Lady Anne Parr was sister to Catherine Parr — sixth wife of Henry VIII. The unique thing about Anne was that she was either a Maid-of-Honour, or Lady-in-Waiting to all six of Henry VIII’s wives.
A Maid-of-Honour was generally a young girl in her teens, just starting out at court. In order to hold the position one had to be part of a noble family….and beautiful. A Maid-of-Honour also had to impress courtiers – knowing a foreign language and being a good dancer were only a couple of the necessities of holding the position.
A Lady-in-Waiting was a married lady who served the Queen. Some of these ladies had served prior to becoming married as Maids-of-Honour. A woman could also became a Lady-in-Waiting when she married a prominent member of the King’s Privy Chamber or Privy Council. These ladies helped dress the Queen, they provided companionship to her and served her during her meals. A Lady-in-Waiting spent considerable time with the Queen. They kept busy with activities like needlework, sewing and embroidery.
There is not conclusive evidence to show when she went from Maid to Lady, but we can assume it was after she married.
Anne Boleyn was a Maid-of-Honour to Katherine of Aragon beginning in 1522, when she returned from France. Anne Parr joined the same household in 1528 when her mother, Maud Green secured her a position with the Queen. Anne Parr would have been witness to the events between Boleyn and King Henry. She was actually very fond of Anne Boleyn and stayed in the new queen’s household when she was crowned in 1533.
When Henry VIII had his second wife beheaded and married Jane Seymour, Anne Parr was there. She was also one of the few people present at the baptism of Prince Edward, and was part of the funeral procession of Queen Jane – she was with the fourth chariot.
In February 1538, Anne Parr married Sir William Herbert, Esquire of the King’s Body. It is very likely that she met William at court.
When Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves, Anne Parr returned to court as a Lady-in-Waiting for the new Queen. The marriage was short-lived and Henry soon annulled his marriage from Anne of Cleves and wed the very young and flirtatious Katherine Howard. Anne Parr continued as a Lady-in-Waiting to Katherine Howard and was also the “Keeper of the Queen’s Jewels.” Anne left court briefly to give birth to her son Henry. She returned to court some time after and her timing coincided with the fall of Katherine Howard. Anne attended to Katherine when she was imprisoned at Syon House and then in the Tower of London.
In 1543, Anne witnessed the wedding ceremony at Hampton Court Palace between her sister, Catherine Parr and King Henry VIII. Anne was Queen Catherine’s Chief Lady-in-Waiting. The sisters were indeed close and Anne was well experienced at court and in the Queen’s household.
Anne Parr experienced a lot during her time at court – especially when it came to the wives of Henry VIII:
- She saw the poor treatment of Katherine of Aragon
- The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn
- The rise of another fellow lady Jane Seymour and her untimely death after providing the King with a son
- The quick reign of Anne of Cleves
- The experience of the downfall of Katherine Howard
- The reign of her sister, Catherine Parr
It’s easy to say Anne Parr probably had a lot of good advice for her sister, Queen Catherine Parr, after all that she had witnessed. If we are to believe Philippa Gregory’s book, The Taming of the Queen (Historical Fiction) to be true, then we would believe that Anne Parr actually taught her sister how not to become pregnant — because being pregnant and losing the child, or having a deformed child made the king look bad…and we all know how insecure Henry VIII was. But, Gregory writes historical fiction and we should take that statement with a grain of salt. Catherine had been married before so she surely knew how to not become pregnant, if that’s what she chose.
As the keeper of the jewels she would have seen each of Henry’s queens exchange some of the same jewels – some were made into a new piece, while others stayed the same.
On 20 February 1552, Anne died. At the time of her death, she was one of the ladies of the Lady Mary, the future Queen Mary I.
Anne Parr was one of very few women who served all six Tudor queens. Imagine if she had a diary that survived, or had written a book about everything she saw or heard. That would be priceless.