July 20, 1543 – Katherine Parr Announces Her Marriage to Her Brother

The Wedding of Henry VIII and Katherine Parr, as portrayed on Showtimes' The Tudors

The Wedding of Henry VIII and Katherine Parr, as portrayed by Joely Richardson and Jonathan RhysMeyers on Showtimes’ The Tudors

Katherine Parr married Henry VIII on July 12 in a small, private ceremony in the Queen’s closet at Hampton Court. For some reason, it took her eight days to write (probably dictate) a letter to tell her brother. Why the wait? There is a part of me that ascribes the delay to wishful thinking, that perhaps it might not be true if she didn’t tell anyone, but that’s pure conjecture… Regardless, here’s what she said.

To our right dear and entirely beloved brother, the Lord Parr, Lord Warden of the Marches.

Right dear and well-beloved brother, we great you well. Letting you wit that when it hath pleased almighty God of His goodness to incline the King’s majesty in such wise towards me, as it hath pleased his highness to take me of all others, most unworthy, to his wife, which is, as of reason it ought to be, the greatest joy and comfort that could happen to me in this world.

To the intent, you being my natural brother, may rejoice with me in the goodness of God and of his majesty, as the person who by nature hath most cause of the same, I thought meet to give you this advertisement. And to require you to let me sometime hear of your health as friendly as you would have done, if God and his majesty had not called me to this honor, which, I assure you, shall be much to my comfort.

Given at my lord’s manor of Oatlands, the twentieth of July, the thirty-fifth year of his majesty’s most noble reign.

Katheryn the Quene



Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondences. University of Chicago, 2011. pg 46


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September 19, 1580 – Death of Catherine Willoughby

Catherine Willoughby, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine Willoughby, drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine Willoughby has always been fascinating to me, and today is a fitting day to raise a glass in her memory and talk about her life. A few salient points:

  • She was the daughter of Maria de Salinas, Catherine of Aragon’s most devoted lady in waiting, but became so associated with the reform movement that she had to flee England when Mary I came to the throne. (When she was in Katherine Parr’s household, she actually named her spaniel “Gardiner” so that she could amuse the rest of them by calling it to heel)
  • She became the ward of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, when she was nine – and his wife when she turned fourteen (he was forty-nine at the time…).
  • It would seem that Henry was attracted to her for years. There was even a rumor right after Brandon died in 1545 that Henry was considering divorcing Katherine Parr to marry her. It was said that the impetus was that Katherine was barren since she had never had children, while Catherine was fertile, having already borne two sons. It never came to pass.
  • After Thomas Seymour’s execution, Catherine was given the wardship of the infant Mary, his daughter with Katherine Parr – despite clearly not wanting it. The child brought no financial benefit since Katherine Parr had left her entire estate to Thomas Seymour, and his estate had been forfeited to the state when he was convicted of treason. At the same time, as the daughter of a former Queen she required certain expensive formalities. Catherine wrote to Secretary of State William Cecil asking for funds to cover those costs. It is not clear whether they were granted, but the issue disappeared since the baby died around her second birthday.

Right now, I’m working on the sequel to Jane the Quene (tentatively entitled The Path to Somerset) so I’ve been reading up on Catherine and the events of the second three-queen set of Henry’s life (the final book in the trilogy will The Boy King, covering Edward’s accession to his death – I’m not quite up to that yet). I’m still working out how much of my fascination to indulge, and how much of it will be distracting to the story…Anyone who would like to weigh in, I’d love to hear from you!


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September 5, 1548 – Katherine Parr Dies

September 5, 1548 - Katherine Parr dies. Read about the tragedy on www.janetwertman.com

Katherine Parr, The Melton Constable Portrait (Artist Unknown)

Such a tragedy.

Katherine Parr lived a life of sacrifice. Her first and second husbands, chosen by her father, were much older than she was. When the second one, Lord Latimer, died, he left her a rich, 31-year old widow and one of the most eligible women in England. Thomas Seymour – still a bachelor at 35 – came a’courting and it looked like things would work out well for them…until Henry VIII himself took a fancy to Katherine shortly after she entered the household of his daughter Mary. There was no refusing the 52-year old King (Katherine did try – told him she’d rather be his mistress than his wife) and so Katherine became his sixth wife.

They were married for four years, until Henry’s death in 1547. During that time, Katherine was both supremely trusted (she served as Regent while Henry went off to invade France) and deeply suspected (she narrowly escaped a plot by Stephen Gardiner to examine her religious beliefs, which would have led to her execution). When Henry died, she was free to follow her heart.

