Prince Arthur was the eldest son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Arthur’s early death resulted in his younger brother Prince Henry becoming heir to the throne – the future Henry VIII.
Arthur was born on September 20th 1486 in Winchester. Henry VII’s fascination with the legend of King Arthur meant that Elizabeth was told to go to Winchester – spiritual home of King Arthur’s Round Table – to give birth. There is no evidence from the birth of Arthur that he was born ill or weak. At the age of three, Arthur was appointed Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester. Aged five, Arthur became a Knight of the Garter.
In keeping with the time, Arthur had his own personal tutors. Up to the age of fifteen he had three different tutors – John Rede, Bernard André and finally Thomas Linacre.
In the early years of his reign, Henry must have felt a degree of vulnerability. The Simnel, York, Warbeck and Cornish rebellions were all signs that in parts of England the potential existed for Henry to be challenged. Henry sought out an ally in Europe and Spain was seen as a great power at this time.
As early as 1488, talks started with Spain with regards to marriage between Arthur and Catherine of Aragon. Such a marriage had advantages for both countries. Henry would have a powerful ally abroad and Spain would also act as a counter-weight to the threat France posed to Henry. From Spain’s position, England acted as a useful ally to the north of France. France was seen by both England and Spain as being a potential threat so allied they appeared to be squeezing France – a nation that could not afford to fight a war on two fronts.
The start of the marriage talks occurred at the Treaty of Medina del Campo but they stalled when Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain queried whether Henry really was that stable on the throne. Royal advisors in Spain were concerned that the Tudor dynasty was not yet firmly in control of the land. This concern lasted until 1499 when marriage was agreed to – after Henry had shown that he was in full control of his kingdom by putting down the Warbeck Rebellion. It has been suggested that the execution of Perkin Warbeck was a demonstration of domestic authority by Henry VII and was done to impress the Spanish. The terms of the marriage were settled in 1500.
Arthur and Catherine first met on November 4th 1501 at Dogsmersfield Palace in Hampshire. They married at St. Paul’s Cathedral on November 14th.
To demonstrate his ‘Welshness’, Arthur set up court at Ludlow Castle. However, he fell ill and died on April 2nd 1502 and was buried in Worcester Cathedral. Henry did not attend the funeral. Some said that the distance was too far to travel but many believed it was because he was too upset to be there. In keeping with tradition, Catherine of Aragon did not attend the funeral. Arthur’s untimely death led to his younger brother, Prince Henry, becoming the heir to the throne.
Some speculation has been made that Arthur was discreetly murdered with royal conivance and his death disguised as illness as Henry VII saw his son Prince Henry as a more robust and strong person. The argument went that Henry VII was very concerned that if Arthur ever did become king, his obvious physical weakness might stimulate an attack on the throne. There is, however, no evidence to back this up. The only real curiosity regarding Arthur’s premature death concerned the disease/illness that ended his life.
As king, Henry VIII went on to marry Catherine of Aragon. During the bitter divorce proceedings that ended the marriage many years later, Henry used ‘evidence’ from the marriage between Arthur and Catherine to ‘prove’ that she was not a virgin when she married him, despite her claims to the contrary.