Arthur Tudor, Battle of Bosworth Field, Elizabeth of York, Henry VII of England, House of Tudor, King Ferdinand II of Aragon, King Henry VIII of England, Prince of Wales, Queen Isabella I of Castile, Richard III of England, Wars of the Roses
Arthur Tudor (September 19/20 1486 – April 2, 1502) was Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester and Duke of Cornwall. As the eldest son and heir apparent of Henry VII of England, Arthur was viewed by contemporaries as the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor. His mother, Elizabeth of York, was the daughter of Edward IV, and his birth cemented the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York.
Henry VII became King of England upon defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. In an effort to strengthen the Tudor claim to the throne, Henry had royal genealogists trace his lineage back to the ancient British rulers and decided on naming his firstborn son after the legendary King Arthur.
On this occasion, Camelot was identified as present-day Winchester, and his wife, Elizabeth of York, was sent to Saint Swithun’s Priory (today Winchester Cathedral Priory) in order to give birth there. Born at Saint Swithun’s Priory on the night of 19/20 September 1486 at about 1 am, Arthur was Henry and Elizabeth’s eldest child. Arthur’s birth was anticipated by French and Italian humanists eager for the start of a “Virgilian golden age”. Sir Francis Bacon wrote that although the Prince was born one month premature, he was “strong and able”.
Young Prince Arthur was viewed as “a living symbol” of not only the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York, to which his mother belonged as the daughter of Edward IV, but also of the end of the Wars of the Roses. In the opinion of contemporaries, Arthur was the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor.
Arthur became Duke of Cornwall at birth. Four days after his birth, he was baptised at Winchester Cathedral by the Bishop of Worcester, John Alcock, which was immediately followed by his confirmation. John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, William FitzAlan, 16th Earl of Arundel, Queen Elizabeth Woodville and Cecily of York served as godparents; the latter two, his grandmother and aunt, respectively, carried the prince during the ceremony.
Initially, Arthur’s nursery in Farnham was headed by Elizabeth Darcy, who had served as chief nurse for Edward IV’s children, including Arthur’s own mother. After Arthur was created Prince of Wales in 1490, he was awarded a household structure at the behest of his father. Over the next thirteen years, Henry VII and Elizabeth would have six more children, of whom only three—Margaret, Henry and Mary—would reach adulthood. Arthur was especially close to his sister Margaret (b. 1489) and his brother Henry (b. 1491), with whom he shared a nursery.
The popular belief that Arthur was sickly during his lifetime stems from a misunderstanding of a 1502 letter, but there are no reports of Arthur being ill during his lifetime. Arthur grew up to be unusually tall for his age, and was considered handsome by the Spanish court: he had reddish hair, small eyes, a high-bridged nose, resembling his brother Henry, who was said to be “extremely handsome” by contemporaries. As described by historians Steven Gunn and Linda Monckton, Arthur had an “amiable and gentle” personality and was, overall, a “delicate lad”
Plans for Arthur’s marriage began before his third birthday; he was installed as Prince of Wales two years later. At the age of eleven, he was formally betrothed to Catherine of Aragon, a daughter of the powerful Catholic Monarchs in Spain, Fernando II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, in an effort to forge an Anglo-Spanish alliance against France.
Arthur was well educated and, contrary to some modern belief, was in good health for the majority of his life. Soon after his marriage to Catherine in 1501, the couple took up residence at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, where Arthur died six months later of an unknown ailment. Catherine later firmly stated that the marriage had not been consummated.
One year after Arthur’s death, Henry VII renewed his efforts of sealing a marital alliance with Spain by arranging for Catherine to marry Arthur’s younger brother Henry, Prince of Wales. Arthur’s untimely death paved the way for Henry to ascend to the throne in 1509 as King Henry VIII.
Whether Arthur and Catherine consummated their six-month marriage was much later (and in a completely different political context) exploited by Henry VIII and his court. This strategy was employed in order to cast doubt upon the validity of Catherine’s union with Henry VIII, eventually leading to the separation between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.