Henry VII and the Death of Prince Arthur.



So, I’m back and I’m blogging again! Apologies for letting this blog slide over the last several months – but life and work have kept me busy elsewhere. However, an article came to my attention recently that left me scratching my head. Not so long ago, the grave of Prince Arthur was re-discovered in Worcester Cathedral. His remains were discreetly examined in such a way as to not disturb them and some strange conclusions seem to have resulted. That is what I want to look at here.

Arthur, Prince of Wales.

Arthur, Prince of Wales.


According to one of those involved in the case, there is evidence of “foul play”, and goes on to imply rather strongly that Henry VII had regarded his elder son as sickly, and could clearly see that his younger son, Henry Duke of York, would make a much better King. Therefore, Prince Arthur was packed off to Ludlow with a skinful of poison to sort the problem out.
First of all, what evidence is there to suggest that Arthur had been sickly all his life? There isn’t any, and is more of an assumption. If he had been sickly, wouldn’t medical bills, treatments and lengthy periods of convalescence be recorded in contemporary chronicles? From the evidence we have, Arthur was in perfectly normal health up until his sudden death in April, 1501.
If Henry VII could easily see that his Duke of York would make a far better King, then why did he invest every hope in Arthur, and arrange a grand marital alliance for him? If he was going to poison Arthur, would he not have at least waited until after Ferdinand had paid up the rest of Catherine’s dowry? Why would he kill any of his children at all? Like a lot of parents, Henry actually seemed rather fond of his children!
The Tudor Dynasty was new. Henry had just established a relative peace and stability on a hitherto fractious nation that was rent with Dynastic feuding. He needed, above all, set his grip firmly into the government and take root as the new King, with a new Dynasty, that would be the advent of a whole new era. For that, he needed heirs. So why on earth would he then poison one (even if he did fancy the other’s chances more – of which there is no evidence that he did)?
Following Prince Arthur’s death; Henry was devastated. Both he, and Elizabeth of York, were said to be inconsolable. If Arthur had be poisoned by his father, would Henry not have been rubbing his hands with glee at a job well done? The reality is that his new Dynasty was left horribly weakened by the loss of the child in whom all hope for the future had been invested. He was left with just one small son to carry that burden, and life in the sixteenth century could be all too brief. Killing one precious son just doesn’t make sense. Not on a personal level, a political level, or a dynastic level. It simply did not happen. Whatever it was that killed Prince Arthur, it was natural and it caused his family incalculable devastation.
I would normally have this, which is so obviously a conspiracy theory, slide. It’s senseless on a number of levels. However, not only is the theory to be found in the original article I was linked to, but in Prince Arthur’s Wikipedia entry. It seems to be taking hold, and someone needs to debunk it quickly before poor Henry VII is down forever as a killer of his own son!

The Offending Wiki Article Here!


Original Article Here!





14 thoughts on “Henry VII and the Death of Prince Arthur.

  1. Good Points ! Great Article 🙂

  2. Esther says:

    Great article. Seems to be a good season for finding lost historical graves, with this combined with the findings in Leicester. Seriously, though, I hope that they are able to find out what killed him (i.e., possible genetic weakness, identifying the “sweating sickness”, etc.)

  3. Joan says:

    There is no way Henry would have killed his son Arthur. was a family From what I have read, Henry VIII was a family man who loved his beautiful wife and children.

    • ellie666 says:

      That’s exactly right, Joan. Henry never really recovered from the deaths of Arthur and Elizabeth. The poor man unravelled.

  4. Anerje says:

    I visited Worcester Cathedral last year and had a good conversation with one of the volunteer guides about Prince Arthur’s tomb. They used heat-seeking equipment to find out the exact placement of the coffin – the tomb itself was not disturbed. The coffin lies just a foot over from the tomb itself, and there’s an empty chamber next to it. So no mystery there. There’s an excellent book on the life of prince Arthur, ‘Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration’ which contains a number of essays on the Prince. It dispells the myth that Arthur was a sickly child, and that he probably died of plague. There are no records to show that Arthur was frequently ill during his lifetime, and that his death was a shock to his family.

  5. Anerje says:

    I think the reason Arthur has been portrayed as sickly in many historical works of fiction is based on Catherine of Aragon’s assertion that her marriage to Arthur was unconsumated. I actually do think the marriage was consummated and Catherine lied, probably on the orders of her parents. The couple were sent to Ludlow in a mini-court to rule Wales – there was no reason for them not to consummate their marriage.

    • ellie666 says:

      I’m always amazed at the number of people who get very angry at the suggestion Catherine of Aragon could have lied. The fact is, she did. She lied to her father about a pregnancy quite early on in her marriage to Henry. So, I totally agree in that she could well have lied about her marriage to Arthur. Plus, there was Arthur’s comments to one of his men. He certainly seemed to think he had lain with Catherine – and we’re in no position to be calling him a liar.

