Chapter 1: Childhood (1512 - 1529)
Alone amongst Henry's wives, Katherine Parr had an experience of life that was not completely submerged in Court circles. Her upbringing and life before her marriage to Henry, at the age of about thirty-one, was spent in the manors and castles of the gentry families of the Midlands and North of England.
Whilst one could never say she knew what "ordinary" life was like, she was very much closer to it than any of Henry's other Queens, having been mistress of a country household, as well as of a great castle. She would have practised the housewifely skills of domestic economy, management of servants, preparation and administration of medicine and supervision of an estate that were the province of the wives and daughters of the gentry class.
Thus, when we look at the places in which she lived, we can feel a faint breathe of daily life, which is denied us when we only look at palaces.
Childhood (1512 - 1529)
It is likely that Katherine was born at her parents’ home in Blackfriars, although there is a slight possibility that the event took place at Fenel’s Grove, near Great Kimble in Aylesbury, which her parents had possession of during the year of her birth. Blackfriars certainly seems to have been the place her parents considered as home, as they both chose to be buried in the Church of the Dominicans there. When the monasteries were dissolved the church, too, disappeared, to be replaced by St Ann’s Blackfriars which, in turn, burnt down during the Great Fire. The Churchyard of St Ann’s Blackfriars is now a garden, and is as close as we can get to the Parrs’ tomb.
It is possible, although not likely, that Katherine visited the Court whilst her mother was in attendance on the Queen. In the early years of Henry’s reign, he and Katharine of Aragon spent the majority of their time at Greenwich, Westminster, and the new palace built at Beaulieu. Hampton Court, of course, was not yet a royal residence.
After the death of Katherine’s father, Sir Thomas Parr, in 1517 the young Parrs moved to live at Rye House, near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire, in the household of their uncle, Sir William Parr of Horton, and his wife, Mary Salisbury. The Gatehouse, giving a clue to the red brick construction, remains and can be visited on a few days each year. The Parrs of Horton had four daughters of a similar age to the Parr siblings, and there were a number of other cousins and young men in the household, under the supervision of Katherine’s mother, Maud, Lady Parr.