Monday, September 19, 2016

The First Tudor Prince

Arthur Tudor
Prince of Wales
by Samantha Wilcoxson

With the birth of the first Tudor prince a sparse eight months after the marriage of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, few would have prophesied the problem of begetting heirs that would plague the short-lived Tudor dynasty. His name spoke of the high expectations that his parents, and indeed the kingdom, had for Prince Arthur. After decades of war and familial infighting, Prince Arthur would solidify the peace that had begun with the marriage of his Lancastrian father and Yorkist mother.

Born on September 20, 1486, Prince Arthur was the embodiment of God’s blessing upon the first Tudor king and queen. In contradiction to some accounts, particularly in historical fiction but not absent from works of nonfiction, Arthur Tudor was not treated as a sickly child unexpected to survive until adulthood. It is easy to assign these descriptions to him in retrospect based upon his early demise, but contemporary accounts and events in his life demonstrate that Arthur was fully expected not only to survive, but to rule. As an infant, he was described as ‘vital and vigorous.’

In 1489, shortly following his third birthday, Arthur was made a Knight of the Bath in preparation for his investiture as Prince of Wales the following February. In 1491, he was made Knight of the Garter. This same year, Arthur welcomed a younger brother, Henry, whose birth was celebrated but not with the exuberance that Arthur’s had been. There is no indication that Henry was expected to take his brother’s place as heir. While Arthur was raised up away from court and included in the governing of Wales from a young age, Henry was kept near his mother with his other siblings.

Ludlow Castle, Shropshire
Established at Ludlow in 1492, Arthur would have hardly known the brother whose name would forever come before his own. Arthur was expected to be king, and great effort was expended toward obtaining for him a royal wife. Henry would have likely looked forward to a leading role in the church to support his brother, perhaps as an Archbishop.

The negotiations for Arthur’s marriage had begun when he was a toddler. More than anything else in his life, he would be remembered for being the first husband of his brother’s wife. Katherine of Aragon insisted until her dying day that this marriage had never been consummated because of the briefness of their time together and Arthur’s failing health. During the decade of haggling over details of the match, Arthur’s health is one of few things not counted as a concern by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, further evidence that Arthur’s early death was unexpected. In fact, the Spanish ambassador, who would have no incentive to mislead his king and queen, described the young Arthur as ‘taller than his age would warrant’ and ‘of remarkable beauty and grace.’

The power couple of Spain were not afraid to make demands. Due to their concerns that Arthur’s rule be unchallenged, two executions took place. Perkin Warbeck, who had claimed to be the younger of the Princes in the Tower and therefore the Queen’s brother, was put to death after an attempted escape from the Tower. If these charges were questionable, Warbeck had undoubtedly performed other acts of treason. The scandal was the partner that was executed shortly after him.


Edward Plantagenet, Earl of Warwick
by Edward Harding
National Portrait Gallery, London
Edward of Warwick was one of those pesky Plantagenet sons who made it easy for those who were unimpressed with Tudor rule to think of a possible substitute. Not that Edward himself had ever challenged Henry the way others, such as the de la Pole brothers, did. Son of George of Clarence and brother of Margaret Pole, Edward had been imprisoned since early in Henry VII’s reign. He was not necessarily mistreated, but neither was he allowed to truly live a life where he could become the center of rebellion for disillusioned Yorkists. His sister, Margaret, was married to a Tudor supporter, and she served in a variety of roles, serving Arthur at Ludlow and later Princess Mary. However, Edward, kept under lock and key since childhood, was seen as too much of a risk. Including him in the dubious charges against Warbeck, Edward was executed in 1499 to clear the way for Arthur and Katherine’s marriage. Certainly, this is not an action that one would undertake for a Prince not expected to survive to rule.

Coat of Arms
Arthur Tudor Prince of Wales
Arthur had been educated and raised to be king in a way that was not mirrored in the treatment of his brothers. While Arthur was made Duke of Cornwall at birth, Earl of Chester in 1489, and Prince of Wales in 1490, his brothers received titles reserved for younger sons. Henry was made Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports in 1492, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1493, and Duke of York in 1494.

