Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arthur (1486-1502)

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ARTHUR (1486–1502), the eldest son of Henry VII, was born at Winchester on 19 Sept. 1486. His mother was Elizabeth of York, the eldest daughter of Edward IV, whom his father, after he obtained the crown, had married in fulfilment of a promise that he had made in exile. The marriage was intended to have the effect of putting an end to the wars of the Roses by uniting the rival houses of York and Lancaster, and the firstborn was naturally an object of great solicitude. He was baptised in Winchester Cathedral the Sunday after his birth, and was named Arthur after the famous British hero whose fabulous exploits fill the pages of Geoffrey of Monmouth. His descent was traced by industrious genealogists from Cadwallader and the ancient British kings; so that while on the mother's side he was the undoubted heir of the house of York, the defects of his father's title were compensated by a pedigree carried back to the fabled Brutus, In 1489, when only three years old, he was created knight of the Bath. His education was looked to with peculiar care. His first master after he had learned the elements of letters was one John Rede, who, it seems, was also his chaplain (Wood's Fasti Oxon., ed. Bliss, i. 3); but after a time—apparently when he was in his tenth year—he was placed under the tuition of the blind poet laureate, Bernard André, who gives a glowing account of his proficiency. Before he was sixteen he had not only studied the leading grammarians, but was familiar with all the best Greek and Latin authors, whose names the enraptured tutor proudly enumerates in his life of Henry VII.

But the interest of his brief life turns altogether upon the story of his marriage with Katharine of Arragon. Negotiations had already taken place with a view to that marriage as early as 1488, when he was not yet two years old, Ferdinand and Isabella perceiving that, notwithstanding the uncertainty of the succession in England created by the recent civil wars, Henry might be a valuable ally against France, and one that it was desirable to win, while on the other hand the friendship of a recently united Spain was an equally important object to secure on the part of England, The marriage project, of course, was no more at first than a prospective link between the two kingdoms in a comparatively remote future; but, as Lord Bacon remarks, ‘the very treaty itself gave abroad in the world a reputation of a strait conjunction and amity between them, which served on both sides to many purposes that their several affairs required, and yet they continued still free,’ Ferdinand was too great a politician to conclude the arrangement definitely till he was sure that no future Simnels or Warbecks could do much to shake Henry's throne. Henry, on the other hand, was continually on his guard lest by virtue of the treaty he should make himself a mere catspaw to carry out the designs of Ferdinand. At length, however, all difficulties were removed. Katharine landed at Plymouth on 2 Oct. 1501, and was married to Arthur, at St. Paul's, on 14 Nov. following. Three times had the prince gone through a form of marriage with her already before her arrival in England, the Spanish ambassador acting as her proxy—all to satisfy the doubts of Ferdinand lest there should be some evasion on the part of England. Now all was secure; and though Arthur was weak and sickly, and the English council objected to the cohabitation of the young couple on this account (Arthur having only just completed his fifteenth year), Henry wrote to Ferdinand that he had risked his son's health for the love he bore to Katharine. The prince and his bride were sent down to the borders of Wales to keep court at Ludlow, where, in less than five months, the bridegroom died on 2 April 1502. A touching account is given by a contemporary pen of the manner in which the news was received by his bereaved father and mother.

[Gairdner's Memorials of Henry VII; Bergenroth's Spanish Calendar, vol. i. and supp. to vols. i. and ii.; Leland's Collectanea, iv. 204, 250-7, v. 373-4; Somers Tracts, i. 26-31; Letter of Henry VII to Ferdinand and Isabella in the Duke of Manchester's Court and Society, i. 59.]

J. G.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.9
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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131 i 32 Arthur, son of Henry VII : after the Bath insert and in 1491 knight of the Garter