Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour – Part One

One of the lists of Tudor dates I have has got today as the date of the betrothal between Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour in 1547, just over a month after the death of King Henry VIII on the 28th January 1547. While I cannot find this date mentioned in any books on Catherine Parr, it is evident that the love between the couple was reawakened after the King’s death and the couple were married by the end of May 1547, if not earlier. So, I will take this opportunity to write about Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII, and her great love, Thomas Seymour.

Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour: The Early Years

In her book “Catherine Parr”, Elizabeth Norton writes of how during the last few months of her second husband’s (Lord Latimer) life in 1543 Catherine was in love with Thomas Seymour, the fourth son of Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth, and the brother of the late Jane Seymour, Henry VIII’s third wife. Thomas Seymour had been Henry VIII’s ambassador to the King of the Roman and it was on his return to England in January 1543 that he met Catherine.

While is has been suggested that Seymour was nothing but a gold digger, Elizabeth Norton points out that in 1543 Catherine Parr “was no great catch”, being the widow, or nearly widow, of “a mere baron”. It appears that Seymour was attracted to Catherine because she was intelligent and attractive, not because of her money. We do not know much of this first relationship but we do have the letter that Catherine wrote to Seymour after Henry’s death in 1547, where she talks of their previous relationship:-

“I would not have you think that this mine honest goodwill towards you to proceed of any sudden motion of passion; for, as truly as God is God, my mind was fully bent, the other time I was at liberty, to marry you before any man I know.”

In other words, Catherine’s love was as true in 1547 as it had been in 1543 when she first wanted to marry Seymour. So, why did they not marry 4 years earlier? The answer is Henry VIII.

Henry VIII

Henry VIII: The Spanner in the Works

Henry VIII had been devastated by his fifth wife’s betrayal in 1541 and had shut himself away, but by 1543 he was ready to consider remarrying. One problem was that after the fall of Catherine Howard the King had passed a law making it treason for a woman who was not a virgin to marry the King. Hmmm…this rather narrowed the King’s choices! But, as Elizabeth Norton points out, the sixth wife could be a widow, a woman who would not be expected to be a virgin, a woman who had lawfully given up her virginity to another man. Norton quotes the “Chronicle of Henry VIII” which reports Henry VIII as saying to his council:-

“Gentlemen, I desire company, but I have had more than enough of taking young wives, and I am now resolved to marry a widow”

and what better widow than the young, attractive and intelligent Catherine Parr who was a member of his own daughter’s household, a woman he had met when visiting Mary.

In February 1543, Chapuys was reporting Henry’s frequent visits to his daughter Mary and it seems that his daughter was not the only attraction, a member of Mary’s household had caught the King’s eye! Unfortunately, Catherine was in love with another man, Thomas Seymour, but since when did the King let another man stand in the way?!

Although Catherine showed the King quite plainly that she was not interested, Henry VIII had never taken “no” for an answer and so appointed his rival, Seymour, as ambassador to the Netherlands, a post which would mean him leaving England and Catherine. In the Spring of 1543, shortly after Lord Latimer’s death, it is thought that the King proposed marriage to Catherine who answered “it were better to be your mistress than your wife.” Rather than being angered or offended by this answer, Henry simply increased the pressure and Catherine realised that she had no choice. Norton writes of how Catherine prayed for guidance and became convinced that it was God’s will that she should marry the King. She put her feelings for Seymour to one side and agreed to marry her King.

I do not intend to go into details of Catherine’s marriage to the King, but whilst it is clear that their relationship was no great passion or love match, it is clear that the couple were fond of each other. Henry called Catherine his “sweetheart” and “Kate”, and Catherine became fond of the King, and his children, and enjoyed debating religion with her new husband. The marriage worked and even withstood the plotting of those who sought to get rid of her, as they had with Anne Boleyn.

Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour: Second Time Around

Henry VIII died on the 28th of January 1547 and rather than being Regent to her young stepson, Edward VI, Catherine found herself completely excluded from power. While she was getting used to her new status as the dowager queen, there were rumours flying round that Thomas Seymour, in his ambition, was looking to raise himself through a royal wife, either Mary or Elizabeth. His interest in Mary is mentioned in a report from the Imperial Ambassador, Van Der Delft, and his interest in Elizabeth is proved by correspondence from February 1547 where Seymour writes to Elizabeth:-

“I have so much respect for you my Princess, that I dare not tell you of the fire which consumes me, and the impatience with which I yearn to show you my devotion. If it is my good fortune to inspire in you feelings of kindness, and you will consent to a marriage you may assure yourself of having made the happiness of a man who will adore you till death.”

Thomas Seymour

Elizabeth replied, stating her surprise and refusing Seymour’s proposal due to her young age and the fact that she was mourning her father.

Elizabeth Norton writes of how it is not known whether these letters are genuine but the official charges brought against Seymour two years later in 1549 state that he sought to marry Elizabeth before his marriage to Catherine Parr, so he must have shown some interest in Elizabeth at this time.

Whatever the ins and outs of Thomas’s interest in Henry’s daughter, it is clear from correspondence between Seymour and Catherine Parr that their previous love was reawakened shortly after the King’s death and in one of her letters Catherine even signed herself as “your humble, true and loving wyff during her lyf”. To avoid gossip, it appears that the couple would meet in the gardens of Catherine’s house at Chelsea and that Seymour would then stay the night. By day, Catherine was a mourning royal widow, by night she was Seymour’s lover. Finally, she had her man, she was with the man she truly loved.

As I mentioned earlier, it is not known exactly when the couple became betrothed and even when they got married, due to the fact that the couple wanted to keep their relationship quiet because of the King’s recent death. It is clear, however, that they married in haste:-

“he maryed the late Quene so sone after the late Kynge’s deathe that if she had conceived straight after, it shulde have bene a great doubte whither the childe borne shuld have bene accompted the late kinges or yours [Seymour’s]” (words from the later charges brought against Seymour, quoted in “Catherine Parr” by Elizabeth Norton.)

The couple’s haste upset Catherine’s stepdaughter Mary but Seymour was clever when it came to handling his nephew, King Edward VI, he visited Edward and pretended that they had not yet married and that he was asking the King’s consent to marry Catherine, and even managed to convince the boy that it was Edward’s idea! Edward then wrote to his stepmother asking her to consider marrying his uncle and Catherine replied that she would indeed heed her stepson’s advice! After rumours about Catherine’s lack of mourning clothes and her relationship with Seymour, the couple finally went public in late June 1547, angering both Mary and Seymour’s brother, the Protector. Elizabeth, however, seemed to accept her stepmother’s marriage and was pleased to live with the couple at Chelsea.

Marriage to Seymour changed Catherine’s life. She was finally with the man she loved but their marriage was frowned upon and she found herself being snubbed at court and not being given the respect that a dowager queen should command. The Duchess of Somerset, the Protector’s wife, looked down her nose at Catherine and was outspoken in her denigration of Catherine’s status and then there was the issue of Catherine’s jewels. Catherine had kept her collection of jewels in the Tower of London for safekeeping and although some of them had been given to her by the King, there were many pieces that Catherine had inherited from her mother and there was also her wedding ring from her marriage to the King. When Catherine sought to take possession of her jewels after her marriage to Seymour, Protector Somerset informed her that she had no claim to them and that they were the property of the Crown. Catherine never did get her jewels.

So, Catherine was angry, humiliated and powerless, but at least she had her man, didn’t she?

Find out in Part Two!


10 thoughts on “Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour – Part One

  1. I’ve just finished a novel on Catherined Parr by Carolly Erickson. Catherine was twice a widow when Henry married her and indeed, the council tried to get rid of her…almost succeeding. It’s doubtful that Henry in his state of health could consumate this marriage, although we’ll never know that.

    Interesting post, Claire.

