On this day in Tudor history, 20th September 1486, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, was born at Winchester.
Arthur was the first child of King Henry VII and his queen consort, Elizabeth of York.
He was named after the legendary King Arthur and there were high hopes for him. Henry VII believed that Arthur would be a powerful king who would bring a golden age to the country, just like his namesake. Of course, things wouldn’t go according to plan as Arthur would die young.
Find out more about Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, first husband of Catherine of Aragon…
On this day in Tudor history, 20th September 1486, Elizabeth of York, wife of King Henry VII and daughter of the late King Edward IV, gave birth to a baby boy at St. Swithun’s Priory in Winchester. at just “afore one o’clock after midnight”. The little boy was baptised when he was 4 days old at Winchester Cathedral and was named Arthur after the legendary King Arthur.
Elizabeth of York had travelled to Winchester to give birth because the city was believed to have been the capital of King Arthur’s Camelot and the site of his castle. Her husband the king believed that his firstborn son would be a hero like his namesake, legendary King Arthur, and that his reign would bring about a golden age in England.
News of the prince’s birth was celebrated with bonfires in the streets and the singing of the Te Deum at Winchester Cathedral. The birth of a living, healthy prince and heir to the throne just a year and a month into the Tudor dynasty was indeed worth celebrating.
The royal nursery was managed by Elizabeth, Lady Darcy, and little Arthur was given a wet-nurse, a lady named Caroline Gibbons. Two royal “rockers” were also appointed to rock the baby prince’s cradle and two men, John Alcock, Bishop of Worcester, and Peter Courtenay, Bishop of Exeter, advised the King on Arthur’s upbringing.
On 29th November 1489, Arthur was made a Knight of the Bath and on 30th November was created Prince of Wales. On that same day, his baby sister, who had been born the night before, was baptised and named Margaret, after her grandmother and godmother, Lady Margaret Beaufort. Arthur’s brother, the future Henry VIII was born on 28th June 1491 and his sister, Mary, was born on 18th March 1496. Three other siblings – Elizabeth, Edmund and Katherine – did not survive childhood, with Katherine dying on the day of her birth.
Arthur was educated by scholar John Rede, French poet Bernard André and later Thomas Linacre, the English Humanist and physician who also educated Erasmus. In 1492, he was sent to Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches to begin his education as the future king. David Starkey writes of “Arthur’s driven, solitary childhood” and how the result was “a model prince” who “displayed the exaggerated sense of responsibility of the eldest child”. He was also “intellectually precocious” and had a rather stiff public manner.
Marriage negotiations for Arthur began when he was aged two, when he was contracted to marry Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, in the 1489 Treaty of Medina del Campo. Twelve years later, in the autumn of 1501, Catherine landed in England and the couple married on Sunday 14th November 1501 at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Just before Christmas 1501, the couple left the royal court at Richmond to travel to Ludlow, stopping to celebrate Christmas at Woodstock in Oxfordshire. The plan was for Arthur and Catherine to get experience in government by governing the Welsh Marches, but things were not to be. On 2nd April 1502, Arthur died. It is not known what exactly killed him, but theories include sweating sickness and consumption (tuberculosis). Catherine also became ill but recovered. Arthur’s resting place and memorial, Prince Arthur’s Chantry, can still be seen today at Worcester Cathedral.
Instead of a second King Arthur setting up a new Camelot and heralding in a golden age, the throne passed from Arthur’s father, Henry VII, to Arthur’s younger brother who became King Henry VIII, and it is Elizabeth I, Henry VIII’s second daughter, who is known for her Golden Age.
Arthur’s widow, Catherine, went on to marry his younger brother and tried her utmost to provide him with a much-needed Tudor male heir. She succeeded in giving him a daughter, Mary, the future Mary I, but this was not enough, and Henry VIII got their marriage annulled so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. Catherine ended her days in the remote Kimbolton Castle, where she was forbidden to see her beloved daughter, Mary, and she died there on 7th January 1536. She was laid to rest at Peterborough Abbey, now Peterborough Cathedral, as the Dowager Princess of Wales, not Queen, on 29th January. How different her life would have been if Arthur had lived.