Thursday, 2 April 2015

The Death of Arthur, Prince of Wales

Above: Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales.

Arthur Tudor, born in 1486, had been groomed from birth for a glorious future as king of England. Arthur would have known that, when his illustrious father Henry VII died, he would succeed to the throne as King Arthur I. He had been named after the heroic king of legend, 'in honour of the British race', while confirming the Tudors' mythical descent from King Arthur. However, England was not to experience a king named Arthur I. On 2 April 1502, aged only fifteen, Arthur Prince of Wales died at Ludlow Castle, 

Arthur's death left his young wife, Katherine of Aragon, a widow aged only sixteen. The marriage of the Prince of Wales had been discussed as early as 1488, and on 27 March 1489 the Treaty of Medina del Campo was signed, in which the marriage of Arthur and Katherine was provided for when they came of age. At Woodstock in 1497, a proxy betrothal took place, and two proxy marriages followed in 1499 and 1500. Finally, in late 1501, Katherine arrived in England and was married to Arthur on 14 November at St. Paul's Cathedral in a lavish ceremony. Celebrations went on for days as the capital rejoiced at the marriage of its future rulers. Soon afterwards, the Prince and Princess of Wales departed for the marches of Wales. They resided at Ludlow Castle. There had been some uncertainty as to whether the royal couple should immediately live together. Henry VII believed that his son was not old or mature enough to fulfil 'the duties of a husband', and he wrote to the Spanish monarchs explaining that his son's 'tender age' prevented cohabitation with Katherine. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella agreed that the couple should not live together for some time, although Henry VII eventually decided that Katherine should accompany her husband to Wales. 

Above: Ludlow Castle.

In the spring of 1502, however, according to the King's Printer Richard Grafton, 'there suddenly came a lamentable loss and mischance to the king, the queen and all the people'. The Receyt of the Lady Kateryne recorded that, 'from the Feast of the Nativity of Christ unto the solemn feast of the Resurrection, at the which season grew and increased upon his body, whether it was by surfeit or cause natural, a lamentable and most pitiful disease and sickness'. It is uncertain what it was that struck Arthur. Writers have suggested plague, tuberculosis, the sweating sickness, influenza, or testicular cancer. In her recent biography of Elizabeth of York, Alison Weir concludes that it was probably tuberculosis which killed Arthur. Whatever it was, on the morning of 2 April, the prince died, commending 'with most fervent devotion his spirit and soul to the pleasure and hands of Almighty God'.

Arthur's death was met with shock, dismay and grief at court. Henry VII, devastated, sent for his wife in his hour of need: 'When the King understood these sorrowful, heavy tidings, he sent for the Queen, saying that he and his wife would take their powerful sorrow'. Indeed, the occasion of their son's death brought the royal couple together and provides evidence of their close, loving relationship. Queen Elizabeth comforted her husband: 'After she was come and saw the King her lord in that natural and painful sorrow, she, with full great and constant and comfortable words, besought his Grace that he would first, after God, consider the weal of his own noble person, of the comfort of his realm, and of her'. She reminded him that they were both young and could have more children. They still had a healthy son, Henry, then aged ten, who was now heir to the throne. The king, cheered by her words, thanked her for 'her good comfort'. However, when the queen departed to her own rooms, she collapsed with grief and sorrow. The king was sent for, it now being his turn to comfort and console his devastated wife. 

Above: Katherine of Aragon, Princess of Wales and, later, Queen of England.

We can only wonder how different the history of England might have been had Arthur survived and succeeded to the throne following his father's death. Given that Henry VII was to die in 1509, Arthur would have been twenty-two years of age when he became king of England. Would he and Katherine have had several children by then? Would the English succession have already been assured well before Arthur became king? What would have happened to his brother, Henry? We can but speculate. Yet, as Rosemary Horrox notes: 'With the benefit of hindsight the most important consequence of Arthur's early death was the remarriage of his widow to the prince's younger brother, the future Henry VIII, and the controversy to which that later gave rise concerning the consummation or otherwise of Katherine's first marriage'. 

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