Catherine Parr – The reluctant Queen (Part two)

catherine parr
(public domain)

Read part one here.

Their wedding took place on 12 July 1543 at Hampton Court, and Catherine was now Queen of England. Always a practical woman, she tried to make the best of the situation and to make the most of the opportunities she now had. Catherine appointed close friends and family to her household, like her sister Anne and her stepdaughter Margaret. Her devotion to religious reform remained and could also be found in her household. Catherine was also determined to show herself as a Queen and ordered many fine fabrics.

Catherine also gained two more stepdaughters (and a stepson) by her marriage to Henry, but she and Mary were more friends than mother and daughter. They were fond of each other, despite their religious differences. She also corresponded with Elizabeth regularly, but Elizabeth spent less time at court after she fell out of favour with her favour for nearly a year. She was recalled to court in the summer of 1544. Catherine became the binding force between Henry’s three children and perhaps for the first time; they had a family life. In July 1544, Catherine was left as regent of England as Henry set off for war in France. He returned home by the end of September. In March 1545, Catherine’s stepdaughter Margaret died. She had cared for her since she was a young child and probably viewed her as her own daughter. The cause of her death was not recorded, but Margaret left a will in which she lovingly referred to Catherine.

Catherine’s reformist view nearly cost her her life during her Queenship. Even though Henry had declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, he was still a conservative in many ways. Catherine published Prayers or Meditations in 1545, becoming the first Queen of England to be a published author in her own right. She must have secured Henry’s permission first, or it would never have been released so he must have read or at least approved of the contents. The following year, her more radical work – The Lamentation of a Sinner – was completed. Henry found that Catherine’s beliefs went much further than his own, and he became concerned.

In early 1546, Anne Askew was arrested and interrogated. A second arrest in May followed, and she was asked to name other heretics. The interrogators asked about specific people – members of Catherine’s household. Anne refused to incriminate the other women, and she was put on the rack. Anne held on and so no more, but her fate was sealed.

Meanwhile, Henry was becoming impatient with Catherine and her religious discussions. Catherine was criticised for attempting to change his mind, and Henry became even more suspicious. Henry gave his consent to have Catherine arrested, and while preparations were being made, Catherine continued to discuss religious matters with Henry – unaware of the danger she was in.

Catherine finally received a tip-off and learned of the plot against her. Her apparent screams and cries alerted the doctor, who told her everything he knew of the plot and advised her to submit to her husband. Shortly afterwards, Henry visited Catherine, and she explained that her sudden illness was due to a fear that Henry, “had taken displeasure with her, and had utterly forsaken her.” When Henry left, Catherine ordered her ladies to remove all the forbidden books and the following day she submitted herself.

“If your majesty take it so… then hath your majesty very much mistaken me, who have ever been of the opinion, to think it very unseemly, and preposterous, for the woman to take upon her the office of an instructor or teacher to her lord and husband; but rather to learn of her husband, and to be taught by him. And whereas I have, with your majesty’s leave, heretofore been told to hold talk with your majesty, wherein sometimes in opinions there hath seemed some difference, I have not done it so much to maintain opinion, as I did it rather to minister talk, not only to the end your majesty might with less grief pass over this painful time of your infirmity, being attentive to our talk, and hoping that your majesty should reap some ease thereby; but also that I, hearing your majesty learned discourse, might receive to myself some profit thereby: wherein, I assure your majesty, I have not missed any part in my desire in that behalf, always referring myself, in all such matters, unto your majesty, as by ordinance of nature it is convenient for me to do.”

Henry was satisfied with her submission and said they were “perfect friends” again. Catherine had averted a sure death sentence. She learned not to be so open about her religious beliefs and opinions. For Anne Askew, there was no such mercy. On 16 July 1546, she had to be carried to the stake (due to the torture inflicted upon her on the rack) to be burned for heresy.

By the end of 1546, it was clear that Henry’s health was failing. He was unwell around Christmas, and he sent Catherine away because of this. She spent Christmas 1546 at Mary’s household at Greenwich. She would never see her husband again. He died in the early hours of 28 January 1547 and was succeeded by his young son, now King Edward VI. His death was not announced until 31 January. Thomas Seymour had also returned to England, and as an uncle to the new King, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Seymour of Sudeley. As a Dowager Queen, it was expected of Catherine to leave the court and preparations were being made by March. Catherine was made guardian of Elizabeth, and together they moved to one of her dower houses at Chelsea.

Thomas renewed his interest in Catherine in early 1547, and they were soon writing to each other. By early May, they were betrothed, but she wanted to have a decent period of mourning before getting married again. But she could not hide her happiness and told her sister of everything that happened. Her ideas of a proper mourning period were later disregarded, and she and Thomas were married sometime in late May or early June. Catherine could still have technically been unknowingly pregnant with the King’s child, and this could have endangered the succession if there had been doubt as to the child’s paternity.

By early July, the marriage became public knowledge, and they faced a severe backlash for it. Mary was furious with her stepmother and Thomas’ elder brother – the Lord Protector – was also angry. Catherine’s relationship with Mary was never the same again, and she began to doubt her suitability as a guardian for Elizabeth. Nevertheless, Elizabeth remained in her household and was even joined there by Lady Jane Grey, who was Thomas’ ward. When Thomas began to behave himself indecently towards Elizabeth, Catherine was initially oblivious but was later heartbroken. Catherine grew uneasy with her husband’s behaviour, but she found herself in changed circumstances. For the first time in four marriages – she was pregnant.

It was not to be a happy and healthy pregnancy. Catherine was often ill and uncomfortable. Meanwhile, the situation between Elizabeth and Thomas escalated to such an extent that Catherine was forced to send Elizabeth away. Catherine believed herself to be negligent and did not blame Elizabeth for what had happened. As time went on, Catherine became more excited about her upcoming motherhood and nicknamed the baby, “the little knave.” By June, Catherine and her household moved to Sudeley Castle to get away from the heat and the disease that plagued the capital.

On 30 August 1548, Catherine gave birth to a daughter named Mary. Her stepdaughter Mary acted as godmother for her namesake, and all frostiness over the marriage seemed over. Catherine seemed to recover well from the birth, but by 3 September, she was dangerously ill. In her delirium, she accused her husband of cruelty towards her. Between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning of 5 September, Catherine passed away at the age of 36.

Catherine was buried in the chapel of Sudeley Castle in a royal funeral in accordance with the reformed rites of the church. The 10-year-old Lady Jane Grey acted as chief mourner. Little Mary went to live in the household of the Duchess of Suffolk, but the child was a burden to her. In 1550, she was granted money for household wages, uniforms and food, but then she disappeared. She most likely died in childhood.1


  1. Read more: Catherine Parr by Elizabeth Norton

About Moniek Bloks 2659 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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