On September 19/20, 1486, Arthur Tudor was born to Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York. He was the eldest son to reach adulthood and was expected to become the King of England after his father’s death. However, everything changed in 1502, when he died while at Ludlow Castle with his wife, Catherine of Aragon.
Arthur Tudor’s Birth: The Expected Future King of England
Somewhere between September 19 and 20, 1486, Arthur Tudor was born. He was expected to become King of England and named Arthur after King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
Arthur Tudor: Named After King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
Arthur’s name was decided before his birth. Henry VII wanted to ensure that his claim to the throne was secure. He wanted to bring an end to the War of the Roses (The Cousins’ War) and justify his killing of King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth on August 22, 1485. The first thing he needed to do was join the two warring houses: he married Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV of England and Elizabeth Woodville.
The second thing he did was research. After the marriage of Henry and Elizabeth, in January 1486, he instructed his own genealogists to look back over his heritage and line. It was traced back to some of the ancient British kings; the most important being King Arthur. Winchester was quickly referred to as Camelot and Henry decided his first son would be named Arthur. He had already decided that the baby Elizabeth was currently carrying was a boy and would bring the country back to its golden age.
The court was moved to Winchester, where young Arthur—who was rightfully predicted to be a boy—was born. It was a big gamble on Henry’s part. There was no guarantee that Arthur would actually be a boy and moving Elizabeth to the Winchester court made a huge deal out of it. He would have been left red-faced had Elizabeth actually given birth to a daughter; or even had a stillborn child.
The Birth of Prince Arthur
The Christening of Arthur Tudor
Arthur was christened at Winchester Cathedral but it had to be put on hold. One of the boy’s godparents, John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, was delayed by a week. In fact, the same godfather was four hours late when it actually came to the day of the christening!
Lord Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby was rewarded for his loyalty at the Battle of Bosworth by being named one of Arthur’s godfathers. Lord Stanley was his step-father, through Margaret Beaufort’s marriage, and fought on Henry Tudor’s side on the day of the battle, despite his own son being held captive by Richard III’s army. Elizabeth Woodville was named his godmother, as well as being his grandmother.
Unlike many reports, it is unlikely that Arthur was a sick or weakly child. While he did die of an illness and was a month premature, other events make it clear that he was well, strong and expected to become the King of England after Henry VII’s death. When he was just two-years-old, Arthur was betrothed to Catherine of Aragon. Catherine’s parents, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabelle I of Castile would have been informed had he been ill regularly and the betrothal probably wouldn’t have happened.
The betrothal with Spain was very important for Henry VII. While he had spent many years in France while in exile, there were to many pretenders for the throne. Working with Spain was Henry’s best option and Arthur was perfect for that. The Treaty of Medina del Campo was arranged but there were other options for Catherine of Aragon and her parents knew that. It was only after 1499, when pretender Perkin Warbeck was hanged and the threat of the Earl of Warwick was beheaded that they really considered it. Henry’s position and Arthur’s future were more certain.
The Early Life of Arthur Tudor
Bernard Andre were two of his tutors. According to Andre, Arthur was skilled and familiar with the best Greek and Latin authors. While being studious, he was reserved. He would make a good king but he was not a sporty, adventurous type like his younger brother, Prince Henry Tudor (later Henry VIII).
Between the ages of three and six, he spent his time at Westminster. He was brought here initially for his ceremony to be created Prince of Wales. Henry VII planned it well and it coincided with the birth of the older of his two surviving sisters, Margaret Tudor. Arthur became the Prince of Wales the day after her birth.
He then moved to Ludlow Castle, where Edward V had also lived under the ruling of Edward IV. Here, in the Welsh marches, he would receive the training for his position as King. During this time, Arthur grew close to one of his attendants, Gruffydd ap Rhys, the son of a powerful nobleman in Wales. Their friendship was so close that both now rest together in Worcester Cathedral.
Arthur Tudor Marries Catherine of Aragon
As many already know, Arthur did eventually marry Catherine. It was this marriage that caused many problems for Henry VIII and partially caused the English break from Rome.
Arthur and Catherine didn’t meet for 13 years after the betrothal. Instead, the two wrote to each other and many of them were in Latin. The letters were not very passionate. Due to their age and the fact that they had never met, their tutors instructed them to remain polite. Despite being promised that Catherine would come to England around 1500, it was a year later that she was finally sent and reached England in November of that year. They could finally meet.
Did they like each other? That is something nobody can answer. The only thing that Arthur stated to his future in-laws was that he’d be a “true and loving husband”. He did inform his parents that he was immensely happy with Catherine’s beauty but there is nothing to say how Catherine liked him. It didn’t matter at the time though. The marriage was political not for love. 10 days after their meeting, on November 14, 1501, they married and moved back to Ludlow Castle.
The Short Life of Arthur Tudor
Arthur was just 15-years-old when he died. It was just half a year into his marriage to Catherine when they both became very ill. The exact illness is unknown but it was either the sweating sickness, consumption or hantavirus. All that is known is Arthur’s immune system couldn’t fight it and he died, leaving 17-year-old Catherine a widow, on April 2, 1502. The boy who was supposed to be king had died before his father.
According to Catherine of Aragon, the marriage had never been consummated. Between November 1501 and April 1502, they had not had intercourse. While the two had been ill, it was still a long enough time to doubt the truth behind that. Some of Arthur’s men did state that Arthur had mentioned in passing that the relationship was consummated but some historians wonder whether it was Arthur’s attempt to cover up nothing had happened. Did Arthur know what to do and was there another problem that prevented the marriage from being consummated?
Nevertheless, Henry VII’s dream of bring back the golden age had gone. There was some hope though—maybe Catherine and Arthur had consummated their relationship and she was with child. He would become the next heir apparent and could continue Henry’s dream. After a few months it was clear that there was no child. Henry VII had no choice but to name a new heir apparent: his second son, Prince Henry Tudor, who was being raised for the clergy.