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Catherine Parr is usually remembered as the wife of Henry VIII who “survived.” What that nursery rhyme leaves out is she didn’t survive for long. A little over a year after Henry VIII’s death, Catherine Parr herself would die from complications from childbirth. It’s a grim part of Tudor history that takes center stage in Becoming Elizabeth Episode 4 “Lighten our Darkness.” Catherine Parr (Jessica Raine), a woman who has been a key political player in the Tudor court and the closest thing to a mother Princess Elizabeth (Alicia von Rittberg), delivers her daughter Mary and dies a few days later.
Catherine’s death shakes up the world of Starz‘s Becoming Elizabeth in more ways than one. It leaves Thomas Seymour (Tom Cullen) devastated and, worse, cast adrift without the stabilizing presence of Catherine. And politically, it grants Elizabeth a sudden jolt of newfound power. With Catherine’s death, the royal house Chelsea Place is given to Elizabeth to use as her own household. The newly wealthy (and of age) princess is welcomed back to court and Lady Jane Grey (Bella Ramsey) is forced to return to her odious, scheming father.
What’s perhaps even more tragic about Catherine’s death is Becoming Elizabeth lets the clever dowager queen see it coming. When a physician tells Catherine she is with child in Episode 3, she bluntly says, “It is a death sentence.” Becoming Elizabeth star Jessica Raine explained Catherine’s fatalism to Decider.
“For her, it’s like she’s a late bloomer and everything is perfect. I think she’s been through three marriages and just assumed she can’t get pregnant, is really at peace with that, has stepchildren that she’s mothered,” Raine said. “And the moment that she actually is pregnant, I think it does feel like a death sentence.”
Raine added that Catherine would be not only aware that childbirth is deadly for women in this time, but that she’s old to be having a baby.
“And it just isn’t in her plan. I think she assumed she was infertile so obviously she’s having a lot of sex but assumes there’s gonna be no consequences to that, so it’s a complete shock. She’s a planner, and it’s just not in the plan.”
Eventually it seems Catherine does come around. She is happy immediately after her daughter’s birth and lovingly tells her husband Thomas that he is one of the only men who see her as a real person. It seems, for a moment, that their love is stronger than ever. You know, despite all that stuff Thomas did with Elizabeth… Then this joy is shattered when Thomas returns from a feast to discover Catherine has died of childbed fever, a common ailment that also took the life of Thomas’s sister (and Henry VIII’s third wife), Jane Seymour. Catherine’s death re-opens the wound of that grief, too.
“This is one of the things I would defend Thomas about, actually. I think he’s the only male character in the whole show who really listens and respects women,” Tom Cullen told Decider. “He does it so often.”
“He sees Catherine and respects her. He sees Elizabeth…But that’s what’s so complex about him, he’s somebody who deeply, deeply respects women but at the same time, he betrays that.”
Jessica Raine added: “And it’s not a ploy, it never feels like it’s a ploy.”
“I don’t think it is. It’s genuine, absolutely,” Cullen said. “I don’t think he’s that kind of long-sighted. He’s so impulsive, he really can’t see beyond his nose. He just moves through the world in the present, and it’s quite an extraordinary character to play in that sense. Every moment is just live for him. He doesn’t even know what’s going to happen next. He lives his life for living.”
Raine said, “That’s what makes him so seductive, I think.”
“It’s such a shame because Thomas is her kind of poison, Catherine’s poison. But I think he offers her something that other men just haven’t,” Cullen said.
“I do think he is her one blind spot,” Raine said, before praising the two’s complex relationship.
Apparently, though, Catherine’s pregnancy storyline wasn’t all doom and gloom for Raine.
“It was fun marching about in those Tudor clothes and a massive pregnancy bump as well. Everyone will be like, ‘Are you wearing the bump?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes!! It’s so heavy!!’ No one could notice it because they were just basically wearing a massive set of curtains,” Raine said with a giggle.