On this day in history, by 1.30 in the morning on the 1st January 1511, Catherine of Aragon had given birth to a son, an heir to the throne of England. He was baptised ‘Henry’ after his father and grandfather in a ceremony four days later at the Chapel of the Observant Friars at Richmond. The French King, Louis XII, was chosen to be one of his godfathers and sent a golden cup and salt as christening gifts; William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury was the other, and Margaret of Austria was chosen as his godmother, although she did not attend.

His birth was celebrated with an extravagant tournament held at Westminster in his mother’s honour, a tournament which Thomas Boleyn participated in. Giles Tremlett points out that “contemporaries considered it the most extravagant and theatrical tournament ever seen in England” and that it was “the third most expensive spectacle of Henry’s long reign, after his father’s funeral and the deluge of ostentation that would later be known as the Field of Cloth of Gold.” Tremlett describes how the jousters dressed up as a hermit (Charles Brandon) and pilgrims and that the tournament started off with a pageant “made like a forest with rocks, hills and dales, with diverse sundry trees, flowers, hawthorns, fern and grass, with six foresters standing within the same forest, garnished in coats and hoods of green velvet. A gold castle rose from the centre, with a gentleman at the gate making a garland of roses.”

This pageant was on wheels and was drawn by “a silver antelope and a golden lion”, who hauled it in front of the new mother and queen, Catherine of Aragon. The foresters then blew their horns and the pageant opened up to reveal four knights, one of whom was the King. As he led his armed knights, Catherine would have seen the words “Cure loial” (Loyal Heart), embroidered on his skirt and his horse’s trapper, words which were meant as a profession of love for her. It was then time for the King and his knights – Bonespoir (Good Hope), Bon voloire (Good Will), Joyous panser (Happy Thoughts) and Valiaunt desire – to joust. Tremlett writes of how records show that the tournament was won by Valiant Desire but that Henry “ran twenty-five courses, far more thany anyone else”, so he was obviously in high spirits! He then treated his wife to “a series of acrobatic turns” with his horse – how wonderful!

The joust was followed by a banquet and an evening of entertainment in the White Hall of Westminster Palace, which became rather out of hand at one point when the crowd started tearing the pageant apart and even started stripping the King. The mob was calmed, the King laughed it off and the merrymaking continued, I doubt that anything could have spoiled the day for Henry.

Unfortunately, the couple’s happiness was short-lived. Henry, Duke of Cornwall, died on the 22nd February having lived just 52 days. His cause of death is unknown. It was a bitter blow for Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon and how different things would have been if little Prince Hal had lived. Catherine tried her hardest to provide her husband with a son and heir, suffering at least four miscarriages and stillbirths between 1510 and 1518, but her best – their daughter, Mary, born in 1516 – just wasn’t good enough for the King.

You can read all about Catherine of Aragon’s pregnancies in my article The Pregnancies of Anne Boleyn and Catherine of Aragon

Happy New Year!

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43 thoughts on “Birth of Henry, Duke of Cornwall – New Year’s Day 1511”
  1. It’s interesting to think how the whole world might be different if this child had lived—I always thought it so sad he died after close to 2 months…how attached his parents would be and hopeful…suuch a sad moment. That Henry sure did know how to celebrate, though!

  2. Hey Claire, long time lurker first time poster.

    My theory is that the babies who were born but didn’t live long were the effect of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. A link is below.


    I’d love to know your reactions, concerning my theory and if their is any evidence on any of the babies deaths, such as SIDS, illness or the possibility of foul play.

    1. LuLu,Not that your theory is’nt a very good one, Catherian and Anne had many sons,all born dead,except this child that I no of also Jane Seymour son Edward he died young. SIDS is when the baby stop breathing , for no reason it’s hard to say why maybe Henry was infact cursed?? Warmest Regards Baroness Von Reis

  3. Claire,Happy New Year and to all the A B friends. Claire how did the child die? It seems so strange to me that all The Kings son were born died or lived a very short life? Could this perhapes been fowl play? Maybe someone didnot want the Great King to have any male heir? It just doesnot make sense to me,what are you thoughts?Also there were atempes to kill his daugther Elizabeth I.Could these heirs have been poisend,before or after birth? Warmest Wishes Baroness Von Reis

  4. Poor Catherine- to think that just a few years later, she would have to relive all the pagentry again, as Henry celebrated the birth of Henry Fitzroy. I wonder if there were any signs that the little Duke of Cornwall had something wrong with him at birth that may have lead to his death, or if he suffered from SIDS. One thing is for sure, history would have been a lot different had young Prince Henry lived.

