By Proxy Wedding, Catherine of Aragon, Edward IV of England and Ireland, Elizabeth of York, Fernando II of Aragon, Henry VII of England and Ireland, House of Tudor, Isabella I of Castile, 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 Lancaster.
Henry VII became King of England and Lord of Ireland upon defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. In an effort to strengthen the Tudor claim to the throne, Henry decided on marying naming Elizabeth of York, the daughter of the Yorkist king, Edward IV. To further solidify the House of Tudor on the English throne Henry named his firstborn son “Arthur” and born in Winchester where Legend of King Arthur originated in order to emphasise the Welsh origin of the Tudors.
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 September 19/20, 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”.
Young Arthur was viewed as “a living symbol” of not only the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York, 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 and on November 29, 1489, after being made a Knight of the Bath, Arthur was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, and was invested as such at the Palace of Westminster on February 27, 1490. As part of his investiture ceremony, he progressed down the River Thames in the royal barge and was met at Chelsea by the Lord Mayor of London, John Mathewe, and at Lambeth by Spanish ambassadors.
The popular belief that Arthur was sickly during his youth 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.
Henry VII planned to marry Arthur to a daughter of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Fernando II of Aragon, in order to forge an Anglo-Spanish alliance against France. It was suggested that the choice of marrying Arthur to Ferdinand and Isabella’s youngest daughter, Catherine (b. 1485), would be appropriate.
Thanks to negotiations by the Spanish ambassador Rodrigo González de la Puebla, the Treaty of Medina del Campo (March 27, 1489) provided that Arthur and Catherine would be married as soon as they reached canonical age; it also settled Catherine’s dowry at 200,000 crowns (the equivalent of £5 million in 2021).
Since Arthur, not yet 14, and was below the age of consent, a papal dispensation (i.e., waiver) allowing the marriage was issued in February 1497, and the pair were betrothed by proxy on August 25, 1497. Two years later, a marriage by proxy took place at Arthur’s Tickenhill Manor in Bewdley, near Worcester; Arthur said to Roderigo de Puebla, who had acted as proxy for Catherine, that “he much rejoiced to contract the marriage because of his deep and sincere love for the Princess”.
The young couple exchanged letters in Latin until September 20, 1501, when Arthur, having attained the age of 15, was deemed old enough to be married. Catherine landed in England about two weeks later, on October 2, 1501, at Plymouth. The next month, on November 4, 1501, the couple met for the first time at Dogmersfield in Hampshire.
Arthur wrote to Catherine’s parents that he would be “a true and loving husband”; the couple soon discovered that they had mastered different pronunciations of Latin and so were unable to easily communicate. Five days later, on November 9, 1501, Catherine arrived in London.
On November 14, 1501, the marriage ceremony finally took place at Saint Paul’s Cathedral; both Arthur and Catherine wore white satin. The ceremony was conducted by Henry Deane, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was assisted by William Warham, Bishop of London. Following the ceremony, Arthur and Catherine left the Cathedral and headed for Baynard’s Castle, where they were entertained by “the best voiced children of the King’s chapel, who sang right sweetly with quaint harmony”.
What followed was a bedding ceremony laid down by Arthur’s grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort: the bed was sprinkled with holy water, after which Catherine was led away from the wedding feast by her ladies-in-waiting. She was undressed, veiled and “reverently” laid in bed, while Arthur, “in his shirt, with a gown cast about him,” was escorted by his gentlemen into the bedchamber as viols and tabors played. The Bishop of London blessed the bed, and prayed for the marriage to be fruitful, after which the couple were left alone.
After residing at Tickenhill Manor for a month, Arthur and Catherine headed for the Welsh Marches, where they established their household at Ludlow Castle. Arthur had been growing weaker since his wedding, and Henry VII thus seemed reluctant to allow Catherine to follow him, until ultimately ordering her to join her husband. Arthur found it easy to govern Wales, as the border had become quiet after many centuries of warfare.
In March 1502, Arthur and Catherine were afflicted by an unknown illness, “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air.” It has been suggested that this illness was the mysterious English sweating sickness, tuberculosis (“consumption”), plague or influenza. While Catherine recovered, Arthur died on April 2, 1502 at Ludlow, six months short of his sixteenth birthday.
News of Arthur’s death reached Henry VII’s court late on April 4th. The King was awoken from his sleep by his confessor, who quoted Job by asking Henry “If we receive good things at the hands of God, why may we not endure evil things?” He then told the king that “[his] dearest son hath departed to God,” and Henry burst into tears. “Grief-stricken and emotional,” he then had his wife brought into his chambers, so that they might “take the painful news together”; Elizabeth reminded Henry that God had helped him become king and “had ever preserved him,” adding that they had been left with “yet a fair Prince and two fair princesses and that God is where he was, and [they were] both young enough.” Soon after leaving Henry’s bedchamber, Elizabeth collapsed and began to cry, while the ladies sent for the King, who hurriedly came and “relieved her.”
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.