The Death of Arthur, Prince of Wales – 2 April 1502

On this day in history, Saturday 2nd April 1502, Arthur, Prince of Wales, son and heir of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches. He was just 15 years old and had only been married to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon for four and a half months.

It is not known exactly what killed the young prince. On his Wikipedia page it lists consumption, diabetes and sweating sickness as possibilities, and other theories include testicular cancer, but David Loades, in his new book “Henry VIII”, comments that “in spite of the brave figure which he had cut on his wedding day, Arthur was not in robust health” and that his death was probably due to pneumonia caused by living in a “draughty castle”. I’d be inclined to believe that it was sweating sickness because Catherine also became ill, but then there doesn’t seem to have been an outbreak of sweating sickness in 1502, so perhaps it was just life in the cold, damp castle that got to both of them and Catherine was just stronger and could fight off the illness. Who knows?!

Catherine’s illness prevented her from attending her husband’s funeral at Worcester Cathedral, but fortunately she recovered and went on to marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry, when he became King in 1509. Arthur was laid to rest in Worcester Cathedral and you can visit his resting place and memorial there, in Prince Arthur’s Chantry.

You can read more about Arthur in my article “Arthur, Prince of Wales”.


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27 thoughts on “The Death of Arthur, Prince of Wales – 2 April 1502”
  1. I was under the impression that royal widows of the time didn’t attend the funeral of thier husband due to royal equiette. I know Catherine Parr didn’t attend Henry’s. And I thought earlier queens/princesses had not attended the funerals of thier spouses either.

    1. I was under that impression too but one book made a point of saying that Catherine missed the funeral because she was ill, can’t remember where I read that! His father, Henry VII, also missed it as Worcester had the Plague and he didn’t want to endanger himself by going.

      1. Claire, as I understand it, Arthur was buried in the abbey of St Wulfstan, in Worcester, on April 23rd 1502. Catherine did not attend the funeral as royal tradition dictated thus, she was however also ill at this time and confined to bed. So I believe your first impression is correct, Catherine would not have been allowed to attend, she just happened to be ill at this time also.

      2. Let me first aplogize as I have never have commented like this in the past, and it certaiinly is not to criticze anyone or anything like that. Howver, being a former Director of two Academic libraries and the a former professor, as well would like to inform members and visitors of thiis site that I am astonished that anyone would rely on Wikipedia as in:

        •Arthur, Prince of Wales, Wikipedia page

        I will not even venture to click that one and save my time. It has been of great concern lately with “Britannica” not being sold anymore in old form, but only will be availabe online for a very expensive price to college and universites along with the public, and putting pressure on academic libraries for another online source to buy (as any collection development department has to juggle) as Wikipeda has been known for years to contain errors in fact one after another. Evenduring the Casey Anthony Trial, the announcer, who is an attorney, and on Wikipedia announced that he had contacted them several time about many errors on his name, but they never responded, so he just gave up.

        Wikipedia is a “free source” that is just that, “free.” Most anything on the internet that is “free” without it being from another source (such as a newspaper, and the newspaper archives have been noted as great place to go for information for research), is not worth the time to read it.

        Once again, I apologize for this intrusion about a reference article on your very wonderful site that I am just trying to point out a judgement (anyone has an opinion, which are not based on fact, but when a judgement is made up of a conclusion based on many facts, etc.).

        On this article I do agree that Arthur from birth was a very sickly child and most the castle atmosphere at that time (and most subjects of England were not subject to the kinds of bacteria, viruses, etc.) would most logically be the answer to his death. At that point, I cannot see anyone trying to harm him. Then again, I could be wrong on that one. As usual, I am always open for discussion. Thank you, WilesWales!

        1. I remember the old line about Arthur’s lifelong i’ll- health from my secondry school history lessons, and I full believe I drove my tutor bonkers with constant “why?” ‘s
          Most particularly;

          Why would Isabella and Ferdinand have agreed to a dynastic alliance with England after going to a lot of trouble to remove biological impediments (plantagenets) to any children begotten from it, when it’s very probable that any number of informents they had in England would have known if Arthur were actually sickly, and not a “safe bet” for their families future dynastic ambitions?
          Royal families back then had their minds several years ahead of the present, and because the popular medical opinions of the time would have considered a sickly suitor likely to produce sickly children.
          They also had the taint of madness in the family (Catherine’s sister was known as “mad Juana” and there had been talk of Isabella’s mother having the occasional fit of hysteria) and would have wanted their daughter to marry into a family with strong healthy blood.

