Arthur, Prince of Wales was the Tudors’ great golden hope. The elder brother of the notorious King Henry VIII, Arthur was supposed to lead his country into glory. Instead, fate dealt him one of the most infamous twists in history, changing the future forever. Here’s the tragic story of Arthur Tudor, the king who never was.
Arthur Prince Of Wales Facts
His Birth Was A PR Move
Arthur’s birth was one of the most momentous occasions of the 15th century. His parents, King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, were kick-starting the new Tudor dynasty after the tumultuous Wars of the Roses, and Arthur’s birth in September 1486 cemented their ascendancy into power. Even so, there was a bizarre aspect to the boy’s entrance.
He Had A Legendary Namesake
Arthur’s father King Henry won his crown through battle, not through royal blood, and he was super insecure about that origin story. So insecure, in fact, that he named his son after the legendary King Arthur, as if to prove that he descended from the English hero. This was embarrassing enough for the little boy, but the monarch didn’t stop there.
His Father Controlled His Life
In addition to saddling his son with the heavy-handed moniker of Arthur, King Henry VII also forced his wife Queen Elizabeth to give birth to the boy at St. Swithun’s Priory, because that was near where most people believed King Arthur’s Camelot was. Seriously, Arthur’s dad was really into making his Medieval fanfiction real.
Obviously, this wasn’t the best parenting idea…and the King’s next move was even more outrageous.
He Was A Toddler Groom
Desperate to solidify their power, the royal parents started planning to marry Arthur off from almost the moment he was out of his cradle. They began the formal marriage search when he was still just a toddling three years old—not that the rest of Europe seemed to mind. Soon enough, baby Arthur found himself a very big catch.
His Parents Hand-Picked His Fiancée
Eventually, Henry and Elizabeth landed on Catherine of Aragon, the daughter of the Catholic power couple Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. Don’t get it twisted, though: This wasn’t a love match. Catherine was also only a toddler herself, and Arthur’s parents viewed the union as a political alliance against France. Romance!
He Had A Long Engagement
To be fair, even people in Medieval times thought that three was a little young to get hitched, so everyone did the sensible thing and…waited until Arthur turned 15, which is obviously the exact age all boys turn into emotionally responsible men. So for more than a decade, the baby lovebirds waited patiently for marriage. And in that time, a lot changed.
He Was Startlingly Handsome
Despite all the heavy expectations thrust upon his shoulders, Arthur surpassed everyone’s wildest dreams. He was “strong and able” since birth, and shot up to be remarkably tall for his age. With auburn hair and a straight nose, Arthur also looked like a prince out of a fairy tale, and many people considered him to be incredibly handsome. He had more qualities besides that, too.
He Was An Over-Achiever
As the golden boy of the Tudor court, Arthur knew darn well that he had to be an over-achiever, and he more than delivered. The 15th-century dreamboat had an extensive education in the classics, was a “superb archer,” a “skilled pupil,” and he could cut a rug on the castle dance floor. There was, however, one insidious problem.
He Had One Fatal Flaw
Although many people considered Prince Arthur the model of a modern Medieval gentleman, he was far from perfect. Although he was physically healthy, he did have a somewhat subdued personality; courtiers described him as “amiable and gentle,” deeming him a “delicate lad.” For a long while, this wasn’t a problem…but it would catch up with him.
His Family Perished Around Him
During this time, King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York kept trying to make some spare heirs, but the royal family only found heartbreak. Arthur lost sibling after sibling to infant diseases, and only three of his younger brothers and sisters—Henry, Margaret, and Mary—made it to adulthood. As it turned out, these premature ends also doubled as ominous foreshadowing…
He Played Favorites
Trauma is a heck of a bonding tool, and the royal children were all very close with one another. Arthur was particularly fond of his sister Margaret, who was just three years younger than him. He also shared a nursery with his baby brother Henry, who came along when Arthur was five years old. Arthur took to being a big brother, showing little Henry all his older bro wisdom. Too bad Henry didn’t take notes….
He Got An Indecent Proposal
In 1497, Arthur and Catherine of Aragon moved one step closer to matrimony in an official betrothal ceremony. Maybe that sounds romantic, but in reality, the day was incredibly bizarre. The engagement took place “by proxy,” a common (and weird) practice at the time where the couple weren’t actually in the same room together. Instead, a Spanish emissary stood in for Catherine.
