Arthur, Prince of Wales

Arthur, Prince of Wales

Infobox British Royalty|royal
name =Arthur
title =Prince of Wales

imgw =200
caption =
spouse =Catherine of Aragon
royal house =House of Tudor
father =Henry VII
mother =Elizabeth of York
date of birth =birth date|1486|9|20|df=y
place of birth =Winchester
date of death =death date and age|1502|4|2|1486|9|20|df=y
place of death =Ludlow Castle, Wales
date of burial =
place of burial =Worcester Cathedral|

Arthur Tudor (19 or 20 September 1486 - 2 April 1502) was the first son of King Henry VII of England and Elizabeth of York, and therefore, heir to the throne of England and Wales. As he predeceased his father, Arthur never became king. The throne was taken by his younger brother, who became King Henry VIII.

Early life


In order to strengthen his otherwise dubious claim to the throne, Henry VII set his personal genealogists to trace back his heritage to Cadwaladr and ancient British kings. The search identified Winchester in Hampshire as Camelot, and it was there that the first Tudor Prince of Wales, Arthur, was born to Henry and his Queen, Elizabeth of York, the daughter of Edward IV. He was named after the legendary King Arthur of the Round Table. His christening took place at Winchester Cathedral, his godfathers being Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby and John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford who was late to the ceremony. Elizabeth Woodville, his maternal grandmother, was his godmother and carried him during the ceremony. He was made a Knight of the Bath at his christening. It is not known if Arthur was a robust child when born. In Arthur's "Church History" it says: ". . . [Arthur Tudor was] yet vital and vigorous" while Francis Bacon describes him as, "Born in the eighth month, as the physicians do prejudge," yet "strong and able". However, some historians suggest that he had been weak his whole life long, and that was what led him to his death.

His only original surviving portrait [Philip Mould (1995) devotes a chapter to the rediscovery of this portrait and its validation through historical research.] shows a teenage boy growing into his skin, though some say he looks weak in it. His appearance in the portrait certainly differs from that of his athletic younger brother, the future Henry VIII. There is no evidence to show that Arthur was a sportsman, but he may have been fond of archery. In the portrait he has the red Tudor hair, small eyes, and a high-bridged nose. He bears a resemblance to both his father and brother.

Betrothal and alliance

Arthur's father, Henry VII, was eager to strengthen his kingdom through an alliance with newly-united Spain, seeking the support of the Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, against French interests and possible aggression. When Arthur was two years old, a marriage with the Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon (in Spain, Catalina de Aragón) was arranged for him as part of the Treaty of Medina del Campo. The auburn-haired Catherine was the youngest daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand. Isabella and Ferdinand were in no hurry to have their daughter married, and, although the treaty had been made, they were still open to other options. Ferdinand was more than ready to break the treaty if all of the pretenders to the throne of England did not vanish. Therefore, in 1499, Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick was beheaded, and the pretender Perkin Warbeck, who some contemporaries asserted was Edward IV's illegitimate son, was hanged.


At the age of three, Arthur was made Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, and when five he was made a Knight of the Garter. He, as the heir, was specially trained. Some historians maintain that he had some kind of bond with Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk who was also the Earl of Surrey, and who defended the border of England whenever the Kingdom of Scotland attacked. His tutors were John Rede and the blind poet Bernard André. When he was fourteen to fifteen years old Thomas Linacre (or Lynaker) began to teach him. His tutor, Bernard André, wrote an unfinished biography of Henry VII in which he inserted the information that Arthur was familiar with all the best Latin and Greek language authors. The Prince's governor and treasurer was Sir Henry Vernon. Arthur may have frequently lived with Henry Vernon at his house, Haddon Hall, in the peak of Derbyshire where there was an apartment called 'The Prince's Chamber', with Arthur's arms cut in several places.


