Catherine Parr, the last of Henry's six
wives, was born in 1512 to Sir Thomas Parr and Lady Maud Parr at Blackfriars. A Northamptonshire heiress, Lady Maud married
Thomas Parr of Kendal, who claimed lineage to King Edward III, while she was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine of
Aragon. The couple had a daughter, speculated to be named after the queen, named Catherine. Catherine had two siblings, a
brother named William and a sister named Anne. When Catherine was only 5 in 1517, her father died, leaving her 22-year-old
mother a widow. Her mother was a learned woman and refused to let her stature as a widow demean her at court. Catherine and
her siblings were educated at the court of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. According to many accounts, Catherine
Parr was educated alongside Mary Tudor, the only living child of King Henry and Catherine of Aragon, who was five years
younger than Catherine Parr. Catherine's mother refused to let her daughter be married off young and focused on educating
young Catherine. Catherine learned French from her fluent mother, Italian, Latin, and Greek. Besides a wide range of languages,
Catherine was educated in history, art, and religion. A Catholic, Catherine was taught to see 'the hands of God' in all matters.
Lady Maud Parr began the search for Catherine's
first husband when Catherine was only nine. Betrothed to the Lord Scrope's son, the marriage contract was broken when the
betrothal did not live up to the demands set in Sir Thomas Parr's will. Catherine was then betrothed to Edward, Lord Borough
of Gainsborough. Catherine did not go to live with Edward until she was 15 as Edward was in his late fifties and Catherine's
mother was not about to send a 12-year-old to the marriage bed of an elderly man. Catherine went to live with Edward at Gainsborough
in 1527, but within two years he was dead. Catherine left Gainsborough to go back to live at court.
Catherine met her second husband around the time that Henry VIII
married Anne Boleyn. John Neville, Lord of Latimer, was the father of two children, aged seven and ten. He and Catherine married
in January of 1531. Catherine was 19 while John Neville was 49. The couple moved to Snape Hall in Yorkshire, a large estate
that was put under the management of young Catherine. The two preferred their estate to court life but in 1536, Catherine
and John became caught up in the scandals of Anne and Henry's annulment. At one point their lives were endangered by Archbishop
Cranmer, but they escaped imprisonment.
Catherine and John Neville were married
until 1542. By that time Anne Boleyn had been executed, Jane Seymour had died in childbirth, Anne of Cleves was discarded,
and Katherine Howard was executed. Four queens under Henry VIII gone in less than 6 years.
At court, Catherine and her family were
gaining power through Catherine's marriage to John Neville. At court, Catherine had begun an affair with the brother of Henry
VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour, Thomas Seymour. Although the two planned to marry, the unmarried Henry VIII's eye caught
Catherine at court one day and he fell in love with her. We must remember how he had fallen in love with his 5 previous wives
and only one lived through the ordeal of marriage to Henry. As much as Thomas proposed to Catherine, she was forced to decline
for it was not the matter of choosing now for Catherine but instead being chosen. Henry had chosen Catherine. The two were
married on July 12, 1543, eighteen months after Katherine Howard's execution. Catherine was for fact the most educated queen
since Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. Many found that she resembled Catherine of Aragon more so. Instead of becoming
involved with state affairs or turning the role of queen into one of decadence, Catherine turned it into a family role. At
this point, King Henry VIII had three children: Mary, at age 27, Elizabeth, at age 10, and Edward, at age 6. Mary had recalled
her days at court with her mother and Catherine Parr and took a liking to her new mother. Edward was a motherless child and,
needing a mother figure, also took to Catherine Parr. Elizabeth was a very intelligent and suspicious young girl and it took
time before Elizabeth adapted to Catherine Parr. Elizabeth had been fond of Katherine Howard, in part because Katherine was
her mother's cousin. One of the things that one Elizabeth over to Catherine was that Mary and Elizabeth had both been banished
from court at the time and had both been stripped of the title of 'princess'. With Catherine's help, the two sisters were
brought back to court and reinstated as princesses of the kingdom. Catherine had brought the family together, which she had
planned to do to show other countries England's strength. Edward was a sickly child though, and had to be moved from house
to house to find a suitable climate, a sign of weakness. He best adapted to Ashridge, which became his house away from court.
Catherine proved to be an incisive queen.
She had won Henry's confidence and after his victory at Flanders in 1543, Catherine's family was deeply honored. Catherine's
brother, William, became a Kinght of the Garter, Marquess of Northampton, and Earl of Essex. Catherine's sister, Anne, became
a lady-in-waiting to her sister and her husband was put on the Privy Council. Sir William Parr, Catherine's uncle, became
Lord Parr of Horton and Lord Chamberlain of Catherine's household. Catherine was rewarded with many households and lands and
one of her best achievements was convincing Henry to put Mary and Elizabeth back in the succession line for the throne.
Catherine was almost ruined when her enemies tried to have her
linked with heresy. Catherine was known as a great humanitarian and embraced many religions. Her enemies tried to link her
with Protestantism and when Henry was alerted he ordered her arrest. With the help of Princess Elizabeth, Catherine ran in
on Henry in the gardens at Greenwich one day and begged for his forgiveness and showed her humility to him. He forgave her
and just then the victorious enemies of Catherine came to arrest her. Henry yelled in fury for them to get out of his sight
and he and Catherine reconciled.
Around the same time, Catherine took
under her protection the young Jane Grey, a pious young girl, the daughter of Frances Brandon and Henry Grey; she was the
same age as Edward and became his dearest friend. Jane would later become queen of England for nine days after Edward's death
and was executed at the age of 16 in 1554.
When Henry went to war in France he left
Catherine as his regent and in the case of his death she would be Edward's regent until he came of age in 1555. The last time
Henry had left the throne to a female regent was thirty years before when Henry left the regency to Catherine of Aragon.
In the winter of 1546, Henry became seriously ill. After his three
children returned to their private estates concluding the Yuletide celebrations, Henry took to his chambers and Catherine
was by his side day and night nursing him. In late January, Henry's health turned for the worst and Henry died on January
28, 1547. For three days the news was kept from the world, but soon word leaked out to England. Catherine, a widow for the
third time, took up her affair with Thomas Seymour, now Lord High Admiral and Baron Seymour of Sudeley, barely 4 months
after Henry's death and the two married. This brought up rumors of Catherine being adulterous, but in fact she and Thomas
had not shared a relationship while Catherine was married to King Henry VIII. Catherine moved away from court, bringing Jane
Grey and Princess Elizabeth with her to live at Sudeley Castle with Thomas Seymour, her new husband. Catherine became
pregnant for the first time in four marriages in early 1548. She kept to her apartments and around this time Thomas Seymour
began to intimately follow Princess Elizabeth, now fourteen years old. One day, Catherine discovered Elizabeth and Thomas
frolicking in the gardens of their estate. It is clear that Thomas meant to marry Elizabeth eventually, but Elizabeth's feelings
were not so deep for Thomas. Nonetheless, Elizabeth was banished from Catherine's household in the summer of 1548. A few months
later, Catherine went into labor and on September 7, 1548, Catherine died of complications of birth. Her daughter, Mary, had
been born on August 30 but did not survive her mother by very long. Thomas was later executed on accusations of high treason
for trying to marry Princess Elizabeth in 1549. Mary Seymour, Thomas and Catherine's daughter, went under the care of the
duchess of Somerset. She disappears from records after the age of two. She presumably died then.
And so ended the
life of the last of King Henry VIII's six wives. Only two wives outlived him, Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr. The other
four fell to execution, annulment, and death by birth complications. Henry VIII completed much and contributed greatly to
the English kingdom during his long reign but he is most remembered for his six wives.