Everyone knows Henry VIII was unlucky in love. Not nearly as unlucky as many of his wives, of course, but Henry would certainly have considered himself the most unfortunate man in England when it came to his married life.
The excuses he used to get out of his marriage varied from wife to wife. But he and his advisors were able to come up with excuses that never put the king at fault. Ever.
His first marriage was the most complicated to end because of a few factors. Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, daughter to Fernando and Isabel of Spain, was permitted in the first place because of a special dispensation written up by Pope Julius II. Catherine had previously been married to Henry’s older brother, Prince Arthur, the young man everyone assumed would be the next king of England. However, fate intervened and he died of illness a few months into the marriage.
So what was the problem? The Bible states that if a man marries his brother’s widow, it is sinful, bordering on incest. The punishment of this union would be childless. Julius II, God’s spokesperson on earth at the time, said it was fine so Catherine’s marriage to the newly created King Henry went on as planned. However, after years of unsuccessful pregnancies, no male heir showed up and Henry decided Julius had been wrong to allow the marriage to go further. God was not pleased with his choice of wife and this was his punishment.
After years of fighting with papal delegates sent from Rome, and with the new pope, Clement VII, Henry took matters into his own hands and cut ties with the traditional Catholic Church, making himself Supreme Head of the Church of England. Finally, with this move, Henry’s marriage to Catherine was decreed to be invalid and his marriage to his second wife was named valid.
Of course, we all know his second wife, Anne Boleyn, was not meant long for this world. Henry, once again, had his marriage dissolved quickly and easily. Days before Anne’s sad end, her marriage to the king was ended but the reason for it was not given on official court documents but it was likely because of Anne’s pre-contract to Henry Percy or because of the king’s relationship with Mary, Anne’s older sister.
The pope had previously given a dispensation stating that Henry could marry Anne (once Catherine had passed away, of course), even though Henry admitted to having a sexual relationship with Anne’s sister. It was basically the exact same situation as Catherine and Arthur except there was no marriage. Again, it was probably decided the pope was wrong to give that dispensation in the first place. Again, God was displeased with his marriage and was punishing him by not giving him a son. Again, the marriage wasn’t ended by divorce, it was annulled. It was like it had never happened. Again, Henry was free to take another wife.
New reasons for dissolving marriages came into play for Henry’s fourth wife, Anne of Cleves. Henry and Anne slept in the same bed at least a few times but never had sex. Henry tried, but it just didn’t happen. Again, Henry and his advisors found ways out of the marriage without calling into question Henry’s manhood. The marriage was eventually ended on the grounds of non-consummation (because Henry found Anne so unattractive) and pre-contract. Anne had previously been betrothed to Francis, the son and heir of the Duke of Lorraine back in Germany. However, the pre-contract had ended years before Anne’s arrival in England.
The annulment of Henry’s union to Anne of Cleves as not the last time pre-contract would be used as a way of saying a marriage had never happened because it wasn’t legal. During the catastrophic downfall of Katheryn Howard, Henry’s fifth wife, whispers and rumors about the young, vivacious queen reached the ears of Archbishop Cranmer. Cranmer investigated these rumors and interviewed Francis Dereham, a former lover of Katheryn’s. Dereham claimed they had agreed to marry but there is little evidence that suggests Katheryn made such an agreement. Still, pre-contract was once again used to annul the marriage, soon before Katheryn was sent to the executioner’s block.
However, if she really was pre-contracted to Dereham, then Katheryn hadn’t actually been unfaithful to the king with Thomas Culpepper. She’d been unfaithful to Dereham. But reason and logic weren’t really part of the equation at that point, as Henry was so heartbroken and angry, he considered ending Katheryn’s life by his own hand.
Getting rid of wives became infinitely easier for Henry once he named himself Supreme Head of the Church even though many of his excuses weren’t religion based at all. If pre-contract, non-consummation and Bible passages weren’t available excuses, I’m sure Henry’s advisors would have come up with other ways of getting Henry out of his unfortunate situation.
Jillianne Hamilton is the author of The Lazy Historian’s Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII, now available on paperback and ebook. Check out her blog, The Lazy Historian, for more information.
Raised as the second son, or “spare”, Henry Tudor, Duke of York was never intended to be King of England. When his older brother Arthur, Prince of Wales died unexpectedly in 1502 Henry was thrust into the spotlight as heir to the throne of England. His training began immediately and Henry despised the fact that his father controlled everything around him. He went from being raised with his sisters to being separated from the world.