If that sounds like the opposite of romance, just wait.
His Wife Was Absent On Their Wedding Day
Two years later, the royal couple still hadn’t even met yet, but they were ready to take it up a notch. In 1499, they performed a full-blown marriage ceremony—again by proxy. Yep, the 13-year-old Arthur and Catherine knew each other even less than Bachelor couples, and they were tying the knot. Even so, Arthur’s response was touching.
He Fell In Love With A Stranger
The young and romantic Arthur had obviously built up the idea of Catherine into epic proportions inside his head, because he was still over the moon about his lonely wedding for one. As Catherine’s burly male stand-in described, “He much rejoiced to contract the marriage because of his deep and sincere love for the Princess.”
Buddy, she’s a total stranger. And Arthur soon found that out the hard way.
He Wrote Sweeping Love Letters
During this time, Arthur and Catherine wrote letters to each other in their common tongue of Latin. The Prince took it way overboard. Two years later, Catherine still hadn’t crossed the channel and Arthur lamented, “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.”
The Princeling was chomping at the bit, and his desperation soon manifested in other forms.
He Was Deeply Passionate
Not content to romance Catherine, Arthur also took it upon himself to correspond with her parents, assuring them that he would be “a true and loving husband” once, you know, he could meet his bride. Ah, I shouldn’t be so hard on the kid; he was just a hopeless romantic. Yet as we all know, high expectations can lead to big disappointments…
His First Meeting With His Wife Was A Disaster
On October 2, 1501, Catherine of Aragon finally landed in England. A month later, the royal couple met for the first time. When they opened their mouths, they came to a crushing conclusion. Although they both knew Latin, they each had learned a different pronunciation and, without speaking each other’s native tongue, they couldn’t even understand each other.
Cue the sad trombone music. Like it or not, though, the wheels had been set in motion.
His Fiancée Was Gorgeous
To be fair, Catherine probably didn’t disappoint Arthur in the looks department. She had long auburn hair, bright blue eyes, and a cherubic face. People actually called her “the most beautiful creature in the world,” and one courtier noted that “few women could compete” with her. Maybe that’s why she had Arthur acting like such a darn fool.
He Had A Second Wedding
Because this is royalty we’re talking about, Prince Arthur and Catherine of Aragon had another wedding, finally in person, on November 14, 1501. And this time, they went all out. The pair married in the historic St. Paul’s Cathedral, and the bride and groom wore matching white satin for the ceremony. And that wasn’t all.
He Was A Crowd-Pleaser
Arthur’s father King Henry knew how to do propaganda, and he made sure his son’s nuptials were the height of royal opulence. To accompany the ceremony, there were three days of tournaments at Westminster Palace, and St. Paul’s provided a fountain just beside the church that flowed with endless wine for the people. But then things went from civilized to extremely awkward…
He Had A Lavish Reception
Oh sure, the celebrations immediately after the wedding were lavish enough as well. The newlyweds went to Baynard’s Castle for their reception, where a choir entertained them and other high-ranking members of the court with songs. Except as the time drew near for Arthur and Catherine to “retire,” the party really got going.
He Had A Bizarre Bedding Ceremony
As the teenage Prince Arthur and his bride got up to leave, the evening took a disturbing turn. Arthur’s grandmother Margaret Beaufort started up a “bedding ceremony” for the couple. Yeah, it was as gross as it sounds: After sprinkling the marriage bed with holy water, Margaret called Catherine in, undressed her “reverently,” and laid her on the bed.
Bet you can guess what came next.
The Bishop Gave Him A Carnal Blessing
After Catherine of Aragon was creepily primed, Prince Arthur—scantily clad himself—then entered the bedchamber alongside the gentlemen in his wedding party, accompanied by musicians playing viols and tabors. To top the whole mortifying event off, the Bishop of London then blessed the bed to be “fruitful.” Seriously, ew. And it gets worse.
He Made History For The Wrong Reasons
When it comes to this Great Bedding of Two Teenagers, you might be thinking, “Eh, it was the Medieval era! They did weird stuff like this on the daily.” Well, hold onto your hats, because they actually didn’t. Arthur and Catherine’s ceremony is the only recorded instance of a public bedding in 16th-century Britain. So yeah, it was weird.
