Henry VII - First Tudor King of England

 

 

In the beginning, there was Henry Tudor. He was to become King Henry VII of England, and his monarchy would launch one of the greatest and most fascinating royal dynasties in English history.

I know. I know. You’ve never heard of him. But let’s assume you’ve heard of Henry the Eighth and you must know he came from somewhere. Well, here he is--Henry the Eighth’s father.

Whether you’ve heard of him or not, his story is a doozy.

Henry Tudor was an exiled heir of disgruntled nobles and was a most unlikely candidate to be England’s king. While boasting a very thin connection to Edward III through his mother’s bloodline, his only real claim to the throne was his superiority in battle (only one battle but it was a big one) and by the fact that everyone else with a better claim to the throne was already dead.

Henry was the only child born to Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort. Margaret was twelve years old when she married Edmund and became pregnant with Henry. That’s young even by medieval standards. She was, of course, the product of an arranged marriage. Henry was to be her only child. Boy, did she make the most of it.

Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, and his Uncle Jasper Tudor, were half brothers to King Henry VI, through their mother, Katherine Valois of France. Katherine, of course, was Henry V’s widow. She later married Owen Tudor, who had been in the service of Henry V. Edmund and Jasper were staunchly loyal to their half-brother during the long dynastic struggles of The Wars of the Roses, and were rewarded with the titles Earl of Richmond and Earl of Pembroke respectively. Jasper was later given the title, Duke of Bedford, by his appreciative nephew once Henry Tudor became king. Henry’s father, Edmund, was killed in one of The Wars of the Roses battles before his birth. Although Henry Tudor grew up in a series of guardianships arranged by King Edward IV, his uncle Jasper remained a strong force in Henry’s young life, later taking him to Brittany for his long exile, and helping mastermind the battle that would put Henry on the throne.

Despite his royal connections, Henry Tudor’s claim to the English throne was not through his father’s family. His mother, Margaret Beaufort, was the one with true royal blood. But even hers was not without controversy.

The problem with the Tudor brothers’ royal connections was that 1) they were half brothers to the king through their mother, who was not even English, and 2) they were considered by some to be illegitimate. Their mother had married Owen Tudor secretly, knowing the English royal council would never have approved of Henry V’s widow marrying someone so far beneath her in rank. Technically, that made the marriage null and void and the children illegitimate. Upon their mother’s death, Edmund and Jasper were very young and were taken under the guardianship of their half-brother the king. Henry VI was fond of his half-brothers and later reversed that taint of their birth, declaring through a royal act that the boys were indeed born in legitimate marriage. It’s good to be King.

So back to Henry Tudor's mother. Margaret Beaufort is a formidable historical figure, truly a woman of cunning, intelligence and the will to achieve exactly what she wanted. At some point, she decided she wanted her son to become king. And while it took some time, she did it. Despite being thrown into marriage at twelve and giving birth at age thirteen, Margaret never cowed to the male world that dominated her life. Rather, she learned how to use the men in her life to achieve her own goals.

 

Margaret Beaufort was the mother of King Henry VII of England, and grandmother to Henry VIII. She held immense influence over both men. During her son's reign, Margaret founded the College of Christ and the College of St. John's, both at Cambridge. She also founded several nunneries, and herself took vows of religion before her death (and after three marriages). Margaret Beaufort died in 1509, shortly after seeing her grandson coronated as Henry VIII of England.

 

Margaret's royal blood dates back to the reign of King Edward III. And that’s really where all the trouble started. And although it occurred many years before his own birth, Edward III’s reign was to have dramatic consequences on Henry Tudor’s life.

Before we get to Edward III, and how he came to have such an impact on events that would occur almost a century later, let’s talk briefly about The Wars of the Roses.

 

The Wars of the Roses—A Very Brief History

England’s 15th Century civil war was a battle for dynastic rule between the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenet line, and the Yorkist branch.  The Plantagenets were the ruling class descended from the Norman conquerors. This royal family had been ruling England since William the Conqueror successfully invaded England in 1066. So they’d been ruling England for almost half a millennium. Impressive, right? The British thought so. Any bloodline connecting one to the Plantagenets was the ultimate litmus test for English nobles. Only here’s the problem, that sacred Plantagenet line broke off into two separate and feuding branches of the family tree: The Yorks and the Lancasters. Trust me, the Hatfields and McCoys had nothing on these guys.