And follow it she did. She scandalized the court by marrying Thomas Seymour after only four months of widowhood. But Thomas Seymour had kept the young King Edward VI involved in the secret, and the couple got away with it. There followed an idyllic time for Katherine; she brought Lady Jane Grey and the Princess Elizabeth to live with her and created a household that was a model for living and learning. Katherine was over the moon when she found herself pregnant in March 1548, though things quickly went downhill from there: her husband was found making advances to the 15-year old Elizabeth. After she caught the two of them in an embrace, Katherine would have learned that Seymour had tried to marry Elizabeth before he swept Katherine off her feet…

Elizabeth was quickly sent away but the damage had been done. Although Seymour apparently repented and all was happy when Katherine gave birth to her daughter Mary, everything changed when puerperal fever set in. Katherine got suspicious at times, and made some accusatory remarks – she told her husband that he had given her “many shrewd taunts” – and even hinted she thought he might have poisoned her (“My Lord, I would have given a thousand marks to have had my full talk with [Doctor] Huicke, the first day I was delivered, but I durst not, for fear of displeasing you”). While she repudiated these complaints when she regained lucidity and wrote a will that “with all her heart and desire” made him her sole heir, it was clear that her resentment had been enormous. She died six days after Mary’s birth.


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March 20, 1549 – Thomas Seymour Executed

March 20, 1549 - Thomas Seymour executed.

Thomas Seymour Being Inappropriate with Katherine Parr, from the BBC’s Six Wives of Henry VIII

“This day died a man of much wit – and very little judgment.”

These are said to be Elizabeth’s words upon hearing of the death of Thomas Seymour – though the first reference to them is in the work of a seventeenth-century historian so they might fall into the category of “I wish I’d said that”…

One of the commentators on Wikipedia’s Talk Page about Thomas Seymour summed up his character perfectly: he was a “loud, boisterous, fun fellow, whom people, especially women, liked very much, who rushed into crazy schemes, full-steam-ahead, without ever thinking things through very well.” Indeed, that’s what got him killed. I published an article today about Edward VI on the English Historical Fiction Authors blog (these two articles are meant as companion pieces, hope you enjoy); that piece is centered around Edward and so focuses on the details of the treasonable charges – how Seymour tried to break into the King’s apartments in the middle of the night to kidnap him. This article is more concerned with the other part of his hare-brained scheme, his plot to marry the Lady Elizabeth.

Thomas Seymour’s dealings with Elizabeth were a foundational influence in her life. Right after Henry VIII’s death, Seymour applied to the Council for permission to wed either her or Mary. When the Council refused, he married Katherine Parr. Elizabeth came to live with them, and Seymour began to be far more familiar than propriety and their positions warranted. He would come into her bedroom early in the morning, in bare feet and clad only in his nightclothes, to wake her up. At first, Katherine dismissed the behavior as innocent fun, and even joined in some of the early morning tickling sessions. But then she is said to have come upon her husband on his knees before the young princess. At that point Katherine sent Elizabeth away.

When Thomas Seymour was arrested for treason, Elizabeth came under suspicion as well. The Regency Council arrested her servants, Kat Ashley and Tom Parry, and brought them to the Tower to question them. Ashley and Parry quickly confesssed, sharing the details of the early morning romps, admitting that the topic of marriage between Seymour and Elizabeth had been discussed, and just generally implicating her. I remember watching Masterpiece Theater’s Elizabeth R when I was younger, and appreciating their brilliant way of explaining the charges against Elizabeth – and why she was innocent of treason: they had William Cecil come to Elizabeth to privately instruct her (and the viewers!) in the law.

“The Parry confession is treason only if you used the man as your messenger to the Admiral, and only then if the object of your message was to arrange your marriage. The Ashley confession is treason if you admit that from the beginning, even during the life of the late Queen, it was your plan to marry the Admiral or he to marry you. Both confessions are treason if it was your intention to take any action against or without the permission of the Council. Hold to that.”

Indeed, this was the line that Elizabeth walked, and it saved her. From here on in, she was circumspect and careful in all her actions (at least until she acceded to the throne). This experience, while almost getting her killed, also kept her safe during Mary’s reign by teaching her how potentially deadly her position was. In other words, some good came out of Thomas Seymour’s temporary insanity.

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March 2, 1543: Lord Latimer Dies, Leaving Katherine Parr a Rich Widow

March 2, 1543: Lord Latimer dies, leaving Katherine Parr a rich widow. Thomas  Seymour came running, but Henry VIII pushed him aside. Read about it on www.janetwertman.com

Katherine Parr, Attributed to William Scrots

Katherine Parr was married twice before she caught Henry VIII’s eye. She married Sir Edward Borough in 1529, when she was seventeen, but he died just a few years afterwards in 1533. Her second husband was John Neville, 3rd Baron Latimer, a man twice her age.

John Latimer was a staunch Catholic, under deep suspicion and even implicated in the Pilgrimage of Grace, which makes Katherine’s deep Protestantism all the more ironic. By 1542 he was back in London to attend Parliament. It was then that Katherine visited her brother William and her sister Anne at court – and started to build a friendship with Sir Thomas Seymour. By that winter, Latimer’s health had worsened. Katherine nursed him but also started to make arrangements for herself. By February 16, she had rekindled her friendship with the Lady Mary and had joined her household. This is where she caught the attention of the King.

Latimer died on March 2, 1543. With his title and estates, Katherine became a rich widow and one of the most eligible women in the country. Thomas Seymour started to woo her, and by all appearances she was quite receptive to his suit. Unfortunately, she was somewhat blindsided when the King himself declared his own intentions. Although she knew she could not refuse Henry, she did try to avoid marriage. She is said to have answered that she would prefer to simply become his mistress….