Arthur was sent to govern Wales with Jasper Tudor, his father’s most loyal supporter, as the head of his council. We have every reason to believe that, with the help of his experienced council, Arthur excelled in the governance of Wales during his time there. Contemporaries praised his intelligence and demeanor.

The fact that Katherine of Aragon insisted that she and Arthur never consummated their marriage is not necessarily evidence that he was already suffering from a long-lasting illness. While couples their age were not kept from the marriage bed, they knew the dangers that young couples faced, especially mothers, but Katherine’s brother had recently died at age nineteen, a disaster that was blamed on his libido. Travel and pageantry that took place during the couple’s short marriage also kept them from sharing a bed more than a handful of times. Therefore, it is possible that, even if Arthur felt well at the wedding ceremony, business and later sickness could have kept him from his wife’s bed.

Katherine of Aragon
National Portrait Gallery
Katherine also became bed-ridden with sweating sickness at this time. It is possible that Arthur died from one of many possibilities that have been suggested: tuberculosis, pneumonia, testicular cancer, or other wasting disease. However, it seems likely that he succumbed to an illness that attacked many people of this time, rich and poor, and that could have just as easily claimed his young wife.

One of the most touching scenes documented of a man reputed to be cold and calculating is Henry VII’s anguish over the death of his firstborn son. He and his wife were shattered, as any parents would be, and there is no evidence that Arthur was raised under the shadow of eminent death based upon their shock and grief. His parents decided to attempt to have another child after Arthur’s death, a step they had not taken two years earlier after the death of his younger brother, Edmund. Arthur’s death was unexpected and the royal couple’s reaction could indicate that the Tudor fear for a lack of sons was beginning to take root.


The first Tudor prince had been welcomed to the world with great acclaim and was mourned in devastation. Let us not dismiss him as a sickly child who was quickly replaced by the charismatic brother but remember him as a life full of promise, extinguished too soon.

Photo Credits:
Portrait of Arthur Tudor by Anonymous Artist: Public Domain
Ludlow Castle: Ian Capper [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Arthur Tudor's Coat of Arms: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACoat_of_Arms_of_the_Tudor_Princes_of_Wales_(1489-1574).svg
Edward of Warwick: National Portrait Gallery, London
Katherine of Aragon: National Portrait Gallery, London

Additional Reading:
Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World by Alison Weir
Winter King: Henry VII and the Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

About the Author:
Samantha Wilcoxson is a first generation American with British roots. She is passionate about reading, writing, and history, especially the Plantagenet dynasty. Her novel, Plantagenet Princess, Tudor Queen: The Story of Elizabeth of York has been recognized as a Historical Novel Society Editor's Choice. The Plantagenet Embers series continues with Faithful Traitor: The Story of Margaret Pole and will conclude with Queen of Martyrs: The Story of Mary I in 2017.

Samantha has also published two middle grade novels, No Such Thing as Perfect and Over the Deep: A Titanic Adventure.

When not reading or writing, Samantha enjoys traveling and spending time at the lake with her husband and three children. You can connect with Samantha on her blog, Twitter, Goodreads, Booklikes, and Amazon.

Book Links:

4 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Thanks, Alison! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. :-)

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  2. An interesting theory, that Arthur might simply have died of sweating sickness, though I'd still like to know what was his excuse for not consummating the marriage on his wedding night, when he didn't have other commitments and was certainly expected to be with his bride. We still don't know that. It might have been simply a very young boy's nerves, but we just don't know, though I do believe Katherine.

    I've read that Edward VI might also not have been quite as delicate as we've heard - any thoughts on that?

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    1. You're right, Sue. That is one night we would have expected Arthur to do his duty, but I also believe Katherine.

      As for Edward, I do not believe that he was sickly from birth either, but he does seem to have struggled with a longer lasting illness than Arthur did. I'm just beginning to read up on him a bit more as research for my next book.

      Thanks for your comment!

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