 

The war between the Lancasters and the Yorks is known as The Wars of the Roses, with a White Rose symbolizing the Yorkist branch and the
Red rose symbolizing the Lancastrians. Intrigue, betrayal and bloody battles between the two factions marred English stability and prosperity
for over half a century.

 

Dynastic Confusion

The Wars of the Roses had its roots in the reign of Edward III. One of England’s most successful and prosperous kings, Edward III was also dynastically prolific. Edward III had five sons, the first three of which are important to our story (although I’m sure the younger two were perfectly wonderful gents).

His first son and heir to the throne, Edward, was also known as the Black Prince. Edward died before his father, and so was never king. He did, however, father a son, Richard, who then became heir to the throne.  When Edward III died, his grandson succeeded him on the throne.  He became Richard II at the tender age of ten. Richard II married twice, but had no heirs. So...

Edward III’s second son was Lionel, Duke of Clarence. His was the next legitimate royal line (after Richard II). Unfortunately, Clarence had no sons. He did have one daughter, Philipa. Philipa married Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, and they had a son. According to English law, this child should have been heir to the English throne after Richard II.  But...

Edward III’s third son was John of Gaunt (great-grandfather of Margaret Beufort--which will come into play later), Duke of Lancaster. John of Gaunt and his heirs were third in line to the throne--behind Richard II and later, the babe Earl of March.  John of Gaunt was a valued and often effective influence on his young nephew, Richard II. He supported his nephew and used his influence when he could, even when he disapproved of the king’s actions. Despite being distrusted by the other nobles, and aware of the country’s mood toward their king, Gaunt never made a play for the throne. He would leave that for his son.

Like his father, Gaunt had many sons. His eldest son, Henry of Lancaster, was also known as Bolingbroke. He became Henry IV. And this is how that happened...

 

This paintin is of the Coronation of Henry IV, from a 15th century manuscript of Jean Groissart's Chronicles. Henry IV usurped power
from Richard II, passing over the rightful heir to the throne, and thereby setting the groundwork for the Wars of the Roses.

 

Richard II (son of The Black Prince and grandson of Edward III) was disliked by parliament and people alike. While historians find nothing unusual about his policies, which seemed to more or less fit royal customs of the period, Richard II, to use modern parlance, was a bit of a jerk. People just didn’t like him. And eventually, England was united in its desire to depose him. But there was one problem.

Because Richard II had no children, there was no direct heir, so deposing him caused some dynastic confusion. Rightfully, the succession fell to the children of Lionel, Duke of Clarence. However, Clarence had no sons. His grown daughter had a young son, which made him the rightful heir. This was confirmed by an act of Parliament. But why let a technicality like that stand in your way of a successful coup.

Bolingbroke certainly didn’t. The way Bolingbroke saw things, he was a man. The Earl of March was a boy, a babe even. Minority reigns were full of hazards––power plays within the regency, fractious courts, and possible invasions by foreign powers. After the inept rule of Richard II (who also began his reign during his minority) the country did not want another child ruler. So Henry Bolingbroke it was. Henry Bolingbroke, son of John of Gaunt, became Henry IV of England.

And so the tide of English royalty was turned. The third son overtook the rightful claims of the second son. And no one seemed to mind. At least for awhile.

 

Henry IV and His Heirs

Henry IV was an effective and well-liked king, and his son Henry V, a legendary and revered leader. With two generations of kingship behind them, and the popular support of the people, the Lancastrians should have been safe in the throne. But after the death of Henry V and the succession of his infant son, things went south. England, it seemed, would not tolerate a bad ruler, and the inept reign of Henry VI (another boy king) gave the Yorkists the fuel they needed to seize back the crown.

When the country’s mood soured on the rule of Henry VI, it didn’t take long for the nobles to start looking around for their next king. They didn’t have far to look. That child, the Earl of March, had grown up and had heirs. They wanted his throne back.

 

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England’s 15th Century civil war––known as The Wars of the Roses--was a battle for dynastic rule between the Lancastrian branch of the Plantagenet line, and the Yorkist branch. The outcome of these wars directly led to the Tudor Dynasty.

 

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Edward IV

Just to keep things straight--the Lancastrians were the royal line descended from John of Gaunt and his son Bolingbroke, who became Henry IV, the father of Henry V.  The Yorkists were the royal line descended from Clarence, and his daughter who married the Earl of March. Everyone descended from Edward III, but nobody was thinking of him anymore. England just wanted a king they could all agree on. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t happen for a very long time.