  5. I’ve often wondered about both Catherine and Anne’s problems bearing live and healthy children. The “what if” possibilities are fascinating when one considers how different things would have been if either Catherine or Anne’s boys had survived. There would have been much more peaceful reign for Henry VIII and less people would have been executed.

    1. I find listening to historical “what if” speculations as boring as listening to what a person would do with a big lottery win or the dream they had last night.

      1. There have been a few alternative history books inspired by “what if”s though and some aren’t bad, e.g. The Boleyn Trilogy by Laura Anderson.

  6. Neither Catherine or Anne would have been discarded if they had supplied male heirs. The Tudor dynasty would have been secure and the threat of civil war drastically reducted. Henry may have been less keeen on executing any noble with a potential rival claim to the throne. On the other hand he might have been even eager to prevent anyone threatning his son’s inheiratance.

  7. I can’t imagine the loss of a child. All this pageantry followed by the loss would have been a horrific experience for any mother. Poor Catherine.

  8. What a momentous occassion this must have been, so much hope and foresight for a great future, but how utterly heartbreaking when the child died, what makes it seem worse is that we know this was the first of so many disappointments and loss for the King and Queen.
    Commenting on LuLu remark, it could have been possible that he died of SIDS, but looking at all the other babies that died/miscarried or were still born to his wives I feel there was some thing more amiss.
    Were babies still being swaddled in Tudor times, I think they were, tell me if I’m wrong. This means they were bound from head to foot in strips of cloth, like little mummies. Some were laid on swaddling boards first then wrapped so the baby could not move an inch. This was meant to ensure that the child grew straight limbed and healthy. They were left like this for many hours, so you can imagine how uncomfortable the poor little mites became, and how wet and smelly they were. Being wrapped like that would also have caused the baby to become far to hot, imagine being swaddled also covered in there crib, plus being in a room with a roaring fire, it must have been suffocating, plus with all this heat the baby would have been dehydrating,and I suppose if the bands were done to tight they could have restricted their breathing, all this it could have been a contributation to the death of poor Prince Henry. Although lots of babies would have survived this early care, he might not have been robust enough.
    Also these royal babies were given to a wet nurse, so they would not benefit from the anti-bodies that are present in the natural mothers milk in the first few weeks, so really these little royal babies, who were born into a very privileged life, with modern hind sight, had a lot to contend with, bless them.

    1. Many cultures practice swaddling and ill effects aren’t noted, American Natives for instance. And here in Iowa I see many mothers bundling their babies in snow suits when it’s in the 60s or 70s F. Never heard of anybody dying from that.

    1. Jeffrey,I think it is a token of good luck,salt over the sholder brings good luck,a golden cup full of salt would mean good luck and many more in Henrys case sons. That is just my view on what this meant.

        1. No! They meant an actual gold cup and a gold bowl in which salt was placed on the table. There’s an old saying “below the salt”. Less impressive guests sat on the other side of the salt bowl, away from the host.

          It wasn’t unusual for nobles to travel with their own plate and cutlery so a cup and salt bowl were very practical gifts which might be used every day.

