After the disastrous marriage to Catherine Howard, Henry probably just wanted a wife who could nurse him through his various ailments and not cause him any trouble. Henry did not actively seek a wife at this time but he was soon to find the perfect match in Katherine Parr.
Katherine Parr was born in 1512 to Thomas Parr, a northern nobleman and his wife Maud Green. Her parents were close to Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. Katherine Parr may have been named after Queen Catherine. Her father died when she was young so she was very close to her mother. Her mother was a well educated woman and she made sure that her children were educated. Katherine had a passion for learning and spoke French, Latin and Italian. She also was an advocate of the New Faith (Church of England). But she never did like embroidery.
In 1529, Katherine married Sir Edward Borough. They were both about the same age but her husband was in poor health. He died in 1533, leaving Katherine a widow at age twenty-one. She went to live with her Neville relatives in Cumbria and this is where she probably met her second husband, John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer whom she married in the summer of 1534. Latimer was forty years old and had two children from a previous marriage so Katherine now had a husband, a home, two step-children and a title. It is said she had affection for her husband.
Latimer was a supporter of the old religion (Catholicism) and during some rebellions in the north of England, Katherine was held hostage in her family home and had to struggle to survive while her husband was off fighting. Her husband was in and out of trouble with Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell until Cromwell’s fall in 1540. Latimer was then elected to Parliament and he and Katherine lived in London where she was in contact with the court and the latest fashions, as well as the new religion.
By 1542, Latimer was ill. Katherine nursed him until his death in 1543. Through her earlier family connections with Catherine of Aragon, Katherine renewed her friendship with the Lady Mary, Henry VIII’s eldest daughter. While in Mary’s household, Katherine began a relationship with Thomas Seymour, the brother of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour. But by now, Katherine had caught the eye of the King and she felt it was her duty to serve the King and become his wife.
Katherine and Henry were married at Hampton Court on July 12, 1543. Katherine immediately began to reconcile Henry with his daughters Mary and Elizabeth. Due to the divorces and annulments of his marriages to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, the girls had been declared bastards and were not treated well by their father. Katherine convinced Henry to let them live with them as a family along with their brother Edward. She supervised the children’s education and was instrumental in restoring the girls to the right of succession to the throne.
From July to September 1544, Henry went to war in France and left Katherine as Regent in England. During this period, she was an extremely competent ruler. She handled the provisions and finances for the French campaign and was in close contact with the commander in the North where the situation with Scotland was unstable. If something were to happen to Henry, Katherine was to be Regent to Prince Edward until he became of age. Henry clearly trusted her.
In 1546, Katherine’s religious beliefs came under suspicion by the pro-Catholic faction at court. An arrest warrant was actually drawn up and executed. The plotters convinced Henry that Katherine was trying to instruct him in religious matters. Katherine got wind of the plot to bring her down and went to Henry on bended knee, declaring she was only discussing religion with Henry to distract him while nursing his ulcerous legs. Henry was in no mood to execute another Queen and kissed his “Kate” and told her she was forgiven. Someone actually came to arrest Katherine because they had not heard about the reconciliation. Henry dismissed the arrestor and Katherine was more circumspect and cautious from then until Henry’s death.
In early December of 1546, Henry parted from Katherine and told her urgent business must be attended to. Katherine may not have realized just how ill Henry was. Henry’s ministers kept him in isolation until his death on January 28, 1547. Katherine sent many requests to see the King but she was not allowed. She had high hopes he would name her Regent to his young son, King Edward VI but the ministers had control of the King and refused to let this happen. However, she was named the guardian of the Princess Elizabeth. The King also provided a generous monetary settlement for Katherine and insisted she be treated as the Queen, even after his death.
Katherine was a widow once more. After a decorous period of mourning, she and Thomas Seymour were a couple once again and married in May of 1547 in secret. The council would not have approved of her marriage to Thomas and he had to go directly to the young King to get approval. After this the council lost all respect for Katherine and she was not treated well from then on. In November of 1547, Katherine published a book, “Lamentations of a Sinner” which proved to be very popular.
Katherine became pregnant in March 1548. The pregnancy was a surprise due to her age and the fact that in three marriages, she had never become pregnant. Her daughter, Mary Seymour, was born on August 30, 1548. Katherine died 6 days later, possibly of puerpual fever. She was buried in the chapel at Sudeley Castle.
Further reading: “Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of the Last Wife of Henry VIII” by Linda Porter, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” by Alison Weir