The 6th Time is the Charm?

King Henry VIII married his sixth and final wife, Kateryn Parr, on 12 July 1543. 

Kateryn Parr

The widowed Lady Latimer was well known for her piety and virtue at court. Her mother had been a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherina of Aragon, and as fate would have it, Henry’s last wife was probably his first wife’s goddaughter and namesake. Kateryn was only 31, more than 20 years younger than her new husband, but she was considered ‘middle aged’ in the Tudor era, so the disparity was not as jarring as it had been when Henry wed young Kathryn Howard a few years prior. The bride was a well-informed, wise, chaste, respectable, emotionally mature, and intellectual woman who had been widowed twice who was in every way worthy of a crown. Nonetheless, there was one significant drawback to marrying Lady Latimer — she was not a likely candidate to give the king more sons. It was assumed that she was infertile, since she had produced no offspring in either of her first two marriages. Why would Henry, who longed for sons more than anything else, choose a bride who was thought to be barren?

Mandy historians think that Kateryn Parr’s presumed infertility was actually one of the reasons why Henry chose her. The king was old and in ill health. His excessive weight may have caused him to develop type II diabetes, which can be accompanied by erectile dysfunction. Even without type II diabetes, problems with obesity and blood pressure could have rendered Henry impotent. If the king could no longer consummate his marriage the best way to protect himself from this fact becoming common knowledge would be to marry a woman whom the courtiers would not watch for signs of pregnancy. The lack of future children would be assumed to be a result of her sterile womb, not his impotence. A discrete, faithful, and presumably infertile widow would be the perfect mask for Henry’s own inadequacies.  


For her part Kateryn was more resigned than happy to become his Queen. She had developed an attachment to Thomas Seymour, the late queen Jane Seymour’s brother, and would later write that she would have preferred “to marry [him] before any man”. Thus, Henry’s proposal posed a dilemma for his future bride. She did not love the king, and she surely feared him if she was as wise as she was reputed to be, but she was also secretly an ardent Reformer and marrying the king might give her the opportunity to coax Henry further away from Catholicism. What should she do?


After much prayer and reflection, she felt that God had moved her to “renounce utterly mine own will and to follow His most willingly”. Since the new queen was sincerely devout she did everything she could to fulfill her wedding vows to be obedient to her husband, yet she also did everything in her power to encourage him to favor the Reformation. Kateryn performed the delicate balancing act of satisfying both her husband and God to the best of her abilities, while simultaneously endeavoring to keep her head attached to her neck.


It would not be an easy task, but it was one that she was ultimately successful in achieving.

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