Parents of Arthur
When we examine the date of marriage for Henry and Elizabeth of York, along with the birth of their first child, it’s evident that Arthur was either premature one month, or Henry and Elizabeth consummated their relationship prior to marriage. While looking through my own family history I have discovered how common it was for the wife to be pregnant prior to marriage but not to announce the pregnancy until some time after the marriage. Let’s be honest, it was 1486, a premature birth was very dangerous, and could explain Arthur’s poor health throughout his life.
It was common for royals to marry for political reasons and not for love. Such was the case with the king and queen, however, they grew to share a great affection for one another and became great friends. There is no evidence of Henry taking any mistresses, and that alone speaks volumes.
Prince of Wales
Arthur was the pride of his parents, and of England. How fortunate for their first child to be a prince, and heir to the throne. King Henry had a fascination with the legendary King Arthur of Camelot and even believed he had a genealogical connection with him — the reason he named his first son Arthur. Henry, so confident that his wife was pregnant with his heir, sent her to Winchester to give birth. At the time it was believed that Winchester was built on the ancient ruins of Camelot. Winchester was where Elizabeth was to give birth to their son, and heir. John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby (step-father to Henry VII), William FitzAlan, 16th Earl of Arundel, Queen Elizabeth Woodville (mother of the Queen) and Cecily of York (sister to the Queen) served as godparents to the prince.
By the age of three there were discussions on who Arthur should wed. The decision was a political one. It wasn’t until the Prince of Wales was eleven that he was betrothed to the Infanta, Katherine of Aragon. Katherine was the daughter of the powerful Catholic monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. The betrothal was an effort to forge an alliance with Spain against France.
When Perkin Warbeck came into the picture, it hindered the alliance because of the uncertainty surrounding the throne of England. If Warbeck was indeed the son of Edward IV, then the right to the throne of England was his for the taking. Warbeck wrote a letter to Isabella I of Castile to convince her of his lineage, but he was not convincing enough — she did not believe him. It wasn’t until Henry VII had Warbeck executed that plans for the wedding progressed. Young Katherine of Aragon could finally leave Spain and sail to England to prepare for her wedding.
The wedding came to fruition on 14 November 1501, when Arthur, Prince of Wales, and Katherine of Aragon were wed at Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Following the wedding the happy couple were sent to live at Ludlow Castle where Arthur was to perform his duties as Prince of Wales. However, after only five months of marriage, on 2 April 1502, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, died of an unknown illness. Arthur would never be king.
Death of the Future King
The heir of England was now dead and his parents and the kingdom were devastated. Henry and Elizabeth took the death of their son gravely. An account of what happened:
“When his Grace [Henry VII] understood that sorrowful heavy tydings, he sent for the Queene [Elizabeth of York], saying that he and his Queene would take the painful sorrows together. After that she was come and saw the Kyng her Lord, and that naturall and paineful sorrowe, as I have heard saye, she with full great and constant comfortable words besought his Grace that he would first after God remember the weale of his own noble person, the comfort of his realme and of her. She then saied that my Lady his mother had never no more children but him only, and that God by his Grace had ever preserved him, and brought him where he was. Over that, howe that God had left him yet a fayre Prince, two fayre Princesses and that God is where he was, and we are both young ynoughe.”
“….Then his Grace of true gentle and faithful love, in good hast came and relieved her, and showed her howe wise counsell she had given him before, and he for his parte would thanke God for his sonn, and would she should doe in like wise.”
“With great funeral obsequies he was buried in the cathedral church of Worcester. After his death the name of prince belonged to his brother the duke of York, since his brother died without his issue, and so without being thus created he ought to be called, unless some apparent cause was a let or obstacle to it. But the duke, suspecting that his brother’s wife was with child, as was thought possible by the expert and wise men of the prince’s council, was by a month or more delayed from his title, name and pre-eminence, in which time the truth might easily appear to women.”
We often consider the ‘what-ifs’ had Arthur lived, had he and Katherine of Aragon had children and built their own dynasty. While that’s completely normal and human of us to do, I cannot imagine a world now without the stories of his infamous brother and his many wives. I fear the Tudor Dynasty would not have the attraction of the masses it does now.
Hanson, Marilee. “The Death Of Prince Arthur, Prince Of Wales, 1502” http://englishhistory.net/tudor/the-death-of-prince-arthur/, February 9, 2015