On July 12, 1543, King Henry VIII of England married his sixth and final wife, Catherine Parr.
She’d been married and widowed twice before, and would marry one more time after Henry died and left her a widow for the third time.
Henry and Catherine via their maternal ancestry were third cousins once removed.
Kissin’ cousins, if you will.
Catherine gets little press, and much of it is trivialized or more often dramatized, but she was really an important figure in the history of the Church of England.
Henry, already dying when they married, went on his last and once again unsuccessful campaign to France in 1544, leaving Catherine back home to run things.
He’d actually named her his regent. Her regency council consisted of relatives and others who sympathized with her beliefs allowing her to rule pretty much as she wanted to.
She was not only the Queen Consort; she was de facto, Queen Regent.
She took care of providing for Henry’s invading army, kept Scotland in line – no easy task – and schooled her step-daughter, the future Elizabeth I, in her strict Protestant religious beliefs.
Catherin’s religious views were suspect to much of England as she was rabidly Protestant and even more rabidly anti-Roman Catholic.
Bear in mind, the Church of England then and to some extent now, was Catholic-lite; Catherine’s views were radical for the time.
After Henry’s death, she published her second book, Lamentations of a Sinner, which promoted Protestant tenets such as justification by faith alone, and eschewed transubstantiation.
Radical for the time.
Before his death, Henry granted Catherine and allowance of £7,000 per year, and enormous sum then, and ordered that she be known as Queen Dowager and given the respect due a Queen of England.
Knowing she wouldn’t be all that favored in Queen Mary’s court should the sickly boy king die, she left the court after the coronation of her step-son King Edward VI.
The King’s widow once again renewed her relationship with her old love and the new King’s uncle, Thomas Seymour.
He proposed, she accepted, but knowing the regency council wouldn’t allow her to marry so quickly after the king’s death, they married in secret. Not just an elopement, but a secret wedding, as in secret for months.
When the news of their nuptials got out, it was the scandale de jour.
The boy-king and his Catholic sister, Mary, were peeved to say the least, and Mary became more so when Seymour wrote asking her to intervene on the couple’s behalf.
Events worsened as Catherine began a feud with her brother-in-law, Edward Seymour, another uncle of the king who by the way, was Lord Protector.
Edward was incensed at his brother and Catherine when Catherine refused to give UP her jewels, which belonged to the “wife of the king.” As the wife of the Lord Protector, Anne Seymour felt they belonged to her.
At the end, Anne won, Catherine had to turn over the rocks, their relationship “worsened,” and a family feud was on like donkey kong!
Catherine went back home, invited her niece, Lady Jane Grey to come visit, and schooled her in Protestantism, the future Queen Elizabeth came for a while as well.
In 1548, at the age of 35, Parr became pregnant, a total surprise as she’d never conceived during her first three marriages.
Mary Seymour was born on August 30, 1548; Catherine died six days later of “childbed fever,” a common illness due to lack of hygiene.
But of course, rumors started that her husband had “done her in” so he could pursue the Lady Elizabeth, the boy-king’s sister.
Thomas Seymour was beheaded for treason (totally different charges and nothing to do with his wife’s death) in 1549, Mary went to live with a close friend, the rest of Catherine’s jewels were sent to the Tower of London, later to be returned to her daughter.
It is believed that Mary Seymour died in childhood, but historians are not sure of her fate.
Though Catherine left no progeny that we know of past Mary, her impact on the Church of England remains to this day.