Catherine enjoyed a close relationship with Henry's three children and was personally involved in the education of Elizabeth and Edward, both of whom became English monarchs. She was influential in Henry's passing of the Third Succession Act in 1542 that restored both his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the line of succession to the throne.
Catherine was appointed Regent from July to September 1544 while Henry was on a military campaign in France and in case he lost his life, she was to rule as regent until Edward came of age. However he did not give her any function in government in his will. In 1543, she published her first book, Psalms or Prayers, anonymously. On account of Catherine's Protestant sympathies, she provoked the enmity of anti-Protestant officials, who sought to turn the King against her; a warrant for her arrest was drawn up in 1545. However, she and the King soon reconciled. Her book Prayers or Meditations became the first book published by an English queen under her own name. She assumed the role of Elizabeth's guardian following the King's death, and published a second book, The Lamentations of a Sinner.
Henry died on 28 January 1547. Six months after Henry's death, she married her fourth and final husband, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley. The marriage was short-lived, as she died in September 1548, probably of complications of childbirth. After the king's death in 1547 she was allowed to keep her jewels and gowns and was possibly allowed to keep the title "Dowager queen" until her own death.
Catherine was born in 1512, probably in August. She was the eldest child (surviving to adulthood) of Sir Thomas Parr, lord of the manor of Kendal in Westmorland, (now Cumbria), and of the former Maud Green, daughter and co-heiress of Sir Thomas Green, lord of Greens Norton, Northamptonshire. Sir Thomas Parr was a descendant of King Edward III, and the Parrs were a substantial northern family which included many knights. Catherine had a younger brother, William, later created first Marquess of Northampton, and younger sister, Anne, later Countess of Pembroke. Sir Thomas was a close companion to King Henry VIII, and was rewarded as such with responsibilities and/or incomes from his positions as Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Master of the Wards, and Comptroller to the King, in addition to being the lord of Kendal. Catherine's mother was a close friend and attendant of Catherine of Aragon, and Catherine Parr was probably named after Queen Catherine, who was her godmother.
It was once thought that Catherine Parr had been born at Kendal Castle in Westmorland. However, at the time of her birth, Kendal Castle was already in very poor condition. During her pregnancy, Maud Parr remained at court, attending the Queen, and by necessity the Parr family was living in their townhouse at Blackfriars. Historians now consider it unlikely that Sir Thomas would have taken his pregnant wife on an arduous two-week journey north over bad roads to give birth in a crumbling castle in which neither of them seemed to spend much time. Catherine's father died when she was young, and she was close to her mother as she grew up.
Catherine's initial education was similar to other well-born women, but she developed a passion for learning which would continue throughout her life. She was fluent in French, Latin, and Italian, and began learning Spanish after becoming queen. According to biographer Linda Porter, the story that as a child, Catherine could not tolerate sewing and often said to her mother "my hands are ordained to touch crowns and sceptres, not spindles and needles" is almost certainly apocryphal.
In 1529, when she was seventeen, Catherine married Sir Edward Burgh (pronounced and sometimes written as Borough), a grandson of Edward Burgh, 2nd Baron Burgh. Earlier biographies mistakenly reported that Catherine had married the older Burgh. Following the grandfather Edward's death in December 1528, Catherine's father-in-law Sir Thomas Burgh was summoned to Parliament in 1529 as Baron Burgh.
Catherine's first husband was in his twenties and may have been in poor health. He served as a feoffee for Thomas Kiddell and as a justice of the peace. His father also secured a joint patent in survivorship with his son for the office of steward of the manor of the soke of Kirton in Lindsey. The younger Sir Edward Burgh died in the spring of 1533, not surviving to inherit the title of Baron Burgh.
Following her first husband's demise, Catherine Parr may have spent time with the Dowager Lady Strickland, Catherine Neville, who was the widow of Catherine's cousin Sir Walter Strickland, at the Stricklands' family residence of Sizergh Castle in Westmorland (now in Cumbria). In the summer of 1534 Catherine married secondly John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer, her father's second cousin and a kinsman of Lady Strickland. With this marriage, Catherine became only the second woman in the Parr family to marry into the peerage.
The twice-widowed Latimer was twice Catherine's age. From his first marriage to Dorothy de Vere, sister of John de Vere, 14th Earl of Oxford, he had two children, John and Margaret. Although Latimer was in financial difficulties after he and his brothers had pursued legal action to claim the title of Earl of Warwick, Catherine now had a home of her own, a husband with a position and influence in the north, and a title.
