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 Katherine  [Katherine Parr] (1512–1548), attrib. Master John, c.1545 Katherine [Katherine Parr] (1512–1548), attrib. Master John, c.1545
Katherine [Kateryn, Catherine; née Katherine Parr] (1512–1548), queen of England and Ireland, sixth consort of Henry VIII, was born in 1512, probably in August, the second child and elder daughter of [see under ] of Kendal, Westmorland, and Maud Green (1492–1531), daughter of Sir Thomas Green of Greens Norton, Northamptonshire, and his wife, Jane Fogge. Although Parr inherited an estate centred in the north-west, he was raised at Great Harrowden, Northamptonshire, the home of his stepfather, Sir Nicholas Vaux. A charming, athletic, well-educated man, Parr became a favoured courtier of on his accession in 1509, and his young wife Maud became lady-in-waiting to the queen, Katherine of Aragon. Maud's elder daughter, Katherine, born some three years later, either at Great Kimble, Buckinghamshire, or Blackfriars, London, was named after Henry's first queen.

Early years and education, 1517–1529

During Katherine's early childhood the Parrs led an itinerant life, moving between such temporary homes as Great Kimble near Aylesbury, Moor's End at Potterspury, Northamptonshire, Rye House, Hertfordshire, and a London house in Blackfriars. Between 1516 and 1517 Sir Thomas Parr served with Sir Thomas Lovell as associate master of the court of wards and the family seems to have divided its time between Blackfriars and Rye House. Parr died in London on 11 November 1517 and was buried at St Ann Blackfriars, under an elaborate monument erected for him by his widow. In his will he left £800 to be divided between his two daughters as marriage portions.

At their father's death the guardianship of Katherine and her two siblings, , and Anne (c.1515–1552), later countess of Pembroke, was left in the hands of their mother, who set up a school in her household to educate them. Maud Parr was an independent, capable, and unusually articulate woman, who in the years after her husband's death managed the family estates, oversaw her children's education, arranged marriages for her two eldest, and set an example of female independence that was to have a lifelong effect on her elder daughter, and through her, on Katherine's stepdaughter, Elizabeth Tudor.

On the advice of her husband's cousin, Cuthbert Tunstall, later bishop of London and Durham, Maud selected tutors for her children who stimulated their interest in scholarship. Katherine's interest in medicine is well documented, and Tunstall may have introduced her to his particular hobby, numismatics, as she had a considerable collection of antique and foreign coins in her possession at her death. The Parrs' educational programme was organized along the lines devised by Sir Thomas More for his own children. As an adult Katherine was fluent in French, Latin, and Italian, and while she was queen she undertook the study of Spanish. Her fluency in Latin, often a matter of contentious debate among historians, is amply supported by the number of scholars—people like Sir Thomas Smith, Roger Ascham, Francis Goldsmith, and the young Prince Edward—who corresponded with her in that language. Unfortunately no holographic letter of hers in Latin has survived. Her capabilities with her own language, exemplified by her books and letters, were extraordinary for a non-royal woman of the sixteenth century.

First two marriages, 1529–1543

Between April 1523 and March 1524 Maud Parr attempted to arrange a marriage for Katherine with Henry Scrope, son and heir of Lord Scrope of Bolton, but this failed to materialize owing to Lord Scrope's lack of enthusiasm. About May 1529, however, she took as her husband Edward Borough (c.1508–1533), the son of Thomas Borough, third Baron Borough of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Although few facts about the marriage are known, it is unlikely to have proved a happy experience for Katherine. Her father-in-law was an overbearing bully whose children lived in fear of his temper; moreover insanity ran in the family. But in October 1530, probably under pressure from Maud Parr, Lord Borough was persuaded to allow Katherine and her husband to take up residence at the manor of Kirton in Lindsey, Lincolnshire, where they resided until Edward Borough's death, shortly before April 1533.