For two years, Arthur wrote numerous letters in Latin to his bride-to-be, and she would formally reply back. However, as the young couple had never met, the letters were written as instructed by their tutors and were more polite than passionate. When Arthur was fourteen, the King of Aragon and Queen of Castile promised that they were going to send their daughter Catalina (later known as Catherine) over to England, but it was not until after her bridegroom turned fifteen that Catherine and her retinue finally started their journey. One of the major reasons for Catherine's delayed departure was Isabella and Ferdinand's insistence of the death of Edward Plantagenet the 17th Earl of Warwick, who was a possible pretender to the English throne, being more royal by blood than Henry VII. The Spanish Infanta (the Spanish title for princess) finally reached land in the autumn, and on 4 November 1501, the couple met at last at Dogsmersfield Palace in Hampshire. Little is known about their first impressions of each other, but Arthur did write to his father- and mother-in-law that he would be 'a true and loving husband' and he later told his parents that he was immensely happy to behold the face of his lovely bride. Ten days later, on 14 November 1501, they were married at St. Paul's Cathedral. At the end of the festive day came the Bedding Ceremony, in which most of the court put the young couple to bed. This was to be one of the most controversial wedding nights in history.

Death and aftermath

The couple soon travelled to Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border, where Arthur normally resided in his capacity as Prince of Wales and President of The Council of Wales and Marches. He then died suddenly at the young age of fifteen. The cause of his death is unknown but may have been consumption, diabetes, or the mysterious sweating sickness, which some modern theorists tie to a hantavirus [] . Catherine was sick as well, but unlike her unfortunate husband, she survived. Arthur's brother, Henry, Duke of York, was not created Prince of Wales until it was certain that Catherine wasn't carrying Arthur's child.

Henry became heir upon Arthur's death and would come to the throne in 1509. He was somewhat unprepared for the position, as it had originally been intended that he would enter the Church and perhaps become Archbishop of Canterbury. This lack of preparation and education is seen in the heavy influence of older statesmen such as Cardinal Thomas Wolsey during the early years of Henry's reign. Catherine would marry Henry (who was six years her junior) eight years later, but in the interim, she lived in relative poverty.


Arthur was buried in Worcester Cathedral where "Prince Arthur's Chantry" stands today. Sir Griffith Ryce, a member of Arthur's household, was an official mourner, and his tomb is located near Arthur's. Arthur's father, the King, did not attend the funeral. The reasons for his absence are unknown, though many conjecture that the journey was too long or that Henry VII was too distressed. Arthur's mother, Elizabeth of York did not attend the funeral either, and as was the custom, Catherine of Aragon also remained at home.

Question of consummation

Immense controversy surrounds the question of whether or not Arthur and Catherine consummated their brief marriage, since the subsequent history of England and even of British Christianity was strongly influenced by the issue. Some believe that if a 15-year-old couple were to share a bed, the result would naturally be sexual intercourse. There is also the fact that Catherine and Arthur understood that they needed to begin producing heirs for England, something they would have regarded as a pressing and major duty. It was perfectly common then for a girl to marry and to be expected to consummate her marriage at a very young age; Margaret Beaufort was only 12 when she married Edmund Tudor.

Catherine's dueña Doña Elvira said that the marriage was not consummated, though some historians argue that Doña Elvira was never close to the girl, whom she would later betray. Arthur himself, before the wedding night, stated that he was feeling very 'lusty and amorous', and his friends claimed that the following day, he had proudly called for some water, saying that he had "been in Spain" and that being a husband was "thirsty work." There is no way to know whether Arthur made this joke to merely to cover up the fact that he had failed at his marital duty.

Some historians assert that Arthur was frail, like Catherine's late brother, Juan, Prince of Asturias. Juan had been married to Archduchess Margaret of Austria and had died after six months of marriage. It was believed for a time that Margaret had ruined Juan's health through too much sexual activity. These historians maintain that Arthur and Catherine had a normal sexual relationship throughout their marriage and that this, as in the case of Catherine's brother, led Arthur to die of overexertion. Others suggest that the couple engaged in sexual activity but not to the extent of full and completed intercourse.

