Catherine was born in 1512, the oldest surviving child of Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Green. The Parr’s were a substantial northern family and Catherine’s father was a close companion to Henry VIII. Her mother had been a close friend and attendant to Catherine of Aragon who was her godmother and whom she was likely named after.
As a child, Catherine received the normal education of a well-born woman but she developed a great passion for learning. She became fluent in French, Latin, Italian, and later as queen, Spanish. In 1529, she married Sir Edward Borough, a justice of the peace. He died after just four years of marriage. Being a widow, Catherine then spent time with the Dowager Lady Strickland, Catherine Neville, the widow of her cousin. In 1534 she married a kinsman of Lady Strickland, John Neville, Baron Latimer. Latimer was twice Catherine’s age and already twice-widowed.
Latimer was a supporter of the Roman Catholic Church and opposed the king’s divorce and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn. As a result, life was difficult for the Latimer’s and they spent most of their time in the south. After the death of Thomas Cromwell in 1540, the family moved to London as Latimer attended Parliament. The court atmosphere was a different experience from the rural estates that Catherine was used to. It was at court that Catherine first met Sir Thomas Seymour. Latimer died in 1543, leaving Catherine in charge of his affairs until his daughter’s majority. He also left her properties and income, making her a rich widow.
Using her mother’s friendship with Henry’s first queen, Catherine renewed her friendship with the queen’s daughter, Lady Mary. She soon established herself as part of Mary’s household and it was here that she came to the attention of Henry. Despite a growing romantic friendship with Seymour, Catherine felt it was her duty to accept Henry’s proposal and Seymour was sent abroad to remove him from the court.
Catherine married Henry in July 1543 at Hampton Court Place. She was the first Queen of England to also be Queen of Ireland following Henry’s adoption of the title King of Ireland. As queen, Catherine developed good relationships with all of Henry’s children. She was also influential in the passing of the Third Succession Act in 1543 which restored both Mary and Elizabeth to the line of succession.
When Henry went on his last unsuccessful campaign to France in 1544, Catherine was left as his regent. Because her regency council was composed of sympathetic members, Catherine obtained effective control over it and ruled as she saw fit. She handled provisions, finances, and musters for the French campaign. She signed five royal proclamations and maintained in contact with the lieutenant in the northern Marches concerning the unstable situation in Scotland.
In 1546, Catholic and anti-Protestant officials tried to turn the king against her for her Protestant sympathies and there was a warrant for her arrest. Catherine was able to reconcile with king and nothing came of the warrant. When Henry died in 1547, he left her a generous provision to support herself. She retired to her home in Chelsea after the coronation of Edward VI in January 1547.
Just six months after Henry’s death, Catherine secretly married Thomas Seymour which caused a minor scandal. In August 1548 she gave birth to her only child, Mary, and died six days later from childbed fever. She was buried in the Sudeley Castle chapel. (x)