  9. Hi Dawn, I do jest but it would have been so romantic.On your comment of babies being swaddled ,new borns have been swaddled since the birth if the christ ,it still makes me wonder if there was fowl play as the babies were all sons? Just my theory on all the sons that died, Elizabeth I was almost killed as well. The French and Spanish hated England,I can see why one might not want Henry to have hiers, Elizabeth did kill a Queen herself, Mary Queen of Scotts was beheaded by Elizabeth I.They did’nt to lunch together they where at war. The Scotts,French,Spaniish ect .all wanted to take England.Mary of Geese was also killed she to wanted to take England with the Scotts, so why not send someone tocourt and off the future heirs? Baroness Von Reis

    1. Hiya,
      You are right babies do seem to have been swaddled for many centuries apparently from about 4000B.C. but there was a high infant morality rate too, so I just thought that this could have been a contributing factor if the little Prince was not a very strong baby, swaddling was very restrictive and the bands dont seemed to have been changed as often as maybe they should have, there are a few interesting articals on swaddling to read if you google it. It started to go out of fashion around the 17th century as doctors began to see some of the hazards to the health of babies, but on saying that I used to wrap my babies snug in a blanket, but not as tight as the bands and definately no board, 🙂
      I don’t know about foul play, though anything was possible with the endless quarrelling with Scotland,France and Spain as you say, but I tend to think it was a genetic/blood type medical problems, after Katherines 2 short lived baby boys, all others a part from Mary of course, were stillbirths and miscarriages of both sexes. Same with Anne, only the daughter lived, it seems to be that it was boys that always died but that is then put into question when Jane produced Edward, also his bastard son to Bessie Blount who was born before Elizabeth, outwardly, both seemed strong healthy boys who lived into their teens. It is difficult to pinpoint medically without DNA and we will probably never know why Henry had such bad luck in the fathering a healthy son, its a tragic story really isn’t it.

      1. Dawn 1, That to is a very good theory as well,it would have had to be linked to the Kings genepool also back in the day they did”nt no that the the male determind the sex of the child, think about that one?They also did’nt drink water alot as it carried bacteria,there prefferecnc was wine or beer that also could have been the reason why children died so much before birth or shortly after. Edward died young he had been a sickley child, just think on this to you could of had a well sauced wet nurse breast feeding the child, what a nightmare. On the swaddling I cringe to think you but your new born on a board then rapp the baby up so tight? Sounds more like a tortuer rack to me really gets me thinking all the what if’s, But your theory is a very good one to bad we can’t get the DNA. Kind Regards Baroness Von REis

        1. Your point on drinking is a good one and could have been a contributing factor, it is not recommended we drink little during pregnancy/breastfeeding now-a-days, there was a prog on t.v. the other day about it, the doctors cannot make up their minds about how much is safe and there is no official guideline, but what I could make of it you have to be a quite a heavy drinker to cause serious damage to the uborn baby.There was also a beer called ‘small beer’ which was a very weak and low alcohol content which was drunk, they also made cordials from things like elderberry and other fruits, which were alcohol free, I think! So maybe they weren’t as ‘drunk’ as we thought them to be.
          There seems to be 2 opinions on Edwards health as a child, from the things I have read, one that he was never in the best of health, and the other saying that he was an ordinary, healthy little boy, it was only in the last year or so that he became so ill, after having smallpox and measles close together, Claire would be the best one to ask. I have read Henry had very strict rules concerning the care and hygene around Edward, from the very beginning, that the walls and floors be washed of his nursery/rooms twice daily, very few people allowed in his room or near him. His wet nurse would have been chosen with great care had her food and drink monitored and scutinised, and she would have had the best of everything. Whether these hygene rules were applied to Prince Henry I don’t know, but I would have though so concerning the wetnurse. Did you know that through history it was thought that women with red hair should not be used as wetnurses as their milk was sour, how did they think these womens own babies faired…what strange ideas people had in by-gone days.
          And yes I quite agree the swaddling board does sound like an instrument of torture, poor wee things.

        2. Made an error should have read ‘it is recommended that we drink little during pregnancy’ sorry.

  10. I am new to this website and am sooo excited as I am an avid reader/researcher of this time in English HIstory!!! Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth I ecspecially! I can’t get enough, so when I stumbled across this website I was beyond fired up!


