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Catherine Parr (c.1512 – 5 September 1548) was the last of the six wives of Henry VIII of England. She was queen consort of Englandmarker during 1543–1547, then Dowager Queen of England. She was the most-married English Queen, with four husbands.

Early life and marriages

Catherine was born at Kendal Castlemarker in Westmorlandmarker, North West England, where her ancestors had resided since the fourteenth century. She was the eldest child of Sir Thomas Parr of Horton Housemarker, Northamptonshiremarker, descendant of King Edward III, and Maud, Lady Parr, (6 April 1495 – 20 August 1529), daughter of Sir Thomas Green of Greens Nortonmarker, Northamptonshire. She had a younger brother, William Parr, 1st Marquess of Northampton and a sister, Anne Parr, Lady Herbert. Sir Thomas was Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Master of the Wards and Comptroller to King Henry VIII. Her mother, Lady Parr, was an attendant of Catherine of Aragon.

At the age of seventeen in 1529, she became the wife of Edward Borough, 2nd Baron Borough of Gainsborough. He died in the spring of 1532.

In the summer of 1534 she married John Neville, 3rd Baron Latymer of Snape, North Yorkshiremarker. In 1536, during the Pilgrimage of Grace, Catherine was held hostage by northern rebels, along with her two stepchildren. John Neville died in 1543.

It was in the household of Henry's and Catherine of Aragon's daughter, Mary, that Catherine Parr caught the attention of the King. After the death of Catherine's second husband, the rich widow began a relationship with Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley, the brother of the late Queen Jane Seymour, but the king took a liking to her and she was obliged to accept his proposal instead.

Queen of England and Ireland

[[Image:Catherine Parr Arms.svg|thumb|right|upright|Catherine Parr's arms as queen consort]]Catherine married Henry VIII on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court Palacemarker. She was the first English queen consort to enjoy the new title Queen of Ireland following Henry's adoption of the title King of Ireland. As queen, Catherine was partially responsible for reconciling Henry with his daughters from his first two marriages, who would later become queens regnant, Mary and Elizabeth. She also developed a good relationship with Henry's son Edward, later Edward VI. When she became queen, her uncle Baron Parr of Horton became her Lord Chamberlain.

For three months, from July to September 1544, Catherine was appointed regent by Henry as he went on his last, unsuccessful, campaign in Francemarker. Thanks to her uncle having been appointed as member of her regency council, and to the sympathies of fellow appointed councillors Thomas Cranmer and Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, Catherine obtained effective control and was able to rule as she saw fit. She handled provision, finances and musters for Henry's French campaign, signed five Royal proclamations, and maintained constant contact with her lieutenant in the northern Marches, the Earl of Shrewsbury, over the complex and unstable situation with Scotland. It is thought that her actions as regent, together with her strength of character and noted dignity, and later religious convictions, greatly influenced her stepdaughter Elizabeth I.

Her religious views were complex, and the issue is clouded by the lack of evidence. Although she must have been brought up as a Catholic, given her birth before the Protestant Reformation, she later became sympathetic to and interested in the "New Faith." It has been hypothesised that she was actually a Protestant by the mid-1540s, as we would now understand the term. We can be sure that she held some strong reformed ideas after Henry's death, when her second book, Lamentacions of a synner (Lamentations of a Sinner) was published in late 1547. The book promoted the Protestant concept of justification by faith alone, something which the Catholic Church deemed to be heresy. It is extremely unlikely that she developed these views in the short time between Henry's death and the publication of the book. Her sympathy with Anne Askew, the Protestant martyr who fiercely opposed the Catholic belief of Transubstantiation, also suggests that she was more than merely sympathetic to the new religion.

Regardless of whether she formally converted, which is unlikely, the queen was reformist enough to be viewed with suspicion by Catholic and anti-Protestant officials such as Bishop Stephen Gardiner and Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton who tried to turn the king against her in 1546. An arrest warrant was drawn up for her and rumours abounded across Europe that he was attracted to her close friend, Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. However, she managed to reconcile with the King after vowing that she had only argued about religion with him to take his mind off the suffering caused by his ulcerous leg.

Final marriage, childbirth and death

Catherine Parr.


