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Useful Notes / Catherine Parr

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Catherine Parr (alternatively spelled Katherine or Kateryn; 1512 – 5 September 1548) was Queen of England and of Ireland (1543–47) as the last of the six wives of Henry VIII. She was also the most-married English queen, with four husbands.

Catherine is famously known to have survived, where other of Henry VIII’s wives were divorced or beheaded. This would have been due to her gentle nature and willingness to nurse Henry as he suffered from ailments, while also taking care of his children from earlier marriages.

The truth is more complex. Catherine was a soothing influence on Henry and his children, but she also published books in a time when this was thought unseemly for women and supported a much more radical form of Protestantism than was welcome to the King.

Widowed twice before she married Henry, the still young Catherine had been in love with Thomas Seymour, before the King’s eye fell on her. She consented to the royal marriage, though was somewhat leery, since she was well aware of the fates of her predecessors. It's said that she told him she would have preferred to be his mistress. Trusted by Henry, she ruled as regent when he campaigned in France.


Her circle of Protestant friends alarmed many religious conservatives, who tried to turn the king against her. Annoyed by her forwardness in debating religion with him, he had a warrant for her arrest written. When she found out, she saved herself by saying that she had only argued with him to divert him from his pain and to learn from him. After that, she remained safe throughout the remainder of his reign.

After Henry’s death in 1547, she hastily married Thomas Seymour. Her stepdaughter Mary was indignant, but Edward VI had no big issue with the marriage of his beloved stepmother to his uncle. Her other stepdaughter, Elizabeth, agreed to live with them at Chelsea.

Seymour showed too much unseemly interest in Elizabeth. Though Catherine joined in with his jokes at first, she sent Elizabeth away when she found her in an embrace with her husband.


They reconciled in writing, but did not meet again. Catherine died in childbirth, leaving a daughter that likely did not survive infancy. She was a noted influence on Lady Jane Grey, who was her foster-daughter, in religion (Lady Jane was a fervent Protestant) and education, and may have been the only adult in her life to show her unconditional love (her parents were, even by the standards of the time, emotionally and possibly physically abusive).

Portrayals of Catherine Parr in fiction:

  • Deborah Kerr plays her in the film Young Bess, which depicts a highly fictionalised version of Elizabeth and Tom Seymour's relationship. Notably Catherine dies of a Victorian Novel Disease after discovering Elizabeth and Tom together, and the film completely leaves out her Death by Childbirth.
  • Catherine Parr appeared in the film The Private Life of Henry VIII (1934), played by Everley Gregg. 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 The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970), Catherine was played by Rosalie Crutchley opposite Keith Michell's Henry. In this series, Catherine's love of religion and intellectual capabilities were highlighted.
  • Crutchley reprised her role as Catherine Parr for the first episode of the series on the life of Elizabeth I in 1971, Elizabeth R.
  • In 1972, Barbara Leigh-Hunt played a matronly Catherine in Henry VIII and his Six Wives, with Keith Michell once again playing Henry.
  • In October 2003, in the two-part British television series 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 The Simpsons episode "Margical History Tour," Catherine is portrayed by Agnes Skinner as an elderly widow during Marge's retelling of Henry's reign. Henry (portrayed by Homer) regrets his marriage to her because of her age.
  • She was portrayed by actress Joely Richardson on the fourth and final season of Showtime's The Tudors.
  • Carolyn Meyer's Young Royals series contains a book Beware, Princess Elizabeth about Elizabeth I's ascension to the throne. The book starts just after Henry VIII's death, and Catherine features in the first part up until her own death.

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