Latimer was a supporter of the Catholic Church and had opposed the king's first annulment, his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn, and the religious consequences. In October 1536, during the Lincolnshire Rising, Catholic rebels appeared before the Latimers' home threatening violence if Latimer did not join their efforts to reinstate the links between England and Rome. Catherine watched as her husband was dragged away. Between October 1536 and April 1537 Catherine lived alone in fear with her step-children, struggling to survive. It is probable that, in these uncertain times, Catherine's strong reaction against the rebellion strengthened her adherence to the reformed Church of England. In January 1537, during the uprising of the North, Catherine and her step-children were held hostage at Snape Castle in Yorkshire. The rebels ransacked the house and sent word to Lord Latimer, who was returning from London, that if he did not return immediately they would kill his family. When Latimer returned to the castle, he somehow talked the rebels into releasing his family and leaving, but the aftermath would prove to be taxing on the whole family.
The King and Thomas Cromwell heard conflicting reports as to whether Latimer was a prisoner or a conspirator. As a conspirator, he could be found guilty of treason, forfeiting his estates and leaving Catherine and her step-children penniless. The King himself wrote to the Duke of Norfolk, pressing him to make sure Latimer would "condemn that villain Aske and submit to our clemency". Latimer complied. It is likely that Catherine's brother William Parr and his uncle, William Parr, 1st Baron Parr of Horton, who both fought against the rebellion, intervened to save Latimer's life.
Although no charges were laid against him, Latimer's reputation, which reflected upon Catherine, was tarnished for the rest of his life. Over the next seven years, the family spent much of their time in the south. For several years, Latimer was blackmailed by Cromwell and forced to do his bidding. After Cromwell's death in 1540, the Latimers reclaimed some dignity. In 1542 the family spent time in London as Latimer attended Parliament. Catherine visited her brother William and her sister Anne at court. It was here that Catherine became acquainted with her future fourth husband, Sir Thomas Seymour. The atmosphere of the court was greatly different from that of the rural estates she knew. There, Catherine could find the latest trends, not only in religious matters, but in less weighty secular matters such as fashion and jewellery.
By the winter of 1542, Lord Latimer's health had worsened. Catherine nursed her husband until his death in 1543. In his will, Catherine was named as guardian of his daughter, Margaret, and was put in charge of his affairs until his daughter's majority. Latimer left Catherine the manor of Stowe and other properties. He also bequeathed money for supporting his daughter, and in the case that his daughter did not marry within five years, Catherine was to take £30 a year out of the income to support her step-daughter. Catherine was left a rich widow, but after Lord Latimer's death she faced the possibility of having to return north. It is likely that Catherine sincerely mourned her husband; she kept a remembrance of him, his New Testament with his name inscribed inside, until her death.
Using her late mother's friendship with Henry's first queen, Catherine of Aragon, Catherine took the opportunity to renew her own friendship with the former queen's daughter, Lady Mary. By 16 February 1543, Catherine had established herself as part of Mary's household, and it was there that Catherine caught the attention of the King. Although she had begun a romantic friendship with Sir Thomas Seymour, the brother of the late queen Jane Seymour, she saw it as her duty to accept Henry's proposal over Seymour's. Seymour was given a posting in Brussels to remove him from the king's court.
Catherine married Henry VIII on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court Palace. She was the first Queen of England also to be Queen of Ireland following Henry's adoption of the title King of Ireland. Catherine and her new husband shared several common ancestors making them multiple cousins. By their mothers they were third cousins-once-removed sharing Sir Richard Wydeville and Joan Bedlisgate; by Henry's mother and Catherine's father they were third cousins once removed sharing Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland and Lady Joan Beaufort; and by their fathers they were double fourth cousins once removed sharing Thomas Holland, 2nd Earl of Kent and Lady Alice FitzAlan and John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster and Katherine Swynford.
On becoming queen, Catherine installed her former stepdaughter, Margaret Neville, as her lady-in-waiting, and gave her stepson John's wife a position in her household. Catherine was partially responsible for reconciling Henry with his daughters from his first two marriages, and also developed a good relationship with Henry's son Edward. When she became queen, her uncle Lord Parr of Horton became her Lord Chamberlain.