When there were discussions by Henry VII and the parents of Katherine of Aragon to arrange a marriage between Henry and his widowed sister-in-law Henry appeared excited to marry his deceased brother’s wife. She was a beauty afterall and Henry was used to getting what he wanted.
Prior to the death of Henry VII the king had decided against the marriage of his son with the dowager Princess of Wales after a dispute with her parents over the dowry she was to bring to her marriage to the now deceased Arthur. Henry would not marry Katherine of Aragon after all.
Things changed when King Henry VII died in 1509 and his son Henry was declared King Henry VIII. The new king declared he was to marry Katherine and the couple were jointly crowned. Katherine was as happy to marry Henry as he was to marry her. She was raised to be queen and had expected for many years to be Queen of England.
When we look at the following wives of Henry VIII things look a little differently – many had never expected to be queen or had a true desire to marry the king from the start. Anne Boleyn and Kateryn Parr had both realized that Henry wished to marry them and there was nothing they could do about it – you couldn’t say no to the king.
Here is a fun look at the six queens of Henry VIII and their differences. I don’t usually write pieces like this so I hope you enjoy the humor in the titles.
katherine of aragon – raised to be a queen
Katherine of Aragon was the Spanish infanta, daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. She was raised to be a queen consort. To know her role as a woman, be the most pious queen and show her bravery.
Blamed for not providing her husband with a surviving son, Katherine would give birth (or miscarry) several babies but only their daughter Mary survived to adulthood.
When Katherine realized her husband, the king, was interested in Anne Boleyn she did not believe their relationship was serious. She had faith and confidence in the fact that Henry would come back to her. When he didn’t she fought with all her mother’s grace to against divorce proceedings.
Henry and Katherine’s daughter Princess Mary was the king’s ‘Pearl of the Realm’. Mary unfortunately suffered the consequences by taking the same stance as her mother. They would not surrender.
Katherine of Aragon would go on to carry the love of her supporters with her. She spent time praying for a better outcome to her cause. Around every corner Katherine’s end would draw near. She died, nearly alone, in January 1536 at Kimboltan Castle. Henry was free of his first wife for good and Anne Boleyn was without a doubt his queen.
After her death their daughter Mary was declared a bastard and removed from the line of succession for many years.
anne boleyn – reluctant, triumphant and ill-fated
Anne Boleyn was the English born daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn and Elizabeth Howard. Anne grew up at Hever Castle with her older sister Mary and younger brother George.
Anne was not raised to be queen – but she had a great upbringing being educated at the court of Margaret of Austria in Mechelen, learning to speak French fluently among many other skills.
Through Elizabeth Howard Anne came from the powerful noble Howard family led by the Duke of Norfolk. Her father Thomas Boleyn climbed up in the ranks within the inner circle of Henry VIII; Her brother George became Lord Rochford and the Boleyns prospered during Anne’s reign.
Anne Boleyn believed she would give the king the strong son he so desired. In 1533 she gave birth to Princess Elizabeth (future Elizabeth I), but the king believed boys would follow. Unfortunately they would not survive.
Henry VIII eventually tired of Anne Boleyn, he had learned from his divorce with Katherine and made sure this time things would go much smoother and quicker for him. Anne Boleyn, like Katherine of Aragon, had a daughter whose rights were at risk during the downfall of her mother. Anne, like Katherine, did everything she could to fight for her daughter’s rights.
Anne Boleyn was executed on the 19th of May 1536. Her daughter Elizabeth was declared a bastard and removed from the line of succession for many years.
jane seymour – silent but deadly
Jane Seymour, like her predecessor, Anne Boleyn, was English. She was born to Sir John Seymour and Margery Wentworth and most likely grew up at Wolf Hall with her siblings: Edward, Henry, Thomas, Elizabeth and Dorothy. The Seymours were not considered royalty but they were what could be considered of noble birth. They had been around for generations.
Jane Seymour caught the eye of King Henry VIII while serving in the household of Queen Anne Boleyn. It is believed that Henry was attracted to Jane because she was the complete opposite of Anne. Jane also knew well how to play the game with Henry – telling him she could not be his mistress, for her own honor.
Ten days after the execution of Anne Boleyn, Jane became the third queen consort of Henry VIII. We don’t know what feelings, if any, Jane had for Henry but what we do know is that she finally presented the king with the surviving male heir he so desperately wanted.
