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The Queen who married a king, despite her heart being elsewhere

St. Mary's Church, Sudeley

On July 12th 1543, a rather low key royal wedding took place.  The groom was Henry VIII and his sixth wife was Katherine Parr, a relatively unknown minor noblewoman who had risen from daughter of a knight to Queen of England in thirty years.

However, according to the tale that goes back almost 500 years, on the day she took her wedding vows at Hampton Court Palace, Katherine was besotted by another man.

The romantic telling has it that when she arrived at the court of Henry VIII she fell in love with Thomas Seymour, brother of Jane and uncle to the future Edward VI.  One letter from Katherine to Seymour tells of how she was ‘fully bent…to marry you before any man I knew.’

The letter was written after Henry’s death when Katherine was free to wed again and she and Seymour began a secret relationship.

However, rumours of a possible attachment between Katherine and Thomas had circulated at Henry’s court before their wedding.

Katherine had come to London and the heart of royal power through a connection to Henry VIII’s eldest daughter, Mary. Around the same time, Katherine’s second husband, Lord Latimer, died and his widow entered the complex web of court ambition.

She was a determined woman and very talented with it and she was more than used to making her own way in the world. She had been young when her father died and she had been given a stellar education by her mother who also arranged her first marriage for her. But Katherine lost her remaining parent and her young husband and was left to her own devices. She found herself in the ambit of Lord Latimer and the resulting marriage was relatively long and apparently happy.

However, his death left her to find her own way once more. Katherine, like Thomas Seymour, was shrewd and ambitious. Rumours of a romance fed into his image as the court heartbreaker who seemed to be able to win the favour of anyone he chose. However, he was also very well connected. His sister, Jane, had been the beloved third queen of Henry VIII and mother of his only legitimate son. As well as being handsome and very charming, Thomas Seymour was also an uncle of the heir to the throne. Katherine may have had more than physical attraction on her mind when she first encountered him.

Likewise for Seymour. Katherine was a wealthy widow, thanks to her inheritance from Lord Latimer, meaning Thomas would get a wife who could help him negotiate court politics. 

However, very soon, another far more influential man had decided to marry her. King Henry VIII was quickly taken with Katherine, Lady Latimer and Thomas Seymour found himself dispatched overseas while the monarch wooed the widow. Their marriage turned Katherine into Queen of England and, despite the pitfalls of that role in the reign of Henry VIII, it appears she rather enjoyed her new position and took to it with ease.

Katherine would go on to survive a plot to topple her before becoming the ‘survivor’ of the school poem that charts the fate of Henry’s six wives. She didn’t mourn her third husband long – by the summer of 1547, Thomas Seymour had become spouse number four meaning Katherine is England’s most married queen.

Their union would be short and tumultuous with Thomas pursuing Katherine’s stepdaughter, the future Elizabeth I, to such an extent that he was found in her bedchamber. Katherine died after the birth of their only child, in September 1548.

All these years later, we’ll never know how Thomas and Katherine really felt about one another. But we do know their abandoned affair of 1543 wasn’t the end of the story.

Lydia Starbuck is a pen name of June Woolerton whose latest book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published by Pen and Sword on March 30th 2024.

About author

Lydia Starbuck is Jubilee and Associate Editor at Royal Central and the main producer and presenter of the Royal Central Podcast and Royal Central Extra. Lydia is also a pen name of June Woolerton who is a journalist and writer with over twenty years experience in TV, radio, print and online. Her latest book, A History of British Royal Jubilees, is out now. Her new book, The Mysterious Death of Katherine Parr, will be published in March 2024. June is an award winning reporter, producer and editor. She's appeared on outlets including BBC 5 Live, BBC Radio Ulster and BBC Local Radio and has also helped set up a commercial radio station. June is also an accomplished writer with a wide range of material published online and in print. She is the author of two novels, published as e-books. She is also a marriage registrar and ceremony celebrant.