Maud Parr had died on 1 December 1531, and, as neither of her siblings was in a position to offer her a home, according to tradition Katherine took refuge with her cousins, the Stricklands of Sizergh Castle, Westmorland. In the summer of 1534 she married as her second husband , of Snape Castle, Yorkshire. Latimer had been married twice before and had two young children. Unlike the Boroughs, who had evangelical sympathies, Lord Latimer was conservative in matters of religion. On 1 October 1536 the Pilgrimage of Grace began at Louth in Lincolnshire. Shortly afterwards a rebel mob appeared at Snape and carried Latimer off, forcing him to join their ranks. Latimer equivocated, trying to appease both his rebel captors and the king, who now considered him a traitor. In January 1537, believing that Latimer would betray them to the king, a mob stormed Snape and took Katherine and the children hostage. Although Latimer managed to secure their freedom, the experience intensified Katherine's antipathy towards the north. When the revolt was finally crushed in March 1537, Latimer barely escaped prosecution for treason. His kinship with his wife's family who had opposed the rebels helped to protect him from arrest. By mid-1537 the Latimers had left Yorkshire and moved to their manor of Wick, near Pershore. Although Latimer returned frequently to the north on both government and personal business, it appears that, after the Pilgrimage of Grace, Katherine spent most of her time in the south.

Queen and regent

Lord Latimer died on 2 March 1543. In the previous winter Katherine had secured a position in the household of Princess Mary as one of her ladies. Mary had been in favour with her father since her submission to him in 1536, and she and her household were frequently at court. This had the result of bringing Katherine to the notice of the king. Although she had cherished the hope that after her failing husband's death she would be able to marry , brother of Queen Jane, the king's interest changed the course of Katherine's life. It was made clear to her, no doubt by her reform-minded family, that her reluctance to accept the king as her husband was to defy God's will: ‘my mind was fully bent the other time I was at liberty to marry you before any man I know,’ she later wrote to Seymour. ‘Howbeit, God withstood my will therein most vehemently … [and] made me to renounce utterly mine own will, and to follow his most willingly’ (Dent-Brocklehurst MS).

Print and film alike have represented Katherine as an ageing, plain-faced, pious widow with few attractions, selected by the king for her talents as a nurse. This is a misleading image that does not hold up beneath the weight of contemporary evidence. She was of medium height, with red hair and grey eyes. She had a lively personality, was a witty conversationalist with a deep interest in the arts, and an erudite scholar who read Petrarch and Erasmus for enjoyment. She was a graceful dancer, who loved fine clothes and jewels, particularly diamonds, and favoured the colour crimson in her gowns and household livery. Katherine also conveyed a sense of her own value, independent of the marital relationship, which was rare for a woman of this period. As queen, her signature invariably included the initials of her maiden name, ‘KP’. Henry had a finely developed eye for beauty and it is highly unlikely that he would have married a woman he did not find physically attractive. Her clandestine romance in the winter of 1542–3 with Sir Thomas Seymour, one of the most dashing bachelors at the Tudor court, together with its renewal in 1547, constitutes a further tribute to her attractions.

Katherine Parr was married to Henry VIII (1491–1547) on 12 July 1543 in the queen's closet at Hampton Court with eighteen people in attendance. From the beginning the new queen's position at court was difficult. The only one of Henry's queens without either royal background or court service to train her for her new position, she was forced to learn quickly the duties and obligations of queenship, as well as its prerogatives. Among her first acts were her efforts to secure the friendship of Henry's children. Already on good terms with her former mistress, Princess Mary, Katherine soon befriended Princess Elizabeth and the young prince of Wales. Both were of a scholarly bent and they found a kindred spirit in their stepmother, who took an active and personal interest in their education. Edward wrote frequently to her regarding his progress at his studies, and of the five surviving letters that Elizabeth wrote before the age of sixteen all are either to or about Katherine. The new queen also used the increasingly popular iconographic medium of secular portraiture to reinforce the royal position of her stepchildren, and at her behest not only was Edward painted but the first portraits en large of Mary and Elizabeth were commissioned. Her kindness to and championship of the royal children had long-lasting consequences for English politics, since Katherine used her growing influence with the king to persuade him to include both Mary and Elizabeth in the line of succession, thereby validating their future rule.

