HENRY VII’S DYNASTIC AMBITIONS
The first Tudor king pens a gushing welcome to his son’s wife-to-be, 1501
This missive to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon is one of the only known examples of a letter written in the hand of Henry VII. It appears that the king took great pleasure in writing it, for it presaged an event that, Henry believed, would help secure his grip on the throne – Catherine’s marriage to his son Arthur.
Henry wrote the letter in October 1501 – 16 years after seizing the English crown from the Yorkist king Richard III at the battle of Bosworth. Henry’s own Lancastrian claim to the throne was tenuous, and even though he quickly married Elizabeth of York, eldest daughter of Edward IV, to unite the rival dynasties of York and Lancaster, a succession of Yorkist plots to unseat him followed.
In response, the king shrewdly arranged strategic marriages for his children to bolster the new Tudor dynasty by linking it into a network of European royalty. In March 1488, Henry initiated talks with the Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella, to negotiate an alliance with Spain and the marriage of his eldest son and heir, Prince Arthur, to their youngest daughter, Catherine. The following year, the Anglo-Spanish Treaty of Medina del Campo was concluded and Arthur and Catherine, aged two and three, were pledged to be married.
Catherine’s departure from Spain was repeatedly delayed by disputes over the payment of her dowry but she eventually set sail for England in September 1501. Henry’s excitement at the news is palpable in his letter. “Madam, [your late arrival] here in our realm is to us so very agreeable that we cannot adequately say or express the great pleasure, joy [and] relief which we feel,” the king gushes. The arrival of a princess from one of the greatest royal houses in Europe to marry his eldest son and heir was a triumphant endorsement of the legitimacy of the Tudor dynasty.
Catherine and Arthur were married on 14 November 1501, but the union was short-lived. Arthur succumbed to the sweating sickness and died in April 1502, leaving Catherine to face an uncertain future in England.