Henry went on his last, unsuccessful, campaign to France from July to September 1544, leaving Catherine as his regent. Because her regency council was composed of sympathetic members, including her uncle, Thomas Cranmer (the Archbishop of Canterbury) and Lord Hertford, Catherine obtained effective control and was able to rule as she saw fit. She handled provision, finances and musters for Henry's French campaign, signed five royal proclamations, and maintained constant contact with her lieutenant in the northern Marches, Lord Shrewsbury, over the complex and unstable situation with Scotland. It is thought that her actions as regent, together with her strength of character and noted dignity, and later religious convictions, greatly influenced her stepdaughter Lady Elizabeth (the future Elizabeth I of England).
The Queen's religious views were viewed with suspicion by anti-Protestant officials such as Stephen Gardiner (the Bishop of Winchester) and Lord Wriothesley (the Lord Chancellor). Although brought up as a Catholic, she later became sympathetic to and interested in the "New Faith". By the mid-1540s, she came under suspicion that she was actually a Protestant. This view is supported by the strong reformed ideas that she revealed after Henry's death, when her second book, Lamentacions of a synner (Lamentations of a Sinner), was published in late 1547. The book promoted the Protestant concept of justification by faith alone, which the Catholic Church deemed to be heresy. It is unlikely that she developed these views in the short time between Henry's death and the publication of the book. Her sympathy with Anne Askew, the Protestant martyr who fiercely opposed the Catholic belief of transubstantiation, also suggests that she was more than merely sympathetic to the new religion.
In 1546, the Bishop of Winchester and Lord Wriothesley tried to turn the king against her. An arrest warrant was drawn up for her and rumours abounded across Europe that the King was attracted to her close friend, the Duchess of Suffolk. However, she saw the warrant and managed to reconcile with the King after vowing that she had only argued about religion with him to take his mind off the suffering caused by his ulcerous leg. The following day an armed guard who was unaware of the reconciliation tried to arrest her while she walked with the King.
Shortly before he died, Henry made provision for an allowance of £7,000 per year for Catherine to support herself. He further ordered that, after his death, Catherine, though a queen dowager, should be given the respect of a queen of England, as if he were still alive. Catherine retired from court after the coronation of her stepson, Edward VI, on 31 January 1547, to her home at Old Manor in Chelsea.
Following Henry's death, Catherine's old love and the new king's uncle, Thomas Seymour (who was soon created 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley), returned to court. Catherine was quick to accept when Seymour renewed his suit of marriage. Since only six months had passed since the death of King Henry, Seymour knew that the Regency council would not agree to a petition for the queen dowager to marry so soon. Sometime near the end of May, Catherine and Seymour married in secret. King Edward VI and council were not informed of the union for several months. When their union became public knowledge, it caused a small scandal. The King and Lady Mary were very much displeased by the union. After being censured and reprimanded by the council, Seymour wrote to the Lady Mary asking her to intervene on his behalf. Mary became furious at his forwardness and tasteless actions and refused to help. Mary even went as far as asking her half-sister, Lady Elizabeth, not to interact with Queen Catherine any further.
During this time, Catherine began having altercations with her brother-in-law, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset. Like Thomas, Edward was the King's uncle, and also was the Lord Protector. A rivalry developed between Catherine and his wife, her own former lady-in-waiting, Anne Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, which became particularly acute over the matter of Catherine's jewels. The Duchess argued that as queen dowager, Catherine was no longer entitled to wear the jewels belonging to the wife of the king. Instead she, as the wife of the protector, should be the one to wear them. Eventually, the Duchess won the argument, which left her relationship with Catherine permanently damaged; the relationship between the two Seymour brothers also worsened as a result, since Thomas saw the whole dispute as a personal attack by his brother on his social standing.
In November 1547, Catherine published her second book, Lamentations of a Sinner. The book was a success and widely praised. In early 1548, Catherine invited Lady Elizabeth and her cousin, Lady Jane Grey, to stay in the couple's household at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire. The dowager queen promised to provide education for both. Queen Catherine's house came to be known as a respected place of learning for young women.