  6. Trish Wilson says:

    Hi Ellie
    You’ve another supporter here my actual subject being EOY though lately I’ve being looking into the dual mystery of Richard III
    For record do you think they ever met met pre-Bosworth?

  7. Kathleen Hestand says:

    I think it is absolutely ridiculous to suggest that Henry VII killed Arthur. His shared grief with Elizabeth of York is proof of this, besides his documented interest and investment in Arthur’s education. Arthur was not sickly, as he had been evaluated by the Spanish Ambassador before the marriage treaty with Spain, and no reference to any illness or frailty was made. The fact that Catherine later retained two copies of the dispensation, one for if the marriage was not consummated, and one for if it was, suggests that she was hedging her bets. Anyone can see I think, that if you put a 15 year old boy and a 16 year old girl in the same bed with no restrictions, you will get consummation.

  8. bluffkinghal says:

    This is the first time I am seeing so many people choosing to believe that Catherine lied, and I must say it is refreshing. Based on the evidence we have, it is more likely that she consummated the marriage with Arthur and lied later than anything else. The argument that she was too pious to lie doesn’t hold any merit, really.

  9. Trish Wilson says:

    There could be a logical reason for Catherine’s behaviour and that she feared marriage to Henry might not happen if she admitted to intimate relations with his brother. We have to understand the terrible predicament that became hers following the death of Arthur and the shabby treatment she received at the hands of Henry VII.

    It is my view that after the death of his wife Henry’s mental state and attitude took a turn for the worse. As one historian reports it’ “The mood of the Court became grim and sombre and Henry a virtual recluse’. There’s a great deal said about his mother wielding power and influence with Elizabeth effectively being sidelined but that’s not a view I altogether share nor that he was a cold and unloving husband.

    I picked up some interesting titbits from a book ‘The Early Tudors at Home’. Buying a basket of oranges for one’s wife 30th birthday may not seem a big deal until we remember oranges were still a scarce commodity at the time, considered a luxury and cost more than a chair or a man’s daily wage. There‘s also this rather endearing image of him having an arbour specially built for his wife in the grounds of Windsor Castle. As it is he was always rescuing her from some financial predicament or other and the money he lavished on her funeral would be worth in the region of £100K today which hardly suggests the cold and unloving husband or the mean and parsimonious monarch either.

  10. Esther says:

    FWIW, according to Henry VIII’s biographer, JJ Scarisbrick, Catherine had no motive to lie about consummating the marriage with Arthur. According to Scarisbrick, the church had long recognized the “Deuteronomy exception” to the Levitical prohibition against marrying a brother’s widow, even where the marriage was consummated; under this exception, since Catherine’s marriage to Arthur was childless, Henry was commanded to marry her. Furthermore, Scarisbrick also notes that lthe dispensation only removed affinity/consanguinuity as an impediment to Catherine’s marriage with Henry; it did not remove the impediment of “public honesty”, created by Catherine and Arthur’s very public wedding. If the marriage to Arthur was consummated, however, the impediment of “public honesty” was “necessarily implicated” in the dispensation, so the marriage was valid. If, however, the marriage to Arthur was not consummated, then the dispensation was moot …. and the impediment of “public honesty” invalidated the marriage. If this biographer is correct, Catherine’s motive to lie disappears … her case is actually stronger if her marriage to Arthur was consummated.
    Scarisbrick notes that Wolsey had pointed this out to Henry, but Henry had become distrustful of his old minister (and enamored of his Levitical theory), so it wasn’t used.
    Idenitifying what killed Arthur could help answer the question. David Starkey has mentioned TB or testicular cancer as possible explanations for his death, for example, and I would think either of these conditions could interfere with Arthur’s performance. Catherine may not have been able to tell, until her marriage to a young, vigorous Henry gave her a basis for comparison.

  11. Anerje says:

    It’s my understanding that, put simply, Henry became obsessed with the idea that Catherine was not a virgin when he married her, having consummated her marriage to Arthur, rather than pressing the fact that he had married his brother’s wife, no matter if she was a virgin. With this method of attack, Catherine had every reason to lie. I’m sure it was an ‘honourable’ lie and she was fighting for her daughter’s inheritance and her pride. I’ve no doubt the Pope would have pardoned for that
    Iie. Henry VII dithered over marrying the young Henry to Catherine – was it because he knew the marriage with Arthur had been consummated? I’m delighted there are others who doubt Catherine’s word. David Starkey certainly does.

    Why on earth would Henry VII allow them to live together unless he wanted the marriage consummated? If there were difficulties in consummating the marriage why is there no record of the couple being advised? Take the myth of the sickly Arthur out of the equation and there is no reason for it not to be consummated. And yes, Catherine had lied to her father about being pregnant.

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