The Earl of March, that long ago boy-who-would-be-king, had grown up under the care of Henry IV, who, naturally, wanted to keep an eye on him. Bolingbroke may have taken his throne, but all in all, he treated the Earl of March--known as Mortimer--extremely well. At some point, care of the young ward transferred to the king’s son, Henry, Prince of Wales. When the prince became Henry V, the good relations continued. Mortimer was even the focus of several plots to overthrow the Lancastrians during the Henrys reigns, but neither king felt the need to execute their good friend for treason. Mortimer even served on the Regency council for the young Henry IV.

Mortimer died childless, and his claims as the Earl of March passed to his nephew, Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York. This is where the Yorks of the Lancastrians versus Yorks comes in. This is also where all the warm and fuzzy feelings end. Richard had no relationship with the Lancasters and he had plenty of ambition. He died in battle in one of the Wars of the Roses, trying to secure his own succession to the throne. Where his quest ended, his son’s began. Edward, 4th Duke of York, was now the heir presumptive to the Yorkist claim to the throne.

Edward would prove himself a skilled military leader. He was a giant among men...literally. At 6’ 4” he towered above most Englanders of his era. He also had powerful friends. Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick would prove invaluable in his quest for the throne.

 

During the Wars of the Roses, Edward IV held the Yorkist claim to the throne. He twice defeated Henry VI, the Lancastrian claimant, and siezed the throne of England once and for all with his victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Edward ruled England (the second time) from 1471 to 1483 and was a successful and well-liked king. His untimely death led to a renewal of the wars.

 

But they did not have an easy time. Although a poor ruler, Henry VI was a saintly man, more of a monk than a king, and he was well-loved by many. His father was also a national hero. The noble families of England split on the succession issue and years of civil war would follow. The throne of England would trade back and forth between the two kings a couple of times, but the eventual capture and death of Henry VI gave victory, and the throne, to Edward Mortimer, Duke of York, descendant of Clarence, the second son of Edward III.

Anointed Edward IV, he was a successful and well-liked king. He was able to hold onto power for 22 years (with one brief break in there when Henry VI’s forces reclaimed power), somewhat stabilizing the court and English politics. It appeared the Wars of the Roses had ended, that the Yorkists had prevailed after all. But there was one more twist to the story. And nobody could have seen it coming.

 

The Two Princes in the Tower

When Edward IV died suddenly and unexpectedly at age 40,  he left two minor sons as his heirs. The elder son was anointed King Edward V. He was put in the care of Edward IV’s youngest brother Richard of Gloucester.

This is a good time to mention that during the Wars of the Roses, the Lancasters and Yorks didn’t just fight each other, the Yorks also fought amongst themselves. Fracticide, it seems, was as English as tea and crumpits.

During his campaign to be king, and also during his reign, Edward IV’s younger brother, George, Duke of Clarence --known in his life as Clarence--was disloyal and often tried to overthrow his brother and claim the crown as his own. He was eventually executed for treason. 

His youngest brother, Richard, was always staunchly loyal. Go figure.

 

Richard III

Richard of Gloucester was the younger brother to Edward IV. Richard has become immortalized by Shakespeare’s play, Richard III, as a villainous, murderous pretender to the throne. Some claim that Richard’s dark place in history is a result of the Tudor public relations machine (it doesn’t hurt to have history’s best playwright create a play depicting how evil your predecessor was.) But let’s face it, the guy looks pretty guilty. He had the means, and he had the motive. And his actions speak of someone drunk with power.

After Edward IV’s death, Richard was appointed regent during Edward V’s minority. This meant he served as advisor to the young king, and more or less ruled England until the child came of age. But king-in-name-only wasn’t enough for Richard. He wanted to be king.

Richard usurped power from the young prince by declaring him and his younger brother illegitimate. He claimed that their father, Edward IV, had been contracted to another woman before his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, making the marriage invalid and the boys illegitimate. You gotta hand it to those Yorks and their family loyalty.

 

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During the Wars of the Roses, the Lancasters and Yorks didn’t just fight each other, the Yorks also fought amongst themselves. Edward IV's brother, Clarence, twice turned against him and fought for the Lancasters. He was eventually executed for treason. Edward's younger brother Richard was loyal to him, but later siezed the crown from Edward's son and rightful heir, Edward V.

