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Katherine Parr - The One Who Survived.
‘Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived’.
This handy mnemonic helps us remember the fates of the six wives of Henry VIII, King of England from 1509 – 1547.
In this article I am interested in the story of the one who survived; Katherine Parr, Henry’s sixth and final wife.
Katherine's early years
Katherine was born in the summer of 1512, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and his wife Maud. Sir Thomas, the Lord of the Manor of Kendal in Westmorland (now part of Cumbria in the Northwest of England), died in 1517 leaving Katherine and her younger brother and sister to be raised by their mother. Maud Parr (nee Green) was a lady-in-waiting of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and it is thought that Katherine was named after her.
In 1529, at the age of 17, Katherine married for the first time. Her new husband, Sir Edward Burgh was the son and heir of Sir Thomas Burgh, 3rd Baron Burgh of Gainsborough. The marriage did not last long. The frail Sir Edward died in 1533 (aged only in his early twenties) and although the main duty of a Tudor wife was to bear offspring, particularly male offspring, the couple had remained childless. With no husband and no children to tie her to the Burghs, Katherine moved away, possibly to live with Lady Strickland, the widow of her cousin Sir Walter Strickland.
Married for a second time
In the summer of 1534 Katherine married again; this time to John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer. Katherine was now a member of the peerage. At the age of 44, Latimer was almost twice Katherine’s age, and already had two children of his own, making Katherine a step-mother for the first time. This was not the last time that Katherine would fulfil this roll to another man’s children.
These were tumultuous times in Tudor England and as a Roman Catholic, Neville was forced by other Catholics to join a rebellion against the king, while Katherine and his children were held hostage at their home (Snape castle in North Yorkshire). In the end, the rebellion failed and Neville managed to escape arrest for his association with the traitors.
Queen Katherine Parr
Neville died in 1543, leaving Katherine a widow for the second time at the age of only 31. It was at this point that Katherine, using her mother’s links to Catherine of Aragon, acquired a post within the household of the king’s eldest daughter, Princess Mary.
Shortly after beginning her new post, Katherine met and fell in love with Thomas Seymour, brother of the king’s third wife, Jane Seymour. They wished to marry, however Katherine had also caught the eye of the king, who himself asked for her hand in marriage. Knowing it would be foolish to spurn the king, Katherine agreed, and she and Henry were wed on July 12th 1543.
Now queen, Katherine became step-mother to the king’s three children, a role she performed well, becoming close to all three. She was also to act successfully as regent during Henry’s final military campaign in France.
It was during her time as queen that Katherine wrote her first book. Her work ‘Prayers or Meditations’ was published in 1545, becoming the first book to be written by a queen of England under her own name. She published a second book, ‘The Lamentation of a Sinner’ after Henry’s death.
Katherine's fourth and final husband
In January 1547, Henry died, passing the throne onto his son, Edward VI. Katherine was now free to wed her old love, Thomas Seymour, and they wed in secret in May of the same year.
The following year, Katherine moved to Sudeley castle in Gloucestershire. At the age of 36, Katherine was pregnant for the first time. She was joined by a young Lady Jane Grey, whose wardship had been purchased by Seymour.
On August 30th, 1547, Katherine gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Mary. However, Katherine soon fell ill with puerperal fever and she died on the morning of September 5th.
Sudeley Castle - The final resting place of Katherine Parr
In 1728, Katherine’s tomb was discovered at Sudeley in the ruins of the castle chapel. The tomb was opened and, despite the passing of over two hundred years, Katherine’s body was reportedly remarkably well preserved. The tomb was opened and closed several more times over the years before being moved to the tomb of Lord Chandos, the owner of Sudeley.
Katherine’s tomb is now back in the rebuilt chapel at Sudeley, making her the only English queen to be buried in a private property. Her tomb is covered in a marble statue by the English sculptor John Birnie Phillip and visitors to the castle can still enter the chapel and see her final resting place.