Sunday, 21 November 2010

Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales


I’ve been meaning to write this post for some time. The main delay has been in recovering my pictures of the tomb of Prince Arthur that I took earlier this year. I’m still struggling to recover them, but don’t want to delay my post any longer, so pictures will follow, hopefully. I’ve visited Worcester many, many times, since I was a child, and always visited the Cathedral and made my way to Arthur’s tomb. It’s always been one of my favourite tombs – encased in a beautiful chantry. It lacks an effigy, but may well have had a brass of Arthur on top of it. It’s been some years since I visited Arthur’s tomb, but I was delighted to find myself passing through Worcester and that meant only one thing – a visit to the Cathedral. Earlier this year, I bought a book entitled ‘Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales’, a collection of essays about the young prince, and his tomb, edited by Steven Gunn and Linda Monckton. It was very expensive, but well worth it. I have always wondered what sort of a king Arthur would have made. Read any Tudor novel that features Arthur, and I’ve read many, and he’s portrayed as weak and sickly, over-shadowed by his younger, stronger and healthier brother, the future Henry VIII. Indeed, we often get the scenario of Catherine of Aragon wising she was marrying the younger brother – which I strongly doubt, Catherine being 16 and Henry only 10. It’s also usual for Arthur to be portrayed as spitting blood and suffering from consumption, with Henry VII lamenting his sick and puny son. But where does this sickly portrayal of the prince come from? Yes, it’s the Victorians and their ‘spin’ on the historical evidence. The 19th century historian James Gairdner used Henry VII’s letter to Ferdinand, Catherine’s father, to portray Arthur as ‘sickly’. What Henry VII intended to convey to Ferdinand was his concern that at almost a year younger than Catherine, he didn’t want his son to over exert himself in his ‘married life’ because of his ‘tender’ age, and considered not sending Catherine with Arthur to rule a mini-court in Ludlow. ‘Tender’ becomes ‘delicate’, and the myth of the sickly Arthur is created. His betrothal to Catherine in 1497 elicited these words from the Milanese ambassador – Arthur was ‘about 11 years of age, but taller than his years would warrant, of remarkable beauty and grace, and very ready in speaking Latin’. Hardly the image of a sickly prince – and Henry VII did allow Catherine to accompany Arthur. The surviving portraits of Arthur show a handsome, serious, strong youth and there is no record of him being sickly. Because we know he died when he was 15, and have the image of his brother Henry VIII as the robust, athletic lion of England, whose own sons died young, Arthur has been portrayed as the sickly brother of the dazzling Henry VIII, cut down by the ‘family disease’, consumption. What we do know of Arthur is that he was given an excellent education and was groomed for kingship from an early age. The book contains evidence of Arthur’s movements and his household, and of the promise of his reign. Of course, it also suits supporters of the cause of Catherine of Aragon to have Arthur portrayed as the sickly prince, unable to consummate his marriage. It is one of the most hotly-contested debates in history, but in my opinion, I see no reason for Arthur and Catherine not to have consummated their marriage. I note a new book on Catherine once again quotes her as marrying the 'sickly' Arthur.


Arthur’s death in April 1502 left his parents grief-stricken – only Elizabeth of York and Henry VII could offer comfort to each other. Arthur’s funeral was a huge event. It was re-enacted in 2002, the 500th anniversary. A stained glass window was erected in the Cathedral to commemorate the event. It is a copy of the stained glass window of Arthur at Malvern.

The book is mainly taken up with the recent investigation of Arthur’s tomb. During my visit, I saw red stickers in place which marked the place of heat seeking equipment which had been used to investigate the tomb. It seems Arthur does not lie beneath the marble monument in his chantry, but a few feet away. I met a delightful, elderly and very knowledgeable local guide and asked him about the research, and he showed me where it is thought Arthur lies. We had an enjoyable discussion about what sort of king Arthur would have made, and how differently events might have turned out. What we both found very touching was that one of Arthur’s loyal household members, Gruffydd ap Thomas, requested his tomb be placed close to the prince he never forgot. When Gruffydd died in 1521, his request was granted.






5 comments:

Kathryn Warner said...

Fascinating post! I absolutely love, love, love that portrait of Arthur. I don't know why, but it really appeals to me, and I can look at it for ages! I enjoyed seeing his tomb at Worcester (what a lovely meeting you had with the guide there!) and the church in Ludlow - I can't remember the connection now - did Arthur's body lie there for a while before removal to Worcester?

Also really interesting to speculate about the possible consummation of Arthur and Catherine's marriage. Like you, I'm not really sure why they wouldn't have...

Anerje said...

Thanks Kathryn - I'm very partial to Arthur. That portrait is on the cover of the book - and Arthur is about 11 years old in it. His body did 'rest' in a chrch in Ludlow - and there's some story that his heart was buried there.

I can't see why Arthur and Catherine would 'live together' and not consummate their marriage. I take Starkey's view - that Catherine lied, and it was a noble lie.

Susan Higginbotham said...

Enjoyed the post! I'll have to take a look at the Arthur book!

Anerje said...

Thanks Susan!

Couture Byrd said...

I too realize that Arthur wasn't sickly, but if Henry was concerned about his son's youth, there might be a reason not to consummate the marriage. And in my opinion, it shows that there wasn't a rush in the marriage as well. Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard who were both married for a couple of years, until Fitzroy died, never consummated their marriage and Fitzroy was about 17 when he died. And there are other examples as well. Henry VIII didn't consummate his marriage to Anne of Cleves and they were much older and married about 6 months. Arthur's marriage to KOA was only 4 months and some 19 days, perhaps they thought they had time upon their hands? A noble lie? Sorry, no such thing, it would be accurately called a mortal sin, considering Katherine kept telling it over and over again, which would endanger her immortal soul according to Catholicism. The woman swore oaths and was willing to break the seal of confession as well upon the matter. Henry also stated that Katherine came to him a virgin, though when confronted he stated that he was joking at the time. And also consider this, if Katherine lied and claimed to be a virgin, when negotiations were occurring for her marriage, why would she run the risk of getting a false dispensation? By that, I mean if she lied, then a dispensation issued solely upon the fact she was a virgin would be invalid by default. She really didn't have a reason to lie in 1502, which makes me believe her. And Henry and his supporters also had reasons to lie as well.