on to marry Thomas Seymour in secret and was pregnant relatively soon after. She gave birth to a daughter – named Mary, who likely died in early childhood – on August 30, 1548, but contracted puerperal fever soon after and died on September 5, 1548. She is buried at Sudeley Castle.

Recommended Reading

Elizabeth Norton, Catherine Parr: Wife, Widow, Mother, Survivor, The Story of the Last Queen of Henry VIII (Stroud, England: Amberley Publishing, 2011)

Katherine Parr, Complete Works and Correspondence (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011)

Linda Porter, Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr (London: Macmillan, 2010).

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