Katherine Parr was King Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife. Even though his five previous marriages had all ended badly, either in death or divorce, he was not put off marriage. In fact, he had a profound need for a companion. And this, a companion, is largely what he found in Katherine. She was thirty one when she married Henry on 12th of July 1542, and had already been married and widowed twice. Her first husband was Edward Borough, son of Thomas Borough, chamberlain to Anne Boleyn, and her second husband was John Neville, Lord Latimer. After the death of her second husband in the spring of 1542, Katherine had hoped to marry Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour, Henry’s third wife who had died in childbirth, but once the King’s interest in her was known, Seymour ended their relationship. In the King’s way was not a good place to be!
As Henry’s health deteriorated, Katherine nursed him, and proved to be a great comfort to him. She also tried to heal the rift between Henry and his daughters. Perhaps because of the way he had treated their mothers, Henry was a distant father to them. Only little Prince Edward was the apple of his eye. Elizabeth was rarely at court and his relationship with Mary was strained. Katherine liked to bring the family together and was a good step-mother. Elizabeth was especially fond of her.
However, as much as Henry came to depend on his wife’s soothing presence, the Queen was not above danger. There were those in Henry’s court who opposed her position on political or religious grounds, and were ever ready to poison the King’s mind against her. In the summer of 1545, Katherine, a devout Protestant, greatly offended the Catholic-at-heart King by daring to contradict him on religious matters. For this, she almost lost her life. But when the clever Queen became aware of the danger she stood in, she went to Henry and told him that she hadn’t meant to offend him, only to learn from him. In the sixteenth century, women were expected to know their place, which was as mens inferiors, so Katherine told him she would never dare contradict him, him she was supposed to be instructed by, and had only argued with him to try and distract him from his pain. He was a wise and learned prince, she said, and that he had taught her much. This satisfied Henry and the two were reconciled. When guards arrived the next day to arrest Katherine, the King was angry and sent them away. Katherine had indeed learnt a valuable lesson, and that was to never ever contradict Henry!