Jane Seymour died twelve days after the long delivery of her son Edward on the 24th of October 1537.
anne of cleves – naive
Anne of Cleves was the daughter of John III, Duke of Cleves and Maria of Jülich-Berg.
After Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon, which was his choice yet still a political match, he moved to Anne Boleyn, who was a love match, followed by Jane Seymour who was also a love match. When it came time to find a fourth queen it became imperative once again to marry for political reasons – this is why Anne of Cleves became a candidate and eventually wife of the King of England.
Unfortunately the marriage alliance would not be a success for Henry. The king did not wish to marry Anne, he was upset for multiple reasons but most believe it’s because she did not recognize him when he was in disguise to greet her at Dover. This bruised the overweight king’s ego and he began to say things like, “I like her not!” and by saying such blasphemous things like her breasts were loose and she was no virgin.
Anne and Henry were only married for six months but Anne had learned from Henry’s prior relationships. When the time came she willfully accepted his offer of annulment/divorce and became the “king’s sister”. Anne outlived Henry VIII and all of his wives, including his last, Katherine Parr.
katheryn howard – outgoing and provocative
Katheryn Howard was the daughter of Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper – Edmund Howard was the son of Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk and younger brother of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. In a nutshell, Katheryn Howard came from the prestigious Howard family. Unfortunately, not long after the death of her mother (at about age five) Katheryn was sent to live with her step-grandmother the dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Agnes Tilney. Tilney had many wards under her roof but also seen often at court. With the dowager duchess being away at court so often it appears that she had little direct involvement in the upbringing and education of her wards.
On the 28th of July 1540, Katheryn Howard became Henry VIII’s fifth queen consort during a secret ceremony at Oatlands Palace. Their nuptials were kept secret for ten days before returning to the insanity of court life. The king, who was infatuated with his new bride, wanted to spend quality time alone with her before returning to his courtly duties.
In Katheryn, Henry found what represented the qualities that he admired most in a woman: Beauty, charm, a pleasant disposition, obedience and virtue. All of which were much like his mother, Elizabeth of York…unfortunately Katheryn Howard was not the virtuous wife Henry had hoped for.
Katheryn Howard’s “loose” past with the dowager duchess and with her poor decision making while queen, particularly when it came to Dereham and Culpeper, ultimately led to her downfall.
On 10 February 1542 Queen Katheryn Howard entered the Tower and three days later she was executed.
kateryn parr – the perfect queen
Kateryn Parr was born in 1512 to Sir Thomas Parr and Maud Green.
Kateryn is usually seen as the Queen who came from nowhere, a nobody. Actually, Katherine was the daughter of a substantial northern knightly family who – like the Boleyn’s – had gone up in the world due to royal favor and advantageous marriages. According to David Starkey, Katherine was most likely better educated than Anne Boleyn and her lineage was better than the Boleyns. –TudorQueen6.com
Henry VIII set his eyes on Kateryn Parr while she was in the household of his daughter, Lady Mary. Around the same time Kateryn had become a widow after the death of her second husband, Lord Latimer. Kateryn and Thomas Seymour had fallen in love and were hoping to marry when Henry swooped in and proposed to her. She could not refuse the King and believed it was God’s doing for her to become queen consort.
Kateryn married Henry VIII on the 12th July 1543, at Hampton Court Palace. She had never imagined being queen – Henry was her third husband.
Kateryn was exactly what Henry VIII needed. She was great with his children and knew much better than previous wives (for the most part) when to speak and when not to.
Kateryn did not marry for love with her first three marriages, but she did find love in the children of her husbands – Katherine was a marvelous step-mother.
It wasn’t until she married Thomas Seymour that she finally found love and was blessed with a daughter, Mary Seymour.
Kateryn Parr died on the 5th of September 1548, only days after giving birth to her daughter, Mary.
As the daughter of George Brooke, 9th Baron of Cobham and Anne Bray, Elizabeth grew up familiar with court politics. Being born on 25 June 1526, during the reign of Henry VIII, she would have been around ten years old at the time of Anne Boleyn’s execution in 1536. Being at an impressionable age this should have been a great example to Elizabeth of what not to do as a woman at Tudor court, or one would think. Maybe she didn’t understand what was going on at the time.
It is believed that in 1543, that Elizabeth was at the court of Henry VIII – this was at the time when Katherine Parr was queen consort. It was the queen’s brother, William Parr, Marquis of Northampton that made the most impact on Elizabeth and they fell in love. The only problem was that William was still married. Even though he had repudiated his wife for adultery years earlier, he was married nonetheless, and that was obviously a road block for Elizabeth. Parr’s first wife, Anne Bourchier had reportedly eloped with her lover and then had a child that Parr was unsure was his. This was when they became estranged.
