Catherine Parr’s unwanted wedding to Henry VIII

Catherine Parr's wedding to Henry VIII

13On this day in history, the 12th of July 1543, Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, widow of Sir Edward Burgh and Sir John Neville, Baron Latimer of Snape.  The wedding took place in the queen’s closet at Hampton Court Palace.  Sometime in the spring of 1543, the aging ruler proposed to Catherine, despite her not being young by Tudor standards and despite her lack of any progeny, both male and female.  Perhaps by that time the king had abandoned any hope to sire another male heir.

David Starkey describes Catherine Parr:

“Catherine was now a widow for the second time: still pretty, still unblemished by child-bearing, and well-off. She was desirable, and, it is clear, she desired in return.”

For some time, Catherine had been courted by Thomas Seymour, brother of the deceased Queen Jane Seymour and uncle to Prince Edward.  We do not know when they had first met each other and when their mutual attraction blossomed.  Thomas was a dashing, handsome man, and, most likely, it had not taken Catherine long to fall prey to his charms.  Throughout her whole life, she had acted as a dutiful daughter and a proper wife, and she must have yearned to find her true love that she had not had in any of her previous marriages.  To receive tokens of affection from a man like Thomas Seymour must have been beyond her dreams, and a myriad of feelings stirred in her heart that was hungry for romance.

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Catherine Parr from the Showtime ‘The Tudors’

Catherine genuinely loved Thomas Seymour.  A few years later, she would write to him:

“As truly God is God, my mind was fully bent … to marry you before any man I know.”

The Melton Constable or Hastings portrait of Queen CatherineNevertheless, the wheels of fate were turning not in her favor, although Catherine did not know about it yet.  The royal intervention destroyed her plans to wed her beloved.  Perhaps she had been introduced to the English ruler by her brother or sister, both of whom were high in royal favor.  Or Catherine could have petitioned the king in person on behalf of her disgraced second husband, John Neville, who had been implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536.  However, as Catherine had joined Lady Mary Tudor’s household after Neville’s passing, it is more likely that the monarch had taken notice of her at that time.

The offer of the English king, who was already in failing health and who had such a bad fame of being a cruel husband, was unwelcome to Catherine.  Lacking the ambition of Anne Boleyn, she seems to not have been seduced by the temptation of wearing the English crown.  Wise and intelligent, Catherine was fully aware of the existing and potential perils which the royal wifehood could have brought upon her.  How could she forget how horribly Henry had treated Catherine of Aragon, and that he had sentenced to death Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard?  Nonetheless, Catherine was only a woman in a man’s world, one of the monarch’s numerous subjects, and she could not have risked rejecting Henry.

A reformer through and through, Catherine could have resolved to sacrifice her personal happiness so as to try and fulfill what she saw as her duty to England and the nation.  Maybe she hoped that she would be able to convince the king to continue the English religious reform that had almost been stopped after Queen Anne’s execution.  Henry had never really given up the main tenets of the Roman Catholic faith, for the beginnings of the reform had been caused by his obsessive desire to have a healthy son.

The above is proved by what Catherine Parr wrote to Thomas Seymour:

“God withstood my will therein most vehemently for a time, and through his grace and goodness made that possible which seemeth to me most impossible; that was made me renounce utterly my own will, and to follow his [God’s] will most willingly.”

The ceremony was a private affair; only twenty or so courtiers, as well as Henry’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were present.  There is no contemporary record of what the bridal couple was wearing.  There was no grand entree into London, and no magnificent pageant witnessed by joyful crowds.  Catherine was proclaimed queen on the same day, but she would never be crowned.

Richard Watkins, the king’s prothonotary, gave only general information:

Notarial instrument witnessing that, on 12 July 1543, 35 Hen. VIII., in an upper oratory called “the Quynes Pryevey closet” within the honor of Hampton Court, Westm. dioc., in presence of the noble and gentle persons named at the foot of this instrument and of me, Ric.

Watkins, the King’s prothonotary, the King and lady Katharine Latymer alias Parr being met there for the purpose of solemnising matrimony between them, Stephen bp. of Winchester proclaimed in English (speech given in Latin) that they were met to join in marriage the said King and Lady Katharine, and if anyone knew any impediment thereto he should declare it.  The licence for the marriage without publication of banns, sealed by Thos. abp. of Canterbury and dated 10 July 1543, being then brought in, and none opposing but all applauding the marriage, the said bp. of Winchester put the questions (recited) to which the King, hilari vultu, replied “Yea” and the lady Katharine also replied that it was her wish.

Some may view Catherine as a queen who came out of obscurity, but it would be a wrong conclusion.  She had been born into a noble northern family who had risen in social ranks thanks to royal favor and successful marriage alliances.  Her father, Sir Thomas Parr of Kendal, had been knighted at the monarch’s 1509 coronation, and later, for his loyal service, he had been rewarded with positions of Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Master of the Wards, and Comptroller to the King, in addition to being Lord of Kendal.  Her mother, Lady Maud Parr née Green, had been a friend and lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon.  Unlike Anne Boleyn, Catherine Parr had not been sent to France to receive a stellar education, but she had nevertheless been well educated in England.  Overall, Catherine’s lineage was a good one.

According to the Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys, Anne of Cleves was displeased with the new union of her former husband.  Chapuys informed his master, the emperor:

“She [Anne of Cleves] is in despair and much afflicted in consequence of this late marriage of the King with a lady [Catherine Parr] who, besides being inferior to her in beauty, gives no hope whatever of posterity to the King, for she had no children by her two first husband.”

Catherine Parr's wedding to Henry VIII

Anne of Cleves could have been offended that Henry had not chosen her as his wife again after his disastrous matrimony with Catherine Howard, but it is unlikely that she was in despair.  She had consented to terminate her marriage to Henry and had been fairly compensated for her cooperation – she was wealthy and had her freedom, as well as her head attached to her shoulders.  Therefore, Chapuys’ words should be viewed as an exaggeration or as his own incorrect interpretation of Anne’s feelings about the matter.

Soon after the ceremony, King Henry and Queen Catherine went on progress from London.  His new consort would take care of the ailing monarch in years to come, becoming almost his nurse.  She would have good relationships with the royal children, supporting and encouraging them in their learning; under her influence, Henry would have Mary and Elizabeth restored to the succession in 1543.  In her attempts to make the king more sympathetic to the Protestant cause, Catherine would debate theology with him, and one day, she would come close to her arrest, but she would be spared thanks to her showing deference and obedience to the ruler, or thanks to her comprehension that for her the best course of action would be to hold her tongue back.  The sixth and last consort to the famous Tudor monarch, Catherine would outlive Henry VIII and marry Thomas Seymour in several months after his death.

All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2019 Olivia Longueville