During summer 1544 Henry VIII led a military expedition to France to join with the emperor Charles V against François I. During his absence Henry appointed his queen regent-general, together with a regency council dominated by the queen's fellow religionists. Katherine took this opportunity to bring Princess Elizabeth back to court from de facto exile at Ashridge, Hertfordshire, and reinstate her in her father's favour. From the middle of July until the middle of September the queen kept the royal children with her at Hampton Court and made every effort not just to preside over the regency council but to rule in the king's name. This assumption of power, not merely by a woman but by a woman who only a year before had been a Yorkshire housewife, made the queen enemies, particularly among the religious conservatives who resented her evangelical beliefs. For Katherine, who understood only too well how rapidly the king's health was deteriorating, the protectorship was a trial run for a minority regency. Should the king die before Prince Edward was of age, under the terms laid down for transfer of power, a regency council would be appointed headed by the young king's mother. Rightly or wrongly, Katherine certainly saw herself in this role.

Katherine signed five royal proclamations while regent, most of them dealing with war-related matters such as the pricing of armour and the arrest and trial of military deserters. While her husband besieged Boulogne, the queen had to contend with a wide variety of issues, including the provisioning of English troops in France, pardons for imprisoned Gypsies, petitions from French nationals, as well as potentially devastating attacks on the English herring fleet, and unstable conditions along the Scottish border. Katherine's capable management of the protectorship earned her the king's approval, and when Boulogne surrendered on 13 September she celebrated by taking her stepchildren on progress into Surrey. An interesting commentary on these months can be found in Nicholas Udall's satire, Ralph Roister Doister, which he wrote for the queen at this time and in which he portrays her as Christian or Kitte Custance, a woman effectively running her own affairs and those of her household while dealing with the plots of an amorous courtier, the ‘Ralph’ of the title.

The plot against Katherine

Henry's foray into France had made him enemies across Europe. In February 1545, apparently at the queen's instigation, secret overtures for a new alliance were made on behalf of the crown to the protestant princes of the Schmalkaldic league, using Katherine's trusted personal secretary, Walter Bucler, and Christopher Mont as envoys. Although the plan failed to materialize, the queen's zealous evangelical position combined with her influence on the king, the recent precedent of her regency, and Henry's deteriorating health to ring alarm bells among religious conservatives at court.

In February 1546 these conservatives, led by Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, began plotting to destroy her. Rumours of her imminent demise were circulated, together with gossip about possible candidates for her replacement. As Henry's health worsened, his temper became ever shorter and his wife's assertiveness began to irritate him. He particularly resented the queen's spirited debates with him in matters of religion and voiced this resentment openly to Gardiner. The bishop, who, like the queen, knew that the king could not survive much longer and that a minority regency under her control would give ample scope for a vigorous enforcement of the new religion, joined with the lord chancellor Sir Thomas Wriothesley, Sir Richard Rich, and his own protégé, William Paget, to compromise the queen with such proofs of heresy as would lead to her arrest and execution. Katherine and some of her ladies kept proscribed books in their chambers—the queen hid hers in her garderobe—and if this fact could be proven, charges could be laid against her. Wary of attacking her openly, Gardiner sought to implicate the queen through the interrogation of a self-confessed sacramentarian heretic, Anne Askew. Under extreme torture, however, Askew refused to implicate anyone and went to the stake on 16 July 1546 without giving Gardiner the evidence he needed for an open attack on the queen.