 

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The whole illegitimacy claim was a bit of a reach, but for whatever reason, people seemed to buy it. Richard had himself crowned as king and had Edward V and his younger brother locked up in the Tower of London, where they eventually disappeared. Conventional wisdom assumes that Richard had the boys murdered, leaving himself as sole heir to Edward IV’s crown. When her oldest son Edward was seized, Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s widow, her daughters, and her second son, Richard, sought refuge at The Sanctuary at Westminster. She was later forced by the church to release her son to Richard, who had been named Lord Protector by his brother. Her sons were to disappear, but she and her daughters remained in sanctuary until Richard III promised to do them no harm. They were briefly returned to court, and there were even rumours that Richard III planned to marry his beautiful niece, Elizabeth York, Edward IV's daughter, who actually held the best claim to the throne. Nobody liked that idea, especially her mother.

One favorite conspiracy theory claims that Elizabeth Woodville was visited by Margaret Beaufort while living in sanctuary. Allegedly, the two woman conspired to marry Henry Tudor and Edward IV’s oldest daughter, Elizabeth York, thereby uniting the two branches of the Plantagent family tree.  But there was one problem. Richard was still king. Fortunately for these women, the whole country was thinking about getting rid of Richard. Richard III was unpopular with the nobles and the people, leaving the mood of the country open to...you guessed it...one last War of the Roses.

And this is where the story gets really good.

Oh wait, first a little more boring background that you should know about how Henry Tudor ended up where he was when Richard usurped the throne. Henry VI lost his crown twice, both times to Edward IV. He was captured the first time, but suffering from one of his fits of madness, his life was spared and he was later recaptured by his own army. He and his wife, Margaret of Anjou, escaped to exile in Scotland. They successfully secured the throne again after the Earl of Warwick and the Duke of Clarence (Edward IV’s brother) turned sides and fought for the Lancastrians. But Henry VI’s second reign would last only six months.  Edward IV returned with reinforcements from France and defeated the Lancastrian army for the final time at the Battle of Tewkesbury.

Henry VI later died in captivity, probably murdered, and with his death went the hopes of the Lancastrians. His only son had died in battle before him, and virtually every other Lancastrian noble had been killed in the wars as well.

Except one.

Young Henry Tudor was four years old at the time Henry VI lost his crown the first time. His Uncle Jasper, who had guardianship of the boy, escaped into exile, and his young ward was placed in the care of the Herberts, who were also given Edmund Tudor’s title and lands at Pembroke. Jasper would later return for Henry, when Henry VI briefly regained his title and the Herberts themselves had fallen from favor. Jasper Tudor was able to take custody of the boy from Lady Herbert, now a widow. When Henry VI once again lost his title, Jasper was off again, this time with young Henry Tudor in tow. They would live in exile in Brittany, an independent duchy with historical ties to France, until England came calling.

 

The Battle of Bosworth

This painting of the Battle of Bosworth was done in 1804 by Philip James de Loutherbourg. At this battle, Henry Tudor defeated the forces of Richard III and as the sole remaining claimant of the Lancastrian heirs, he was crowned Henry VII of England. It was the first and last battle war he would fight.

 

Henry VII would remark before the Bosworth battle that since the age of five he had either been a prisoner or a fugitive. He barely knew the country of which he was about to become king. Nevertheless, he was the trump card. England did not like its current king, and quite frankly, having killed off most of the candidates, they were running out of options.  And so our story returns to France where Henry Tudor and his uncle Jasper were living in exile, biding their time, until England called up to say, “Hey, we need a king.”

Well, it wasn’t quite that easy. It wasn’t easy at all. It’s very hard to overthrow entrenched power, even if everybody hates the king. It would take Henry Tudor two tries before he was successful, and even his victory at Bosworth was a bit of good luck.

With one failed attempt at seizing the English throne behind him, Henry Tudor left Harfleur, France on August 1, 1485. He was about to change his life, and the course of English history. And that’s not an overstatement. This was after all, the man who was father to Henry VIII and grandfather to Elizabeth I. But we’re getting ahead of our story.

So, Henry takes off on his fateful journey. The weather is good and his crossing of the channel went smoothly. To the medieval mind, that was always a sign of God’s favor. So spirits were high.

He and his exiled contingent landed in Milford Haven on August 7. Milford Haven was located in Pembrokeshire, Jasper Tudor’s former earldom. Being Welsh himself, and making use of his uncle’s old Welsh contacts, as well as his mother’s, Henry was able to move easily through Wales, gathering troops and support along the way. Apparently, Richard III did not learn of the landing until August 11, five days after Henry Tudor had arrived. The conspirators seemed to have had things well planned.