    Jeane Westin, The Virgin’s Daughters:In the Court of Elizabeth I, August 2009; His Last Letter:Elizabeth I and the Earl of Leicester, August 2010

  2. I haven’t read that book, Jeane, is it good? I’ve just been reading the Elizabeth Norton book and Norton talks of how it was generally believed that Catherine was infertile as her two previous marriages had not resulted in her getting pregnant. Apparently that was why she didn’t mind entertaining Seymour over night before they were married! Perhaps Henry had given up on the idea of having another child, although he must still have been paranoid thinking back to how his own brother had died before becoming King, it would have been good for him to have a reserve, a second son.

    Thanks for your comment and support, Jeane, I’m dying to read your next book!

  3. Great article on Catherine Parr and Thomas Seymour. Catherine Parr is my second favourite wife behind, of course, Anne Boleyn. Catherine is such an interesting figure in Tudor history. Her early life never forshadowed the greatness she would rise to as Queen, but more importantly, as surrogate mother to the young Lady Elizabeth (I believe she was still Lady as this time). But, I digress. Catherine and Thomas’s love affair is facinating, not because of his attempeted seduction of Elizabeth, but like you said Claire, because he was attracted to her for who she was.
    I have not yet read, but did pruchase in the UK, Susan James’s “Catherine Parr: Henry VIII’s Last Love.” Susan James was instructed by Dr. Eton, the father of modern Tudor history, who trained Dr. David Starkey.

  4. OOH! I love Catherine Parr! Thomas Seymour I’m not so fond of. I have to hope he truly loved Catherine, and was just searching for power wherever he could find it! Good article as always!
    Mrs.Westin, I am a huge fan of your book! Forgive me for asking, but do you mind giving out some advice for an aspiring writer like me? I can give you my email if you’d like, so I don’t detract from the comments about this excellent article( Please forgive me Claire, I didn’t mean to go off topic there. I was just having a fangirl moment!:D)

  5. hi Claire,

    I don’t believe for a minute that Tom Seymour loved Katherine for who she really was. He didn’t actually marry her until she was the Queen Dowager and then only after asking Mary and Elizabeth first!

    Yes, I know Henry intervened in the first instance, but we really only have Katherine’s side to the supposed romance. Yes she was in love, but was he? Or was it a mere flirtation on his part. Because Henry found an overseas post for Tom we will never know the truth, but everything I’ve read tends to indicate that he was sent from court because Katherine had feelings for him not the other way around, and I’ve not yet come across anything that states conclusively that Tom returned her feelings.

    All evidence points to Tom Seymour being ambitious, self serving and power hungry, so if he did marry only for love, it would have been quite out of character for him especially to a woman who had all the appearances of being barren.


  6. What I don’t understand if why most of her books are only available in the UK or outside America. I too had to order the Susan James book online! So far I LOVE the book, but then again I just love anything that has to do with Katherine Parr, so thank you so much for this blog!!

  7. Many years ago I read a novel about Catherine Parr and her rise to wife of HenryVIII. It featured the romance with Sir Thomas Seymour. It was called something like Kendal Green or the Green of Kendal.
    Has anyone ever heard of it?

  8. One aspect that stands out clearly and cannot be denied is that Catherine and Thomas did truly love each other , unconditionally; clearly substantiated by the fact that after the death of Henry VIII, even as a widowed Queen,Katherine made it clear to all about her, where her affections lay

  9. I’ve been reading Jean Plaidy’s Tudor series and am currently reading “The 6th Wife”. One thing that has been mentioned several times about the marraige of Thomas and Catherine is the concern that she would conceive and the father would be questionable…what this has made me wonder is…did Thomas plan it that way? Perhaps he actually hoped she would quickly conceive after Henry’s death and put his own child on the throne…he wouldn’t have been recognized as the father but would already have been married to the mother of the future king (if they could have had a boy of course). I’m sure there is no way to discover if Thomas harbored this ambition, but from what I’ve read of him it certainly seems like the way his mind worked. 🙂

  10. I just finished Netflex ..The Tudors…and am reading the 3 sisters
    Loved the TV movie and all the books!!
    Haven’t read anything on Catherine Parr, so very interesting!
    I will be looking for books on her in the future!!

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