Catherine Parr Reference

Catherine Parr

(History of the World: The Renaissance)

Article abstract: Catherine Parr was the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII of Great Britain.

Early Life

Catherine (variously spelled Katherine, Katharine, and Catharine) Parr was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr, a man of considerable distinction and social prominence who served Britain’s royal family. Her mother, Maud Greene, was an heiress from Northamptonshire. The exact date of Catherine’s birth remains uncertain. In all likelihood, she was born in 1512. She was married twice before her union with King Henry VIII on July 12, 1543. Henry had already been king of England for some years before Catherine’s birth, having ascended to the throne in 1509 to begin his thirty-eight-year reign.

Catherine’s first marriage was to Edward Borough, who died in 1529, about a year after their marriage. Catherine next married John Neville, Lord Latimer, who died on March 2, 1543. Neither marriage produced children. Edward Borough, about Catherine’s age, was the son of Thomas, Lord Borough, chamberlain to Queen Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, who was beheaded as an adulteress. During her marriage to Borough, Catherine resided mostly on the family estates in Lincolnshire. Following her husband’s death, Catherine lived on a small income derived from some estates in Kent. She was only twenty years old and living at a time when widows had little status; thus her remarriage, which occurred in 1533, was inevitable.

When Catherine married Lord Latimer, he was about forty years old, twice Catherine’s age. He had lost two previous wives and was left with two children, John and Margaret. The marriage took place at about the time of Anne Boleyn’s coronation. Catherine, through her husband’s official connection with the queen, began to form strong social and political connections at Court.

Catherine was highly competent and unquestionably intelligent, although she lacked the coveted classical education available to members of the nobility who became an increasing part of her life. At twenty-one, she was mistress of a large household and a stepmother.

A sensitive person, well attuned to the feelings of those around her, Catherine quickly gained the admiration and love of Margaret Neville, who more than a decade later wrote an encomium to her stepmother in her last will and testament. Catherine’s most salient personal characteristic was tact. She had an unerring ability to put people at ease and to understand implicitly their points of view.

Living through England’s rift with the Roman Catholic church, Catherine was a committed humanist who valued the sentiments of the evangelical Protestant reformers. Respected not only for her tact and compassion, Catherine was also valued for her practical intelligence and devoutness.

Catherine gained a further connection with the Court when her sister Anne became a lady-in-waiting for Queen Catherine Howard, the king’s fifth wife. The king knew Catherine Parr and apparently had designs on her even before her husband died. He gave her a gift on February 16, 1543. Catherine, who was due to come into a great deal of money on Lord Latimer’s death, had fallen in love with Thomas Seymour in the preceding year, during which she faithfully attended her dying husband. Despite her attentions to Lord Latimer, Catherine planned to marry Thomas, for whom she felt considerable passion, when Lord Latimer died.

Life’s Work

Catherine Parr is remembered chiefly as the sixth and last wife of King Henry VIII. Her marriage to him lasted for the last three and a half years of the king’s life.

Despite his prominence as king of England, Henry VIII had gained an unsavory reputation by the time he was ready to marry for the sixth time. He had shed by divorce or annulment two of his wives, Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves, whose marriage to him was never consummated and lasted less than six months. Two other of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, were beheaded after being convicted of adultery, and one wife, Jane Seymour, died from complications twelve days after bearing Henry’s son, Edward.

The king was devastated by Jane Seymour’s death after only a year of marriage. Despite his devastation, Henry knew that he would be expected to remarry, and he soon took Catherine Howard as his fifth wife. When her adultery was uncovered, he had her beheaded to save face, but hopelessness engulfed him. Ill and overweight, overbearing and dangerously imperial, Henry was far from the sort of person one would choose to marry. He faced the prospect of living his remaining years without a mate.

Shortly before Catherine Howard’s execution, Henry had enacted the 1542 Act of Attainder. The act stipulated that if anyone presented a prospective bride to the king and, upon marrying her, the king deemed her not to be a virgin, the bride, her family, and the person who first presented her to the...

(The entire section is 2042 words.)