Portrait of Arthur Tudor, painted in the year of his marriage to Katharine of Aragon, 1501. Owned by the Bridgeman Art Library
Arthur was the first son born to King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, was a new hope, the living example of the reconciliation of the White Rose of York, and the Red Rose of Lancaster.
He was born at St. Swithin’s Priory, Winchester on the 20th of September 1486, just over a year after his father had defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth and the dynasty was far from secure.
Henry VII was a shrewd man who was determined to be seen as destined for the Crown of England, even though he won it through conquest and betrayal of the ruling King.
Dynastically, he had a weak claim to the throne having descended from an illegitimate Lancastrian line from John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III.
He married Elizabeth of York, the daughter of King Edward IV to strengthen his claim. (In fact, Elizabeth had a stronger right to the Crown then he did, but it was unthought of at the time for a woman to accede the throne in her own right)
The decision was made for Arthur to be born in Winchester was thought to be due to it’s connection to the Arthurian legend.
It was a very popular myth in medieval England, and was thought that Winchester was built on the site of Camelot.
It was this link that Henry wanted to manipulate and associate his own family as being descended from King Arthur.
Growing up the Prince of Wales
It is thought that his infancy was spent in the royal nursery with his siblings, and by the age of 2 years old in 1488, Henry VII was already negotiating a grand marriage for Arthur.
Discussions had begun to marry Arthur to the Spanish Infanta, Katharine of Aragon with her parents Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon. This would be another step in Henry securing the reputation and future of the new dynasty he was founding.
Arthur was given the title of Duke of Cornwall at birth, and then in 1489 was created a Knight of the Garter, the Earl of Chester and invested Prince of Wales.
At the age of 6, Arthur was sent to Ludlow Castle to set up his own court and fulfill the objectives as a Prince of Wales.
Arthur was a master of his own household by the age of 7, Henry was suspicious and wily, he deliberately did not put a single nobleman in charge to ensure that no one had the upper hand or too much control over the Prince.
As befitting the heir to the throne, Arthur was given an excellent education, which was well rounded in the skills he would need to govern.
Tutored by the revered John Rede and Bernard Andre, he was schooled in the classics such as Homer and Virgil, plus historical works, grammar, and poetry.
Language was also incredibly important to a 15th century ruler, including Latin, a language both Arthur and his future bride Katharine could converse in.
In fact, Arthur wrote to Katharine in kind, but formal letters before they were married, most likely an exercise set for him by his tutors.
His letter in 1499 addressed Katharine as ‘his dearest spouse’
“I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your Highness, and how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. Let [it] be hastened, [that] the love conceived between us and the wished-for joys may reap their proper fruit.”
He was trained in warfare, and reputably became an excellent dancer and archer. Even at a relatively young age, he came across as studious and intelligent, and was involved in the local governance whilst at Ludlow.
At the turn of the 16th century, all would appear to be well and Arthur was showing all the signs of being the model heir and successor that Henry had always desired. But it wasn’t to be.
Next Post: Arthur Tudor – Part Two: Marriage to Katharine of Aragon