5 September 1548: The Death of Queen Katherine Parr

The nursery and apartments of the dowager queen with Lady Anne Herbert standing by [the queen's sister] © Meg McGath, 2012.

The nursery and apartments of the dowager queen with Lady Anne Herbert standing by [the queen’s sister] © Meg McGath, 2012.

Unfortunately for Katherine, Dr. Huicke, so advanced in matters of diet and exercise for proper prenatal care, was a man of his time when it came to matters of hygiene. Having survived disease, civil insurrection, mob violence, charges of heresy and treason, four husbands including King Henry VIII, and the vicissitudes of life in sixteenth-century England for thirty-six years, Katherine succumbed most likely to puerperal or child-bed fever contracted from her doctor’s dirty hands and just a lack of hygiene in general. Two other Tudor queens had succumbed to the same disease and shortly died after; Jane Seymour [Henry’s third queen and mother of Edward VI who succeeded King Henry in January of 1547] and Elizabeth of York [queen to King Henry VII and mother of King Henry VIII; who gave birth to her final child, coincidentally named Princess Katherine, on 2 February 1503].

The three Tudor queens who would die shortly after giving birth; Queen Elizabeth of York, Queen Katherine, and Queen Jane Seymour. Their death is attributed to child-bed fever which was very common in Tudor times.

On the 5th September 1548, the Queen, lying on her death bed made her final will. Katherine was sick in body, but of good mind, perfect memory and discretion; being persuaded, and perceiving the extremity of death to approach her; disposed and ordained by permission, assent, and consent of her most dear, beloved husband, the Lord Seymour, a certain disportion, gift, testament, and last will of all her goods, chattels, and debts, by these words or other, like in effect, being by her advisedly spoken to the intent of a testament and last will in the presence of the witnesses and records under-named.

The witnesses of the queen’s will were Robert Huick, Doctor of Physic, and John Parkhurst. In her will, the queen gave her husband

“with all her heart and desire, frankly and freely give, will, and bequeath to the said Lord Seymour, Lord High Admiral of England, her married espouse and husband, all the goods, chattels, and debts that she then had, or right ought to have in all the world, wishing them to be a thousand times more in value than they were or been; but also most liberally gave him full power, authority, and order, to dispose and prosecute the same goods, chattels, and debts at his own free will and pleasure, to his most commodity.”

The queen lies in state inside St. Mary's Chapel at Sudeley Castle where she is buried, © Meg McGath, 2012.

The queen lies in state inside St. Mary’s Chapel at Sudeley Castle where she is buried, © Meg McGath, 2012.

Queen Katherine Parr died on Wednesday, the 5th of September, in the year of 1548; ‘between two and three of the clock in the morning.’

Nursery and Queen's apartment window from outside © Meg McGath, 2012.

Nursery and Queen’s apartment window from outside © Meg McGath, 2012.

John Parkhurst wrote two Latin epitaphs on Katherine Parr, circa 1548. Here is the first one.

On the incomparable woman, Katherine, formerly Queen of England, France, and Ireland, my most gentle mistress. An epitaph, 1547[8].

In this new sepulchre Queen Katherine sleeps,
Flower, honor, and ornament of the female sex.
To King Henry she was a wife most faithful;
Later, when gloomy Fate had taken him from the living,
Thomas Seymour (to whom the trident, Neptune, you extended)
was the distinguished man she wed.
She bore a baby girl; after the birth, when the sun had run
A seventh round, cruel Death did kill her.
For the departed, we her household flow with watery eyes;
Damp is the British earth from moistened cheeks.
Bitter grief consumes us, we unhappy ones;
But she rejoices ‘midst the heavenly host.

The queen lies in state inside St. Mary's Chapel at Sudeley Castle where she is buried, © Meg McGath, 2012.

The queen lies in state inside St. Mary’s Chapel at Sudeley Castle where she is buried, Lady Jane Grey and two yeomen watch over the queen’s body © Meg McGath, 2012.

Related Articles:

Sources:

  • Linda Porter. ‘Katherine, the queen,’ Macmillan, 2012.
  • Susan James. ‘Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love,’ The History Press, Gloucestershire, 2008, 2009 [US Edition].
  • Janel Mueller. ‘Katherine Parr: Complete Works and Correspondences,’ University of Chicago Press, Jun 30, 2011.
  • Emma Dent. ‘Annals of Winchcombe and Sudeley,’ London, J. Murray, 1877.
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The Dowager Queen and Henry VIII’s Last Will

The Vultures are circling as Henry lies on his death bed. He is surrounded by his son, Edward, as the king prepares him to become the next Tudor king.

In 1544, it was apparent that Queen Katherine Parr had been acquainted with the terms of King Henry VIII’s will for it named Katherine regent for the young Prince Edward if he were to die while in France. The fact that Katherine had been named possible regent in the event of the sudden death of the king makes one wonder what the will of King Henry looked like when he died on 28 January 1547. For three days after the King’s death, the council convened while the outside world was unaware of what had happened. Even Henry’s other children were not told. This extremely disturbed the Lady Mary who at one time had been named Princess and heiress to her father’s throne.