    2. Katherine Parr actually did attend Henry VIII’s funeral at Windsor but very much at a distance. She watched the proceedings from the Queen’s Closet which was above St George’s Chapel so she could see but could not actually be seen herself.

        1. Thank you Natasha! I enjoy comments that further illustrate these matters. First of all, I’ve been asking the “why’s” since I was in about the second grade as well. You must have had a good teacher. “Mad Juana,” of “Juana Loca, has other theories about her as well. One being that she became so overwhelmed by the whole Hapsburg dynasty went into seclusion by her own choice and so on. There is a lot of documentation and theories on how she was not “loca” at all. She just became the most powerful monarch in early modern wester Europe, and so such speculation and theory grow. There seemed to be nothing at all wrong with Catherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter (Juana beingthe oldest, and last saw her sister Catherine when Catherine was 14 yeears old). Which leads also to your theory as royal families were far ahead in maturity than those of the present. When Catherine married Arthur when she was around this age (or exactly), Henry VII, as stingy as he was about her dowry, and afteward, thus having the special dispensation of the Pope to marry Henry. Henry VII would, I believe, never would have thought Arthur as that sickly. So Henry VII must have thought him at least able to provide a male heir to carry on from his eldest son (a problem with Henry VIII, and much to the distress of Queens Catherine, and under a break with Rome and the “Act of Supremacy” to marry Queen Anne, of whom I will defend as long as I am around, and she brought us the Queen Elizabeth I, who was the greatest absolute monarch England ever had.
          You are also correct in age in that Ferdinand and Isabella gave Columbus, who was 35 at that time and considered an old man at the time, the wherewithall to sail to what has been considered the discovery of the new world. Now, this means the discovery for being as this was the case for early modern western Europe, and later ones proven of earlier discoveries not at the center of attention then, as Ferdinand and Isabella did fund him for a second trip.

          In conclusion, your question of a “safe bet,” is based on Henry VII, his stinginess, and love for money, even though he was a miser, and left England when he died as finanacilly secure, that Catherine and Arthur were a “healty” match at the time. There are also theories as to Arthur beign poisoned, etc. Getting a special dispensation in order to keep the dowry and let Catherine stay in England for that (as he wanted his grandson to have true royal blood through Henry VIII [Queen Anne and the Boleyns were descendants of Edward I]).

          Believe me, Henry VII was sure that this would work out, and even if he knew Arthur was sickly, he might have time for the mail heir from the eldest son. Thus having both royal blood from his descendancy from Edward III and Catherine, a Hapsburg.

          I love your comment, and, once again, I am alway open for discussion! Thank you! WilesWales

  2. a few years ago i went to arthers grave at worcester cathedral, it was quite humbleing thinking about how if this boy had lived and become king how history would have been so different.

      1. yes me to, this is one of the reasons the tudors and the stuart fasinate me.
        all the whbat ifs and the ironies such as the terrible things henry put his wives throught o get a son only to have his daughter become one of the most amazing monarchs and his poor son die so young.
        i do feel for edward he is the forgotten king.

    1. Oh my what a reality-you have just allowed me to venture into…All that is such great history-may have not occured if Authur would have lived. I was not completely aware of these circumstances…..thank you for causing me to think what if?

  3. David Starkey suggests testicular cancer might have caused Arthur’s death … if so,. I wonder if such a condition would interfere with Arthur’s consummating his marriage in some way. I can’t help thinking, though, that there might have been a genetic weakness … that Edward also inherited.

    1. good point about the genetic weekness especially as both boys died at the same age.
      also henry fritroy doed quite young and then theres the male miscarries and young deaths

      1. We do have to remember though that these were Tudor times when miscarriages and infant mortalities were common place, tuberculosis and smallpox was rampant, there were outbreaks of the plague and sweating sickness and average life expectancy was just 35. Although there is one historian, Julian Litten, who believes that a genetic weakness may have caused the deaths of Arthur, Fitzroy and Edward VI, I personally don’t think there’s anything unusual in these three men dying young. Death was everywhere and Tudor people were very aware of their mortality, hence “memento mori” images in art and jewellery, “remember your mortality”.

