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Episode 110: Arthur Tudor

Book Recommendation:

Prince Arthur: The Tudor King who Never Was by Dr Sean Cunningham

The 1976 book The Alteration by Kingsley Amis imagines a world in which Arthur became King, and the Reformation never happened. It’s a really interesting read.


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hello and welcome to the Renaissance English history podcast. I’m your host Heather Teysko and I’m a storyteller who makes history accessible because I believe it’s a pathway to understanding who we are, our place in the universe and to being more deeply in touch with our own humanity. This is episode 110 and this week we are looking at the life of Arthur Tudor, a prince whose life was incredibly important because it brought together and symbolized the Union of Lancaster and York. And yet what we remember most about him when we talk about him is his death and the impact that his death had on the kingdom and on his brother and on the future but we also talk a lot about his virginity and whether he was a virgin and whether he wasn’t a virgin and a lot gets a lot of time gets spent on that.
So this week I want to look at Arthur the person the boy the boy who lived until he was almost 16 years old and talk a little bit about what his birth meant at the time and what his early life was like. I’m not gonna get into his wedding just because a lot has been written about that so we’re not going to talk about that but in the book recommendation at the end I there is a great book on Arthur where you can read all about his life and his wedding and everything like that so I’m gonna recommend that book at the end.
I also want to announce the launch of the Tudor radio network have you guys heard about this yet the Tudor radio network is a new online radio station that I’m starting with the help of a number of other Tudor bloggers and podcasters and people who are experts in this field. And also a radio station producer, and I’ve got a lot of people helping me on this project but it’s going to be a 24 hour a day internet radio station filled with Tudor talk shows, and by that I mean some of the podcasts, and also original content that we are producing, and also Tudor music because of course Tudor music. And my radio program is going to be on there, the show that I have in the UK already, and there are about six or seven different podcasters who are confirmed that they’re that they’re gonna be sharing their podcasts with this with the network. And we also have new original content –  Tudor travel, historical fiction series talking to writers of historical fiction so there’s a number of things. I’m gonna be doing a current events show looking at current events through the lens of history. So check it out at Tudorradionetwork.com.
Okay let’s talk about Arthur Tudor like I said Prince Arthur is somebody who hangs over the entire Tudor dynasty by virtue of his death. Even when we talk about him in life it’s always in relation to his virginity or not, and what that meant thirty years later when Arthur’s brother was trying to divorce Arthur’s widow, Catherine of Aragon. But Arthur did live for fifteen and a half years and during those years he was the embodiment of the Tudor Rose, the personification of the union of the houses of Lancaster in York. And if you want to understand those early years of the Tudor dynasty, looking at Arthur’s life and how he was raised provides an additional layer of insight. Like I said I’m not going to go into his wedding in the marriage negotiations because there’s a lot of that out there already, but I want to look at Arthur’s life early on and also what his birth meant for the Tudor dynasty, and how Henry VII would have wanted to raise him.
So Arthur was born in 1486 one year into the reign of Henry VII after Henry won the crown by combat at Bosworth Field. Henry spent the period of Richard III in exile in Brittany and France, but he would have seen how quickly everything could change, how quickly the monarchy could change. At the beginning of 1483 everything was pretty stable in England. The Wars of the Roses had been going on, but since the early 1470s things were pretty much in place. Edward IV’s rule was stable, and there was no reason to believe that the throne wouldn’t pass to his son Edward. Edward at that point was learning in his own household in Ludlow with his uncle Anthony Woodville. Richard had been successful a successful magnate in the north. He had invaded Scotland which had been really successful, and there was no reason to believe anything untoward was happening. Edward was healthy things seemed set.
And then of course Edward died suddenly in April of 1483, which was very unexpected and Prince Edward, now Edward V was summoned to London for a coronation planned a few weeks later. And that is where history changed again. Richard intercepted Edward of course, and claimed that Edwards mother’s family was plotting against him, and Edwards coronation was postponed. Now I’m not gonna get into whether or not Richard killed the princes because a I’m gonna tick off somebody either way if I say my opinion and because I really don’t have a horse in that race to be honest. But the effect that it had on Arthur’s father was to show him just how changeable politics in England could be.
