On the 12th of July 1543, Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, Lady Latimer and widow of Sir John Neville, Baron Latimer of Snape. The final queen consort of the House of Tudor, Catherine was Henry’s sixth and final wife, who would outlive him and re-marry Thomas Seymour within a few months after his death. The couple was married in the Queen’s Closet at Hampton Court Palace.
The aging monarch proposed to Catherine sometime in the late spring of 1543. By that time, Catherine was widowed twice, and she was not quite young by Tudor standards. Nevertheless, she was still very lovely, had a slender figure, and was unimpaired by usual detrimental – sometimes long-term – effects of childbearing.
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.”
Catherine was having a romantic courtship with Thomas Seymour, a brother of the deceased Jane Seymour and uncle to Prince Edward. The background to their relationship is obscure: we don’t know when they met each other and when their mutual attracted had been born and began to blossom.
Thomas was a very dashing and undeniably handsome man, and it didn’t take Catherine a long time to fall into a sticky net of his charms. Throughout her whole life, she had been doing what she ought, as a daughter and a wife, and she craved a true love that she hadn’t had in her two previous marriages. Receiving compliments and tokens of affection from a man like Thomas Seymour was beyond her dreams and her imaginings, and a myriad of feelings stirred within her heart that was hungry for love.
Catherine genuinely loved Thomas Seymour. Some years later, she wrote to Seymour:
“As truly God is God, my mind was fully bent … to marry you before any man I know.”
The wheels of fate were already in motion, although Catherine didn’t know about it at that time. The royal intervention destroyed her plans to marry the man she loved when she had caught the royal eye. Perhaps, she had been introduced to Henry by her brother or sister, both of whom were high in royal favor and were links between court and her. It is also likely that Catherine had petitioned the king in person on behalf of her disgraced second husband, Lord Latimer, and the king had taken notice of her.
Henry’s offer was unwelcome to Catherine, although she didn’t dare demonstrate her unwillingness to marry him. Unlike the king’s other wives, she was not seduced by the idea of being a queen at all. A wise and intelligent woman, she was fully aware of all the existing and potential dangers and pitfalls, and, undoubtedly, she remembered how Henry’s first two wives had ended their lives. Yet, Catherine was only a woman and one of the many royal subjects, and she couldn’t have rejected the king.
Catherine was torn between her love for Seymour and her sense of duty to the King of England. She was intensely religious and turned to the Lord for advice. A reformer through and through, Catherine eventually resolved to sacrifice her personal happiness and to do her duty to England and the king, seeing her ultimate mission in facilitating the conversion of England to reforms.
Catherine Parr wrote to 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.”
One might think that the king’s final marriage was an ordinary event for the kingdom because the Tudor chroniclers only mentioned it en passant.
The ceremony was indeed a quiet and private affair. Both Henry’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, were present at the ceremony; the congregation numbered about twenty. There was no grand entree into London, witnessed by masses of celebrating and joyful people. Any other kind of inauguration ceremony and coronation were not mentioned; maybe such thoughts didn’t even cross the king’s mind.
The most famous Tudor chronicler, Edward Hall, wrote about the wedding:
“In this yere, the Kyng maryed Ladye Katherin par widow, late wyfe to the Lorde Latymer, at Hampton Court.”
There is the attestation by Richard Watkins, the king’s prothonotary, in Letters & Papers:
“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; and then the King taking her right hand, repeated after the Bishop the words, “I, Henry, take thee, Katharine, to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death us depart, and thereto I plight thee my troth.” Then, releasing and again clasping hands, the lady Katharine likewise said “I, Katharine, take thee Henry to my wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be bonayr and buxome in bed and at board, till death us depart, and thereto I plight unto thee my troth.” The putting on of the wedding ring and proffer of gold and silver (described) followed; and the Bishop, after prayer, pronounced a benediction. The King then commanded the prothonotary to make a public instrument of the premises. Present : John lord Russell, K.G., keeper of the Privy Seal, Sir Ant. Browne, K.G., captain of the King’s pensioners, and Thos. Henage, Edw. Seymer, Hen. Knyvet, Ric. Long, Thos. Darcy, Edw. Beynton, and Thos. Speke, knights, and Ant. Denny and Wm. Herbert, esquires, also the ladies Mary and Elizabeth the King’s children, Margaret Douglas his niece, Katharine duchess of Suffolk, Anne countess of Hertford, and Joan lady Dudley, and Anne Herbert.”
Catherine was proclaimed queen on the day of her wedding to Henry. Four days later, Secretary Wriothesley, who had been a witness of the wedding, wrote to Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk:
“Catherine was a woman, in my judgement, for virtue, wisdom, and gentleness, most meet for his Highness and I am sure his Majesty had never a wife more agreeable to his heart than she is’. ‘Our Lord, send them long life and much joy together.”
Catherine is usually seen as one of those queens who came out of obscurity, but it is not exactly true. Catherine was a daughter of Sir Thomas Parr who had once been a close companion to Henry VIII and for his loyal service had been rewarded with responsibilities and incomes from his positions of Sheriff of Northamptonshire, Master of the Wards, and Comptroller to the King, in addition to being the lord of Kendal. She was born in an important northern knightly family who had risen in social ranks thanks to royal favor and as a result of successful marriage alliances. Unlike Anne Boleyn, Catherine hadn’t been sent to France to receive a stellar courtly education, but she was well educated in England. Overall, Catherine’s lineage was a good one and was more securely based at court than Anne’s.
However, Henry’s marriage to Catherine wasn’t received universally well. According to Chapuys, the new union of her former husband was the last straw for Anne of Cleves. Chapuys informed his master, the emperor, in a letter:
“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.”
Anne of Cleves might have felt offended that the king hadn’t chosen her after his disastrous marriage to Catherine Howard, but it is highly unlikely that she was close to plunging into despair. She willingly agreed to terminate her marriage to Henry, and she was fairly compensated for her cooperation. Chapuys’ words seem to be an exaggeration. Anne of Cleves was not the despairing sort, she was wealthy, and she had her freedom.
A few days after the ceremony, Henry VIII and Catherine Parr left London and began their progress across the country. Catherine was now Queen of England, and a new life lay ahead of her.