Ironically, exactly what happened that night would soon be an infamous part of history—but before that, Arthur had to go through hell.
He Had An Idyllic Honeymoon
For a brief moment, Arthur’s royal wedding was like something out of a fairy tale. The new couple spent their honeymoon period at Tickenhill manor, which is just as picturesque as it sounds. Following this, Arthur went to live in Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marshes—because after all, he was the Prince of Wales. This is where it all started to go wrong.
He Started To Show Unsettling Signs
Arthur’s father King Henry VII noticed something alarming after he married off his son: His heir was growing weaker, as if some unnamed illness was besieging him. The King eventually decided to send Catherine after Arthur to Ludlow, perhaps thinking Arthur could convalesce better if his wife was around. However, this decision would spell Arthur’s doom.
He Had A Last Christmas
When Catherine arrived in Ludlow Castle, it was the height of the Christmas season. She and her new husband celebrated Christmas Day, the New Year, and Twelfth Night together for the first time as a couple, with Catherine’s Spanish entourage arriving at the small village shortly after. Sadly, though it was their first time, it was also their last.
He Fell Gravely Ill
After Christmas, the pair began to wile away the next part of their teenaged honeymoon and playact at being fully functioning adults. Mere months later, though, their celebrations turned into utter terror. Both Arthur and Catherine grew sick with a mysterious illness and took to their beds. Tragically, their affliction turned fatal in an instant.
His Wife Made A Horrific Discovery
Catherine was in an intense delirium because of her sickness, and when she finally came to, she made a shocking discovery. She was a widow. Arthur had passed on April 2, 1502, just half a year away from his 16th birthday. Catherine was now a teenage widow, and the prince’s body was growing cold in his sickbed…but there were still many questions left to answer.
His Father Mourned Him Deeply
When news reached Arthur’s mother and father that their eldest son had passed in the bloom of his youth, their response was absolutely devastating. It was King Henry VII’s confessor who delivered the tragic tidings, telling him, “[his] dearest son hath departed to God.” Upon hearing those words, the great warrior king burst into tears.
His Mother Prayed For His Soul
Once King Henry knew the truth, he then had to tell his wife Elizabeth, who spent the night consoling her husband and assuring him that they still had other children to take on the duties of the crown. Of course, this was only a brave face; the Queen left her husband’s room, entered her own, and immediately collapsed into sobs over her beloved son.
The City Paid A Haunting Tribute To Him
Prince Arthur’s funeral was a massive, mournful, and lengthy affair. On April 8th, nearly all of London came out for a procession for his soul, and every parish church sang a dirge for their lost prince that evening. On April 23, attendants sprinkled his embalmed body with holy water and laid him to rest at Ludlow Castle. Only there was one big thing missing.
His Wife Skipped His Funeral
Although Catherine of Aragon was reeling from her loss, she wasn’t even at Arthur’s funeral. Somewhat irrationally, royal tradition dictated that the widow could not attend the mourning services, so Catherine had to suffer, alone and confused, without her Prince Arthur to guide her. Then again, she had bigger things to worry about.
His Legacy Is Tainted
Prince Arthur is mostly forgotten today, but if he had survived, the responsible, loving boy would have very likely become an excellent, fair King of England. Instead, we got something much different: His younger brother took his place as heir, becoming the infamous King Henry VIII. And that wasn’t the only way Arthur’s tragic end changed the course of history.
His Widow Traded Him In
The minute she became Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon’s position was incredibly precarious. King Henry VII was anxious to keep her dowry dollars, and sending her back to Spain meant giving a full refund. Instead of doing that, the king made a fateful suggestion: Catherine should marry Arthur’s younger brother, Henry.
This very famously did not end well—and eventually, it all came down to Arthur again.
His Wife Betrayed Him
Catherine’s marriage to Henry was unimaginably scandalous for the time. Because she had already been married to his brother, they had to get special dispensation from the Pope for the union. Even then, the royals only got a reluctant go-ahead…and only after Catherine made an extremely controversial confession.