  4. Arthur’s death was a true historical tragedy. Had he and Katherine survived to inherit England together, Englad would never have been subjected to Henry VIII’s craziness.

    1. What you say is quite true, but if these events had not come to pass then England would never have had the “golden age” of Elizabeth. What would have been the greater tragedy and would England have become the power it did in later centuries? That’s the great thing about the what ifs in history, we can only speculate! One of Simon Schama’s What if questions of the Tudor period is “what if Anne Boleyn had given birth to a son”? The debate could go on forever, I guess that’s one of the reasons I love history!

      1. How do we know England would not have enjoyed an even more opulent golden age without all the conflict and hypocrisy attached to the Reformation? It’s not like Elizabeth managed the Golden Age single-handedly.

        1. True again! That’s the beauty of what if, we just don’t know. It does create debate however on a subject we all love, so whatever we believe that has to be a good thing.

      2. This is one of the fascnations of history, and I love it! I loved in college studying “Theory of History,” and wondered why it was required. It meant exactly these things and more. Oh, there is monocausism, and so many other ways to interpret and intertwine history, and so many wonderful that come from them. I never dreamed that one semester I taught it. The ideas from students was just fantastic. This is one of the reasons I am so very glad that history does not (in our time right now, at least) change. Things happen for reasons that are also debated, etc. Look at Betram Fields’ “Royal Blood.” That’s just one for right now…Thank you, WilesWales

  5. Could he have had Testicular tuberculosis – it seems like the family did have a weakness for TB. that plus pneumonia or a severe illness could have killed him. Didn’t Henry VII die of TB? and what of Mary (Henry VIII’s sister not his daughter), she died in her 30s though i’m not sure of what.

    1. We just don’t know, Gena. It is said that Henry VII died of tuberculosis and it is not known what Mary Tudor, Queen of France, died from but she appears to have been ill for some time before her death so perhaps cancer? Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s other sister, died of a stroke at the age of 51.

  6. Interesting topic. I’ve been researching trying to find out whether Elizabeth Woodville attended Edward IV’s funeral at Westminster or burial at Windsor Castle (obviously like K Parr she could have watched from the Queen’s Closet.). I haven’t read convincingly one way or the other but generally royalty avoided “death.” If anyone knows, I’d love to hear.

    One additional fact about Arthur’s funeral. Thomas Howard, then Earl of Surrey, later second duke of Norfolk, was chief mourner at Arthur’s funeral. I also have been trying to determine if he helped lead Catherine’s return to London. I did read it was in slow stages in case she was pregnant plus she was recovering from illness/shock of Arthur’s death.

    1. DeAnn, I cannot find any evidence that Thomas Howard led Catherine’s return to London (dressed in widow’s black) and had always believed it was taken in slow stages as she had only just recovered from serious illness. Thomas did however escort Margaret to Scotland for her wedding to James IV in 1503 so, being in a position of such responsibility, it could well have been the case that Thomas did indeed escort Catherine to London, but I am unable to find any conclusive proof.
      Realise this doesn’t help you very much, but I hope you can find a more conclusive answer soon (It’s given me something to look into also!).

  7. Thanks Neil. Thomas Howard along with the dowager Duchess of Norfolk (from Mowbray, not Howard, line) greeted Catherine of Aragon at Amesbury Abbey when she arrived in England.

    I don’t think it’s inconceivable that he joined up with Catherine’s train but perhaps unlikely. Catherine made it to Croyden on May 4. Arthur’s funeral in Worcester was the last week of April and he was chief mourner and in charge of the arrangements. Some evidence is sickness in Worcester kept the number of mourners suppressed.

    David Starkey in Six Wives says both her poor health and possible pregnancy accounted for the slow stages.

    Thomas Howard was present for so many of the important moments in Catherine’s life (he went to Ludlow after Arthur’s death) and his granddaughter caused her so much heart ache.

  8. And that very Dowager Duchess of Norfolk, Elizabeth Talbot Mowbray, was the full sister of Eleanor Talbot Butler, and first cousin of Isabel and Anne Neville; what a very small world they inhabited.

  9. I am still trying to figure out if hygene played a role here, and what was the hygenic practice of Arthur and the people of his day and in his court. Alison Weir wrote that it was the sweating sickness that killed him, others suggest tuberculosis, pneumonia and other things; his health was weak, and people in general lived a short life span. Seems like a lot of this is really hygene related. How often did people bathe back then?

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