Queen Catherine Parr of England (1512-48) was the last of Henry VIII’s wives — she’s the “survived” wife, who outlived him. Her life story is particularly interesting and sadly often ignored in favor of the drama of Anne Boleyn. She was incredibly intelligent and well educated as well as a proponent of religious reform and what was to become Protestantism. She was the first English queen to publish a book under her own name. On the soap opera side, she was married twice and was reasonably happy but wasn’t in love with either guy. After her second husband’s death, she fell in love with Thomas Seymour but caught Henry VIII’s eye and essentially had to marry him.
Her marriage to Henry was a relatively happy one. She did a lot to bring Henry back together with his children and to promote religious reform. There was one stressful incident where she had been contradicting Henry on religion and was almost arrested, but she was given the heads up, managed to find Henry and spin things as “I was just asking a question so you could instruct me,” and thus saved herself.
After Henry’s death, she actually got to marry her true love, Thomas Seymour, only to have him turn out to be an asshole who sexually groomed and probably molested her ward, the future Queen Elizabeth I. Catherine became pregnant with Seymour’s child, but she died several days after childbirth (and her daughter didn’t live more than two years).
Let’s see who has portrayed this super interesting and super smart English queen on screen!
Everley Gregg in The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933)
I haven’t seen this one but I believe it’s a comedic take on the queen. Based on that, I’m guessing Parr is a nursemaid to old and gross Henry, which is the stereotype of her.
Sarah Churchill in A Queen’s Way (1953)
I’m confused what this still has to do with the Tudor period, but fun fact: the actress was Winston Churchill’s daughter!
Deborah Kerr in Young Bess (1953)
The story focuses on the future Queen Elizabeth I as princess, and Kerr plays an elegant Catherine trapped in a love triangle with husband Thomas Seymour and the princess.
Jana Brejchová in King and Women (1967)
A Czech film based on a play called “Catherine Parr, or Alexander’s Horse”… and that’s all I’ve got!
Rosalie Crutchley in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)
Trystan calls this portrayal of Catherine “modest” and “mature.”
Rosalie Crutchley in Elizabeth R (1971)
I think she must be in a flashback scene, but I admit to not having watched this! I know!
Barbara Leigh-Hunt in Henry VIII and His Six Wives (1972)
That’s right, Lady Catherine de Bourgh plays Catherine in a tiny, squeezed in bit at the end.
Abigail Hopkins in Elizabeth (2000)
A David Starkey docu-drama about Queen Elizabeth I.
Jennifer Wigmore in The Royal Diaries: Elizabeth I: Red Rose of the House of Tudor (2000)
An adaptation of a Young Adult book that focuses on the future Queen Elizabeth I as a child.
Caroline Lintott in The Six Wives of Henry VIII (2001)
Another David Starkey docu-drama.
Clare Holman in Henry VIII (2003)
A crappy TV miniseries. It’s been a long time since I watched it, but as I can’t remember Parr in this, I’m guessing she’s an afterthought.
Joely Richardson in The Tudors (2010)
I’ve never made it into the Parr years of this shlocky TV series. All I know is Richardson as Parr seems to rock the side ponytails a lot, and that confuses me.
Alice Patten in Lucy Worsley’s “Six Wives” (2016)
A Lucy Worsley docu-drama, and one of the best! Parr’s intellectual side is portrayed, but sadly not her life post-Henry.
Kate Holderness in The Six Queens of Henry VIII (2016)
Another docu-drama, this one by Susannah Lipscomb and Dan Snow. I haven’t seen it!
Jessica Raine in Becoming Elizabeth (2022)
This recent series portrays Parr as sex-crazed and head over heels in love with her douchebag husband.
Alicia Vikander in Firebrand (upcoming)
This film will focus on Parr, and I have hopes it will get her right!
Which is your favorite portrayal of Catherine Parr on screen?
I love the Lucy Worsley version (big surprise). I completely forgot about Joely Richardson; then again, I’ve tried to block that whole fiasco out of my mind. :)
Re. Jessica Raine: So Jane Parker/Lady Rochford became Catherine Parr? I thought she looked strangely familiar. Will there be a Lady Rochford WCW? Supposedly, she’s been misjudged by most histories histories and novels (although her conduct as Katherine Howard’s confidante does give one pause).
Considerable pause! What the Hell was she thinking!
Hard/impossible to analyze people at this distance in time, but–histrionic personality disorder, something like that? She seemed to be getting off on the drama of it all.
Like Chaucer’s Wife of Bath Katherine had good, old husbands then married a hot man who made her unhappy. Imagine how bad a man has to be to make Henry VIII look like the better marital choice!
Barely conceivable, but agree.
The Seymours were so dodgy.
SERIOUSLY. The 16th century’s douchebag family!
My movie watch group recently watched The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), figuring it would be a fun piece of movie history. It was actually rather disturbing, as they depict Katherine Howard as a scheming adult vixen who seduced Henry. All of us know a little too much actual history (Katherine was a painfully young teenager) to be comfortable with that. It’s an interesting snapshot of 1930s culture but not worth the creepy feelings.
Likewise, the 1953 movie sounds gross. Elizabeth was underage and the twit was her stepdad! No way should that be portrayed as part of a love triangle.
I know Private Life is all wrong historically but it is quite funny except for the tragic storyline of Katherine Howard.
Elsa Lanchester’s Anne of Cleves is the best reason to love this film.
I certainly hope Firebrand does Catherine Parr justice, after the Becoming Elizabeth fiasco, also after the horrible Tudors debacle. Have you read Alison Weir’s take on the Six Wives? You can tell she did her reasearch! She focused on the wives both pre and post Henry VIII!
she employs researchers. Or so she said in a talk I went to once.
Definitely read Weir! My favorite take on the wives is Karen Lindsey’s “Divorced, Beheaded, Died.” A very interesting feminist interpretation, particularly of Anne Boleyn. Her argument is basically that Anne was being sexually harassed and wasn’t all that into Henry.
Love that book! I think it was also where I first found the interpretation that Anne of Cleves was NOT unattractive (many contemporary sources described her as being good-looking if not a raving beauty, and it’s telling that Henry never punished Hans Holbein for misrepresenting her), but Henry rejected her because she reacted to him as the overweight middle-aged man he was instead of the handsome young swain he imagined himself to be. After all…he described her as fat, unattractive, and smelly. Now who else would those adjectives apply to?
I admire Antonia Fraser’s “The Six Wives of Henry VIII”: well researched, well balanced.
I do love that being married to the King of England is such a crappy gig that we can (reasonably!) describe a marriage where he planned on having his wife arrested as “pretty happy, actually.”
It’s a low bar!
Much better to be Henry’s mistress! No pressure, no high expectations and when it’s over you get a golden handshake and a good husband. Elizabeth Blount got a title, Mary Boleyn one of Henry’s gentlemen all set for a brilliant career if he hadn’t died of the Sweat.
Rosalyn Crutchley is my favourite.