Catherine Parr, also spelled Katharine, was the Queen consort of Henry VIII of England 1543-1547; the last wife of his six. She has a special place in history as the most married queen of England, having had four husbands in all.
Catherine was born about 1512, either in London or in the north of England. She was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal in the Lake District, and his wife, Maud Green. At the age of about 15, she married Edward, Lord Borough, who died in 1529. Some time between 1530 and 1533, she married John Neville, Lord Latimer, who died in 1542. After his death, the rich widow began a relationship with Thomas Seymour, the scoundrel brother of the late queen Jane Seymour, but the king took a liking to her, and she was obliged to accept his proposal instead.
The marriage took place on July 12, 1543, at Hampton Court Palace. As queen, Catherine was responsible for reconciling Henry to his daughters from his first two marriages, who would later become Mary I of England and Elizabeth I of England. She did, however, hold some radical religious views, and Henry quarrelled with her over what he regarded as her extreme Protestantism. Restored to his favour, she witnessed his last illness. It has been suggested that her strength of character and noted dignity, as well as her religious convictions, greatly influenced her stepdaughter, Elizabeth.
Following Henry's death on January 28, 1547, Catherine was able to marry her old love, Thomas Seymour (now Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral), but her happiness was short-lived. Her husband is alleged to have taken liberties with the teenaged Princess Elizabeth, who was living in their household, and he reputedly intrigued to marry his wife's stepdaughter. Having had no children from her first three marriages, Catherine became pregnant for the first time, by Seymour, in her mid-thirties, and died from complications of childbirth on September 7, 1548, at Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, where she was buried. Her only child, a daughter, Mary, born August 30, did not long survive her.
As for Thomas Seymour, his marital intrigues got him nowhere. For the trouble of forcing himself on Princess Elizabeth, and for generally proving himself untrustworthy, disreputable, and bound to do something more serious as time went on (he made an apparent attempt to kidnap the young Edward VI, his nephew), he was executed on the grounds of high treason in 1549. Upon hearing of the successful beheading, the teenage princess said, "Today died a man of much wit and very little judgement." Seymour's daughter by Catherine Parr was taken into the household of the Duchess of Somerset, and she disappears from the historical record after the age of two; Mary Seymour presumably died as a child.
In 1782 a gentleman by the name of John Lucas discovered the coffin of Queen Catherine at 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. At that time it was moved to the tomb of Lord Chandos whose family owned the castle at that time. In later years the chapel was rebuilt by Sir John Scott and a proper altar-tomb was erected for Queen Catherine.
Some of Catherine Parr's writings are available from the Women Writers Project.
Catherine first appeared in cinemas in 1933, in Alexander Korda's masterpiece The Private Life of Henry VIII. Charles Laughton played the king, with Evelyn Gregg appearing as Catherine Parr.
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 in the popular film "Young Bess."
In 1970, in "Catherine Parr," a 90-minute BBC television drama (the last in a 6-part series, with one episode per wife) Catherine was played by Rosalie Crutchley opposite Keith Michell's Henry VIII. In this, Catherine's love of religion and intellectual capabilities were highligthed. Crutchley reprised her role as Catherine Parr in Part 1 of a 6-part series on the life of Elizabeth I in 1971, called "Elizabeth R" with Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth.
In 1973, 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 in the American television drama aimed at tennagers, "Elizabeth: Red Rose of the House of Tudor". A year later, Charlotte Lintott, played Catherine in Dr. David Starkey's documentary series on Henry's queens.
In October 2003, in a 2-part British television series on Henry VIII, starring Ray Winstone, 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.
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. This assumption has been challenged by Dr. David Starkey 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 a woman expected to live-up to the heavy expectations of queenly dignity.
Catherine's good sense, moral rectitude, passionate religious commitment and strong sense of loyalty and devotion have earned her many historical admirers. These include Dr. Starkey, feminist activist Karen Lindsey, Lady Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir and Alison Plowden.