History Blog

There is nothing in the way you live today that doesn't have its roots in history - Philippa Lacey Brewell

Relationships and Personalities at the Tudor Court: Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour

Katherine Parr, most famous as Henry VIII's final wife and the one who survived him, only outlived her infamous husband by 19 months. Life after Henry had promised freedom and choice where there had been only duty but instead it delivered mainly heartache and distress. 

Katherine was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and his wife Maud Green, both of whom served at the court of Henry VIII. Maud had been a lady-in-waiting to Henrys first wife, Katherine of Aragon, and named her daughter after the Queen. 

By the time Katherine Parr married Henry in July 1543 she had already been twice widowed but had no children. After the death of her second husband in March 1543 she caught the eye of the King, 21 years her senior. Not only did she find herself in the unenviable position of being proposed to by the corpulent, immobile and temper-prone Henry but this also put pay to any plans she had for marrying the man of her choice, Thomas Seymour. 

Thomas Seymour was the ambitious brother of the late Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife who died following childbirth. Thomas was good-looking and charismatic but also envious and resentful of his older brother, Edward Seymour's, influence and power. This resentment would lead to highly questionable behaviour but Katherine seems to have liked him despite his character flaws. She was now in her 30's and as a widow had some degree of freedom as to who she wished to marry. However a proposal from the King was not something one could dismiss easily and so she put duty before her own feelings and married Henry in a small gathering in the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace. 

Henry died less that 4 years later in January 1547 leaving Katherine widowed for a third time. It was with speed enough to cause a scandal that Katherine and Thomas were married. However there had been time for him to attempt to woo the Princess Elizabeth. A letter (which could possibly be a fabrication) from Thomas to Elizabeth soon after her father's death contained a clear marriage proposal! She politely declined. 

For Katherine though, she loved Thomas and had a true desire for the match. Her letter to him following the death of Henry makes her feelings clear. 

"I would not have you think that this mine honest goodwill towards you to proceed of any sudden motion of passion; for, as truly as God is God, my mind was fully bent, the other time I was at liberty, to marry you before any man I know."

Katherine had taken wardship of the Princess Elizabeth, her step-daughter, on Henry's death. With Elizabeth living in the same house as her now step-father his access to Elizabeth went unchecked and his advances only grew in frequency and audacity. His alarming behaviour toward his 17 year old ward was inappropriate and dangerous and yet Katherine seems to have allowed it to continue, even at some points joining in with tickling Elizabeth in bed or, in a very bizarre and disturbing incident, holding Elizabeth whilst Thomas cut up her dress! 


Katherine fell pregnant with her first child in 1548. She was 36, incredibly old for a first pregnancy in Tudor England. Her tolerance to her husband's behaviour toward her young step-daughter finally broke and she arranged for Elizabeth to live with Sir Anthony Denny and his wife. Katherine and Thomas moved to Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire, to await the birth of their first child. 


On 30th August 1548 Katherine gave birth to a daughter called Mary. Celebrations were short-lived. She contracted puerperal fever and died on 5th September. During her illness she chastised Thomas for not allowing her physician to visit her after the birth. The insinuation being that he had somehow brought about her illness, or at least not done enough to stop it. She was buried in the chapel at Sudeley Castle and where you can still visit her tomb today. 


Thomas outlived his wife by only 6 months. He was beheaded on Tower Hill for treason after a failed attempt to remove his own brother Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of Edward VI's minority, and his government from power. He is buried in St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower of London. All traces of their daughter, Mary, disappear within two years of her birth and her tale is a mystery. 

I can't help but see these final years of Katherine's life as a tragedy. She finally married the man she loved but he brought her nothing but pain and anguish with some even suspecting he had a hand in her death.

Philippa

Calling all Tudor Lovers who want to immerse themselves in the ultimate Tudor experience!

Sources and Further Reading

www.Elizabethfiles.com

Six Wives: The Queen's of Henry VIII by David Starkey. Published by Vintage. Also available as an audio book.

Elizabeth by David Starkey. Harper Audio.

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