So Henry is watching this from Brittany from France and he’s seeing how quickly things can change you can have things fully set up and established and it could all come crashing down in a heartbeat. So Henry became a rival for the throne, and the Yorkist exiles flocked to join his court, this court that was this kind of made-up court that just sort of started to appear. Henry started learning about leadership and kingship, in part by a watching Richard whose administrative skills were really strong. Richard filled his leadership positions with loyal followers, and Henry saw that and he learned from that.
Once Henry became King he realized just how few nobles of national importance were personally not committed to him. He had been a figurehead for the rebellion against Richard, and now he needed to create and cultivate loyalty, and prove to England that he was a worthy King and the rightful successor. He also needed to cultivate that same loyalty for his heir once he had won. Into this scene Arthur came screaming in September 1486.
Now everything about the birth of this heir was orchestrated to be perfect. Elizabeth of York was just 20 years old, and her clear fertility was one sign that God was supportive of this new reign. Thirteen months after he took the throne Henry was being given an heir. Everything seemed really great. They chose Winchester for the birth because of its history with the ancient kings of Britain. Alfred the Great, who envisioned a united Britain when he was still the king of Wessex, and of course Winchester was his capital. But also Henry decided to name his son Arthur after the legendary 5th century king who led the Britons in their fight against the Saxon invaders. Arthur’s famous round table, a table purported to be the round table is actually still in Winchester, and the city itself was rumored to be one of the possible locations of Camelot. Another is Glastonbury, but probably Glastonbury didn’t carry the same sort of gravitas and plus it was a lot further away. So they chose Winchester to be the place where this new Tudor heir would be born. Henry was giving a message showing that he was the rightful successor, and that just like Arthur was uniting the British after a long period of civil war the country would be more prosperous under this legendary leader that was coming.
Arthur Tudor was born at Winchester on the 20th of September on St. Eustace Day now Eustace was a patron saint of hunters and people who were suffering adversities he was also one of the fourteen holy helpers, Saints who had a more effective route and a faster route to intercession so they kind of had God on direct dial. So Eustace would have been a welcome protector for Arthur. Arthur was likely born a little bit premature. We can tell that not only because there was the eight-month gap between the marriage of his parents and his birth. Now of course that doesn’t say that they didn’t conceive him before the wedding but also because many of the leading people needed for the christening hadn’t arrived yet. One of Arthur’s Godfather’s the Earl of Oxford was very late arriving. He actually arrived during the christening itself and when the messenger arrived with the news of the birth he clearly wasn’t ready to leave yet, and he had to rush to get ready. So that leads people to believe that Arthur was premature in his arrival. He was christened in Winchester Cathedral on the elevated stage so that the congregation had a great view. Of course later he would be married on an elevated stage too so that everybody could see this handsome prince and his Spanish princess, but here in Winchester Cathedral you have the font everything is on this elevated stage the stage was covered with a canopy of state, and nearby they had a fire to warm the sweet little prince.
It was reported that the weather was very cold and foul and senior yeoman of the crown had guarded the dais but after the bishop blessed the font the king’s body servants took up the guard of honor Henry brought together the Yorkist and Lancastrian with his own family showing how it had brought together all of these former enemies in peace Arthur was a peacemaker when he was only a couple of days old. Queen Elizabeth had had a rough delivery and she had caught a fever at Arthur’s christening she’d been waiting by the church for the Earl of Oxford to arrive and to take part in the ceremony and she caught a fever then of course we now know looking forward that childbirth would kill her on her 37th birthday but that was still years in the future. She had very very little time with her son before he was set up in his own nursery and that happened around the 26th of October so she only had about a month made five weeks or so with her son and then they stopped at foreign him on the way back to London and they left little Arthur in Farnham.