In 1547, Elizabeth privately married William Parr and they began living together. When those in power discovered this (Edward Seymour, Lord Protector) they were ordered to separate. Elizabeth was sent to live with the dowager queen, Katherine Parr who was at that point married to Thomas Seymour. Elizabeth stayed with the couple until April 1548 when her marriage to William was declared valid.
When the Edward Seymour was ousted in place of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, Elizabeth appeared to thrive at court:
Elisabeth dazzled as the marchioness of Northampton, hosting parties, charming ambassadors and being the light of the court. Still only around twenty-five, Elisabeth had reason to be very happy indeed. She had obtained a very high rank, and she was now an influential woman at court, the friend of the regent and the aunt of the King. As Northumberland’s wife had little interest in leading the court festivities, it was Elisabeth who performed the duties that usually went to a queen – and she performed them admirably.ą
Elizabeth appears to have been involved in the matchmaking which brought together the marriage of Lady Jane Grey and Guildford Dudley – Elizabeth was friends with Frances Brandon and Jane Guildford. Some have stated that they believe that Elizabeth accompanied Jane to the Tower of London to await her coronation. A place she would never leave until her execution in 1554.
Things began to turn sour for Elizabeth when Northumberland was defeated. Her husband, William Parr, Marquis of Northampton was arrested, tried and eventually sentenced to death for his part in placing Lady Jane Grey on the throne after the accession of Mary I. He lost all his titles and land He was eventually pardoned but the damage had already been done – he had also lost Elizabeth by the repeal Act of 1552˛.
Elizabeth was forced to borrow money to survive. It is assumed that we moved back in with her mother or brother William.
When William Parr was released from the Tower for a second time in 1554, Elizabeth was reunited with him. It was noted that the two were godparents to Elizabeth Cavendish and that is how we know when they reunited because she was born in 1555. Unfortunately, the coupled remained rather destitute throughout the reign of Queen Mary I and didn’t come out of the darkness until after Elizabeth Tudor became Queen of England.
In 1559, Queen Elizabeth restored Parr as Marquis of Northampton and Elizabeth became one her closest lady friends. They were so close that when Elizabeth, Lady Northampton became ill the queen came to her side and spent the day with her.
In 1564, Elizabeth Parr developed breast cancer – she hoped to find a cure and even traveled to Antwerp in hopes of finding one. Unfortunately, they did not. Elizabeth died on the 2nd of April 1565 at the age of 39 and Queen Elizabeth was devastated and paid for her friend’s funeral.
ą Wikipedia Page for Elisabeth Parr
˛ Emerson, Kate; Index to A Who’s Who of Tudor Women – Elizabeth Brooke
Emerson, Kate; Index to A Who’s Who of Tudor Women
James, Susan; Kateryn Parr: The Making of a Queen
After much time on the back-burner I was able to read this wonderful book – Book One, of the Elizabeth of England Chronicle by Gemma Lawrence: The Bastard Princess.
I’m always interested in reading books about Elizabeth’s early years since it helps me see other writer’s view-point on her relationship with Thomas Seymour and her mother. This book did not disappoint.
February, 1603? In Richmond Palace, London, the last Queen of the Tudor dynasty, Elizabeth I, is dying. As Death hovers at her elbow, waiting for her to obey his call, the aged Queen looks back on her life, and on the trials, victories and sorrows which brought her eventually, to the throne of England. Not quite three years old when her mother, the notorious Queen Anne Boleyn, was arrested and executed on charges of adultery and treason, Elizabeth became a true princess of the Tudor era, in a time when the balance of power, politics and passion were fragile? and the cost of failure was death. Her childhood and teenaged years were fraught with danger as competing factions and ideologies sought to undermine and destroy her in the bid for power at the Tudor court. This is the story of Elizabeth Tudor, last daughter of Henry VIII, and her journey to the throne of England. Told from her own mouth? the tale of the Bastard Princess, who would, one day, become England?s greatest Queen.
The life of Elizabeth Tudor, whether she was Princess Elizabeth or Lady Elizabeth was often filled with drama. But with that drama she always had someone in her inner circle whom she felt she could trust completely.
