Catherine Parr tomb Rob Farrow GeographOn this day in history, Wednesday 5th September 1548,”between two and three of the clock in the morning”, Catherine Parr, Queen Dowager, wife of Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley, and widow of Henry VIII, died at Sudeley Castle. She was only around thirty-six years of age and died of postpartum complications, probably puerperal fever, having given birth to a daughter, Mary, on 30th August.

In her book, Lives of the Queens of England, Agnes Strickland quotes from a manuscript in the College of Arms which announces Catherine’s death and gives details of her burial. Here is that record:

A breviate of the internment of the lady Katharine Parr, queen-dowager, late wife to king Henry VIII, and after wife to sir Thomas, lord Seymour of Sudley, and high admiral of England.

Item, on Wednesday, the 5th of September, between two and three of the clock in the morning, died the aforesaid lady, late queen-dowager, at the castle of Sudley, in Gloucestershire, 1548, and lieth buried in the chapel of the said castle.

Item, she was cered and chested in lead accordingly, and so remained in her privy chamber until things were in a readiness.

The chapel was hung with black cloth, garnished with scutcheons of marriages; – viz., king Henry VIII and her in pale under the crown, her own in lozenge under the crown; also the arms of the lord-admiral and hers in pale without the crown.

The rails were covered with black cloth for the mourners to sit within, with stools and cushions accordingly, and two lighted scutcheons stood upon the corpse during the service.

The order in proceeding to the chapel.

First, two conductors in black, with black staves; then gentlemen and esquires; then knights; then officers of the houshold, with their white staves; then the gentlemen ushers; then Somerset herald, in the tabard coat, then the corpse, borne by six gentlemen in black gowns, with their hoods on their heads; then eleven staff torches, borne on each side by yeomen round about the corpse, and at each corner a knight for assistance (four), with their hoods on their heads; then the lady Jane (daughter to the lord-marquess Dorset), chief mourner, her train borne up by a young lady; then six other lady mourners, two and two; then yeomen, three and three, in rank; then all other following.

The manner of the service in the church.

Item, when the corpse was set within the rails, and the mourners placed, the whole choir began, and sung certain psalms in English, and read three lessons, and after the third lesson, the mourners, according to their degrees and that which is accustomed, offered into the alms-box, and when they had done, all other, as gentlemen or gentlewomen, that would.

The offering done, doctor Coverdale, the queen’s almoner, began his sermon, which was very good and godly, and in one place thereof he took occasion to declare unto the people ‘how that they should none there think, say, or spread abroad that the offering which was there done was done any thing to benefit the dead, but for the poor only; and also the lights which were carried and stood about the corpse, were for the honour of the person, and for none other intent nor purpose’; and so went through with his sermon, and made a godly prayer, and the whole church answered and prayed the same with him in the end. The sermon done, the corpse was buried, during which time the choir sung Te Deum in English. And this done, the mourners dined, and the rest returned homeward again. All which aforesaid was done in a morning.”

Agnes Strickland notes that this record “presents the reader with the form of the first royal funeral solemnised according to Protestant rites”, and we can see from the record that Miles Coverdale, the famous reformist Bible translator, preached the sermon at the funeral. Lady Jane Grey acted as chief mourner.

Strickland goes on to give a translation, by “an anonymous author”, of the epitath written in Latin by John Parkhurst, Catherine’s chaplain and the future Bishop of Norwich:

“In this new tomb the royal Katharine lies;
Flower of her sex, renowned, great, and wise;
A wife, by every nuptial virtue known,
A faithful partner once of Henry’s throne.
To Seymour next her plighted hand she yields —
Seymour, who Neptune’s trident justly wields;
From him a beauteous daughter bless’d her arms,
An infant copy of her parent’s charms.
When now seven days this infant flower had bloom’d,
Heaven in its wrath the mother’s soul resumed.”

Strickland goes on to say that Catherine “was originally interred on the north side of the altar of the then splendid chapel of Sudley, and a mural tablet of sculptured alabaster was placed above her tomb”. Unfortunately, the chapel at Sudeley fell into ruin and Catherine’s tomb was lost. But, in May 1782, some ladies visited Sudeley Castle to investigate the chapel ruins. On finding a large block of alabaster on the north wall, they concluded that it might well be part of a monument that had once stood there. They dug up the ground in that area and not far from the surface they discovered a leaden envelope. They opened it in two places and found that it contained human remains, those of Queen Catherine Parr. In fright, they did nothing more apart from ordering it to be covered once again with earth. However, later that summer, John Lucas, who rented that piece of land, dug the coffin up and found that it was inscribed:

Here lyeth Queen Katheryne Wife to Kinge
Henry the VIII and
The wife of Thomas
Lord of Sudely high
Admy… of Englond
And ynkle to Kyng
Edward VI.”

