Thomas Parr lived for 152 years and 9 months through the reigns of ten monarchs and was buried in Westminster Abbey by order of King Charles I. The inscription on his small white marble gravestone in the centre of the south transept reads:
THO: PARR OF YE COUNTY OF SALLOP. BORNE
IN AD: l483. HE LIVED IN YE REIGNES OF TEN
PRINCES VIZ: K.EDW.4. K.ED.5. K.RICH.3.
K.HEN.7. K.HEN.8. K.EDW.6. Q.MA. Q.ELIZ.
K.JA. & K.CHARLES. AGED l52 YEARES.
& WAS BURYED HERE NOVEMB. l5. l635.
Most of the information about the life of this agricultural labourer who found fame because of his longevity is recorded in John Taylor's pamphlet printed in 1635 entitled The Old, Old, Very Old Man or the Age and Long Life of Thomas Parr. He was the son of John Parr of Winnington near Shrewsbury in the county of Shropshire.Thomas married his first wife Jane Taylor when he was about 80 years old and they had a son and daughter, both of whom died in infancy. At the age of 100 he did penance by standing draped in a white sheet in the parish church for being unfaithful to his wife and having an illegitimate child by Katherine Milton.Ten years after Jane's death he married Jane Lloyd but they had no children.
A diet of green cheese, onions, coarse bread, buttermilk or mild ale (cider on special occasions) and no smoking kept Thomas healthy.His recipe for long life was reputed to be "Keep your head cool by temperance and your feet warm by exercise.Rise early, go soon to bed, and if you want to grow fat [prosperous] keep your eyes open and your mouth shut".
In 1635 Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel, was visiting one of his Shropshire estates and he heard all about the incredible man known as "Old Parr", then said to be 152 years old.The Earl decided to take him to London to see King Charles I, and Thomas left Shropshire never to return.The journey was made in easy stages, as Thomas had been blind for twenty years, and the Earl provided a jester for his entertainment.He was presented at Court and on seeing the old man Charles I asked him "You have lived longer than other men.What have you done more than other men?".Parr replied "Sire, I did penance when I was a hundred years old".
Thomas was treated with kindness and crowds came to see him. His portrait was painted and there is a copy in the National Portrait Gallery in London showing him with dark brown eyes, and white shaggy eyebrows, moustache and whiskers. But, as shown by the post mortem carried out by the eminent physician Dr William Harvey, the change in diet, with rich wines, and the pollution of the City were too much for Old Parr and he died within a few weeks of arriving in London.The King ordered his burial in the Abbey and his grave has been pointed out to visitors ever since.
A photograph of the grave can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004
©Dean and Chapter of Westminster