  11. Welcome Shannon! Hi Claire Shannon will enjoy Claires sit so much,all the A B Friends are great and you learn alot,Claire is a very smart women and knows her stuff.Aswell as all the other histroy buffs, your going to love this site . Claire What happen on the present Queens porperty, I heard on the BBC they found a girls body? Not trying to scare you shannon it’s just news . Very Happy to have another A B Friend Baroness Von Reis

  12. Dawn 1,Very good points,I do so love being a History Buff/ Slooth, if we go back to all of the Kings children Elizabeth 1 ,seemed to be the strongest of any children Henry fatherd? She live and rained a long life 40 years on the throne and was the longest living child of the Kings ,She also had red hair.. there are alot of red heads in England so that there milk was sour well, not true. Strange how they thought back in those days. I want to say that Queen Anne was a mother that gave her life to insure Elizabeth would sit on the throne, a big price to pay don’t you think? Good to chat with another slooth,hope to chat with you again. Regards Baroness Von Reis

  13. I think that Henry himself was probably to blame for the death of so many of his children. He was a notorious womanizer and probably had some sort of STD that caused birth defects or miscarriage. That being said, infant mortality and survival of childbirth were risky business indeed during the time.

    1. Henry was not a womanizer. Serial monogamist yes, like Jennifer Lopez. Compared to his contemporary and bromance, Francis I of France, Henry was remarkably faithful to his wives. He had very few mistresses and very few known instances of hanky-panky.

  14. Tudor England had a very high infant/child mortaility rate. 25% of all children died before their 1st birthday, and 50% died before their 10th birthday. The average lifespan was 35 years. With that understood, the mortality rate of Henry’s children is not that unusual. Catherine had 6 known pregnancies, one a miscarriage, a son Henry tht lived for 1 month, 2 more sons that lived for a few hours each, Mary, and a daughter that lived for 6 days. They were married for 24 years. Anne Boleyn was married to Henry for 3 years and had one living child, and two miscarriages. Jane was married to him 1 year and had 1 living child. If you add in his acknowledged illegitimate son, and his possible 2 other illegitimate children, he had 13 children. Six of those thirteen children lived beyond the age of 10. That’s almost 50%, just about the same as the rest of Tudor England.

    As for reasons for the mortality of Catherine’s children… perhaps it was genetic. Henry and Catherine were related.

  15. Yes the trouble with Royalty was that they married their relations and that would have caused problems, they had no idea of the dangers that posed years ago but they had to marry other Royals for dynastic reasons and so they weakened their own offspring, but yes the infant mortality rate was high and in fact babies have been known to die from Cot Death Syndrome throughout history, it’s a mystery that has puzzled the medical world for centuries I’m no doctor but I think it’s just were their born with weak lungs, an old friend of mine lost her baby son after just a few months old yet there appeared to be nothing wrong with him, in Tudor times they knew nothing anyway I should imagine it’s just a case of survival of the fittest, some people survived the plague whilst many perished, some people get cancer whilst others do not, human life from the earliest beginnings has been about trial and error.

  16. Is there any information about how much the child weighed when he was born? I think the possibility of Catherine’s being prone to fasting has been revealed on this site before.

  17. Fasting is dangerous during pregnancy and isn’t recommended any time anyway since your body goes into starvation mode and stores the fat to be used later, she done it for religious reasons but it was what probably caused her children’s early deaths, we will never know if that was the reason why they did die so young but it’s very sad that she never realised the importance of eating well and looking after herself, her mother had been very fertile and so were her sisters and Catherine herself had no trouble conceiving more than likely it was several factors at work here, genetic and just medical ignorance of the time.

  18. It is so sad that Catherine suffered so many failed pregnancies and outcomes. I feel bad for all queens, they sometimes seem to be little more than a brood mare. There must have been so much pressure on them to conceive. I am sure many of us can relate, I remember being asked about children after I got married. I had trouble conceiving and the pressure was great. What we must remember is that these children would not have received the Vitamin K shot or the silver nitrate drops (there are antibiotic drops used now) after birth. A child that does not receive Vitamin K looks very bruised. Their vision might also be impaired without the drops. Without antibiotics of any kind, any cold or illness might be fatal..For thousands of years people consumed beer, mead or wine in place of water. The alcohol level was probably quite low, so the effects on the fetus might be minimal. I kind of doubt that there was an STD, it would have been noted somewhere, after all there were records made of his bathroom business. DNA we will likely never know. I m sure that there was an investigation of some sort done when these royal babies died, every parent would want to know. I can’t believe that someone would get away with murdering a royal baby, no one but the most trusted would get close to the baby. SIDS deaths are still investigated by police today. So sad for Catherine, not really for Henry

