Catherine Parr probably never dreamed that she would be queen, but when she caught Henry VIII’s eye near the end of his life, he was enchanted by her. The Catherine Howard fiasco probably made Catherine much more aware of the circumstances of being Queen of England than her predecessor, and her wide intelligence made her quite compatible with her third husband. Yet, Catherine was interested in the new religion, and she had to dodge all the bullets from Henry’s friends and advisors who were desperate to get rid of her.
Catherine was born at Kendal Castle, Westmorland, which is part of North West England. She was the eldest daughter of Thomas Parr of Northamptonshire and his wife Maud Green, or Lady Parr, who was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon. She was a noblewoman through King Edward III, who was one of her ancestors. Two of her siblings were William Parr, who became the 1st Marquess of Northamptonshire, and Anne Parr, who would become a Countess of Pembroke. Catherine’s father died in 1517, leaving the three children in the care of Maud, who oversaw their education and was said to have taken good care of them, which may have inspired Catherine’s duty as a stepmother to the King’s children.
In 1529, when Catherine was 17 years old, she married her first husband, named Edward Borough. Over the years, there has been some controversy as to which Edward Borough she actually married. Some historians believe that Catherine wed the 2nd Baron of of Gainsborough who died in 1529 as well. Yet, is believed by most that she actually married his grandson, who was assumed to be extremely sickly. He died only a few years later in 1533. Her second marriage was just a year later in the summer of 1534, when she wed John Neville, the 3rd Baron of Latimer of Yorkshire. She became a stepmother to John’s two children. During the Pilgrimage of Grace (a rebellion in northern England that attempted to restore the Catholic faith), Catherine, her husband, and her stepchildren were taken hostage, but eventually were freed. However, either the poor conditions of their confinement weakened Neville, or he was sickly to begin with. Nonetheless, following their release, he died in 1543.
Following the death of her second husband, Catherine came to court just as the scandal of Catherine Howard’s adultery was dying down. She became a lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Lady Mary, who later became Mary I of England. She caught the eye of Henry VIII very quickly, as well as another young man, Thomas Seymour, who was the brother of the late Queen Jane Seymour. It is almost certain that Catherine preferred Thomas, but as the king had just beheaded his last wife, she did not want to refuse him, and willingly obliged to the king’s proposal of marriage.
As Queen, Catherine was said to be very intelligent, as well as a good stepmother to all three of Henry’s children. However, Catherine’s ideas about religion were a great point of contension for some of Henry’s advisors who were determined to send her to the scaffold, such as Lord Wriothesley, the Lord Chancellor of England. She survived many attempts of becoming another Anne Boleyn or Catherine Howard and also may have prevented Henry from taking a seventh wife, Catherine Brandon (the widow of Henry’s great friend Charles Brandon), whom Henry was allegedly interested in. She also ruled England as Queen Regent during the Siege of Bologne in 1544, which ended in disputed circumstances. Most believe that Catherine was probably highly intelligent and more suited for a royal role as Queen than many of Henry’s other wives.
On January 28, 1547, King Henry VIII died, and his son, Edward (by Jane Seymour) ascended the throne as King Edward VI. As Dowager Queen, Catherine finally felt free to marry Thomas Seymour, who was said to have patiently waited for Catherine during her near five year marriage. They married just a few weeks after Catherine became a widow, and began to live in Chelsea Manor, a beautiful and lush home perfect for the young couple, and took two children they had recently gained custody of. One was Lady Jane Grey, who had been adopted by Thomas before the death of the king. The second was none other than Catherine’s stepchild, Princess Elizabeth Tudor, who would become Elizabeth I.
Catherine became pregnant by Thomas Seymour, which at the time could only be known as a shock, since Catherine had three husbands before Thomas and none of them were believed to have been consummated. This opened the door to Thomas’s dark side, which in the end was only ambition. He began to seek a relationship with Princess Elizabeth, who at the time was only fourteen years old. He began to sneak into Elizabeth’s bedchamber and make small advances that were most definitely in a sexual manner, and he only stopped when Elizabeth’s governess, Catherine ”Kat” Ashley, implored him to stop. Certainly the Dowager Queen felt betrayed by her husband, and although she did accuse Elizabeth of enjoying the attention, she did not truly blame her stepdaughter, whom she believed was too young to understand what Thomas was planning.
Catherine gave birth to a daughter on August 30, 1548. Sadly, Catherine, like another of Henry’s wives, Jane Seymour, contracted puerperal fever and died just six days after her daughter’s birth. Some believe that Catherine named her daughter after the future Mary I, whom Catherine served as a lady-in-waiting prior to her third marriage. As for her daughter Mary, little is known, except that she was raised by Catherine Parr’s good friend Catherine Brandon (the same Catherine Brandon who was liked by Henry VIII) and definitely lived past ten years, and possibly survived to adulthood. As for Thomas Seymour, he was later executed for 33 counts of treason.
Catherine Parr lived a very different life from the rest of Henry VIII’s wives. She was not a wordly woman who grew up in priviledged royalty or spent her time thinking of ball gowns or served great queens and monarchs in Austria and France. Catherine was described as a practical woman who kept her best interests at heart and chose duty over love more than once. In the end, this is what probably kept her head more than anything. She escaped her fate so many times, it was no wonder she was described as the smartest of Henry’s wives. She holds the record for being the most married of any other Queen of England (four times), and in the end, it was Catherine’s vivacious and refined persona that made her such an interesting figure in the Tudor era.