On this day in history, 5th September 1548, Catherine Parr, Queen Dowager, wife of Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, and widow of Henry VIII, died early in the morning at Sudelely Castle. She’d given birth to her first child, a daughter named Mary, six days earlier, and it is thought that she died of puerperal fever, or some other kind of postpartum complication.

You can click here to read more about her death and burial.

Catherine was just thirty-six years old when she died, but she’d led an interesting life, having been married four times, having been taken hostage during the Pilgrimage of Grace, and having published two works. She was far from the boring nursemaid of myth!

You can read more about her in my article Catherine Parr – The Old Nursemaid?.

Here are more resources for you to find out about Catherine Parr:

I also recommend the following books:

The website TudorQueen6: The Life and Family of Queen Katherine Parr is great to browse too.

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6 thoughts on “5 September 1548 – Catherine Parr, Queen Dowager, dies at Sudeley Castle”
  1. There is indeed a lot more to Catherine Parr than many people realise, like Anne Boleyn unusually for women at the time, she had been given a good education and became the first queen to have her works published, married several times before becoming Henry V111’s sixth wife she had endured a rather turbulent life, having to endure taken hostage with her step children during the pilgrimage of grace, an ordeal that must have been quite terrifying, her two first husbands were older than her and it appears she was fond of them and her second husband, Lord Latimer was quite infirm before he died, giving Catherine the chance to show her nursing skills, when she married Henry she used them again and he was very pleased with her, he wanted a stepmother for his children and a companion for himself, Catherine was wooed by the King but she must have felt some trepidation, and she had met and fallen in love with Thomas Seymour, the Kings brother in law, they were attracted to each other but now with the King staking his claim, her dreams of happiness were gone and she agreed to marry the King, how she must have felt we cannot know, a twice widowed woman whose first two husbands had not been her choice but her parents and when Seymour came courting she must have been overcome with joy, a handsome man her own age not some old biddy but someone whom she could love and have children with, then her hopes were cruelly dashed when the King came calling, poor Catherine! So Thomas Seymour melted into the background and Catherine had to prepare herself to becoming Henry V111’s queen his sixth and final queen! However being the sensible woman she was she done her best by her husband and became a loving stepmother to his children, she was sensible and cared for Henry and sat by him when he was unwell and suffered his howls of anguish when his leg hurt, she was classed by some of his councillors as a heretic and read with her ladies in secret books which were forbidden at court, Gardiner especially disliked the queen and as with so many of his wife’s, a plot was hatched to bring her down, but it did not succeed, she was friends with Anne Askew a dangerous woman who was racked then burnt for her beliefs, she could easily have bought the queen down with her but she did not, Gardiner was furious but he could do nothing about it, Catherine realised she was in the utmost danger if it could be proved she was a heretic to therefore she had all her books hidden and the story where she was in the gardens with the King when Gardiner arrived with the guards to take her to the Tower is quite comical, the King then got up and called him knave and cuffed him several times before he hastily withdrew, yet the warrant had been signed and in fact one of her ladies had found it and bought it to the queen where she became hysterical with fear and sobbing, like Catherine Howard before her, but extremely lucky for Henrys sixth wife he had heard her sobs and came to ask her what upset her so much, she was able to gain his sympathy and convince him of her loyalty, a chance Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard never had, Henry assured her she had nothing to worry about and so it was, but she really had had a most lucky escape, had her ladies not found the warrant for her arrest what would have happened to Catherine, we can only speculate but what we can assume is that the King quite possibly valued Catherine more for her patience her calm manner, her devotion to his children more than the suspicions his ministers dripped in his ear about her religious leanings, he was old and infirm and did not want to be bothered about all that, although he hated heretics he was very fond of his wife who looked after him when he was unwell, he wanted comfort and rest and it could be he turned a blind eye to her beliefs as she could soothe him where no one else could, her portrait by Holbein (not the full length one) shows a woman not quite at ease in her surroundings, she may not have wanted to come across like that but the artist has captured the anxiety she feels in her face, she looks sideways and in her eyes there is misery and worry, who would not feel like that, married to King Henry V111, there has never been many reports of her looks but to me she looks a pretty woman with soft features, a little round face and a little snub nose, an amiable merry face, though she looks anything but amiable, she survived the marriage to the King and now could marry her one true love to the dashing but foolish and selfish Thomas Seymour, that turned out to be a disaster as with the princess Elizabeth under his care he abused his position and brought misery to his heavily pregnant wife, Thomas was an opportunist he hated his brother for having more power than himself, he did everything he could in his search for power and glory and he excelled in being the husband of the queen dowager, her hasty marriage to this uncle of the new King was frowned upon but poor Catherine was happily married, maybe for the first time in her life, she became pregnant easily and was enjoying rustic peace at Sudely castle, her days of fear were over and should have been, but for seeing her husband and step daughter together one day locked in a tight embrace, Elizabeth was banished and Thomas tried to reconcile himself with his wife but it unsettled her peace of mind and like many wives before her must have wondered how long it had been going on for, Elizabeth was just in her teens, she knew quite possibly she had a crush on her handsome stepfather and Thomas had played on that, she was said to blush whenever his name was mentioned, Catherine did not blame her stepdaughter they were both very fond of each other and still kept in touch, however she knew now what a womaniser her husband was and she did not take him seriously ever again, she gave birth to her only child and became delirious after falling ill a few days later, in her ramblings she accused her husband of taunting her and making her miserable, which showed how much his flirtation with Elizabeth had upset her, Thomas was overcome by remorse and lay down beside her on the bed and tried to soothe her but she mistrusted this one man to whom she had given her very heart and soul to, she died miserable it was a sad end to a remarkable woman who had been a good decent and faithful wife to four men, an intelligent educated woman who became the first Queen of England to have her written works published, a woman who her step children loved even Mary who was a strict Catholic, she is remembered for being the queen who ‘got away’ the queen who escaped the dreaded axe, she could well have gone down in history as being the third queen who was beheaded but fortune was on her side and she did tread that terrible path, Catherine was a remarkable stoic woman who had a sense of fun to, she loved glamour and dressed in opulent gowns and jewels, she lived quite an eventful life and although she must have felt at times that happiness had eluded her, she made her mark on history and was not just the old nursemaid of legend.