Following Henry's death on 28 January 1547, Catherine was able to marry her old love, Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral. Having had no children from her first three marriages, Catherine became pregnant for the first time, by Seymour, at age thirty-five. This pregnancy was a surprise as Catherine had not conceived a child during her first three marriages (however, her husbands had all been much older than she). During this time, a rivalry developed between Catherine and Anne Stanhope, the wife of her husband's brother, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, which became particularly acute over the matter of Catherine's jewels. Anne argued that the jewels belonged to the Queen of England, and that as Queen Dowager, Catherine was no longer entitled to them. Instead she, as the wife of the Protector, should be the one to wear them. Eventually, Anne won the argument, which left her relationship with Catherine permanently damaged; the relationship between the two Seymour brothers also worsened as a result, since Thomas Seymour saw the whole dispute as a personal attack by his brother on his social standing. Catherine's marriage also came under strain. Catherine Parr invoked the Act of Succession which clearly stated that Catherine had precedence over all ladies in the realm; in point of fact, as regards precedence, Anne came after the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth, and Anne of Cleves.Sex during pregnancy was frowned upon during the sixteenth century and Seymour began to take a possibly unhealthy interest in the Princess Elizabeth (Catherine's teenage step-daughter), who was living in their household. He had reputedly plotted to marry her before marrying Catherine, and it was reported later that Catherine discovered the two in an embrace. Whatever actually happened, Elizabeth was sent away in May to stay with another household and never saw her beloved stepmother again.

Catherine gave birth to her only child—a daughter, Mary Seymour--on 30 August 1548, but died only six days later, on 5 September 1548, at Sudeley Castlemarker in Gloucestershiremarker, from what is thought to be puerperal fever or puerperal sepsis, also called childbed fever. Coincidentally, this was also the illness that killed Henry's third wife, Jane Seymour. It was not uncommon, due to the appalling lack of hygiene around childbirth.

Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason less than a year later, and Mary was taken to live with Catherine Willoughby, Dowager Duchess of Suffolk, a close friend of Catherine Parr's. After a year and a half, Mary's property was restored to her by an Act of Parliament, easing the burden of the infant's household on the Duchess. The last mention of Mary Seymour on record is on her second birthday, and although stories circulated that she eventually married and had children, most historians believe she died as a child.

Remains

In 1782, a gentleman by the name of John Locust discovered the coffin of Queen Catherine at the ruins of the Sudeley Castlemarker 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. Her remains were then 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.

In film and on stage

Catherine first appeared in cinemas in 1933, in Alexander Korda's masterpiece The Private Life of Henry VIII. Charles Laughton played the king, with actress Everley Gregg appearing as Catherine Parr. The film makes no attempt to depict the historical Parr's character, instead portraying the Queen for comic effect as an over-protective nag.

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, entitled The Six Wives of Henry VIII) Catherine was played by Rosalie Crutchley opposite Keith Michell's Henry. In this, Catherine's love of religion and intellectual capabilities were highlighted. 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 in the title role.

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 Parr in the Americanmarker television drama aimed at teenagers, "Elizabeth: Red Rose of the House of Tudor". A year later, Caroline Lintott played Catherine in Professor David Starkey's documentary series on Henry's queens.

In October 2003, in a two-part British television series on Henry VIII, 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.

In March 2007, Washington University in St. Louismarker performed the A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition winner "Highness" which documents the life of Catherine Parr and her relationships with King Henry and his daughter, the future Queen Elizabeth I, to whom she was a stepmother.

She has been the subject of several novels, including two entitled The Sixth Wife, and she is a supporting character in the fourth Matthew Shardlake mystery, Revelation.

She will be portrayed by actress Joely Richardson on the fourth and final season of Showtime’s The Tudors, which is set to debut in Spring 2010.

Catherine features in The Dark Rose, Volume 2 of The Morland Dynasty a series of historical novels by author Cynthia Harrod-Eagles. The lead female character, Nanette Morland, is educated alongside Catherine and is later re-acquainted with her when she becomes Queen.

Historiography

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 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. Parr is usually portrayed in cinema and television by actresses who are much older than the queen, who was in her early 30s when she was Henry's wife and was about 36 years old at the time of her death.

Catherine's good sense, moral rectitude, passionate religious commitment and strong sense of loyalty and devotion have earned her many admirers among historians. These include David Starkey, feminist activist Karen Lindsey, Lady Antonia Fraser, Alison Weir, Carolly Erickson, Alison Plowden, and Susan James.

Historical Fiction

  • Catherine Parr is the subject of Mary Luke's biographical novel, "The Ivy Crown", pub. 1984


Lineage




Titles and styles

  • Mistress Catherine Parr (1512–1529)
  • Lady Borough (1529–1534)
  • Lady Latymer (1534–1543)
  • HM The Queen (1543–1547)
  • HM Queen Catherine (1547)


References

Further reading



External links








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