Gardiner nevertheless managed to procure evidence regarding Katherine's heretical library and a warrant of arrest was issued, probably at about the same time as Askew's execution. According to John Foxe one of the court doctors (possibly Robert Huicke, medical adviser to both king and queen) chanced to see the warrant when it was accidentally dropped and immediately informed the queen of its existence. Terrified, Katherine took to her bed, giving it out that she was mortally ill, and when the king rushed to her side she explained that her illness stemmed from fear that she had displeased him. Henry taxed her with her outspokenness in matters of religion and Katherine mollified him by explaining that if she argued it was only to take his mind off his own ailments and to learn by his responses. In a speech that bears a strong resemblance to Katherine's speech of submission to Petruccio in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew, which, indeed, it may have influenced, Katherine submitted all her spiritual and worldly wisdom to her husband's guidance. Henry was convinced by this show of submission and cancelled the warrant. The queen's obvious terror at having come so close to arrest caused her to play a far more subdued role during the final months of Henry's life. She appeared at the celebrations given in honour of the French emissary Admiral Claude d'Annebaut at Hampton Court in August 1546 and later that month went on a brief progress with the king. In the first week of December 1546 Katherine went to Greenwich to keep Christmas while Henry travelled to London. It was the last time she saw him alive. The king died on 28 January 1547 at Hampton Court and three days later, Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, made himself duke of Somerset and protector of England, and contrary to her expectations excluded the queen completely from the regency.

Patronage and public works

Katherine's income as queen derived from dower manors inherited from her first two husbands and an extensive package of lands and manors located principally in the southern shires and London, once the dowry of Katherine Howard. This gave her a considerable income and she took a keen interest in her estates, ordering a complete survey of them after marrying Henry VIII. She also had a passion for gardens, and her household accounts show payments for various plantings at Greenwich and at her dower manor of Chelsea. The arrangement of the queen's household in the early days of her marriage included finding positions for Parr cousins, for former retainers, for her uncle and stepdaughter, and for others close to her such as Henry Seymour, the brother of Sir Thomas. In addition to patronage arranged for family and friends through employment in her household, the queen found numerous other avenues to engage her interest and income. Katherine probably involved herself in more aspects of the English Renaissance and Reformation than any other of Henry's queens. Her love of music and the arts led her to take the Bassano family of court musicians into her household, as well as scholar and author Nicholas Udall, and the Flemish artists Susanna Horenbout and Levina Teerlinc. She patronized all the chief portraitists of the day including John Bettes, Lucas Horenbout, William Scrots, and one Master John, as well as the engraver Giles Gering, and the jeweller Peter Richardson. Two of the queen's favourite gifts to family or close friends were miniatures of herself and the king and presentation copies of her own books. In the evolving world of printing Katherine patronized Thomas Berthelet, the king's printer, and helped to advance the careers of new publishers of reformed religious literature such as Richard Grafton and Edward Whitchurch. Her orders for a wide array of bindings for her books in stamped leather, coloured velvets, and enamelled gilt helped promote the art of bookbinding. In the performing arts the queen maintained her own acting troupe and patronized Nicholas Udall, who wrote a number of plays, such as Ralph Roister Doister, for her amusement. Her interest in architecture is evidenced by the splendid new apartments that she commissioned for herself at Hampton Court.

Katherine's involvement in intellectual and scholastic patronage was equally extensive. In 1544–5 she appears to have been involved in the publication of an ‘ABC’ or reading primer for children, and she took an active interest in the education of her tenants in her honour of Clare in Suffolk and in the curriculum of the college of canons at Stoke. In February 1546, at the special request of the University of Cambridge, which was fearful of losing considerable income owing to an act passed on 23 December 1545 giving the king power over colleges, chantries, and hospitals, she became its advocate to the king. Her influence was a factor in the foundation of Trinity College in the same year. Where religious publications were concerned she was particularly committed to providing cheaply priced works in the vernacular as support for religious reformation. To this end she worked with Archbishop Thomas Cranmer on the publication (29 May 1545) of the King's Primer which contained both Cranmer's Litany and Psalms or Prayers Taken out of Holy Scripture, Katherine's translation of the late Bishop Fisher of Rochester's work. The queen also delegated Nicholas Udall to oversee her most cherished religious project, Paraphrases upon the New Testament, translated from Erasmus, the first volume of which was published on 31 January 1548 and dedicated to the queen. Three of the translators are known: Udall himself, Thomas Key, the queen's oratorian, and Princess Mary. The translator of the book of St Matthew was in all likelihood the queen herself, who may additionally have worked on all or part of the book of Acts. The Paraphrases had a circulation of some 20,000 volumes between 1548 and 1551.