Of the women whom she felt she could trust the most were her step-mother, Katherine Parr and her governess, Kat Ashley. As it turns out in this story, both of those women would ultimately abandon the young Elizabeth for their own reasons and in their own ways. Katherine, to save her marriage and to stop any rumors from getting out and Kat Ashley, who when being interrogated implied that Elizabeth may have done things that were unsavory, if given the chance.
There are two things about Elizabeth’s life that always get my attention and leave me wanting more.
1. How Elizabeth did feel about her mother?
2. What happened between her and Thomas Seymour?
In this book we get those questions answered. Kat Ashley, being the one closest to Elizabeth, was able to shed light on Anne Boleyn for Elizabeth while Katherine Parr could sneak her the best gift she could ever receive of her mother’s.
Then there is the relationship between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour. I’ve always subscribed to the theory that nothing inappropriate happened between the two, even though there were confessions made by Kat Ashley to say otherwise. This part of the story pulled me in. What can I say, I’m a woman who likes a romantic story line when ‘the forbidden fruit’ is tasted.
I felt like the author did a very tasteful job of explaining the emotions of a teenage Elizabeth. It reminded me a lot of when I was a teenager, first feeling new emotions for a man and how those feelings can lead to an obsession,?wanting to always be near that person.
The book begins at the end of Elizabeth’s life and then reverts back to late April 1536 and ends in late 1553 when her sister became the first Queen Regnant and Elizabeth heir to the throne.
In conclusion, I’d rate this book 4 out of 5 stars. The story line pulled me in and left me frantically flipping pages to find out what was going to happen next. There were only a couple of areas where I lost interest, but in all fairness I tend to get that way with Elizabeth’s story anyway. If you’re a fan of Elizabeth Tudor I would highly recommend reading this book. At 302 pages it really does not take that long to read. I am looking forward to starting Book Two, The Heretic Heir.
This will not be the first time I mention this idea and it won’t be the last – Anne Boleyn and Thomas Seymour had very similar fates.
The thought came to me one day when I was reading one of my many primary sources about Thomas Seymour. If you did not know already I’ve been researching and writing a book about Thomas Seymour since 2016 – a book to show a side of Thomas Seymour that no other author has dared to write about. I’ve even started a separate website and Facebook page just for him because I feel that he is unjustly vilified.
Let’s look at the things that these two prominent court members had in common. Both had close relationships with the King of England, both had testimonies against them that sealed their fate and both were executed, unjustly.
What gets me the most is the fact that we all know Anne Boleyn was innocent of the charges put against her. In my opinion the charges against Thomas Seymour were falsified or exaggerated so the council, Lord Protector and King Edward would feel confident in sending him to the scaffold because he dared to speak his mind and stand up for what was his. Isn’t that the same thing Anne Boleyn did?
During the interrogations or questioning of those close to Anne Boleyn we know that Mark Smeaton was tortured. There is no evidence even proving that Anne was in the locations Mark says that they slept together. Mark confessed to something he did not do to (we can assume) make the pain stop.
Now, if we look at those who were questioned about Thomas Seymour we have to focus on Kat Ashley. Kat had been part of Elizabeth’s household for many, many years and actually liked Thomas Seymour. At one point she wanted Elizabeth to marry him after the death of Katherine Parr. When Kat Ashley was questioned it was only two years after Anne Askew, a woman, was tortured and executed.
It is commonly believed by many who have read Kat’s testimony that is untrustworthy and inaccurate. Some have thought that since Kat Ashley had pushed for Elizabeth marry Seymour that Kat herself had a crush on Thomas, or she at least thought he was innocent enough. What was in it for Kat had Elizabeth married Thomas? That is something else we must consider.
I believe Thomas had a way with women. He had a charisma that was attractive to many women. But, with that being said, he didn’t always get his way. So why would Kat Ashley turn on him in the end? I’d like to suggest, to save herself.
During her life, and after, Anne Boleyn had been referred to as a “whore” whereas Thomas Seymour gets labeled a “molester” or “pervert”. All this name calling is unfair for all parties included. Anne Boleyn was not a “whore”, she was a queen consort, a mother, a sister and a daughter who was bold enough to speak her mind and eventually marry Henry VIII, only to lose her head for it. She was framed so Henry VIII could rid himself of his second wife to marry his third and so Thomas Cromwell could continue his reformation work without Anne breathing down his neck.
