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Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1502)

Updated: Apr 2

Current location - Private collection, Hever Castle, Kent. By Anglo-Flemish School ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
This portrait is regarded as the only surviving contemporary portrait of the sitter., c.1500

Arthur was viewed by contemporaries as the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor. His father Henry VII was King of England from his seizure of the crown on 22 August 1485 from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth, & the first monarch of the House of Tudor.

King Henry VII (1457-1509)

His mother, Elizabeth of York, was the daughter of Edward IV, & his birth cemented the union between the House of Tudor & the House of York. As the eldest son, Arthur was the heir apparent. In the opinion of contemporaries, Arthur was the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor.

Elizabeth of York (1466-1503)

Arthur was born at Saint Swithun's Priory on the night of 19/20 September 1486 at about 1 am, he became Duke of Cornwall at birth, & four days after his birth, he was baptised at Winchester Cathedral, & his baptism was immediately followed by his Confirmation. Elizabeth Woodville & Cecily of York served as godparents; his grandmother & aunt, respectively, carried the prince during the ceremony.

Over the next thirteen years, Henry VII & Elizabeth had six more children, of whom only three, Margaret, Henry (later Henry VIII) & Mary would reach adulthood. Arthur was especially close to his sister Margaret (b. 1489) & his brother Henry (b. 1491), with whom he shared a nursery.

On 29 November 1489, shortly after being made a Knight of the Bath, Arthur was appointed Prince of Wales & Earl of Chester. The investiture took place at the Palace of Westminster on 27 February 1490.

Hampton Court Palace [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Arthur, by Unknown British School, 16th-century, c.1500

On 8 May 1491, Arthur was made a Knight of the Garter at Saint George's Chapel at Windsor. Arthur's education covered grammar, poetry, rhetoric & ethics & focused on history. Arthur was a very skilled pupil & his tutor Bernard André, wrote that the Prince of Wales had either memorised or read a selection of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Terence, a good deal of Cicero & a wide span of historical works, including those of Thucydides, Caesar, Livy & Tacitus. Arthur was also a "superb archer", & had learned to dance "right pleasant & honourably" by 1501.

Arthur grew up to be unusually tall for his age, & was considered handsome by the Spanish court: he had reddish hair, small eyes, a high-bridged nose & resembled his brother Henry, who was said to be "extremely handsome" by contemporaries.

In May 1490 Arthur was created warden of all the marches towards Scotland & the Earl of Surrey was appointed as the Prince's deputy. From 1491, Arthur was named on peace commissions. In October 1492, when his father travelled to France, he was named Keeper of England & King's Lieutenant. Henry VII set up the Council of Wales & the Marches for Arthur in Wales, in order to enforce royal authority there. Arthur was first dispatched to Wales in 1501, at the age of fifteen. In November of that year, the Prince also received an extensive land grant in Wales, including the County of March.

He was brought up with Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Thomas, the son of powerful Welsh nobleman Thomas ap Rhys. Gruffydd grew quite close to Arthur & was buried in Worcester Cathedral upon his death in 1521, alongside the Prince's tomb.

The king planned to marry his son to a daughter of the powerful Catholic Monarchs, Isabella I of Castile & Ferdinand II of Aragon, in order to forge an Anglo-Spanish alliance against France.

The Treaty of Medina del Campo (27 March 1489) provided that Arthur & Katharine would be married as soon as they reached canonical age; it also settled Katharine's dowry at 200,000 crowns (the equivalent of £5 million as of 2007). Since Arthur, not yet 14, was below the age of consent, a papal dispensation (i.e., waiver) allowing the marriage was issued in February 1497, & the pair were betrothed by proxy on 25 August 1497. Two years later, a marriage by proxy took place at Arthur's Tickenhill Manor in Bewdley, near Worcester; Arthur said to Roderigo de Puebla, who had acted as proxy for Katharine, that "he much rejoiced to contract the marriage because of his deep & sincere love for the Princess".

In a letter from October 1499, Arthur, referring to Katharine as "my dearest spouse", had written:

"I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your Highness, & how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. Let [it] be hastened, [that] the love conceived between us & the wished-for joys may reap their proper fruit."

The young couple exchanged letters in Latin until 20 September 1501, when Arthur, having attained the age of 15, was deemed old enough to be married.

Katharine arrived in England on 2 October 1501, at Plymouth. The couple met for the first time at Dogmersfield in Hampshire on 4 November 1501.

Arthur wrote to Katharine's parents that he would be "a true & loving husband"; the couple soon discovered they were unable to communicate due to learning different pronunciations of Latin. On 9 November 1501, Katharine arrived in London.

source - By UnknownUnknown author (Flemish Tapestry 100s of years ago [1]) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A tapestry in the Flemish style of Katharine of Aragon & her husband Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales.

The marriage ceremony took place at Saint Paul's Cathedral on 14 November 1501,

both Arthur & Katharine wore white satin.

  • 'The upon the Sunday following being St Erkenwald's Day & the 14th day of November [1501].... was my lord prince [Arthur] & my aforesaid lady princess [Katharine of Aragon] being both clad in white satin married & solemnised in matrimony by the Archbishop of Canterbury [Henry Deane], having about him 19 bishops & abbots then mitred, & the king & queen (Henry VII & Elizabeth of York) with my lady the king's mother [Margaret Beaufort] & many other estates stood in secret wise within the place above named [St Paul's] which through larrice might hear & behold all the circumstance of the said solemnisation which endured well upon 2 hours or more, for over the Sacramental office there were read sundry instruments & other writings....... Wonderful it was to behold the riches of the court that day & the mighty poysant [heavy] chains of gold.... & when the mass was finished my said lady princess was led by the Duke of York [Henry, later king Henry VIII] upon the right side of a legate of Spain upon that other side, & so conveyed....into.....the palace.'

