On this day in Tudor history, 20th September 1486, King Henry VII's wife, Elizabeth of York, gave birth to the couple's first child at Winchester.
The baby was a boy and was baptised Arthur, named after the legendary King Arthur. There were high hopes for this boy and King Henry VII believed that his firstborn would be a powerful king who would bring a golden age to the country. Of course, things wouldn't go according to plan.
Find out more about Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, who was, of course, Catherine of Aragon's first husband, in today's talk from Claire Ridgway, founder of the Tudor Society.
A few years ago, I did a Claire Chats video talk here on the Tudor Society on the processions and pageants for Arthurs wedding to Catherine of Aragon - click here to view that now.
Also on this day in history:
- 1554 – Death of Sir William Paston, courtier and landowner, at Paston. He was buried there. Paston served Henry VIII as a Sheriff and Commissioner, and was also chosen to welcome Anne of Cleves to court in January 1540.
- 1586 – Executions of Anthony Babington, John Ballard, John Savage, Chidiock Tichborne and three other conspirators near St Giles-in-the-Fields in London. They were hanged, drawn and quartered for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I in the famous Babington Plot in support of Mary, Queen of Scots. A further seven were executed the following day.
- 1596 – Death of William Day, Bishop of Winchester.
Happy Birthday Prince Arthur. Elizabeth had quite a journey from London to Winchester when she was eight months pregnant. The significance was as the video said was that King Arthur was the ancestral hero of both the English Kings and of course the Welsh Kings. Winchester was believed to be Camelot but the more significant thing was that ancient Saxon Kings had Winchester as their capital, founded by King Alfred and ruled from there. Many were buried there. Henry Tudor was making a clever link between the new Dynasty he had founded and these ancient British traditions in order to further validate his own rule and show that Divine Blessing shone on the future Prince. Pageantry and ceremonies and symbolic mythology were all part of the Tudors mysterious allure throughout the 100 plus years of their reigning. Henry Viii would buy in heavily to the Arthurian legend and the dragon would become one of their standards.
Unfortunately, healthy as he was for most of his tragically short life, Prince Arthur died on 2nd April 1502,_just 15 years old. Katherine almost died but was lucky and lived to marry her Knight in Shining Armour, King Henry Viii. Unfortunately, the armour and the knight faded and the marriage was marred by tragedy. Henry’s obsession for a male heir led to Katherine being repudiated after 24 years of marriage and her death in Kimbolton which is in the East Midlands, separated from her daughter and ignored by the man she had loved. Arthur’s death is a mystery which is still debated, although personally I feel tuberculosis is unlikely as Katherine was also ill but recovered. His heart was buried in Ludlow and his remains in a magnificent Chantry Chapel in Worcester Cathedral. The tomb and chantry was examined in 2002 and it was found that Arthur isn’t in the chest tomb in the centre but in the cavity to one side and that a twin cavity lies next to this. It has been speculated by the curator and experts at the Cathedral that this space was originally meant for his widow, Katherine, had she not remarried. Of course because of Henry’s continued misadventures in marriage bliss, Katherine didn’t end up buried as Queen, next to her husband in Westminster as she should have done, but in Peterborough Cathedral, then a Benedictine Abbey. Henry was buried by his own device in the middle of the Choir of the Military Chapel of Saint George, Windsor Castle.
Henry shares his grave with his third wife, Jane Seymour, who was lucky enough to bear him a son who succeeded him. Initially the tomb was meant to be very grand indeed, having taken over the tomb and ornamental decorations meant for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Henry had them added to and left instructions for what would have been the grandest tomb in England had it been completed. It wasn’t. The Reformation and a lack of money saw it firstly modified, then eventually dismantled. It was unmarked for quite some time, although the coffins in the vault below remained undisturbed. However, in 1649,_probably because of desperation, but also because of the grave being unmarked, Henry and Jane found themselves sharing a resting place with Charles I. Later on a baby born to the unfortunate Queen Anne was also placed there. In the nineteenth century the vault was opened and both coffins were found to be in a poor state, the largest having burst open. However, after some measurements of the bones were taken, confirming Henry was over 6 foot 2 inches, the coffins and this vault were restored and a black marbled slab placed with the various inscriptions on the orders of King William iv. His huge marble sarcophagus now houses the coffin of the great sea hero, Admiral Horatio Nelson in Saint Paul’s Cathedral. Given the link between Henry Viii and the Navy this isn’t inappropriate.
The Chapel at Saint George is also symbolic, being the place where the Knights of the Garter meet every year and where their standards fly from the ceiling. At the sides are the stalls of each knight. Here this order was formed by King Edward iii to commemorate the deeds and loyal fellowship of King Arthur and his knights. Tudor symmetry meets Plantagenet heroic tradition. It would indeed be interesting as to what sort of King Arthur would have made because he would have been raised to rule, while Henry was learning to enter the Church. Perhaps nothing and everything would have been different. Unfortunately, Katherine was married to him for less than six months, the marriage was never consummated and we have no idea what sort of husband he would have been either. Katherine could not wait to marry Prince Henry. It was a lack of sons and nothing else which turned the tide of history against them.