The Tudor Society

2 April – The death of Prince Arthur

On this day in Tudor history, 2nd April 1502, Arthur, Prince of Wales, son and heir of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Ludlow Castle. He was just fifteen years old, and had only been married to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon for four and a half months.

In today's talk, I discuss his death and the theories regarding Arthur's cause of death, which include sweating sickness, consumption, testicular cancer and Atypical Cystic Fibrosis.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 2nd April 1552, King Edward VI fell ill with measles and smallpox. Find out more in last year's video:

Kyra Kramer's article regarding her theory on Arthur's cause of death can be found at

The books mentioned are:

The Children of Henry VIII by John Guy
Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was by Sean Cunningham

Also on this day in history:

  • 1559 – The Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, ending the Italian Wars, was signed between Henry II of France and Elizabeth I of England.
  • 1568 – Death of Sir Ambrose Cave, member of Parliament, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Knight of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, at the Savoy. He was buried at Stanford after a funeral at the Savoy Chapel.
  • 1571 – Death of Richard Onslow, lawyer, Solicitor-General and Speaker of the House of Commons. He caught a fever in Shrewsbury, while visiting his uncle there.


On this day in Tudor history, 2nd April 1502, Arthur, Prince of Wales, son and heir of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, died at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches. He was just fifteen years old, and had only been married to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon for four and a half months.

Arthur was laid to rest in Worcester Cathedral. His resting place and memorial, Prince Arthur’s Chantry, can still be seen today at the cathedral.
It is not known exactly what killed the young prince. The theories include consumption, diabetes, sweating sickness, testicular cancer and pneumonia.

In his book "The Children of Henry VIII", John Guy writes of how a diagnosis of testicular cancer could explain why Doña Elvira Manuel, Catherine of Aragon’s first lady of the bedchamber, asserted that Catherine and Arthur had never consummated their marriage. Guy goes on to say that “the pains and the damage to his reproductive system could have resulted in an impaired sexual function.”

Historian Sean Cunningham, author of “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was”, however, believes that Arthur died of sweating sickness. He points out that Arthur had shown no signs of illness at his wedding in November 1501 and that just 9 days before his death he’d performed the traditional Maundy Thursday rituals at Ludlow. Sweating sickness could kill a person within four or five hours of the first symptoms showing, and symptoms included redness of the face and body, headaches, thirst, stomach and joint pains, vomiting, breathlessness and severe sweating. I’ll give you a link to my talk on my video on it so that you can find out more about it. The idea that it was sweating sickness does make sense when there are also reports of Arthur’s wife, Catherine, being ill, and the herald reporting on Arthur’s funeral at Worcester stating that it was poorly attended due to the “sickness that then reigned amongst them”. Sean Cunningham also notes that the local area had unusually high death rates that year, so there may well have been a localised outbreak of the sweat.

Medical anthropologist and author Kyra Kramer believes that Arthur, his nephews, King Edward VI and Henry Fitzroy, might have died from a genetic condition, that of atypical cystic fibrosis. In an article on her blog on Arthur’s death, Kyra explains:
“Atypical CF usually doesn’t cause any major health problems for the patient until later in childhood or until the patient is in his or her teens. Atypical CF would explain why some eyewitnesses reported Arthur as being healthy while other described him as seemingly ‘delicate’; his perceived health would depend on whether his atypical CF was causing him issues at the time and whether or not you were aware of his chronic cough and/or indigestion. However, his lungs would have been internally weakening until a cold or flu virus caused one final, fatal round of bronchitis.”
It is an interesting theory.

News of Arthur’s death reached the royal court at Greenwich Palace on 5th April 1502 when a messenger arrived from Ludlow. The king’s confessor was tasked with breaking the news to Henry VII. The king and queen were, of course, devastated at the news. 10-year-old Prince Henry was now heir to the throne, but Elizabeth of York obviously felt the need to provide her husband with a spare and she quickly became pregnant. Unfortunately, both mother and baby, a daughter, Catherine, died in February 1503. Prince Henry became King Henry VIII following the death of his father on 21st April 1509, and he married Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon, on 11th June 1509.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. M

    This is interesting, and all of the theories make some sort of sense. Even in my highly amateurish reading, I’ve come across accounts stating he was sickly and others saying how robust, healthy he was. Very interesting, thanks. Michelle t

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2 April – The death of Prince Arthur