Arthur Tudor was born on September 19 or 20, 1486, to King Henry VII of England and Queen Elizabeth. A year before his birth, Henry had fought Arthur’s maternal uncle, King Richard III, for control of the English throne. On August 22, 1485, both men’s forces clashed at the Battle of Bosworth Field during the final phase of the War of the Roses. Although outnumbered, Henry’s Lancastrian army ultimately bested Richard’s Yorkist soldiers, and the former king was killed. After emerging victorious at Bosworth, Henry claimed his former rival’s throne and established the Tudor dynasty.
Despite Henry VII’s success, not everyone in England recognized him as king. Many still viewed him as a usurper with a weak claim to the throne. Although Henry had royal blood in his veins, his descent from King Edward III was weaker than his wife’s Yorkist bloodline. To strengthen his claim, Henry had married Elizabeth on January 18, 1486. However, the couple realized that their union wouldn’t be enough to reunite England. To accomplish such a feat, they would need to have a son.
A Prince is Born
Shortly after Henry VII and Elizabeth’s marriage, the queen became pregnant. Throughout 1486, the couple waited in anticipation of their child’s birth. The stakes were high for Henry. His position was already fragile, and his enemies looked for any opportunity to overthrow him. If the king didn’t have a son, then his new dynasty would be at serious risk. However, to the couple’s joy, their firstborn would be a son.
Upon his birth, Henry VII chose to name his son Arthur after King Arthur of Camelot. The king chose the name since it symbolized the Tudor’s supposed descent from the legendary king, which gave them the right to rule England. Although he still had enemies, Arthur’s birth helped strengthen his father’s control of the throne and re-affirmed the Tudors as England’s ruling dynasty. Although only an infant, Arthur would begin to play an essential role in Henry’s ambitious plans.
Since the Tudor dynasty was still young, Henry VII sought to gain more credibility amongst Europe’s rulers. To this end, the king used his son as a way to build an important alliance. When Arthur was two, Henry made a marriage agreement with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. As part of the treaty of Medina del Campo, the Spanish monarchs agreed to have their youngest daughter, Catherine, marry Prince Arthur. Through this arrangement, the king gained a powerful new ally. A year later, Henry formally recognized Arthur as his heir by making him the Prince of Wales in November 1489.
As the heir to the English throne, Henry VII gave Arthur his own household and provided him with a good education. Tutors, such as Thomas Linacre and John Rede, played an important role in educating the prince. Following a tradition begun by his maternal grandfather, King Edward IV, Arthur moved to Ludlow Castle in Wales in 1492. As the prince grew, he became known as a intelligent and thoughtful yet reserved individual. In a way, he reflected some of his father’s personality traits.
In October 1496, Henry VII and Ferdinand, and Isabella finalized their marriage agreement. Five years later, the Spanish monarchs sent Catherine to England. Upon her arrival, the princess experienced a warm reception from both the English and the Tudors. Impressed by her beauty, Arthur wrote to Catherine’s parents that he would be a loyal and loving husband. The young couple later wed on November 14, 1501.
After their wedding, Arthur and Catherine returned to Ludlow Castle. During the spring of 1502, sweating sickness made its way into the castle. In turn, both Arthur and Catherine fell ill. The couple suffered from constant sweating and an intense burning feeling. However, while Catherine fully recovered, Arthur didn’t. On April 2, 1502, the fifteen-year-old prince succumbed to his illness.
Arthur Tudor’s early death proved devastating on both a personal and political level. For Henry VII, the king lost the heir that he had so heavily invested in. Upon learning of his son’s death, the normally reserved king grieved deeply. He now had to focus on his “spare” son, Prince Henry. The loss of Arthur also caused instability to the Tudor dynasty. With only prince Henry remaining, the house now held on by a thread.
Bryson, S. (2021, March 30). The Death of Arthur Tudor . The Tudor Society. https://www.tudorsociety.com/arthur-tudor-sarah-bryson/.
Prince Arthur, Catherine of Aragon, and Henry VIII: a story of early Tudor triumph and tragedy. HistoryExtra. (2021, March 1). https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/prince-arthur-catherine-katherine-aragon-king-henry-viii-marriage-death-brother/.