HENRY VII’S DYNASTIC AMBITIONS

The first Tu­dor king pens a gush­ing wel­come to his son’s wife-to-be, 1501

BBC History Magazine - - Tudor Letters -

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.

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