When he opened the coffin, he found that Catherine’s remains had been completely preserved. Unfortunately, according to Agnest Strickland, two years later “the royal remains were taken out of the coffin, and irreverently thrown on a heap of rubbish and exposed to public view.” A witness told of how the body was dressed in “costly burial clothes”, including shoes, and described the Queen’s appearance: “all her proportions extremely delicate; and she particularly noticed, that traces of beauty were still perceptible in the countenance, of which the features were at that time perfect”. The remains were reinterred but then exhumed and examined in October 1786 by Rev. Tredway Nash. He found that the face was “totally decayed” but that the body was “perfect”. He noted that “the queen must have been of low stature, as the lead that enclosed her corpse was just five feet four inches long.” In 1792, John Lucas had Catherine’s remains reinterred in a grave dug by “a party of drunken men”.

In 1817, Rev. John Lates, rector of Sudeley, who was carrying out repair work on the chapel, decided to try and find Catherine’s remains. Her coffin was found in a walled grave, having been buried upside down by the drunk men in 1792, and when it was opened they found “nothing but the bare skeleton”, a few remnants of cere cloth and “a small quantity of hair. Ivy roots had penetrated the coffin and “filled the greater part of it”. The remains were temporarily kept in the vault of Lord Chandos while a tomb was erected for the dowager queen:

“The ancient chapel, which had been desecrated by the
Puritans, was thoroughly renovated under the direction of
Sir John Gilbert Scott, and a handsome decorated altartomb,
surmounted by a gothic canopy, was erected on the
north side of the Sacrarium to the memory of Queen
Katherine Parr, whose effigy was rendered as correctly as
it could be from the portraits which are extant […]”

This tomb can be seen today in the chapel.

Notes and Sources

Picture: Sudeley – Tomb of Katherine Parr © Copyright Rob Farrow and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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10 thoughts on “5 September 1548 – Catherine Parr dies at Sudeley Castle”
  1. These tombs are all quite beautiful . There is so much detail created it seems in each to tomb. At what point in time did they stop using these for the burial of royalty. We’re the majority of these created years later like the tomb of Catherine Parr?

  2. It doesn’t seem right that this once queen consort of England who in her time was well liked and treated with respect by all who knew her, not just because she was queen but because of her very kindness wisdom and caring gracious nature should be centuries later have her coffin opened and gawped at by the general public, thrown onto a pile of rubbish and then have to be buried again, the dead once buried should be left to rest in peace, I can understand the curiosity and imagine the fright those genteel ladies had when they saw Catherine’s skeleton, bet they wasn’t expecting that! I can just see them screaming in terror and picking up their skirts hastily running away parasols in tow, they had probably thought it was a treasure chest, skeletons are a bit scary to look at especially when like those ladies they wasn’t expecting it, yet we are all like that under the flesh and there is nothing really to fear, her tomb now is absolutely beautiful and a fitting tribute to this once queen of England.

  3. The tomb is very beautiful, but as Christine has said, it’s very sad and also very disrespectful for a group of drunken men to throw Catherine Parr’s remains back in the casket and bury it upside down so that the next time it was found vines had grown inside it and her remains were not in such a condition as when they were found the first time. It’s interesting that the first time she was exhumed that her remains were in such good condition. Just as with Richard III, I’m surprised that kings’ and queens’ burial places have disappeared into obscurity, lying under parking lots, housing or have just not been found. These people were part not only of the history of their own country, but part of the history of the world. Maybe in that day and age the people weren’t as worried about preserving burial sites like we are today. Maybe in 400 or 500 years people will be buried and lost under housing or even buried on Mars, if that program ever gets off the ground, so to speak.

  4. Yes I find it appalling that a bunch of drunks reburied her, no wonder she was buried upside down! Sadly as Sandra states so many royal tombs and that of notable people’s have disappeared, in the case of Mary Boleyn we don’t even know where she was buried, Anne Mowbrays tomb, the child bride of Richard Duke of York, one of the tragic princes in the tower disappeared for several hundred years and wasn’t discovered till the sixties and the tomb of Henry 1st also disappeared after the sacking of Reading Abbey, still even if we cannot discover all their tombs their names are very much alive to us and they are preserved for posterity.