  2. Most of Henry VIII’s wives are shadowy figures with seemingly simple details, such as their dates of birth, being fiercely disputed. We also are unable to uncover their true personalities; I am thinking particularly of Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour and Anne of Cleves here.

    With Katherine Parr, it is rather different. Thanks to the wealth of her correspondence we have (in which she intriguingly signed herself ‘Katherine The Queen KP’) and her published works, including religious treatises, we can really get a vivid sense of what Katherine was like as a woman. She appears to have been charming, highly intelligent, witty, cultivated, pious, scholarly, and passionate. We also know that she had a fierce temper (as conveyed in relation to her rivalry with Anne Seymour) and could be spiteful and rude. However, what emerges most of all is Katherine’s strength of character. She was taken hostage during the Pilgrimage of Grace, she was seriously uncertain as to whether she should accept Henry VIII’s marriage proposal, she was conspired against by the conservatives at court, and she was left in an uncertain position after Henry’s death. In all of these situations, she behaved admirably.

    It is no wonder that Katherine Parr is the favourite of many people today, including the duchess of Cornwall. As her biographer Linda Porter has commented, Katherine emerges from the sources as very human. She was a complex and fascinating woman, and there is much to admire in Henry’s sixth queen.

  3. I really like this portrait of Catherine, much more than I do the traditional one of her in the loose purple gown and flat cap with feather. Can you tell me anything about this one (who painted it, when, how it was — or IF it was — positively ID’d as Catherine, etc.)?

    1. It was painted in about 1545 and was identified as Katherine based on the jewellery, which matches that found in the queen’s inventory. For a very long time the sitter was thought to be of Lady Jane Grey, which is astonishing when you think that Jane would have been aged about eight years old when this portrait was painted. Clearly the sitter is not an eight year old girl. Historians have recently concluded that much of the portraiture thought to be of Jane – not just this one painting – was actually based on likenesses of Katherine Parr. Sadly we don’t know what Jane looked like. The description of her at the Tower in July 1553, which refers to her as red haired with freckles and so tiny she had to wear chopines, is a fraud invented by a twentieth century author. Some historians continue to quote that description despite the fact that it was written over four hundred years after Jane died.

  4. It’s a great pity that Katherine Parr died so soon after her daughter was born and that little Mary may have only lived a couple of years as I believe she would have made an excellent mother. There is some controversial writing that because Sir Thomas Seymour allegedly first of all proposed to Princess Elizabeth and then made inappropriate advances to her, that Katherine was involved in this activity. The only evidence for her being involved is a statement made under pressure by Kat Ashley when she was arrested and questioned about the Admiral and Elizabeth. The two of them were said to attack Elizabeth, cutting her gown and tickling her and also in her room. This is contentious and based on hearsay, but there were other allegations against Seymour of visits to his step daughter’s room in the morning and flirting with her during the day. In the end Katherine was forced to make a choice and the fourteen year old Princess was sent away, either for her own protection or because Katherine thought her husband desired the girl. Katherine was pregnant and needed her husband.