While gathering troops for his cause, Henry sent several messages to his mother, Margaret Beaufort. Margaret had been the force behind the English conspiracy to bring her son to the throne, and he relied on her for English intelligence. She had been convicted once of conspiracy (during Edward IV’s reign), but as England was not yet in the habit of killing women, her life had been spared. Being the generous, forgiving soul that he was--he once forgave a brother that tried to kill him--Edward IV just let her go with a warning. Now that he was gone, Margaret’s conspiratorial prowess was back in business. But for all her intelligence and political shrewdness, Margaret was not a warrior, and that’s what Henry needed.

Once again, mama to the rescue.

 

The Importance of Lord Stanley

Margaret was married to her third husband, Lord Stanley, whose troops and assistance in battle were badly needed. Despite being Henry’s step-father, his support was not definite. XX years of civil war had taught the nobles well that siding with the losing effort meant certain death. If not killed in battle, one would be executed for treason. While no fan of Richard III, Lord Stanley was understandably undecided as to his commitment to this usurper’s cause.

Despite several pleas for help, Henry received no response from Lord Stanley. When he did not arrive at Bosworth on the morning of the, Henry must have assumed he wasn’t coming. He was forced to proceed without him. Greatly outnumbered, things weren’t going well. As the battle went on, Henry’s troops began to fatigue, and all looked lost. Cue the trumpets.

Lord Stanley to the rescue.  Better late than never, Stanley arrived to the battle with fresh troops. His assistance lifted the morale of Henry’s soldiers, and most certainly made the difference in the momentum of the battle.

With this game changer, came another--the desertion of Richard’s army.

Richard III was hated by his own men. While a few loyal nobles fought and died with Richard, most of the conscripted men detested the king and his policies. They had no desire to fight for him, and even less willingness to die for him. Once they saw that Henry’s army had a fair chance at victory, the desertions began.  When the opportunities arose during battle, many of them simply ran off.

Seeing the battle play out before him, Richard III knew the end had come. He had never met Henry Tudor and had to have him pointed out by one of his nobles. Stopping for a drink along the way, Richard took off from Dickson’s Well, and charged strait toward Henry Tudor.  He had to know it was a suicide run.

Richard never reached Henry. He was surrounded by Henry Tudor’s guard and killed. Whatever monster he had been in life, he was no coward. He had fought and died bravely. Richard III was the last anointed English king to die in battle.

Richard’s crown, a ringlet, was found on the battlefield and placed on Henry’s head by Lord Stanley himself. Henry’s forces then took up station on what is still known as Crown Hill.

 

Henry the King

As might be expected for a usurping king, the first years of King Henry VII’s reign were besieged by rebellions and challenges by other claimants to the throne. But these threats eventually faded.

Surprisingly, for a man who had come to the throne through battle, Henry VII had no taste for war. Aside from these internal rebellions, he was able to lead England through a quarter century of relative peace by avoiding foreign wars. This peace led to stability in trade and the beginnings of a successful and independent merchant class in London.

Henry VII had a deserved reputation for parsimoniousness--he was one cheap king. He taxed heavily, kept entitlements within the family, and didn’t spend money on a large entourage or on fancy court trappings. He devoted his reign to becoming financially secure and he did it. He kept himself out of debt, valued profit over glory, and left a substantial monetary inheritance for his son. He was the only Tudor monarch to maintain a prosperous court.

 A portrait of Henry Tudor's bride, Elizabeth of York. Their marriage united the two fighting factions of the Plantagenet line and ended the Wars of the Roses. In her lifetime, Elizabeth was a daughter, sister, wife and mother of a king of England. 

 

Henry’s reign was also free of the religious strife that would plague his successors. Henry VII’s religion was typical for a medieval king, a checklist of rituals and tasks he was told were necessary to get into heaven. He attended mass, financially supported the monasteries, and participated in the pilgrimages of the saints. He never questioned the authority of the Pope, and was clearly not burdened with any of the doubts and teachings of the humanist intellectuals that were beginning to define the age.  Henry met his obligations, and not much else. He was simply not overly interested in theological matters.

Henry VII’s personal life was equally peaceful. As arranged by their mothers, Henry Tudor and Elizabeth York married, thereby successfully reuniting the Plantagent royal lines and ending the Wars of the Roses. Medieval marriages were
almost never affairs of the heart, but theirs was a happy one. It didn’t hurt that Elizabeth was beautiful and bore the king four surviving children, two of whom were sons.