- A ROYAL MARRIAGE, contemporary account by Robert Faban, The Great Chronicle of London.

After the wedding, Arthur & Katharine left the Cathedral & moved to Baynard's Castle, where they were entertained by "the best voiced children of the King's chapel, who sang right sweetly with quaint harmony".

source - By Henry Shaw (1800-1873) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What followed was a bedding ceremony laid down by Arthur's grandmother Lady Margaret Beaufort: the bed was sprinkled with holy water, after which Katharine was led away from the wedding feast by her ladies-in-waiting. She was undressed, veiled & "reverently" laid in bed, while Arthur, "in his shirt, with a gown cast about him", was escorted by his gentlemen into the bedchamber, while viols & tabors played. The Bishop of London blessed the bed & prayed for the marriage to be fruitful, after which the couple were left alone. This is the only public bedding of a royal couple recorded in Britain in the 16th century.

Source - By Rs-nourse [CC BY-SA 3.0  (], from Wikimedia Commons
Arthur, Prince of Wales Coat of Arms

After residing at Tickenhill Manor for a month, Arthur & Katharine headed for the Welsh Marches, where they moved into Ludlow Castle (well worth a visit by the way). Arthur had been growing weaker since his wedding, & although Katharine was unwilling to go with him, she was ordered by Henry VII to join her husband. In March 1502, Arthur & Katharine were afflicted by an unknown illness, "a malign vapour which proceeded from the air." While Katharine recovered, Arthur died on 2 April 1502 at Ludlow, six months short of his sixteenth birthday.

The news of Arthur's death reached Henry VII's court late on 4 April. The King was awoken from his sleep by his confessor, who quoted Job by asking Henry "If we receive good things at the hands of God, why may we not endure evil things?" He then told the king that "[his] dearest son hath departed to God," & Henry burst into tears.

Henry was "Grief-stricken & emotional," he then had his wife brought into his chambers, so that they might "take the painful news together"; Elizabeth reminded Henry that God had helped him become king & "had ever preserved him," adding that they had been left with "yet a fair Prince & two fair princesses & that God is where he was, & [they were] both young enough." Soon after leaving Henry's bedchamber, Elizabeth collapsed & began to cry, while the ladies sent for the King, who hurriedly came & "relieved her."

On 8 April, a general procession took place for the salvation of Arthur's soul. That night, a dirge was sung in St Paul's Cathedral & every parish church in London. On 23 April. Arthur's body, which had previously been embalmed, sprinkled with holy water & sheltered with a canopy, was carried out of Ludlow Castle & into the Parish Church of Ludlow by various noblemen & gentlemen.

Ludlow Castle, where Arthur, Prince of Wales died
Ludlow Castle

On 25 April, Arthur's body was taken to Worcester Cathedral via the River Severn, in a "special wagon upholstered in black & drawn by six horses, also caparisoned in black." As was customary, Katharine did not attend the funeral. The Earl of Surrey acted as chief mourner. At the end of the ceremony, Sir William Uvedale, Sir Richard Croft & Arthur's household ushers broke their staves of office & threw them into the Prince's grave. During the funeral, Arthur's own arms were shown alongside those of Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd & Brutus of Troy. Two years later, a chantry was erected over Arthur's grave. Arthur’s chantry is to the right of the High Altar, near the tomb of King John. There are many heraldic carvings symbolising the various houses such as York, Lancaster, Beaufort & even Katharine of Aragon’s pomegranate. During the reign of Arthur’s nephew the protestant Edward VI some of the carvings were damaged, but the Chantry itself survived.

By Unknown author (The Oxford Guide to Heraldry) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Above: 'Prince Arthur's Book', c.1520.

Henry VIII & his six wives

Consequences of Arthur's death;

Not long after Arthur's death, the idea of betrothing the widowed Katharine to the new heir apparent, Henry, had arisen; Henry VII & Isabella I were keen on moving forward with the betrothal & the pope granted a dispensation towards that end. Henry later ascended the throne on 22 April 1509 & married Arthur's widow on 11 June. They had six children, three of their sons died before reaching three months of age, a daughter was stillborn & another lived for only a week. The couple's surviving child was Mary I (b. 1516). In 1526, Henry started to pursue the affections of Anne Boleyn. At the same time, he became troubled by what became known as the King's "great matter", that is, finding an appropriate solution for his lack of male descendants. It soon became the King's wish to dissolve his marriage & marry Anne, who was more likely to bear children.

Arthur's brother King Henry VIII

Henry believed that his marriage was cursed & found confirmation in the Bible, in Leviticus 20:21. Although in the morning following his wedding, Arthur had claimed that he was thirsty "for I have been in the midst of Spain last night" & that "having a wife is a good pastime", these claims are generally dismissed by modern historians as mere boasts of a boy who did not want others to know of his failure, & Katharine maintained the claim that she had married Henry while still a virgin until the day she died. After Henry's constant support of the claim that Katharine's first marriage had been consummated, an annulment was issued on 23 April 1533, while the King had already married Anne on 25 January. Anne was later beheaded for high treason in 1536, after which Henry proceeded to marry four more times. At the time of his death in 1547, Henry only had three living children; the only son, Edward VI, succeeded but died six years later. His successors were Henry's daughters by Katharine & Anne, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Upon Elizabeth's death in 1603, the House of Tudor came to an end.

Despite his role in English history (a major turning point I believe), Arthur has remained largely forgotten since his death.


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