  5. A very lovely tomb and it is well preserved. I don’t give any credence to many of these stories about bodies being dug up and reburied by drunkard visitors. Lady Agnus Strickland wrote many wonderful histories about the princesses and queens of England, but she also repeated many legends and some of her sources are suspect. A number of tombs have been lost due to general destruction, the attacks of the Parliamentary forces in the Civil Wars, the destruction of the reformation, the movement of families to private burials and general lack of management and care. We probably stopped the use of such tombs in the eighteenth century as coffins took over from stone, expensive tombs. The decay of the monastic buildings themselves did not always mean that the tombs were harmed, but some important tombs have been obscured by the changes in the land, lost by the records being destroyed, other superstructures have replaced older buildings or the tombs have been replaced by simple monuments, as in the case of Henry Viii. The Norfolk tombs have been surveyed and located in Tetford, others were moved to the family homes years ago. A good number of well meaning antiquarians toured the country in the late 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, with an interest in finding historical monuments and evidence of lost places. Unfortunately, some took all too keen an interest in the legends and old burial myths. One such went in search of Richard lll and when he went to the wrong friary and could find no trace, he put it about that Richard had been dug up and thrown in the River Soar. It’s a good job nobody of sound mind believed that nonsense lol. Tombs were more often than not markers with the actual coffin or shroud in a cut vault in the floor underneath. Even though tombs may have been dismantled, the burials have been found and preserved with a simple stone. The last 200 years with the rise of science and medicine, several investigations of important burials have been conducted, seriously and with reverence and we have a number of good, detailed papers on these burials as a result. I am confident that the burial of Queen Katherine Parr was inspected in this way, but without the bawdy stories. King William iv had a national survey done of all the royal tombs, which is why we know who is missing and many of the details of long lost burials previously lost. Science has of course moved on since the opening of tombs such as those of Henry Viii and Jane Seymour, the vault of Henry Vll and Elizabeth of York, the Tower burials of Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, plus the assumed burial of the alleged princes in the Tower in the urn in Westminster Abbey opened in the 1930s. Now we know exactly where Richard iii is, thanks to advanced DNA testing and a historical detective story, plus we may have part of Alfred the Great and are closing in on the search for Henry I. The tomb of the latter was not destroyed but time and nature have buried and lost it under the walls of the old abbey church at Reading. The identity of the bones in the urn in Westminster Abbey have never been positively identified. People believed lost pop up in the most unique of circumstances, but usually old churches have workmen come in to put in new drains and an old coffin is found. In 1964 (thereabouts) workmen unearthed the tomb of Anne of Mowberry, Duchess of York and Norfolk, wife to Richard, youngest of the Princes, son of Edward iv and Elizabeth Woodville. The scene was not made secure and full details of the burial and discovery, including pictures of the dead child’s skull circulated in the press, without permission from her blood relatives, the Howard Dukes of Norfolk. As a result of this disgrace, strict laws were passed on protecting burials and digs from the press and exposure. Katherine Parr is in some ways lucky, her tomb is in a private church, in a private estate, protected to some degree from this kind of amateur assault or investigation without the guardians permission.

    1. I remember reading that the then Duke of Norfolk made a statement quite indignantly how his relatives skeleton had become the object of macabre curiosity, it doesn’t matter how many centuries have passed we still feel that an invasion of privacy has occurred, after all they are our relatives, joined by blood and we feel a need to protect and give them that dignity which death should give to every living being, that of having a proper Christian burial and to be allowed to rest in peace, poor little girl was so young when she died and she was the sole heiress of her family, therefore her premature demise must have caused great shock to her contemporaries.

      1. Are you thinking of the discovery of Anne Mowbray when her remains were photographed and placed in public newspapers and then on view without permission?

        Although the workmen did the right thing and brought in the archaeological people and the right authorities, the proper methods of privacy were not observed. Yes, it caused a right stink especially from the Duke of Norfolk as she was his relative. Although his permission wasn’t needed and they had to move her body as the church was being demolished to Westminster Abbey, it was still an invasion as the press had no right to be there, licences should have been issued and a whole load of procedures observed. It is one of the reasons new laws and process were made to protect the remains of ancient and historical bones and to apply to archaeological digs. You of course need a license but you don’t need a relative if the person was buried more than 100 years ago, but you do have to observe privacy and take great care. Who owns the remains is always subject to all sorts of legal debate and scrutiny and you have to protect the remains from undue harm. It’s why digs now take special care and why disturbing known graves and tombs is very limited today. It’s why the licence and ownership rows went on and care to keep the press under control was made when they found Richard iii.

        In the case of Anne Mowbray she was being moved to a new tomb with other tombs but the way the publicity was handled was shocking. She was a young child as well which made it all the more sensitive. I know the Victorians had good motives in their minds, but digging people up just to have a look, without any scientific reason is macabre, especially in those days when they did many things to please an audience.

  6. I found this article a a lovely surprise, not expecting such good information available on this site. I am a Brit displaced in the US and picked up my love of all things Anne Boleyn years ago, but unless you can afford higher education you get no history in schools here except the Revolutionary war where they love to mock the Brits.(I went to high school in New Jersey and Michigan) I have read some books where Catherine Parr was mentioned but didn’t know she died so young after her only? child’s birth, how sad. I give her alot of respect for having to nurse that old devil Henry, good lord I hope she never had to actually sleep with him.

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