  19. Anne’s issues could have been due to Rh factor-possibly…..Elizabeth was quite healthy at birth, and that is not always the case with Rh factor firstborn children. That does not account for Catherine’s issues, her pregnancies do not fit the pattern at all. Plainly, the Tudor men were susceptible to TB, but that still does not account for the premature births and deaths soon after birth. There is another possibility that might account for Henry’s reproductive issues-John Ashdown-Hill has posited that the true father of Edmund Tudor was not Owen Tudor, but Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset. This is based in part on the events of the time, as well as on the coat of arms given the Tudors, which closely resembles that of the Beauforts. If true, that would mean Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor were very closely related. Henry VII and Elizabeth of York were also fairly closely related, and Henry and Catherine were also cousins, through John of Gaunt, though through different wives of that lord. Henry and Anne were cousins as well. It is certainly possible that some genetic mutation came to be an issue in these marriages. It is hard to say as none of Henry’s children had children, and we have no DNA evidence at this time.
    Something to think about.

  20. Poor Katherine and Henry, this little baby boy was their hope and for 52 days he was hailed, lauded and celebrated, wildly I recall. They were devastated by his death. Modern theories are all well and good but meaningless. We can’t test them. Cot death is the most probable death, but then that says little for his four or so rockers and numerous nurses, who should have noticed something was wrong and turned him over if he rolled onto his face, before he suffocated. This may indicate something else. Something that simply meant he died in his sleep, without any apparent course. Other children died at birth or within hours. This does not fit that pattern.

    We don’t know how true the so called relationship with Edmund Beaufort and Katherine de Valois was. She did have a relationship, but was it sexual? She wanted to marry him but the council and Parliament passed laws to ensure she could not. She had some cross over between Owen Tudor and Edmund Beaufort, who was also said at the time to have fathered Edward, Prince of Wales, the son of Margaret of Anjou, not her husband, Henry vi. She married Edmund Tudor without leave, but talk said Katherine was pregnant by Beaufort. Dear JAH believes this yes, in fact he is obsessed by it, but personally, although I love his work, I don’t agree. I think this is a hail Mary theory, as he thinks the Tudor claim to be very weak. He forgets, it does not matter as they won the crown by conquest. His theory is interesting, though and as MP states, without DNA we won’t know for certain as it does raise the possibility of an already messed up bloodline being close enough for incest and genes that would carry defects to be passed on. Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor… too close. I think JAH has gone a bit far with that one, speculation, getting the better of him.

    What a pity this little boy did not live. What a real golden age that would have been… Henry, Katherine and a fine son and heir.

  21. Henry was related to all of his wives, less to Anne of Cleves, but in some degree to all. There may have been some genetic issues, even Katherine’s brother died as an adolescent. Some predisposition to TB certainly, and something else perhaps. In Anne’s case, it is possible that Rh was a factor. Her miscarriages had begun to happen at an ever earlier stage in the pregnancy, but I could easily be wrong. The only case I am personally familiar with caused havoc with the first pregnancy, and both mother and child were touch and go for a while even with modern medicine, although I have read that a first pregnancy often proceeds smoothly, with the issue worsening with each following pregnancy.
    We also don’t know for sure just how closely Henry and Katherine were related. If Edmund Beaufort really was Henry’s great-grandfather paternally, then he was highly inbred on his father’s side, added to which was more Lancastrian blood from Katherine.
    John Ashdown-Hill has theorized that Owen Tudor was not necessarily the father of the Tudors, partly from the arms granted by Henry VI to the Tudors, which are almost identical to the Beauforts. If Edmund Tudor and Margaret Beaufort were really first cousins,then Henry VII married another close cousin in Elizabeth of York(also a direct descendant of Edward III, with more distant connections through her mother to Blois), and Henry VIII married a closer cousin descended from John of Gaunt(as well as the more distant connection with Henry II), it might have brought up some recessive trait that proved fatal to their babies. Could also be that whatever trait caused miscarriages for Isabella was magnified in Katherine-who also had parents who were cousins…..European royalty was already fairly inbred by this time-and it would only get worse….