In March 1548, at the age of 35, Catherine became pregnant. This pregnancy was a surprise as Catherine had not conceived during her first three marriages. During this time, Seymour began to take an interest in Lady Elizabeth. Seymour had reputedly plotted to marry her before marrying Catherine, and it was reported later that Catherine discovered the two in an embrace. On a few occasions before the situation risked getting completely out of hand, according to the deposition of Kat Ashley, Catherine appears not only to have acquiesced in episodes of horseplay, but actually to have assisted her husband. Whatever actually happened, Elizabeth was sent away in May 1548 to stay with Sir Anthony Denny's household at Cheshunt and never saw her beloved stepmother again, although the two corresponded. Elizabeth immediately wrote a letter to the Queen and Seymour after she left Chelsea. The letter demonstrates a sort of remorse.
Kat Ashley, whose deposition was given after Catherine had died and Seymour had been arrested for another attempt at marrying Lady Elizabeth, had developed a crush on Seymour during her time at Chelsea and actually encouraged her charge to "play along." At one point she even made a comment at how lucky Elizabeth would have been to have a husband like Seymour. Ashley even told Lady Elizabeth that Seymour had confided his sentiments to her of wanting to marry Elizabeth before Catherine. After Catherine's death, Ashley strongly encouraged Elizabeth to write to Seymour offering her condolences; to "comfort him of his sorrow...for he would think great kindness therein."
Catherine gave birth to her only child—a daughter, Mary Seymour, named after Catherine's stepdaughter Mary on 30 August 1548. Catherine died six days later, on 5 September 1548, at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, from what is thought to be childbed fever. This illness was common due to the lack of hygiene around childbirth.
Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason on 20 March 1549, and Mary Seymour was taken to live with the Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Catherine's. Catherine's other jewels were kept in a coffer with five drawers at Sudeley and this was sent to the Tower of London on 20 April 1549, and her clothes and papers followed in May. After a year and a half, on 17 March 1550, Mary's property was restored to her by an Act of Parliament, easing the burden of the infant's household on the duchess. The last mention of Mary Seymour on record is on her second birthday, and although stories circulated that she eventually married and had children, most historians believe she died as a child at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire.
In 1782, John Locust discovered the coffin of Queen Catherine in 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. Her remains were then moved to the tomb of Lord Chandos whose family owned the castle at that time. The tomb was carefully restored by order of the late Duchess of Buckingham, Lady Anne Greville, daughter of the 3rd Duke of Chandos. In later years the chapel was rebuilt by Sir George Gilbert Scott, who erected a canopied tomb with a recumbent marble figure by John Birnie Philip.
The full-length portrait of Catherine Parr by Master John in the National Portrait Gallery was for many years thought to represent Lady Jane Grey. The painting has recently been re-identified as Catherine Parr, with whose name it was originally associated. The full-length format was very rare in portraits of this date, and was usually used only for very important sitters. Lady Jane Grey, although of royal blood, was a relatively obscure child of eight when this was painted (circa 1545); it was to be another eight years before the short-lived attempt at placing her on the throne. The distinctive crown-shaped jewel the sitter wears can be traced to an inventory of jewels that belonged to Catherine Parr, and the cameo beads appear to have belonged to Catherine Howard, from whom they would have passed to her successor as queen.
Catherine Parr first appeared as a character in cinemas in 1934, in Alexander Korda's film The Private Life of Henry VIII. Charles Laughton played the king, with actress Everley Gregg appearing as Catherine. The film makes no attempt to depict the historical Parr's character, instead portraying the Queen for comic effect as an over-protective nag.
In 1952, a romanticised version of Thomas Seymour's obsession with Elizabeth I saw Stewart Granger as Seymour, Jean Simmons as the young Elizabeth and screen legend Deborah Kerr as Parr in the popular film Young Bess.
In 1970, in "Catherine Parr", a 90-minute BBC television drama (the last in a 6-part series, entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII) Catherine was played by Rosalie Crutchley opposite Keith Michell's Henry. In this, Catherine's love of religion and intellectual capabilities were highlighted. Crutchley reprised her role as Catherine Parr for the first episode of the 6-part follow-up series on the life of Elizabeth I in 1971, Elizabeth R.
In 1972, Barbara Leigh-Hunt played a matronly Catherine in Henry VIII and his Six Wives, with Keith Michell once again playing Henry.
In 2000, Jennifer Wigmore played Catherine Parr in the American television drama aimed at teenagers, Elizabeth: Red Rose of the House of Tudor. A year later, Caroline Lintott played Catherine in Professor David Starkey's documentary series on Henry's queens.