What most find hard to believe is that the fervently devout and Catholic Catherine, who insisted that her marriage to Arthur had never been consummated, would lie. Leviticus 20:21 states that it is unclean for a man to take his brother's wife and if a man did so, the union would be childless. (By the same token, other biblical passages enjoin a man to marry his brother's widow and to father children on her, so that the deceased man's line will officially continue. The inconsistency of the Bible on this point was a major issue during the divorce controversy.) The first time Catherine publicly claimed that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated was when Henry sought the divorce; the subject had not been mentioned earlier, and some historians believe it makes sense that Catherine would have lied to protect her reputation, her marriage to Henry, and the rights of her only surviving child, her daughter Mary I. To say otherwise would have been an admission of fornication as well as a condemnation of Princess Mary to illegitimacy. Catherine claimed that she and Arthur had shared a bed for only seven days, but this is unconfirmed by any historical records.

What Henry really wanted was a son, since he had historical reasons to believe that England would not accept a female monarch. During his marriage to her, Catherine's pregnancies had resulted in several living children, but only Mary had survived infancy. Henry had realized with the passing years that the aging Catherine was unlikely to produce a son and heir, and he was having a notorious love affair with sisters Mary and Anne Boleyn. His divorce from Catherine and his marriage to Anne were predicated on his claim that he and Catherine had produced no living son because he had disobeyed Scripture and married his brother's widow -- which Catherine would only have been, technically speaking, if she and Arthur had consummated their marriage.

This dispute, and Henry's inability to obtain papal dissolution of his marriage, would be the main reason for the English Reformation. Whatever the truth of the matter, whether Henry had found Catherine to be a virgin on their wedding night, has never been recorded. However, when he was trying to annul his marriage to Catherine, he ordered bloodstained bedsheets, supposedly from his brother's marriage night, to be paraded around his palace as proof of the consummation. How or why these sheets should have been preserved for so many years was not explained.

Further research

Christopher Guy, the archaeologist of Worcester Cathedral, said he found it odd that, if Arthur had been unhealthy, he was sent to the cold remoteness of Ludlow Castle. Peter Vaughan, of the Worcester Prince Arthur Committee, finds this strange as well. He remarks: "He wasn't a strong character, unlike his younger brother. Could it be that his father was strong enough to see that the best interests of the Tudors were to be served by Henry Duke of York, rather than Arthur?" However, historians such as David Starkey and Julian Litten have dismissed theories of neglect or murder. "There is nothing fishy about his demise", said Litten. "He was in Ludlow as an ambassador for a King setting up a new dynasty." Litten believes that the real mystery in Arthur's death is the disease that killed him. If not consumption or the historical English sweating sickness, it could have been a genetic condition that might have been passed on to his nephews, Edward VI and Henry Fitzroy. [ [ David Derbyshire, Science Correspondent in the "Telegraph".] ]

Arthur in fiction

Arthur has appeared in several novels about Catherine of Aragon. Norah Lofts wrote "The King's Pleasure" in the late 1960s. "Katharine, The Virgin Widow" by Jean Plaidy has Arthur in it as well. "Vanity Fair magazine" declared the book "Outstanding".Fact|date=April 2008 "The Constant Princess," by Philippa Gregory, tells the story of how Catherine and Arthur fell in love, consummated their marriage, and how he suddenly died. In it, Katherine promises Arthur she will become Queen of England by marrying his brother in order to fulfill their vision for the future of the kingdom.

Kingsley Amis wrote "The Alteration" (1976), an alternative history novel about the effects of a contested "War of the English Succession" (c 1509 CE), where the birth and reign of Prince Arthur Tudor and Katherine of Aragon's son, "Stephen II", leads Henry VIII to attempt to usurp his nephew's throne.



Additional reading

*Fraser, Antonia, "The Six Wives of Henry VIII", ISBN 0-7493-1409-5
* "Royal Tutors in the Reign of Henry VII", David Carlson, "Sixteenth Century Journal" Vol. 22, No. 2 (Summer, 1991), pp. 253-279
* Mould, Philip. (1995) "Sleepers". London: Fourth Estate. ISBN 1857022181
* Weir, Alison "The Six Wives of Henry VIII"
* Weir, Alison "The Princes in the Tower"

External links

* [ Prince Arthur] biographical sketch on Find-A-Grave
* [ "Intimate Strangers,"] a popular account of the hantavirus theory, and one which assumes Arthur was indeed a victim of the sickness.
* [ "The Death of Prince Arthur Tudor, 1502"] from []
* Short biography of Prince Arthur


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