Published works

One of the first literary projects financed by Katherine was the publication in Latin of Fisher's Psalmi seu precationes, issued on 18 April 1544 by Berthelet. Apparently encouraged by her almoner and spiritual mentor, George Day, bishop of Chichester, who had once been Fisher's chaplain, Katherine's first effort as a writer was the English translation of this work which appeared in print a week later, on 25 April, and had run through eighteen editions by 1608. Although the translation was published anonymously, her second effort, Prayers or Meditations, issued on 29 May 1545, appeared under her own name, the first work ever published by an English queen. Prayers or Meditations consists of two parts, a paraphrase of portions of chapter 3 of Thomas à Kempis's The Imitation of Christ, with interpolated original material, and a compilation of five original prayers written by the queen, particularly an extraordinary one for men to say when going into battle. Princess Elizabeth translated Katherine's work into French, Italian, and Latin as a new year's gift for her father in 1546. The second book to appear under the queen's name was The Lamentation of a Sinner, a markedly Lutheran work with Calvinist flourishes, which was published on 5 November 1547, and describes the queen's search for religious truth and the soul's salvation initiated by divine grace. This work was translated into French by Jean Bellemain, Edward VI's French tutor. Also credited to the queen is an English translation of Savonarola, A goodly exposition, after the manner of a contemplation upon the li psalm called ‘Miserere mei Deus’.

Queen dowager, 1547–1548

Within weeks of the death of Henry VIII Katherine had taken the handsome, dashing, but fatally reckless Sir Thomas Seymour as her lover and secretly married him some time in May 1547. This impetuous action, when it became known, alienated her from her stepson, Edward VI, and caused much salacious gossip, exacerbating a series of bitter public and private quarrels between Seymour and his new wife and his brother, the protector, and his wife. Despite this, Katherine managed to secure the guardianship of Princess Elizabeth while her new husband purchased the wardship of Lady Jane Grey from her father, the marquess of Dorset, for £500. Although Elizabeth resided with Katherine at her dower manors of Hanworth and Chelsea, Lady Jane was installed at Seymour Place in London. Seymour was careful to maintain the size and estate of his wife's household, both to enhance his own consequence with the privy council and to remind the court that Katherine was still the only queen in England. The teenaged Elizabeth soon developed a crush on Seymour, actively encouraged by her governess, the garrulous Katherine Astley. This, combined with Seymour's indiscreet behaviour and Katherine's loving indulgence, caused yet another scandal. Rumours of an illicit affair between Elizabeth and Seymour, now lord admiral, circulated at court. Then in December 1547 Katherine became pregnant, and the following spring she sent Elizabeth to Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, to live with Katherine Astley's sister, Lady Denny. A few weeks later, on 13 June, with Lady Jane Grey in her train, Katherine travelled down to her husband's castle of Sudeley, Gloucestershire, to await confinement. On 30 August she was delivered of a daughter, who was baptized Mary, but Katherine soon developed puerperal fever. She died ‘between two and three of the clock in the morning’ (Coll. Arms, MS RR21/C, fol. 98a) on Wednesday 5 September, leaving to her husband all of her possessions, ‘wishing them to be a thousand times more in value than they were’ (TNA: PRO, PROB 11/32/19). She was buried the same day in Sudeley chapel with Lady Jane Grey as chief mourner. For nearly 250 years her body lay forgotten until it was accidentally unearthed by some workmen in May 1782. Opening the lead casket, they found the body in perfect condition but it rapidly disintegrated with rough handling and exposure. Queen Katherine's remains now lie beneath a modern effigy in the chapel at Sudeley.

