The Death of Catherine Parr

On this day in history, 5th September 1548, Catherine Parr, Queen Dowager, wife of Thomas Seymour and widow of Henry VIII, died aged around 36. She had given birth to her first child, a daughter Mary, on the 30th August, but within a few days of the birth she had contracted puerperal fever, and early in the morning of the 5th September she passed away.

Linda Porter, in her book “Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr”, writes of how Catherine’s body “was carefully wrapped in layers of cere cloth, a waxed cloth to prevent decay, and encased in a lead envelope in her coffin”1, and then laid to rest in the chapel of Sudeley Castle. Porter goes on to describe her funeral, writing of how her chief mourner was Lady Jane Grey and that the funeral service was short and in English, as Catherine was of the reformed religion. It consisted of psalms sung in English by the choir, three lessons, offerings for alms and a sermon preached by the famous Bible translator, Miles Coverdale. Catherine Parr’s body was then buried.

In the spring of 1782, some ladies visiting Sudeley Castle, decided to investigate the remains of the chapel. They found a large block of alabaster on the north wall and concluded that it might be part of a monument that had once stood there. They decided to open up the ground in that area and not far from the surface they discovered a lead envelope coffin inscribed with the following:-


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 VI2

According to Linda Porter, the ladies then cut two holes in the coffin and unwrapped the cloth covering the corpse’s head to discover “the face of Katherine Parr as she had looked on the night of her death in September 1548… the queen was uncorrupted, her flesh still firm to the touch.”3 Unfortunately, the ladies, in their haste and excitement, did not seal the coffin properly again when they reburied her and when the coffin was investigated again, a couple of years later, decay had set in and Catherine’s flesh had been eaten away.

“But a crown of ivy had wound itself around Katherine’s skull, a poignant reminder that this remarkable woman, attractive and sensual, intelligent and capable, deeply loving God as well as man, had been the last queen of Henry VIII.”4

Her death was a tragedy in many ways:-

  • Thomas Seymour lost her steadying influence and was beheaded on the 20th March 1549, just 6 months after his wife’s death, after being condemned of treason by Act of Attainder.
  • Little Mary Seymour lost her mother – Mary herself disappears from the records in 1550 and the fact that her grant from the council was not renewed in September 1550 suggests that she died before her 2nd birthday.
  • She died only 20 months after becoming her own woman – Henry VIII’s death in January 1547, which left Catherine a widow and Queen Dowager, “released” Catherine. She was finally able to make her own choices and marry the man she loved. How sad that that man broke her heart and how sad that she died so soon after giving birth to the baby that she and Thomas had been so excited about.
  • Elizabeth, Mary and Edward lost a mother figure and friend, a woman who had worked hard to bring their family together and to show them real love, affection and friendship.

RIP Catherine Parr, a truly remarkable woman.

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

I’ve also written about Catherine Parr over at The Elizabeth Files because she was a mother figure and friend to the teenage Elizabeth:-

Notes and Sources

  1. Katherine the Queen: The Remarkable Life of Katherine Parr, Linda Porter, p323
  2. Porter, p344
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.

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8 thoughts on “The Death of Catherine Parr”
  1. Poor lady. She was the kindest of Henry’s wives and the best step-mother. It’s so sad when she got her wish to marry Seymour, it became her “death warrant”, only in a different way.

  2. One of my fondest memories of my first trip to England in 2000, I traveled from Warwick to Winchcombe by bus and took the walk from the main street and onto Sudeley Castle property (a fellow Kentuckian, whom I had read about in the 1970’s, had married into the family and was — and still is as far as I know — the new lady of Sudeley, so it had been my dream to one day go there). It was just around opening time in the gardens, so I wandered about a bit, and then managed to get into the chapel, which was unlocked and empty. I spent 10 or 15 minutes standing by Catherine’s sarcophagus, even touched the marble hands on the effigy, and then told her how proud she would be of her stepdaughter Elizabeth, if she didn’t already know. To have spent that little time alone with a Queen of England (especially after the activity of Westminster Abbey around Elizabeth’s tomb), a woman I’ve come to admire stil means a lot to me. One of these days, I’m going to get back. It won’t be the same, but I just want to pay my respects again.

    RIP Catherine.

  3. Katherine Parr was an amazing woman. Sadly, many see her as nothing more than a nursemaid. We know she was much more than that.

    Other famous people who died today are Crazy Horse and Mother Teresa.

  4. I think next to Anne, I like Catherine Parr the best. She was smart, passionate, kind and very well educated. She wrote her own thoughts about religion and was dedicated to the new faith. Yet, she also was passionately in love with Seymour, the standard of a man that was to imprint on the young Elizabeth and be the pattern for all her serious lovers: he was handsome, bold, very manly and a dare-devil. I don’t think Elizabeth ever sought out another kind of man–
    Thanks for a great article. I wish those ladies had NOT ruined what she looked like! It would be wonderful to see. Maybe they could take the skulls of all the wives and do a computer image likeness. But I wouldn’t want to disturb them.

  5. Next to Anne, I think both Catherine Parr and Katherine of Aragon were Henry’s equals.She certainly was more than Henry’s nursemaid.I cannot understand what possed these women to open her coffin.You would think they would have told the local vicar, doctor or someone else of their find.Then maybe the proper people could have examined Catherine and done something to preserve her body and give it a proper reburial.

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