History Files


Early Modern Britain

The Six Wives of Henry VIII

From Channel 4's The Six Wives of Henry VIII series by Doctor David Starkey, September 2001



Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 Part 7

Part 7: Katherine Parr

A new law made it treason for any future queen to conceal her pre-marital affairs.

It would take a bold or a modest woman to become fifty-two year-old Henry's wife. When, in 1543, thirty-two year-old widow Katherine Parr came to court, she had been married twice. She was independently well off, with neither parents nor children.

Immediately Sir Thomas Seymour, brother of the late Queen Jane and one of the most eligible bachelors at Henry's court, was attracted to the wealthy, good-looking widow. The feeling was mutual, but Henry had fallen in love with Katherine and showered her with gifts.

In May, Henry cleared his path by sending Seymour to be resident ambassador in Brussels and proposed marriage to Katherine. She accepted not for personal, political or dynastic ambitions, but because God had told her to. They married on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court.

Both Mary and Elizabeth were present at the wedding and Katherine took a keen interest in the children's learning.

Katherine believed it was her task to complete the conversion of king and country to the reformed religion, an ambition which drew sympathies from Archbishop Cranmer.

Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, disliked nothing more than a woman with opinions, especially anti-Catholic opinions. By 1545 his hunt for heretics began to close in on the queen.

Katherine's religious opinions were known in detail because most unusually for a sixteenth century woman and still more remarkably for a queen, she was a published writer. Her first work was the Prayers and Meditations, printed in 1545.

Katherine knew she had to follow her conscience and face death, or subdue it and survive. She told the king, ill with thrombosis of his leg, that her opinions 'were woman's opinions of no importance and never had been'. The king was convinced of his wife's innocence.

Gardiner was dismissed from the king's Privy Council and the Duke of Norfolk was sent to the Tower. Henry's death in 1547 ended the debate.

Katherine returned to Seymour. They married and one year after Henry's death she was pregnant. She gave birth to a girl, but fell ill and died. She was buried as Henry's widow, but not in the fashion he would have approved. It was the first Protestant royal funeral.



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