His nursery was made up almost entirely of Edward the fourth servants people who took care of the young children that Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville had had now that made sense because there are still royal children and structure set up for them the queen sisters Katherine and Bridget were still under 10 when Arthur was born, so it made practical sense to take advantage of this infrastructure that was already set up to handle that. Arthur’s nursery would have had a lady governor with four female servants known as rockers a Chamberlain was appointed to oversee the other officials. Menial work was done by yeoman and grooms. A sewer handled the meals and oversaw serving and tasting the food.
One major theme of importance was to take care of Arthur’s wet nurse and ensure that she was healthy she was actually monitored very carefully even watched while she ate so that physicians could ensure that nothing changed while she ate that she didn’t come down with any sudden symptoms and nothing seemed to bother her while she was eating Elizabeth Darcy was the manager of the nursery she had also cared for Queen Elizabeth and her siblings and all of the members of the household were given generous wages a recognition of how important their jobs were Henry VII often has this sort of persona, this there’s this narrative of him that he was that he was very tight with his money, and yet he was constantly paying these people who cared for his son on time and giving them bonuses showing just how important their jobs were.
Arthur spent his early years at his nursery in Farnham but he began to transition out of the nursery at about three and changes in his household show that he was beginning to take the first steps in the learning the art of ritual the very early stages of court diplomacy. By 1491 he had eleven yeoman and grooms of the chamber and of course his wet nurse and rockers would have been dismissed. The young prince had lands and honors that were sprawled throughout the country. He was the Duke of Cornwall he had a number of different titles and by having those titles he was starting to be educated in the art of patronage, of managing officials, of cultivating loyalty through giving out favors and managing land, and that was something that was really important for King to do. So if you started doing it on a smaller level when you were very young that could then help guide you once you became king, and had the whole country that you were using to cultivate this loyalty.
He became a knight and Prince of Wales in a ceremony in November of 1489 he was just three years and about two months old. He was also then made a knight of Bath and Earl of Chester this marked the official end of his infancy, and the start of his more formal education. He moved to Ludlow in the footsteps of the Queen’s brother Edward. Edward V, Queen Elizabeth’s brother, had moved to Ludlow and had learned in
Ludlow. There’s a couple of reasons why Ludlow was chosen. First this is actually a part of England that Henry VII had known well. This was close to where he was he had grown up. He had spent a lot of time here when he was a ward when he was very young in this part of the country, so it was a place where he felt familiar sending his son. He also did want to emulate and kind of take after what Edward IV had done with his children. That was what his wife had Elizabeth of York was familiar with, and there were still servants in place who had handled that so it seemed to make sense to kind of follow after that. Also people saw Edward IV as the sort of last legitimate King so Richard III wasn’t seen as particularly legitimate at that point, so it seemed to make sense to want to follow after what Edward IV had done with his own children.
We look at the idea of sending a young child away from his family, and we look at that and think that’s really awful, I can’t imagine if somebody told me I had to send my daughter away and she’s five, but it was really important for a king to send the future king to be separate from his family for a couple of reasons. First if he had been with his family and had been learning from the same tutors as his younger brother Henry there might have been sort of rivalries coming up between the brothers. And that was something especially after the Wars the Roses that Henry VII really wanted to avoid. He needed to keep that heir out of and away from any kinds of family dynamic issues that he might come across, resentments that might kind of stew underneath the surface.
He needed to keep his heir away from that he also needed to keep his heir away from and above the political machinations, he didn’t want he didn’t want Arthur to get caught up in all of the different intrigue at court. If anything ever happened to Henry and Arthur had to rule it would be important that Arthur not have too many factions that he already be familiar with, and that might be playing against him. So it was really important to keep Arthur separate from that. Also for disease, there could be a lot of diseases in the royal household, and of course that’s something that is very ironic given that Arthur died then, but that definitely was part of the thinking as well to keep him separate from the diseases and and the different illnesses that went through the royal household.