Queen Katherine's influence on the politics and culture of her time was diverse and wide-reaching, far greater than has usually been appreciated. Her patronage extended to many of the architects of religious and educational reform; her active interest in the latter is especially clearly shown by her role in the foundation of Trinity College, Cambridge. Politically she contributed to the re-establishment of her stepdaughters, Mary and Elizabeth, in the line of succession, and her exercise of power as queen regent may have furnished a model for the latter. An enthusiastic patron of the arts in the fields of drama, miniature painting, and music, she was herself the first known Englishwoman to publish a work of prose in the sixteenth century, as well as being an energetic advocate of the publication of affordable vernacular religious writings. Her commitment to religious reform in particular, reinforced as it was by her position of queen, made her a singularly important player in the power politics of the last three years of Henry VIII's reign.

Susan E. James


S. E. James, Kateryn Parr: the making of a queen (1999) · LP Henry VIII, vols. 18–21, addenda · CPR, 1547–53 · CSP dom., 1547–53 · CSP Spain, 1541–9, p. 6, nos. 2–9 · J. Foxe, The acts and monuments of John Foxe, ed. S. R. Cattley, 5 (1838); repr. (1866), 553–61 · J. Strype, Ecclesiastical memorials, 2/1 (1822) · TNA: PRO, exchequer accounts, E101/423/12–15; E101/424/1–3 and 12; E101/426/2–3; E314/22; E315/160–61 and 340 · lord chamberlain's department, records of special events, TNA: PRO, LC2/2 · Parr–Seymour letters, TNA: PRO, state papers domestic, Edward VI, SP 10/1 · Katherine Parr's jewels and personal possessions at death, BL, Add. MS 46348, fols. 167b–171b; 205a–209a · S. James, ‘Was Kateryn Parr born at Kendal Castle?’, Abbot Hall Quarto, 27/1 (April 1989), 11–13 · A collection of state papers … left by William Cecill, Lord Burghley, ed. S. Haynes, 1 (1740) · P. L. Hughes and J. F. Larkin, eds., Tudor royal proclamations, 1 (1964) · M. Hatch, ‘The Ascham letters: an annotated translation of the Latin correspondence’, PhD diss., Cornell University, 1948 · G. Scheurweghs, Materials for the study of the Old English drama, 16 (1939) · F. Rose-Troup, ‘Two book bills of Katherine Parr’, The Library, 3rd ser., 2 (1911) · Coll. Arms, MS RR21/C, fols. 98–9 [burial of Katherine Parr] · T. Nash, ‘Observations on the time of death and place of burial of Queen Katherine Parr’, Archaeologia, 9 (1789) [exhumation of Katherine Parr's body] · S. E. James, ‘Lady Jane Grey or Queen Kateryn Parr?’, Burlington Magazine, 138 (1996), 20–24 · A. Strickland and [E. Strickland], Lives of the queens of England, new edn, 3 (1851) · S. James, ‘Parr occupancy at Kendal Castle’, Abbot Hall Quarto, 30/3 (Oct 1992), 17–18 · D. Scott, The Stricklands of Sizergh Castle (1908) · will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/32, sig. 19 · Dent-Brocklehurst MS, Sudeley Castle · S. E. James, ‘A new source for Shakespeare's The taming of the shrew?’, Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library, 81 (1999), 49–62 · S. E. James, ‘Susanna Horenbout, Levina Teerlinc, and the mask of royalty’, Jaarboek Koninklÿk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerpen (2000)


BL, letters · CUL, prayer book as child, INC.4.J.1.2 (3570) · TNA: PRO, chamber records, E101/423, 424, 426; E314; E315; LC2/2 |  BL, Lansdowne MSS; Add. MS 46348, fols. 167b–171b and fols. 205a–209a · Bodl. Oxf., MSS Ashmolean and Rawlinson · Hatfield House, Hertfordshire, Cecil MSS · Sudeley Castle, Dent-Brocklehurst collection · TNA: PRO, corresp. with Sir Thomas Seymour, SP 10/1


pen-and-ink drawing, c.1517–1518, BL, Add. MS 45131 fol. 190b · oils, c.1534, LPL · L. Horenbout, miniature, 1544, Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire · attrib. Master John, oils, c.1545, NPG [see illus.] · oils, c.1545–1546 · W. Scrots?, oils, c.1546, NPG