    Katherine was a much married Queen, four times in all and she had helped to raise step children and nurse her husband. However, this was her first baby and the joy of caring for someone of her own was taken from her. Katherine was buried in a nice tomb in Sudley Castle which can be seen now, although there has been a history of viewings which are problematic. However, Katherine was far more than this.

    Katherine was a writer, translator and an educated woman. She was a reformer and outspoken. This got her into trouble and almost arrested. However Katherine saw the warrant and made her peace, accepting her opinions did not matter. She befriended several reformation bishops and had an impact on the Royal nursery. She was Regent while Henry was in France, as with Catherine of Aragon before her and she had very strong opinions on when a King should make war. Her book is quite radical. Henry may have thought about Katherine acting as his Regent for Edward but he obviously changed his mind and she was excluded. Katherine and Thomas Seymour didn’t wait for the new King to give permission for them to marry. Instead they manipulated the young King to suggest Katherine as his wife and then she could announce the truth as they had already married. Maybe Katherine cared for Seymour, but he tried yet again to marry Elizabeth and that was his downfall. Katherine Parr published two books and a couple of prayers are still part of our prayer books. She was quite the radical and she was also an able translator.

  5. I read that story many times where the admiral and Catherine were fooling around in the gardens and Catherine held her step daughters arms whilst Thomas cut her black gown to ribbons, it was all just horseplay the sort of antics families do indulge in, but Kat Ashley was concerned, not blinded by love as his wife was she maybe could see that Thomas was attracted to Elizabeth and it was not appropriate behaviour for a guardian to act towards his step daughter, who just happened to be a very high born lady, she was the daughter and sister of two kings, Kat mentioned her worries to Thomas but he said he would not desist as he meant no harm, and he would tell the protector his brother, how his soul was being slandered, Elizabeths giggles and blushes he found irresistible and it added piquancy to the situation, Elizabeth being only fourteen maybe secretly enjoyed his attentions, but she also found it embarrassing for she was too young to know how to handle the situation, he could well have been the first man she was attracted to and he put her in a very awkward situation, his early morning visits where he would appear in just his nightgown Kat Ashley found scandalous and Elizabeth made sure she was up and dressed early, she probably after a time found his attentions unwelcome and must have realised it was not the way a step father should behave, Catherine it seems had pledged herself to her husband and they had written together with warm affection, then she had married King Henry which stopped any flourishing romance, he ever the opportunist cast his eyes on the young princess, however after the Kings death they wed and after her sad death although he mourned her I believe deeply, he did not let sentiment get in the way of his quest for power and came courting Elizabeth, he could not see how the council would ever allow that and there is a rumour he asked Mary for her hand as well, Elizabeth was teased by Kat about the admiral as she had known her young charge had once had feelings for him but as we know, Elizabeth did not intend ever to marry though she could well have considered it, rumours surrounded her involvement with him, and there was a lurid tale of how a midwife was found and blindfolded and taken in great secrecy to a large house where she was ordered to deliver a baby, on pain of death she was told never to utter a word but she had reported after that the mother was a young lady and young and fair, what happened to the child? This scandal and the gossip about her romps with the admiral must have brought up the tales about her mother, ‘like mother like daughter’ I can see people saying at court, Elizabeth must have found it hard and then she was interrogated herself, but her intelligent and sincere replies had them nonplussed, she had never accepted the admirals offer of marriage she told them, I believe this early experience was the start of moulding Elizabeth into the wary cautious person she would become, years later at the height of her interrogation over the Wyatt plot, she also kept her ground and they could find no evidence against her, after Seymour was beheaded she retired to the country and lived quietly throwing herself into studying and dressing in sombre colours, acting like a well born and virtuous maiden, as if trying to impress upon people she had left those heady days behind, she was the daughter of a King she would act like one, no man would ever sully her honour again, the image of her mother must have been with her on many an occasion, a terrible victim of suspicion herself, she must have mourned her stepmother sincerely as they had been very close, I don’t believe Seymour’s antics ruined that deep affection they had for each other, her father had been fond of Catherine and they had both enjoyed cosy evenings together with their music and books, her death when it came must have been traumatic for her, especially because she had been forced to leave her household so suddenly and the misery Catherine had endured, Catherine it seems was held in affection and respect by many and she had a grand funeral, on her coffin was emblazoned the arms of that most August personage, King Henry V111 to show the world that this lady had been a queen consort and it was a most fitting tribute.

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