Did Henry VIII love his last wife Katherine Parr?

Linda Porter looks at Henry VIII's often misunderstood relationship with his last wife, Katherine Parr, and questions whether it was, indeed, a case of true love...

A portrait of Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth and final wife. (Photo by Universal History Archive/Getty Images)

This article was first published in the March 2010 issue of BBC History Magazine

On 12 July 1543, as plague began to take hold in London, two dozen guests crammed into a small chapel at Hampton Court to see Henry VIII marry for the sixth time. The wedding, a low-key affair, took the diplomatic community in London by surprise.

It was noted that “the king espoused the queen privately and without ceremony”. The bridegroom was, however, enthusiastic as he took his vows “with a joyful countenance”. Henry was 52 years old and ailing. His new wife, Katherine Parr, was not quite 31, twice-widowed and an experienced stepmother. Surely this was a marriage born of common sense, where passion would play little part? The Victorians depicted it as the union of an irascible tyrant with a worthy matron. The truth, however, was very different.

Henry was looking for a wife, not a nurse or homemaker. He wanted a companion for his bed who might provide further heirs and could carry the role of queen consort impressively. Katherine, who had given up another man to marry the king, was well aware that her duties would definitely run to more than polite conversation and soothing the royal brow. Her determination to be a success led to a deep bond of affection between the royal couple which may, in 1546, have saved her life.

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