After the death of King Henry, Mary was not told of his death for several days. Edward’s minority council took elaborate precautions to ensure all was in place before they made an official announcement. This action made Mary extremely angry, but she could do nothing about it. Yet how ever wary Edward’s councillors were, nothing could alter the fact that Mary was in her own right heiress to the throne. For the time being, Mary would stay with the now Dowager Queen, Katherine, who was again for the third time, a widow. At the time of her father’s death Mary was aged 31. Mary’s reaction to her father’s death was never recorded as she never publicly mourned his death.  She was apparently more irritated at the fact that no one had told her that her father had died until days later. Most likely her reaction to the news was mixed grief and some kind of relief.

The "Succession Portrait", c. 1544, artist, after Holbein.Hampton Court Palace. © TudorQueen6 The portrait was done while Katherine Parr was queen, features Prince Edward's mother, Queen Jane Seymour.

The “Succession Portrait”, c. 1544, artist, after Holbein.
Hampton Court Palace.  The portrait which was done while Katherine Parr was queen, features Prince Edward’s mother, Queen Jane Seymour. © TudorQueen6

As for the Will of Henry VIII, it is quite possible that during those three days the men of the council were convening on how to alter the will to exclude the now Queen Dowager from any further power or influence over the boy King Edward. These conspiracy theories have been examined within Susan James’s biography on Queen Katherine. One theory is that Henry’s will was originally set up to pass the kingdom to his heir and that the regency council was to be led by the Earl of Hertford. Another version has Sir Anthony Denny, Sir William Paget, and Sir William Herbert (the Queen’s brother-in-law) rigging the whole will to give the Earl full control and some even go as far to name them as the masterminds of the fall of Gardiner and the execution of the Earl of Surrey. This theory of course can be refuted as the king was in control of his kingdom up until the last few hours of his life.

Although the king’s abilities had been diminished it is true that Sir Anthony Denny and Sir William Paget had control of those who accessed the privy chamber but not against the king’s will. In December 1546, the Privy Council meetings no longer took place at Westminster and were now being held at Hertford’s Somerset House. So if the queen had been summoned to the king at some point, the command would have been obeyed, but it is not for certain if the queen gave a command to see him that it would have been honored. It is not even sure whether or not the king would have been informed if she had demanded to see him.

Hampton Court Palace -- King Edward VI

King Edward VI, c.1550, attributed to William Scrots. Hampton Court Palace. artist, after Holbein. Hampton Court Palace. © TudorQueen6.

Another theory to support that the will had been tampered with is the final will that was produced did not have a signature, but was stamped and was registered a month later. So in that is a possibility that the will had been changed in support of the Earl of Hertford’s wishes. It seems obvious to readers that the men of the council, including Hertford, didn’t want to be dependent upon a woman’s approval. The actions of King Henry and his mission to produce a male heir instead of depending upon his only daughter from his first marriage shows that men were still not willing to depend upon or even accept a woman governor of the realm. I tend to find this odd seeing how in other countries, including that of their neighbor Scotland, consorts had been given the position of Regent. In fact, Henry’s sister Margaret, for a time had been Regent in Scotland and even Henry’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon acted as Regent for a longer period then Queen Katherine Parr had. Still, the feeling of having a woman in a position of power was not accepted and in some cases like Katherine of Aragon’s sister, Juana I of Castile, they were driven out by other men. Juana was driven out by the men in her life; her husband, father, and eventually her son who took over as the Holy Roman Emperor.

It is also thought that perhaps Katherine’s moral sense might have been an impediment as to the acquisition of Crown lands to which the council helped themselves to after they had been established. Henry’s second wife and queen, Anne Boleyn, had at one time felt the same way during the dissolution of the monasteries. Her opinions and interactions that condemned the way the properties and money were being dispersed had some doing in her downfall. Katherine completely disapproved of the way the lands were dispersed and her opinion was recorded as such. In 1549, Sir Robert Trywhitt testified that Katherine had said, “Mr. Trywhit, you will see the king, when he cometh to his full age, he will call his lands again, as fast as they be now given from him.”

The enraged presence of a mother defending her son’s inheritance from the depredations of his omnivorous council would have been the last thing the lord protector or the council wanted.”

Yet despite all of this, the one responsible may in fact have been King Henry himself. Henry’s opinion of having women rule was and is more then obvious due to his split with Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn. Henry did not believe that a woman could rule alone. It was one thing to use Katherine as an unofficial councillor during her lifetime, but to leave her to run the kingdom while his son was a minor was a completely different thing. He didn’t want a wife to tell him what to do in pretty much anything so it is understandable as to why he sent Katherine away at the end of his life. He obviously didn’t want to deal with her suggestions on how to dispose of his crown. That he did not inform Katherine of his decision left her to suppose in a way that she was to be head of the regency council upon his death. Henry left Katherine this bitter gift after all that she had done as queen, including enduring his constant immortalizing of his “true wife”, Jane Seymour. He did this not only in his painting of the royal family but in his request to be buried next to her upon his death.

