Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: RIP

On April 2, 1502, Arthur Tudor, the Prince of Wales, died at Ludlow Castle in Wales. He and his bride, Katherine of Aragon, the Princess of Wales, had become ill from some sweating sickness in March of 1502: she recovered; he did not.

Sean Cunningham discusses the repercussions of Arthur's death on his widow and his younger brother Henry, the Duke of York, for the BBC History Magazine:

The five months that Catherine and Arthur spent together in 1501–02 must have created intense memories for Catherine. For Henry VII’s other surviving son, Henry, Prince Arthur perhaps stirred different recollections. Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine was secured without the truth of events in his brother’s marriage-bed being established. By 1530, the need to know the intimate details of Catherine’s first marriage forced Henry VIII to think deeply about his dead brother.

Arthur and Henry were alive together for only 11 years. As duke of York, Prince Henry was mindful that all of his father’s attention was diverted towards preparing Arthur to rule. Prince Henry stayed around the royal household and during Arthur’s life he received little training for a role as a loyal supporter of his brother’s future reign. Arthur’s residence at Ludlow meant that they met only at state occasions and probably a few other unrecorded times. Arthur seems to have shouldered the burdens of personal rule from an early age, whereas Henry used his charm and attractiveness to master the social side of courtly life. That trained Henry to be a political manipulator, but did little to involve him in the mechanics of government before his brother’s death. By then, Henry’s love of the good things about court and household was deeply engrained. Yet, as Prince Henry entered his teenage years, his father had to force him into a new role as Prince of Wales, with all the responsibilities that went with it. Arthur’s death came as the king’s old friends were also beginning to die off. These personal losses created the pressure to expand the Tudor royal family – something that led directly to the death of Queen Elizabeth in childbirth on her 37th birthday, 11 February 1503.

We cannot know if the 11-year-old child Henry somehow blamed Arthur for the change in his circumstances or for the death of their mother. A manuscript illustration recently identified in the National Library of Wales (Vaux Passional, Peniarth MS 482D) shows the court in mourning for the queen, with a young Prince Henry sobbing separately in the background. A few years later, Henry would have realised that he could not have become king had his brother lived a healthy adult life; so his feelings, eventually, must have been mixed. Henry kept Arthur’s portrait and some of his books and clothes but also maintained a lifelong fear of infectious disease. He seems to have loved Arthur deeply, but more as a memory of princely virtue than as an elder sibling with whom he had shared any childhood time. The nature of Arthur’s sudden death preyed on Henry’s mind the longer he went without a male heir. That failure was a major factor in the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Queen Catherine.

Cunningham, author of Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was (Stroud, Gloucestershire: Amberley, 2017), concludes:

Henry had followed in Arthur’s footsteps as second son, second Prince of Wales, and from 11 June 1509, second husband to Catherine of Aragon. Whatever he learned about Arthur’s character surely came through conversations after 1502 with Catherine and others who had known Arthur in the Welsh Marches. His own memories of his brother must have been limited and idealised. Arthur probably remained a mysterious figure to the second Tudor king, but he was a prince whose short life had a profound impact upon England’s subsequent history.

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