Thomas Seymour was definitely not a “molester” or a “pervert”, he was the uncle of the King, Lord Admiral, Baron Seymour of Sudeley, brother of the Lord Protector and late Queen Jane. Both of these people do not deserve the name they are often called. Thomas Seymour was framed because those in power feared what he would do to get the power he so rightfully deserved. Their response was proactive, not reactive. We do not have proof that Thomas attempted to kidnap Edward. We do not have evidence that HE shot Edward’s dog to quiet it. If his case was held in today’s court of law he would easily be set free – the evidence is circumstantial.
In closing, please remember that we cannot judge these two people or the situations by 21st century standards. Doing so is unfair to both parties.
All six of Henry VIII’s queens were beautiful in their own way. Whether it was their physical beauty or their nature, there was something about each of them that the King was attracted to. Here we take a look at some wax figures of his wives and descriptions of their appearance – we are attempting to bring the Tudor queens to life.
Katherine of Aragon
Just after her marriage to Henry in 1509, Katharine was described, perhaps somewhat partially, by her Confessor, Fray Diego:
‘Her highness is very healthy and the most beautiful creature in the world, with the greatest gaiety and contentment that ever was.’
In 1512, Henry is recorded as kissing and caressing her in public, and, according to a Spanish source, he would invite guests to admire his beautiful wife.
Perhaps a rather less partial view was taken by a Venetian visitor to the court in 1515. She was by then 30 years old and is described, rather unchivalrously, and not, presumably, by anyone expecting to have his correspondence read, other than by the recipient, as ‘ugly and deformed.’
In 1532, a new Venetian ambassador described Anne thusly:
‘not one of the handsomest women in the world. She is of middling stature, with a swarthy complexion, long neck, wide mouth, bosom not much raised, and in fact has nothing but the King’s great appetite, and her eyes, which are black and beautiful and take great effect on those who served the Queen when she was on the throne.
Chapuys described Jane as ‘of middle stature and no great beauty, so fair that one would call her rather pale than otherwise’, and Alison Weir points out that it was not Jane’s face that had attracted the King so much as the fact that she was Anne Boleyn’s opposite in every way. Jane showed herself entirely subservient to Henry’s will; where Anne had, in the King’s view, been a wanton, Jane had shown herself to be inviolably chaste. And where Anne had been ruthless, he believed Jane to be naturally compassionate. He would in years to come remember her as the fairest, the most discreet, and the most meritorious of all his wives. Perhaps she reminded him of his mother, Elizabeth of York?
To be fair to Anne, however, until Henry expressed such a strong aversion towards her, there had been no other disparaging accounts of her appearance. The famous nickname of ‘Flanders Mare’ was only coined by Bishop Gilbert Burnet in the late 17th-century. Most of the contemporary accounts before her marriage had been complimentary. Even Henry was forced to admit that she was ‘well and semelye [seemly]’. But the fact that she nevertheless repelled him ensured that Anne would henceforth be known as the ‘ugly wife’.
Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather R. Darsie opens our eyes to the real Anne and that it was not her appearance at all that caused the end of the marriage, but politics. Anne very well may have been the most attractive of all his wives.
David Starkey, in his 2004 biography of the queens of Henry VIII, stated that Katheryn had ‘auburn hair, pale skin, dark eyes and brows, the rather fetching beginnings of a double skin’.
Other scholars cite the French ambassador Marillac’s comments that she was not of spectacular, but rather moderate, beauty, while being of a graceful disposition.
Katheryn, during her rise to power, was referred to by the Spanish author of ‘The Chronicle of Henry VIII’, written some years after the events, as being the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, while the French ambassador initially described her as being a young woman of ‘extraordinary’, or ‘great’, beauty. Another courtier suggested that she was very ‘beautiful’. According to contemporary ideals, therefore, it seems likely that Katheryn was at least fair in order to merit such descriptions, for women who were dark-haired were often perceived as being inferior in their physical appearances.
It seems reasonable to suppose that Kateryn was attractive – Henry VIII was very susceptible to physical appearance, as his rejection of Anne of Cleves because he did not fancy her, shows. However, she is not referred to as beautiful by any of the ambassadors sending reports, and, in fact, Anne of Cleves is reputed to have complained that Kateryn was less good-looking that herself.
Her height has been variously described by her biographers as 5 foot 4 inches, or 5 foot 10 inches, based on the length of her coffin. The shorter height seems more likely, as 5 foot 10 inches would be exceptional for a woman at that time. Tall women, such as Marie de Guise and her daughter, Mary Queen of Scots were remarked on. Kateryn’s hair, a lock of which is preserved at Sudeley Castle appears to be of a dark blonde hue, and so far as can be told from the paintings, her eyes were hazel or brown.