Katherine was born in 1512, most likely in London or Buckinghamshire. Her parents were Sir Thomas Parr, a favourite of King Henry VIII during his early reign, and Maud Parr who served as a lady in waiting to Henry VIII’s first wife Katherine of Aragon. It is believed that Katherine was named after the Queen. Katherine had a younger brother named William, born in 1513 and a younger sister named Anne born in 1515.
Tragically Katherine’s father would die on the 11th November 1517 when Katherine was just five years old. After her father’s death, Katherine’s care and that of her siblings remained with their mother who went to great length to see her children well educated. Maud Parr proved to be a very adept woman and managed to oversee her children’s education as well as run the family estates.
It would appear that Katherine held a love for learning and she became fluent in French, Latin and Italian. She also learned to read and write proficiently and appears to have held a strong interest in medicines.
Between April 1523 and March 1524, Katherine’s mother attempted to arrange a marriage for her eldest daughter with Henry Scrope, son and heir of Lord Scrope of Bolton. However, the marriage never came to be due to disagreements over the dowry and Henry Scrope died the following year.
A marriage was arranged between Katherine and Edward the son of Thomas Borough, third Baron Borough of Gainsborough in 1529. At the time Edward was in his early twenties and Katherine was approximately seventeen. There are no reports on the relationship between Edward and Katherine although it has been suggested that Edward’s father Thomas Borough was overbearing and perhaps even mentally ill. The marriage only last four years as in April 1533 Edward died.
On December 1st 1531 Katherine’s mother also passed and so when her husband died Katherine was left with nowhere to go. It is reported that she went to live with her cousins the Stricklands of Sizergh Castle, Westmorland.
In the summer of 1534, Katherine married her second husband John Neville, third Baron Latimer, of Snape Castle, Yorkshire. At forty-one, John Neville was almost twice Katherine’s age and had been married twice previously having already fathered two children. Upon her marriage, Katherine became Lady Latimer and stepmother to her husband’s children.
During the late months of 1536, the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in the North. The rebellion formed as a series of revolts which originated in Lincolnshire. The people were unhappy with the dissolution of their Abbey in Louth, upset with many of the government commissions in the area which were being conducted to look at the resources that the smaller monasteries had as well as the conduct of the clergy. There was also a widespread rumour that the government would confiscate the jewels, plate and wealth of the monasteries and also impose new taxes upon the people.
As the Pilgrimage drew south they captured Katherine’s husband Lord Latimer and forced him to join their ranks. Latimer was in a difficult situation trying to please both the rebels and remain loyal to his King. Fearing that Latimer would betray them the rebels captured Katherine and her stepchildren in January 1537 and held them hostage. Fortunately, Latimer managed to secure their release but the experience must have been quite traumatic for Katherine. The rebellion was crushed shortly afterwards and Latimer barely managed to escape punishment by the King although his name was held in disgrace for many years.
In 1542 Katherine managed to secure a place in the household of Princess Mary, daughter of King Henry VIII by his first wife Katherine of Aragon. Mary and those of her household were frequent at court and it was there that Catherine met Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane, third wife of Henry VIII. There was a romantic interest between the pair and with her husband’s failing health it may have been that Katherine hoped that once he passed she could marry Sir Thomas, however, this was not to be. Around the same time, the King’s eye fell upon Katherine and he began to send her a series of gifts.
Lord Latimer died on 2nd March 1543 and four months later on the 12th July 1543 in the Queen’s Closet at Hampton Court, Katherine married Henry VIII. She was to be his sixth and last wife.
One of Katherine’s greatest accomplishments as Queen was to bring Henry closer to his children. Katherine was already friends with Mary, whom she had served previously and as Queen, she worked hard to befriend Elizabeth, Henry’s daughter with his second wife Anne Boleyn and Edward, his son with this third wife Jane Seymour. Both Edward and Elizabeth held a strong love of learning and this was a love Katherine also shared. Katherine took an interest in her step children’s education and both Elizabeth and Edward wrote frequently to their stepmother. It was through Katherine’s perseverance that both Mary and Elizabeth were returned to the line of succession.
When Henry VIII went on campaign to France between July and September 1544 he left Katherine as Regent. This provided Katherine will a great deal of responsibility which she oversaw with great interest and care. However, there were those that were opposed to the new Queen.
Katherine believed in the “new learnings” and the ideas that were rapidly spreading throughout Europe. These beliefs were to become known as Protestantism and Katherine would often engage the King in lively debates about religion in an attempt to take his mind off of his ailing health. She also had a collection of books which were considered heresy but which she and her other ladies in waiting often read and discussed.
There were those at court, such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner, who were devout Catholics and against these beliefs. With the King’s failing health and his ever-growing temper Gardiner and those around him including Sir Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Richard Rich sought to bring down the Queen. In the summer of 1546 a letter for Catherine’s arrest was drawn up but a copy was accidentally dropped and when found immediately brought to the Queen.
As soon as Katherine was informed she fell to tears but gathered herself and went straight to the King. She threw herself at Henry VIII’s mercy and pleaded that she was just a mere woman, seeking guidance from her husband the King and that she only debated with him in an effort to take his mind off the pain in his leg. Luckily Henry VIII seemed satisfied with this and any arrest warrant against Katherine was dropped.
Katherine was known for her literacy skills and she published her own works including an English translation of Fisher’s ‘Psalmi seu precationes’. She then went on to write ‘Lamentations of a Sinner’ which was the first published work of an English Queen and went on to be a huge success.
Henry VIII died on 28th January 1547 at Hampton Court. Much to Katherine’s surprise she was completely left out of the regency of the young King Edward VI. In May, less than four months after the King’s death Katherine married Sir Thomas Seymour without the permission of the new King or council. This caused great tension between Katherine and King Edward VI and the Dowager Queen removed herself from the court. However, she did manage to gain the guardianship of her stepdaughter Elizabeth while her husband bought the wardship of Lady Jane Grey.
Over the centuries there has been a great deal of debate as to the relationship that developed between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. It has been suggested that there was a sexual affair between the two although this seems unlikely. It may have been as simple as an innocent infatuation from Elizabeth or an interest from the much older Seymour. Either way, Seymour would enter Elizabeth’s bedchamber wearing nothing but his shirt and sometimes even got into the young girl’s bed to tickle her. Katherine knew nothing at first of what was going on but when she found out she soon sent Elizabeth away in disgust. However, through a series of letters, it appears as though the two were reconciled.
At the age of thirty-five, Katherine was pregnant for the first time. She gave birth to a daughter named Mary after Princess Mary on the 30th of August 1548. Tragically Katherine caught puerperal fever, an infection of the uterus or vaginal tract. Writing her will Katherine left everything to her husband. She died on the 5th of September and was buried at Sudeley Chapel.
Jokinen, A 2012, Katherine Parr (c.1512-1548), luminarium: Anthology of English Literature, viewed 22 ugust 2015, <http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/katherineparr.htm>.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Katherine [Kateryn, Catherine; née Katherine Parr] (1512–1548), 2015, Oxford University Press, viewed 22 August 2015, <http://www.oxforddnb.com/>.
Ridgway, C, Catherine Parr, The Anne Boleyn Files, viewed 22 August 2015, <http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/bios/catherine-parr/>.