Katherine Parr: Appearance

What did Katherine look like?

There are no detailed descriptions of Katherine in terms of height, hair, figure, eye colour and so on, but we are lucky that she was the most frequently painted of Henry's queens and there are various references to her in sources that, whilst they don't describe her in detail, give an impression of her looks and personality.

It seems reasonable to suppose that Katherine 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 Katherine was less good-looking that herself.

Katherine Parr – Parliament Mosaic, based on portrait by Master John

Perhaps her attraction lay in her vivacity and joie de vivre. She seems to have a been a lively woman, fond of dancing, music and general merrymaking with a taste for the sensual pleasures in life: fine clothes, magnificent jewellery and numerous pairs of shoes. Her favourite colours for clothes were crimson, black and violet. All royal colours, designed to impress onlookers, as well as frame her own charms.

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. Katherine'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.

The Victorian alabaster tomb of Katherine Parr, St Mary’s Church, Sudeley

The best-known, authenticated portrait is the one by Master William Scrots, used as the banner for this feature. It was probably painted in 1546 and shows the Queen wearing a very fashionable bonnet, rather than the traditional, stiff hood headdress and a dress with one of the new upstanding medici collars that were coming into fashion in the late 1540s. It also shows Katherine in her favourite crimson.

Another portrait, probably by Master John, which used to be named as Lady Jane Grey has now been shown definitively to be of Katherine. It is full length, and shows the Queen in a square-cut, embroidered gown with long, furred sleeves and a beautiful crown brooch. A similar portrait, by Lucas Herenbout, now at Melton Constable, shows another equally ornate dress with a similar brooch.

Katherine was described in 1544 by de Gante, the Secretary to the Duke of Najera:

" She is of a lively and pleasing appearance and is praised as a virtuous woman. She was dressed in a robe of cloth of gold and a petticoat of brocade with sleeves lined with crimson satin and trimmed with three-piled crimson velvet. Her train was more than two yards long. Suspended from her neck were two crosses, and a jewel of very rich diamonds and in her head-dress were many and beautiful ones. Her girdle was of gold with large pendants."

Coat of Arms of Katherine Parr, as Queen Consort of England "Coat of Arms of Catherine Parr" by Sodacan This vector image was created with Inkscape. - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

This article is part of a Profile on Katherine Parr available for Kindle, for purchase from Amazon US and Amazon UK.