For the next five years, Katherine Parr would serve honorably as Henry’s sixth and final wife. She was well regarded, educated and impressive, and she brought a semblance of family life back to the King and his children – something neither Anne of Cleves nor Catherine Howard ever tried to do. Meanwhile Thomas Seymour was given a posting in Brussels to remove him from court and avoid further discomfort and temptation – at least until Henry died. At that point, Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour resumed their relationship. What an interesting alternative history it would have been if they had been together all along…

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January 17, 1549 – Thomas Seymour Arrested for Treason

January 17, 1539 - Thomas Seymour arrested for treason. He certainly had it coming to him! Read the story on www.janetwertman.com

Thomas Seymour by Nicolas Denisot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This day marked the beginning of the fall of Thomas Seymour, a man of great hubris. Though truth be told, he had started on the path some time before.

To use the words of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, Thomas Seymour was “hardy, wise and liberal … fierce in courage, courtly in fashion, in personage stately, in voice magnificent, but somewhat empty of matter.” His brother Edward was more dour and serious.  As the oldest brother in the Seymour family, Edward benefited more than Tom when their sister Jane married Henry VIII and gave birth to his son and heir.  At the time of the marriage, Edward Seymour was named Viscount Beauchamp of Hache, Thomas was made a gentleman of the Privy Chamber (Edward already was one). When the future Edward VI was born, Edward Seymour became the Earl of Hertford, Thomas was knighted. Then when Henry VIII died, Edward took the real prize: he upset the terms of Henry’s will to become Lord Protector of England, and gave himself the title of Duke of Somerset. Thomas became Baron of Sudeley, a step up from a plain knight, but not yet even an earl.

Thomas Seymour had bigger plans for himself. He knew he was Edward VI’s favorite uncle (he was the fun one who gave him money) and did his best to translate that to power. Then he married Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s widow and the new King’s stepmother. Together they formed a couple with a powerful ability to influence the King (though Katherine lost a great deal of respect because the marriage occurred less than six months after Henry’s death).  The marriage intensified the rivalry between the brother for several reasons. First, Katherine had expected that Henry would appoint *her* Regent during Edward VI’s minority – that’s what Henry had done when he left on his military campaign to France between July and September 1544 – so she had a bit of a falling out with Edward Seymour. Then Anne Seymour, Edward’s wife, argued with her over who was to be allowed to wear the queen’s jewels. Katherine of course believed that as Queen Dowager she should have that right until a new queen was in place – but Anne Seymour argued that as the wife of the Lord Protector, they should be hers until Edward VI married.  Anne won.

That background may help contextualize the jealousy and bitterness that propelled Thomas Seymour to a foolhardy plan (it may also explain why Edward Seymour let his brother be executed after he was arrested). But it doesn’t make Thomas’ next actions any less ridiculous.

Within weeks of Henry VIII’s death, Thomas Seymour had tried unsuccessfully to marry one of  his daughters before wooing Katherine Parr. So it was an awkward situation when Katherine took on Elizabeth’s guardianship and had the fourteen year old princess come live in their home. Horseplay followed, and Katherine even joined in at first, but it went further than that. Thomas Seymour would come to Elizabeth’s bedchamber in his nightshirt and bare feet to wake her up in the mornings,  tickling her until she screamed for her ladies. After several weeks of this, a heavily pregnant Katherine caught the two of them in an embrace and Elizabeth was sent away in disgrace. On August 30, 1548, Katherine gave birth to a baby girl, then died six days later of puerpural fever, also called childbed fever (a relatively common issue of the day). During her periods of delirium, she accused Thomas of wishing her dead and suggested that he had in fact poisoned her.

It was after her death that Thomas Seymour seemed to become a bit unhinged. He continued to foment opposition to his brother – both with his nephew and the Council. He tried to create rebellion:  he bribed Sir William Sharington, the Vice-Treasurer of the Bristol Mint, to secure financing for his plans, and he used his position as Lord High Admiral to seek support from the Royal Navy (he also turned a blind eye to pirates along the coast who paid him for his leniency and promised their own support). Finally, on December 16, 1549, Thomas Seymour went too far. In the middle of the night, he tried to break into the sleeping King’s apartments at Hampton Court Palace. He made it into the privy garden (he had keys), but one of the King’s pet spaniels started barking, and he shot and killed it. When that brought guards running, he blustered some excuses and unbelievably was allowed to go home. But there was no excuse for being outside the King’s bedroom in the middle of the night with keys and arms – and using them both. Different versions of his motivation were proposed (it was alleged that he had a priest in his home ready to marry the King to Jane Grey and himself to Elizabeth) but they all suggested treasonable intent.

The morning of the 17th, Thomas was arrested and brought to the Tower. The Council also quickly started to question everyone associated with him, including Elizabeth. On February 22, 1549, they finally charged Seymour with 33 counts of treason

He was executed on March 20, 1549

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