Finally there was just the idea that he was going to he was born with the weight on his shoulders of having to rule by himself right so if you’re gonna have to rule by yourself nobody else can help you rule. You did have advisors you can have people like that but it’s a very lonely job up there I would imagine because ultimately it comes down to you, and if you’re going to have to do that on your own it really sets sets you up properly if you also learn how if you learn how to do it on your own if you start getting used to that. If you start getting used to having to make these decisions on your own. Also having your own household would let you train. Basically it was kind of like learning and training a smaller version of what the full court would be some day so managing a household yourself managing some of the politics within that and your your servants and and the people who are helping you was something that was really important for Kings to understand so why not start young with a smaller household of your own that you could manage so that was the thinking behind this we of course know that the other royal children did spend more time with their mother there’s the story that she taught them their early handwriting and you know there’s the painting of Henry the eighth after his mother died of him just looking distraught there’s that very famous painting of the children and Henry the eighth is in the background with his head on his show on his arms and just crying and he’s very close to his mother so the other royal children were very very close to Elizabeth and they they did want to have him close and yet it was very important for him to learn these skills on his own and to not have his family right with him to kind of get his wings early on and so that was the thinking behind sending him away to Ludlow of course like I said it’s where the Queen’s brother Edward had gone and also part of the country where Henry Henry Tudor Henry the seventh had been familiar he was taught writing of course writing was incredibly important he would have been taught writing right around the time that he was learning how to walk probably he was also taught other military and chivalric arts later on during his wedding when there were tournaments he was an eager participant. What he did wasn’t a participant he was an eager audience member and definitely enjoyed that aspect of things. When he was six a grammar master was appointed for him John read he had been the former headmaster of the Winchester school and during the 1490s Arthur also studied with Bernard Andre that was his most influential tutor I did an episode on the tutor tutors a couple months ago so I will link to that in the show notes too and you can learn more about some of these tutors who taught the early tutors but Andre took over formally in 1496 when Arthur was 10 at that point Arthur already knew Latin in French but Bernard Andre who had been at Oxford wanted to complete his scholarly learning with classical Latin texts and a more humanistic structure now this was the most modern education available to a prince at that point this is right at the height of the Renaissance when these classical texts are coming back into vogue and reading the text in the translations of the text is seen as really important really in vogue really really fashionable so Arthur was given that education he was given this humanist education Henry would be of course – and and the other children but for Arthur was really important to read some of these texts and to understand these texts and it was seen as very very
important for a king to have this classical knowledge Bernard Andre wrote after Arthur’s death that he was a very literate and noble person who’s very studious and by the time he died he could recite several great works of Roman scholarship and also translations of classical Greek texts at the end of January 1492 when he was five the Kings Privy Purse expense is also record that an expensive longbow is purchased for Arthur but there is no concrete evidence that Arthur was taught any military exercises in any way other than through the hypothetical in the classroom Henry the seventh had seen how easy it was for an heir to die of course Henry the sixth son died in battle and Tewksbury and it was very common for Nobles during the wars their roses for their sons and fathers to fight together and this was something that Henry had seen and took note of and he wanted his son to have an idea of how to fight but he didn’t necessarily want him having to go through the same sorts of struggles that he Henry had gone through and having to fight for his crown like that he wanted to have loyal men around him who would do that for him in some ways that was Henry protecting protecting young Arthur and saying that you know he wanted him to kind of rise above that and of course we also know that Henry was very protective of his children later on with Henry when Henry was the sole heir he wouldn’t let Henry take part in any tournaments or anything either they say of course that that was because he was afraid of losing his other heir but it’s also very possible that he was just a really protective parent after
everything he had gone through himself that he wanted to shield his kids from that and of course warfare played a really important role in Arthur’s life from the way his own father had captured the throne when England invaded France in 1492 Arthur was actually named his region and governor of the realm and Arthur sat at council meetings while the king was away for three months this of course would have also been a great opportunity to learn the skills that he would later need as a monarch presiding over these meetings and of course he wasn’t making the decisions himself but seeing how the decision process was made and running