He May Have Died A Virgin
The royal petition to the Pope hinged on a single claim: Catherine’s assurance that she and Arthur had never consummated their union. Although it took a long time, it worked, and Arthur’s ex-wife married his brother seven years later, tying the knot on June 11, 1509. But was Catherine’s claim true? Had they really never slept together? Well…
He Was Too Young To “Perform”
Despite the fact that they had a very public first bedding, we may never know for sure what really went on behind Catherine and Arthur’s closed door. But if they didn’t seal the deal, the reason might be pretty gross: Both of them might have been simply too young to go through with the act. Still, there is another disturbing possibility.
He Was A Bad Lover
Because Arthur’s health seemed to decline right after his wedding, some historians argue that he was already too infirm to be of much use in the marriage bed. Then, once his fatal illness hit, the scrawny, weak teenager was too busy trying to survive to get it on. Either way, the entire situation would still come back to haunt Catherine.
He Was A Spoiled Brat
As a child, Arthur was the very definition of spoiled. Get this: When he was just four years old, his father King Henry VII decided it was high time for his son to get his own household structure—that is, his own servants and chamberlains to attend to his every princely whim whenever he wanted. Royals: They’re just not like us.
He Carried Huge Expectations
King Henry VII wasn’t the only one who was excited about what Arthur could have done for his dynasty; many people all over Europe once predicted that the boy would bring about a “Virgilian golden age” after he took the throne and said that he was a “living symbol” of the strength of the English crown. Hindsight’s 20/20, guys.
He Threw His Brother’s Life Into Chaos
To be fair to the infamous Henry VIII, Arthur did leave him in the lurch. At the time of Arthur’s passing, Henry was just a green 10 years old, and probably just as much in mourning over his only brother as everybody else. Besides that, the old King Henry VII, fearful of losing another heir, kept the young boy strictly supervised.
In short, the whole thing would mess anyone up. Not that it’s an excuse for what Henry did to Arthur’s memory….
His Wife Moved On To Tragedy
In the end, Catherine of Aragon was King Henry’s queen for over 20 years—but the ghost of Arthur still followed her around, waiting for a chance to pounce. See, Catherine never managed to give Henry a male heir. By 1525, she could no longer bear children, and Henry was infatuated with his mistress Anne Boleyn. That’s when Arthur rose from his grave.
His Brother Accused The Queen
Hot under the collar for Anne and wanting to make her his fertile queen, Henry started thinking of every excuse in the book to drop Catherine like a hot potato. And when I say “the book,” I mean the Bible. According to Henry, his marriage to Catherine was cosmically cursed, all because he had broken God’s law when he married his Arthur’s widow.
And that led to the most unsettling allegation of all.
He Was Part Of An Alleged Coverup
King Henry’s convenient turn toward the Bible also meant he could no longer trust his wife. He believed that his lack of a male heir was a part of this divine retribution, so that Catherine must have been lying through her teeth when she claimed that she and Prince Arthur had never slept together. So with one final knife twist, Arthur’s end cemented the future of the English monarchy…
He Was In “The King’s Great Matter”
King Henry’s desperation to get rid of Catherine via his brother Arthur turned into “The King’s Great Matter.” Today, everyone knows it ended in revolution, with Henry taking over as Head of Church, annulling his own marriage, and starting the English Reformation. And all because Prince Arthur had to go and kick the bucket.
His Princess Got A Demotion
After denying her the crown, Henry sealed the deal by insisting on calling Catherine the “Dowager Princess of Wales.” Sure, that sounds kind of respectful, but it gets a whole lot more insulting once you realize that this title pointedly turns her into merely Prince Arthur’s widow, and makes no reference to her previous title of “Queen.”
His Wife Renounced Him
For what it’s worth, Catherine of Aragon went to her deathbed denying that she and Prince Arthur had taken each other’s virginity. She was so certain and staunch in her convictions that she even continued to demand that her household servants call her by her royal title, long after King Henry VIII had officially split from her.
He Had A Mysterious Illness
Today, historians can only guess at what felled Prince Arthur. Sources from the time say that the Prince and Princess battled “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air” for nearly a month. However, that’s not exactly helpful; Medieval people thought all disease came from the air, anyway. Still, some researchers believe they have an answer.
We Might Understand His Tragic End
Although there’s no way to confirm it for sure, historians do know that the fatal “sweating sickness,” a plague that broke out in the late 15th century before disappearing suddenly in 1551, was ravaging the Welsh borderlands at the time. It’s entirely possible that this is what fatally attacked Prince Arthur, just as it had many of his generation.