    1. Hi Maryann I have been interested in JAH theory for some time now, partly because it would put a big question mark over the Tudor claim, which hung by a thread in any event, but partly due to the fact it could be a possibility. As I said above, however, we can’t state anything for certain, as there are factors which contradict the theory, such as Owen acknowledged paternity. We can only speculate because we can’t prove anything yet. It is an interesting possibility, however, because there are now three parental breaks, not the two originally thought in December 2014, as another in the Beaufort line appeared with further analysis in 2015. It has been speculated for several decades that infidelity took place in the royal family, now we know it did, but were is anyone’s guess for now. The Beauforts were illegitimate to start with, being legitimized after their parents marriage, but barred from the crown. All of this is academic of course as Henry Tudor won the crown on the field of battle, even if it was against the odds and due to betrayal, which was a recognised way to do so. It’s a fact that Catherine de Valois and Edmund Beaufort had a relationship, probably that they intended to marry, but the statute which Humphrey of Gloucester rushed through Parliament forbidding dowager queens remarrying while the King was a minor seems to be what prevented this marriage. JAH theory depends on Catherine’s second liason with Owen Tudor coinciding with or starting soon after her relationship with Beaufort ended. He believes that when she began her relationship with Owen she was pregnant with Beaufort child. The coat of arms and the babies name give weight to his theory. G L L Harris who has done extensive work on Cardinal Beaufort, Edmunds powerful uncle, in 1986, wrote that the relationship with Edmund and Catherine was extensive and his research supports the theory that Edmund Beaufort and not Owen Tudor is the real father of Edmund Tudor. This would of course have made Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor first cousins with all of the genetic implications thereof. This is only speculation but it is now one possibility raised by false paternity in Richard iii’s Beaufort DNA. Regardless of this possible close link, which I personally doubt, Catherine of Aragon was related to Henry in any event. She was the great granddaughter of Catherine of Lancaster, daughter of John of Gaunt. So as Margaret Beaufort, Henry Vii’s mother was a descendant of his mistress Katherine, so Henry Viii first wife was the child of Gaunts first wife. There was nothing wrong with either Edmund Tudor or Henry Tudor, but gene mutations can skip a generation or two…..a genetic fault in either Henry Viii or Catherine of Aragon is very possible. Unfortunately, it’s not something we can really test and is just one of many theories about the tragic deaths of their children.

      This first little boy was born healthy. It is more likely to be cot death or a rare and sudden infection that killed little Prince Henry.

      1. Correction….Philippa of Lancaster by John of Gaunt first marriage, Catherine of Lancaster by his second. All too closely related in a world were royals married who they were not meant to, legitimized and illegitimized whom they wished, passed confusing succession laws and relegitimized kids who should never have been set aside in the first place.

        This was a very sad time for Katherine and Henry and the kingdom. What we often forget is that in the end these are too parents mourning the loss of a child. Rest in peace…little Prince Henry. Amen.

  22. Do you ever wish you could go back to this great event and give a modern baby book as a present and say, be very careful and keep watch and how to revive the baby?

    This was such a wonderful triumphant moment that it breaks my heart when I know he will die in 56 days time.

  23. No baby book can reverse the effects of a genetic deffect. Tips on avoiding risks, maybe, but that’s too advanced for their time.

    1. What genetic defect? There was no evidence of anything wrong with Prince Henry and no, modern tips on avoiding cot death are not too advanced for any age. They are actually practical and simple and yet we only knew of them less than 40 years ago. The death of this and many other babies could have been avoided with more vigilant care and putting the children to bed in a way that they can’t turn over and stop them from breathing.

      What genetic defect are you talking about and what evidence do you have for it? All the evidence points to a normal infancy, a healthy child who suffered a cot death.

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