The fact that Henry sent all the women in his life away a month before his death may have also influenced him in his final decisions. In not having them around he wouldn’t have been prone to lamentations and fuss made by the women who might have been brought in to be included in the rule of the kingdom after his death. James states that Katherine’s preference to be near Henry during the last month of his life may have partly been due to her political motivations. She was very protective of the royal children and that was adamant from day one.

In the early hours of the 28th of January, King Henry VIII died. For three days court continued on schedule. Even the royal dishes were escorted into the King’s chambers accompanied by the sounds of trumpets to make it look like the King was still alive. During this time, the top members to be part of the council lobbied and devised for position and the final settlement. Sir William Paget was the last to hear the devised plan from the king himself. Within the three days it would come to pass that the Earl of Hertford would make himself Duke of Somerset and appoint himself as Lord Protector of the Realm which had not been Henry’s wishes according to his will or any other knowledge of those apparent.

Katherine's signature as Queen Regent.

Katherine’s signature as Queen Regent. (Cotton MSS Vesp. F III fol. 16. b)

The position of power and the door to the regency council was shut in the Queen Dowager’s face and once again, Katherine was left to mourn a dead husband. Despite the outcome of the situation, a piece of history may provide proof that she was to be head of the regent council as shortly after Henry’s death, Katherine signed two documents as “Kateryn the Quene-Regent, KP.”

 

Sources:

  • Susan James. Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love, The History Press, US Edition, 2009. pg 356-59.
  • Linda Porter. The Myth of “Bloody Mary”: A Biography of Queen Mary I of England, St. Martin Griffins, 2010.
  • Anna Whitelock. Mary Tudor: England’s First Queen, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, 2009.
© 28 January 2012
Meg McGath

16 February 1547: The Funeral of King Henry VIII

Queen Katherine Parr painted most likely as a young widow, posthumously.

After the news of King Henry’s death became public, the now Dowager Queen Katherine for the third time in her life donned widow’s weeds and mourning jewels. She wore buttons of gold enamelled black. She wore a gold ring with a death’s head. The death’s head of Christian lamentation on her finger, the queen secluded herself while she mourned and prepared for the funeral of the now dead king. Vast amounts of black cloth had been ordered for mourning clothes for the Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth as well as the queen’s ladies and Henry’s household.
 For ten days the king’s embalmed body lay in the privy chamber in a huge chest lit by tapers. On 8 February, an official announcement was made that the King had indeed died. The bells through out the kingdom rang and prayers and Requiem masses were said for the king’s soul.

Funeral procession of Henry V; just an image to show how Henry VIII’s probably went, only grander of course!

On 14 February 1547, a great procession of 1,000 horsemen and hundreds of followers formed around a larger then life hearse made for the king. It was seven stories high, adorned with carefully crafted effigy of the monarch. The procession moved from Westminster down to Windsor stopping at night at the new “Lord Protector’s” home in Syon for the night. The road itself had to be repaved and trees had to be cut out of the way in order to bear the weight and size of the King’s hearse.
The funeral cortege arrived at Windsor in the afternoon of the 15th of February. The main Requiem and service would be held the next day.

An edited drawing of Queen Katherine.

Dressed in blue velvet lined with purple with a ring of gold with a death head, the queen watched the proceedings from her private Chapel above the choir, the Queen’s Closet, in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. It was the final act of a drama that had begun for Katherine over four years ago. Katherine watched as Henry was interred with his “most beloved” wife, the mother of the new king, Edward VI, Queen Jane Seymour. Ironically, it was Bishop Gardiner who officiated at the Requiem Mass. After all that Henry had done to break from Rome and the fact that he died holding Archbishop Cranmer’s hand; Henry wanted to have the familiar Latin Mass of the old religion to ensure the good of his soul. Katherine surely must have been upset with the situation seeing how much she disliked Gardiner and the form of ceremony. No doubt, with a disbelief of Purgatory notwithstanding, she said at least one prayer for her husband’s soul. The fact that she had been excluded from the Regency council was probably playing in her mind along with other thoughts which were not accounted for. One of them might have been towards her long lost love, Sir Thomas Seymour, who Katherine would now be free to marry.

The King left Katherine a generous lifestyle. He doted her as his “entirely beloved wife” and left her quite comfortably.

“The Queen shall have’, he commanded,  ‘3,000 in plate, jewels and stuff, beside what she shall please to take of what she has already, and further receive in money 1,000 besides the enjoyment of her jointures.’ She was always to be served and waited on as befitted a queen, with a large household (well over one hundred people) and all her dower properties which included her manors at Hanworth and Chelsea. She was still to exercise patronage, continue writing, live a life of privilege and comfort. Katherine would remain till her death the Dowager Queen of England and was the first lady of the Realm followed by Lady Mary, Lady Elizabeth, and Lady Anne of Cleves.

That this rule was followed and upheld becomes a completely different blog and issue entirely after Katherine’s marriage to Sir Thomas Seymour, younger brother of the Lord Protector and uncle to King Edward VI.

 Sources:
  1. Susan James. Catherine Parr: The Last Love of Henry VIII, History Press, Gloucestershire, 2009. pg 259-
  2. Linda Porter. Katherine, the Queen, Macmillan, US Edition, December 2010. pg 275-76.