Was Old Tom Parr the Oldest Man in England?

The story of the commoner who lived to 152 years old; or did he?

Painting of Old Parr by unknown artist. Image: Wikimedia Commons

A person rarely lives to over 100 years. The oldest person on record was Jeanne Louise Calment of Arles, France. She set the record for the oldest person on record at the age of 122.

However, there is a story of a man from England that had her beat. If the story were true, Old Tom Parr was 152 years old when he died shortly after meeting King Charles I. He lived through the reigns of ten English monarchs, spanning three royal houses.

The Life of Old Tom Parr

Thomas Parr was reportedly born in either 1482 or 1483 (birth records for peasants were spotty at best). He may have been born as late as 1565 in the hamlet of Winnington (now Shropshire), where he lived most of his life. He lived off a simple died of milk, cheese, bread, and sour whey, which was said to be key to his excellent health.

Parr would have been born during the second reign of Edward IV during the final years of the War of the Roses. At the age of 80, Parr married a woman named Jane Taylor, with whom he had two children. Both children died in infancy. At the age of 100, he fathered a child out of wedlock and did penance with the parish church. When his wife died at the age of 110, Parr married a widow named Jayne Llyod at the age of 122, with whom he stayed for eleven years and showed no sign of infirmary.

At some point in the 1600s, Parr began telling his neighbours that he was born in 1483, though he could provide no proof of this claim. Birth records were dependent on baptism and wedding records by the church. Birth certificates would not be a thing until the 1800s. As the life expectancy was only 40 at that time, no one in the village could likely argue his claim.

The story of Parr’s alleged age began to spread around this time. He was painted by famous artists such as Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony Van Dyck. In 1635, Thomas Howard met Parr and brought him to London to meet King Charles I. Parr’s daughter-in-law was allowed to accompany him, but his attention on the trip had adverse effects on his health. When they arrived in London, he was near blind and feeble.

When he finally arrived at the court of King Charles I, Parr was treated like a celebrity and medical phenomenon. While the attention paid by the king was appreciated, the city of London was Old Tom Parr’s undoing. The rich food and bustle of the city had a negative effect on Parr, and he fell ill not long after arriving in London. On November 13, 1635, Thomas Parr died at the purported age of 152.

Charles had Thomas buried at Westminster Abbey. The marker of his grave states the reported dates of his birth and death, as well as his achievement of living through the reigns of ten English monarchs.

How Old Was He, Really?

There are doubts that Parr truly lived as long as he did. When asked about specific historical events that would have taken place in his early days, he could not recall any details. One would think that living through some of the most important events in English history, including the Tudor Dynasty, would have made some mark on his memory.

William Harvey performed an autopsy on Parr. He found that the man’s organs were intact and in good condition. No cause of death could be determined, and it was assumed that he died of overexposure and too rich of a diet while he was in London. Modern forensic historians believe Parr was no older than seventy when he died.

So how did this confusion over his age occur? It is possible that records such as his birth record were confused with Parr’s grandfather. Both men shared the same name, and poor recordkeeping may have resulted in the younger Thomas being given the birth year of his grandfather at some point.

While there have been many examples of people that have lived far past the average lifespan, it is unlikely Old Tom Parr was one. Even so, it is an exciting story of a man who lived a long and healthy life, only to die from a meal fit for a king.

https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/thomas-parr

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Nick Howard

Nick Howard

I am an educator and a writer. My topics of interest include sports, movies, comics, history, professional wrestling, food, music, and hobbies.