In October 2003, in a two-part British television series on Henry VIII, Catherine was played by Clare Holman. The part was relatively small, given that the drama's second part focused more on the stories of Jane Seymour and Catherine Howard.
In The Simpsons episode "Margical History Tour," Catherine is portrayed by Agnes Skinner as an elderly widow during Marge's retelling of Henry's reign. Henry (portrayed by Homer) regrets his marriage to her because of her age.
In March 2007, Washington University in St. Louis performed the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition winner Highness, which documents the life of Catherine Parr and her relationships with King Henry and his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, to whom she was a stepmother.
She was portrayed by actress Joely Richardson on the fourth and final season of Showtime's The Tudors, which was first broadcast in spring 2010. Richardson's portrayal was largely faithful to what has been recorded of Parr's character.
Catherine features in The Dark Rose, Volume 2 of The Morland Dynasty a series of historical novels by author Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. The lead female character, Nanette Morland, is educated alongside Catherine and is later re-acquainted with her when she becomes Queen. She has been the subject of several novels, including two titled The Sixth Wife, and she is a supporting character in C. J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake mysteries, Revelation, Heartstone and Lamentation.
In 2015, the Stratford Festival in Stratford Ontario debuted a new play called The Last Wife about Catherine Parr and her relationships with Henry VIII, Thomas Seymour and Henry's three children. The play was written by Kate Hennig.
In the retelling of Henry VIII's sixth wife by Sara Pascoe in Drunk History (UK version, series 2, episode 9) Catherine is portrayed by Emma Bunton.
Rick Wakeman recorded the piece "Catherine Parr" for his 1973 album, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. On his 2009 live version of the album the track's spelling is changed to "Katherine Parr".
The popular myth that Catherine acted more as her husband's nurse than his wife was born in the 19th century from the work of Victorian moralist and proto-feminist, Agnes Strickland. David Starkey challenged this assumption in his book Six Wives, in which he points out that such a situation would have been vaguely obscene to the Tudors—given that Henry had a huge staff of physicians waiting on him hand and foot, and Catherine was expected to live up to the heavy expectations of Queenly dignity. Parr is usually portrayed in cinema and television by actresses who are much older than the queen, who was in her early 30s when she was Henry's wife and was about 36 years old at the time of her death. This change is usually an artistic licence taken to highlight Parr's maturity in comparison to Henry's previous queens, or at least a symptom of the longer lifespans enjoyed by modern audiences (who might be confused as to why a 30-year-old is considered much older and more experienced).
Catherine's good sense, moral rectitude, compassion, firm religious commitment and strong sense of loyalty and devotion have earned her many admirers among historians. These include David Starkey, feminist activist Karen Lindsey, Lady Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir, Carolly Erickson, Alison Plowden, Susan James and Linda Porter. Biographers have described her as strong-willed and outspoken, physically desirable, susceptible (like Queen Elizabeth) to roguish charm and even willing to resort to obscene language if the occasion suited.
Some of Catherine Parr's writings are available from the Women Writers' Project.Louise Muhlbach's novel Henry VIII and His Court (1867)
Jean Plaidy's novel The Sixth Wife (1953)
Jean Evans's novel Catherine Parr (The 6 wives of Henry VIII) (1972)
Mary Luke's biographical novel The Ivy Crown (1984)
Carol Maxwell Eady's romantic novel Her Royal Destiny (1985)
Maureen Peters' novel Wife in Waiting (1989)
Kathryn Lasky's novel Elizabeth: Red Rose of the House of Tudor 1544 (2002)
Carolly Erickson's novel The Last Wife of Henry VIII (2007)
Suzannah Dunn's novel The Sixth Wife: A Novel (2007, 2008, 2009)
Margaret Campbell Barnes's novel King's Fool: A Notorious King, His Six Wives and the One Man Who Knew All Their Secrets (2009, 2010)
Dixie Atkin's novel A Golden Sorrow: Catherine Howard & Catherine Parr (2011)
Sandra Byrd's novel The Secret Keeper: A Novel of Kateryn Parr (2012)
Elizabeth Fremantle's novel Queen's Gambit: A Novel (2013)
Judith Arnopp's novel Intractable Heart (2014)
Philippa Gregory's novel The Taming of the Queen (2015)
Several novels also feature Catherine Parr:Catherine Parr's life features in Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir (2007)
Catherine Parr features in Revelation, Heartstone and Lamentation, historical crime novels by C. J. Sansom