5 September 1548 – Death of Catherine Parr, Queen Dowager and Wife of Thomas Seymour

Posted By on September 5, 2012

On Wednesday 5th September 1548, between two and three o’clock in the morning, Catherine Parr, the dowager queen and wife of Thomas Seymour, Baron Sudeley, died of puerperal fever (childbed fever). Her body was wrapped in cere cloth and waxed cloth, then encased in a lead envelope, for the burial which took place the same day at Sudeley Chapel. Seymour’s ward, Lady Jane Grey, acted as chief mourner and Miles Coverdale, the famous reformist Bible translator, preached the sermon.

Catherine Parr was aged around thirty-six when she died and had just given birth to her first child, a little girl called Mary. The birth seems to have been straightforward and the baby was healthy, but within a few days of the birth, Catherine had contracted the infection which was also responsible for Queen Jane Seymour’s death, the dreaded childbed fever.

I always find Catherine’s story sad. She had finally married the man she loved and had had the child she probably thought she’d never have and then she died. What’s worse is that without her steadying influence Seymour went on to be executed as a traitor and then the orphaned Mary Seymour disappears from the records at the age of two, so probably died. So sad.

But Catherine’s story doesn’t end there. In the spring of 1782, some ladies visiting Sudeley Castle and investigating the ruins of the chapel there, found an alabaster block. They thought that it might have been part of a monument and so opened the ground in that area. They discovered a lead envelope coffin 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”

The women then cut holes in the coffin and unwrapped the remains to find that Catherine’s body had been completely preserved. Unfortunately, the women did not seal up the coffin again so the remains began to decay. By the time it was investigated again, exposure to the elements had led to the disintegration of Catherine’s remains.

You can find out more about Catherine Parr in the following articles:-

I’ve also written about Catherine Parr over at The Elizabeth Files:-

12 thoughts on “5 September 1548 – Death of Catherine Parr, Queen Dowager and Wife of Thomas Seymour”

  1. Morgan says:

    Interesting, I have always read that the people who uncovered the coffin were some drunk men who decided it might be fun to dig up a body. Yes, the body was remarkably preserved including the hair, which was described as blond-ish. One of the men reportedly cut a lock of it before they re-buried the body, which had already begun decomposing now that it was exposed to air. Supposedly they re-buried the body upside down. When it was eventually disinterred again, only bones remained.

    Anybody else also hear this version?

    1. margaret says:

      yes i read this too as wel that it was a couple of drunk men,also katherine parr is shown in portraits as having chestnut coloured hair, quite a difference with the blond lock and a question what is a lead envelope coffin

  2. Morgan says:

    Here is a link to a photo of the lock of hair (which is indeed VERY blond!). It was auctioned in 2008. It was bought by the owner of Wyke Manor, Catherine’s one-time home:



  3. margaret says:

    the lock of hair is indeed extremely blond and its amazing to look at something this old ,just a shocking pity that there are not more locks of hair around of other notable tudors.

  4. Kyra Kramer says:

    I always admired Parr because she managed to stay alive in the viper’s nest the court had become. That took some serious smarts. It was so sad she died so young after finally finding happiness.

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      I so agree Kyra and just after giving birth too her child from the man she loved, a life and love far to short lived.Also that site of her hair is amazing! what a great find!! Hope all is well AB friends. Thanks Baroness x

  5. Dawn 1st says:

    England lost a very special and intelligent women that day. May she rest in peace with her daughter Mary.
    I find it really strange that Ladies from the 1700’s were ‘poking around’ in a grave, it does seem to be the normal type of past-time females of that era would do, weird…
    The lock of hair is very blonde, I suppose it has faded with age. My daughter’s hair is a dark blonde in winter, but as soon as she is out side a lot in the summer it lightens 2/3 shades

    1. Baroness Von Reis says:

      Well said, Dawn 1st, she was indeed a very wonderful women in her time! and to a very weird thing too do to anyone!!I think it’s sacrilege a very cruel thing to do to anyone. Kind Regards Baroness x

  6. Anerje says:

    I visited Sudeley castle last month, having done so some 15 years earlier. There’s a supberb KP exhibition there. You can see a lock of her hair and one of her teeth.

    I heard the story of the drunken men as well. What seems to have happened is that the ladies discovered Katherine’s tomb, opened the coffin and cut away the lead in which she was wrapped. Their discovery resulted in many others visiting the damaged coffin. Horace Walpole writes of seeing the coffin 6 months apart, and reports the fine condition that Katherine’s remains were in, but 6 months later, he writes of the decay that has taken place. Then the decision to bury her appropriately was taken.

  7. Tash Wakefield says:

    The story of the tomb of Katherine Parr being rediscovered sounds suspiciously like the story of the Edinburgh monks discovering the perfectly preserved remains of Arthur and Guenevere. It also reminds me of the disasterously botched first excavation of King Tut’s tomb. What a shame so many of the worlds telling treasures have been destroyed by bad archaeology, or just by idiots. Who goes into a chapel and decides to open up a tomb just because they are curious, seems more likely that they opened it to see if she was wearing priceless jewels! She was Queen of England!

    1. HollyDolly says:

      Oh I have to agree Tash. If you or I found her tomb,we would have contacted the authorities who ever they were in those days, and hopefully they would have contacted the Royal Academy of Science or some such group..
      I guess they were curious what she looked like,plus as you say, the jewel buisiness. Be quite the thing to have Catherine Parr’s jewels,though people would wonder where they came from.I too have heard the story of the drunken men.

  8. Mindy Newell says:

    Why was Catherine’s portrait painted showing her with chestnut (auburn) hair? Someone above posted that it could have faded, but I don’t think it would have faded to blonde…it would have faded to gray from lack of nutrition.

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