 

The Legacy of Henry VII

When Henry VII became king, he had the advantage of leading a weakened and depleted noble class. The War of the Roses had left a power void among the English nobility. Most of the leading nobles had been killed or imprisoned. Henry didn’t want them anyway. If he had faced a united, experienced nobility, he might not have accomplished fiscally or politically what he did.

What he did fiscally was keep England out of war. Nobles seeking extra cash might have pressured the king for forays into Scotland or France where they could have pillaged and raided treasures of others, captured valuable prisoners to hold for ransom, or capture land that could have been traded back for large sums of money. But by denying them that ability, Henry VII kept his nobility weak, at least weaker than himself. Henry also kept the money in the family, bequeathing lands, castles and trading rights to his own children, thereby empowering himself and keeping ambitious subjects at bay. Securing peace and developing trade relationships also did much to help a burgeoning middle class in England. A prosperous people meant more tax money, which Henry VII had no problem taking.

Politically, Henry VII began the work of slowly and methodically dissolving the power of the old English aristocracy. Hereditary posts at court were not given to the nobility, as they always had been, but instead were bestowed upon “new men” of the king’s choosing. They were lawyers, theologians and other educated men who would now rise in English standing through their wits, talents and cunning, instead of through heredity. It was about to become an interesting time in England.

Henry VII did not much like his nobles. He had not grown up in England and did not have familial or historical bonds with many of them. Plus, he didn’t trust the noble class. He himself had been a disgruntled noble, and look what he had done. He wisely kept them at an emotional distance, although it did cost him.

He was the first English monarch for need of a personal bodyguard. He established the Yeoman of the Guard, which still serves as the royal guard for the Tower of London. He was, as stated by an Italian dignitary of the time, “Rather feared than loved,” by his people. But this likely had more to do with the fact that he was not “a man of the people” than it did with his policies. Henry VII was a reclusive, private king. He did not glad-hand, and he did not mingle with nobles or commoners.

 


    

The Yeoman of the Guard were established during the reign of Henry VII. They served as his personal body guards. This tradition continues in
England today. The drawing on the left depicts a yeoman during the reign of Elizabeth I. The photo on the right shows the present day guard
as they parade at Buckingham Palace.

 

Henry VII's Heirs

Henry VII's undisputed, most important contribution to English history are his off spring, including one son and three grandchildren who were to become monarchs of England.

Henry VII and Elizabeth York had four children that survived to adulthood: Arthur, Henry, Margaret and Mary. Henry VII devoted himself to arranging advantageous and strategic marriages for each of his children, hoping to secure and advance the cause of both his dynasty and his country through the marriages of his children.

Arthur Tudor was the eldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth York. He was deliberately named to evoke the legends of King Arthur. Named Prince of Wales in honor of his Welsh ancestory, At the age of fifteen, Arthur was married to Catherine of Aragon in an attempt by his father to establish diplomatic ties with the powerful Ferdinand of Aragon. The two newleyweds briefly took up residence at Ludlow Castle near the Welsh border, but Arthur was to die within the year of fever. Upon his death, his younger brother Henry became heir to the throne. 

 

Arthur was the oldest and destined to become king. His name intentionally echoed the legend of King Arthur and the Round Table. Henry VII wanted to establish that this was a legitimate English monarchy. Arthur had been promised in marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the Infanta of Spain, since they were both children. She was the daughter of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, known throughout Europe as the dynamic duo which had ousted the Moors from Spain.

At the age of 15, Arthur married Catherine. The two of them traveled to Ludlow Castle on the Welsh border--not your typical honeymoon spot. But in recognition of their support at Bosworth Field, Henry VII had promised them a Welsh prince. And so Arthur became the first English heir apparent to bear the title, Prince of Wales.  Arthur’s time in Wales would be tragically short.  Just four months after his wedding, he was dead of fever.

Catherine of Aragon's historical importance could have ended here. Brief and nondescript. But this was no ordinary story. This was the Tudor story. And those four months Catherine spent as Arthur’s wife would become the cause of one of the greatest riffs in European religious history.

The loss of Arthur was a huge blow to Henry. Less than a year later, he also lost his beloved wife, Elizabeth. Henry VII still had an heir in his son Henry, and he continued to spar politically with his European rivals, but the death of Arthur and Elizabeth took its toll. This always reclusive king became even more withdrawn from public life. When he died in 1509, he left for his son a prosperous, peaceful nation. He had reigned in England for nearly 25 years, creating a stable precedent for his son’s succession. And this is where Henry VII’s story ends, and Henry VIII’s begins.

And, oh boy, are things about to change.

Read about the life of Henry VIII