the meetings and seeing that he was the one in charge of it when he was at Ludlow he didn’t come back to court very often and he wouldn’t have been that close to his mother and father he did visit Shrewsbury in 1494 and 1495 and in one letter he asked the burgesses to look into a case that involved with Blackfriars there so he was very hands-on in his lands and very hands-on in the places where he was the Lord and and was expected to be he was in Coventry in 1498 and Chester in 1499 he also went to Oxford several times during this period and he did make a ceremonial formal entry into London in 1498 but mostly Arthur was on his own with his own Council made up of trusted loyalists and family like I said it was necessary that he learned on his own they also wanted to separate him from the royal household so that he didn’t get caught up in the same political risks that were involving his father this was also the period of rebellions with Perkin Warbeck and we need to remember that that things weren’t always the most stable there were a number of rebellions during this period that threatened the early Tudor dynasty it was important to keep Arthur safe and away from that so that if something did happen to Henry Arthur was far enough away that hopefully he would be able to have people around him who were loyal who could be trusted and who could help him rule and who could help put down the rebellion in 1497 the ambassador to Milan described Arthur as taller than his age with grace and beauty they also noted that he had impressive Latin conversations there is nothing in any portrait contemporary portrait that suggests that he was a tall sickly and I want to talk about his health too since that is often the topic of discussion you know you get this picture of Arthur Tudor as this sickly little boy who couldn’t consummate his marriage and it was always sick and you know that that’s kind of just what you hear about Arthur Tudor, or at least it was what I heard about Arthur Tudor and you know really there is no mention in the spring of 1502 or earlier that Arthur had suffered from any kind of condition or that anyone had ever been overly concerned about his health. There are a lot of different theories out there from saying that he had testicular cancer too you know that he had these childhood illnesses and because he was born premature that there were these issues with him evidence of any kind of condition would have been hard to cover up especially during the time when he was on display during the royal wedding of the century he was up there on a stage everybody was seeing him if he had had any kind of serious issue during that time one would imagine that the Spanish ambassador’s who were watching everything very carefully would have about it or even that once they were married and went back to Ludlow that the Spanish people who were still with Katherine would have written about something it’s just hard to imagine that during this period of five months or so before he died when they were married that nobody commented on any kind of thing of Arthur being sickly there just doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Arthur was particularly sickly it’s likely that there was some kind of an epidemic that swept through and Arthur just happened to be a victim of that Katherine also got sick though she survived there have been some hypotheses that perhaps the Spaniards who didn’t have the same kind of immune system were more susceptible to catching stuff and they wound up no kind of bringing it into the household but who knows right there were all kinds of illnesses all sorts of ways to get sick and die in 1502 so it’s hard to say exactly what it could have been but Katherine was also sick and Arthur died so basically once you start to dig deeper into Arthur’s life you get a fuller idea of this boy who is probably very intelligent very studious like his father who took his role as heir seriously who was involved in the day-to-day running of his lands who seemed to care that his lands were being taken care of and that people were being treated fairly who was intelligent who was learning who was doing all of the things that an heir should do doing it all away from his family and on his own and doing it all with grace and with dignity and you know doing it at a time when it was there was very uncertain for the Tudor dynasty at that point how things were gonna go especially in the 1490s with the rebellions and so I tend to think that Arthur Tudor you know gets a bad rap sometimes in in the narrative of him and then this idea that he was just this sickly child and Henry was waiting in the wings to take over so I hope that this little discussion of Arthur Tudor has introduced you to maybe a new side of him that you hadn’t thought about before. If you want to dig deeper there is a book called Prince Arthur the Tudor King who never was by Sean Cunningham and that’s what I used for this episode and I highly recommend that you get it it goes into much more depth that I can into in a short podcast so I recommend you get that book there’s a link with the show notes as well so you can check that out so thank you so much for listening remember to check out the Tudor radio network Tudor radio network.com to learn all about the new Tudor radio network that is popping up around an internet radio near you thanks so much for listening and I will talk with you again soon.