What if

If Henry VIII’S el­der brother had be­come king, Eng­land might have fought against the Protes­tant Ref­or­ma­tion and al­lied with Spain to colonise Amer­ica to­gether

All About History - - CONTENTS - Writ­ten by Jonathan O’cal­laghan

If Henry VIII’S brother had sur­vived, King Arthur would have fought against the Ref­or­ma­tion

Who was Prince Arthur Tu­dor?

The long hoped for heir of Henry VII, who ce­mented his fa­ther’s claim that he was unit­ing the Lan­cas­trian and York­ist royal houses. Arthur had lots of dif­fer­ent strands of royal blood flow­ing into him, and he was ex­pected to be a uni­fy­ing king. He had a very elab­o­rate chris­ten­ing at Winch­ester, and from that point on he’s re­ally trained to be the sec­ond Tu­dor king. He learns from a very early age how to be a lord, how to look after in­sti­tu­tions, how to de­fend the law, how to run his lands and how to man­age peo­ple. So by the time he died aged 15 and a half, he’s re­ally on the cusp of in­de­pen­dent rule.

How did Arthur die?

Arthur and Cather­ine of Aragon were mar­ried in Novem­ber 1501 in a spec­tac­u­lar cer­e­mony. It was a very lav­ish cel­e­bra­tion of dy­nasty and union between the Span­ish king­doms and Eng­land. They stayed in Lon­don for about a month, and prob­a­bly trav­elled back to Lud­low [where Arthur had grown up] in time for Christmas. But right at the start of April near Easter Sun­day he died. We think that was be­cause of the ‘sweat­ing sick­ness’, which was a dis­ease that came over to Eng­land with Henry VII’S army in 1485. It had flu-like symp­toms of shak­ing, sweat­ing and con­vul­sions, then a coma and ei­ther death or re­cov­ery. It was just un­lucky that there was a big out­break in

Worces­ter­shire and South Shrop­shire in the spring of 1502. It was a new-ish dis­ease that they didn’t know how to deal with.

Could his death have been avoided, then?

If they’d not trav­elled for Christmas but stayed un­til March, they might have avoided the out­break and both lived as man and wife for much longer.

Henry VIII and Cather­ine strug­gled to pro­duce a male heir, do you think Arthur and Cather­ine would have had the same prob­lem?

I don’t see any rea­son why they wouldn’t have had chil­dren. Ob­vi­ously we as­sume that they tried to have chil­dren once Arthur and Cather­ine were mar­ried, [al­though] Cather­ine said she was still a vir­gin when Arthur died. I find it a bit un­usual that after six months there’s no ev­i­dence they slept to­gether. Cer­tainly Cather­ine would say it didn’t hap­pen be­cause it was in her in­ter­ests to marry Henry VIII. So would time have given them an heir? Pos­si­bly. I’m sure they would have been on the case to make sure there was an heir fairly soon. But of course Henry VII would have still been aligned with El­iz­a­beth of York, [Prince] Henry might have been mar­ried to one of Max­i­m­il­ian’s daugh­ters, so there could have been other routes for a Tu­dor child to emerge un­der Henry VII and a big­ger, broader fam­ily, with lots of se­cure Euro­pean al­liances through mar­riage.

What would have hap­pened to Prince Henry if he hadn’t as­sumed Arthur’s throne?

The idea that Henry VIII might have been des­tined for the high church – [be­com­ing] Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury – was put for­ward by Lord Ed­ward Her­bert of Cher­bury, who wrote The Life And Raigne of King Henry VIII in the 17th cen­tury, but the claim was backed by no ev­i­dence; al­though he did use doc­u­ments and state pa­pers, some of which might now be lost. Henry did know much about the church and had a very solid in­ter­est in the­ol­ogy – as he showed in the late 1520s when the pro­ceed­ings for an­nul­ment of his mar­riage gath­ered speed. As a royal cleric he would have been de­ter­mined to show his pre-em­i­nence and power. Since in re­al­ity he was not afraid to de­stroy the struc­tures of ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal life when dis­solv­ing the monas­ter­ies, had he joined the high ranks of the church, I can see him launch­ing a cam­paign to be­come Pope at some point in his life. He would have had a chance to use his charm and in­flu­ence to win the elec­tion.

“Arthur had lots of dif­fer­ent strands of royal blood flow­ing into him, and he was ex­pected to be a uni­fy­ing king”

Arthur Tu­dor de­picted in a church stained glass win­dow in Worces­ter­shire, near where he died

A fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety and head of the Me­dieval Records team at the Na­tional Ar­chives, Sean Cun­ning­ham is the au­thor of Prince Arthur: The Tu­dor King Who Never Wasand has also writ­ten bi­ogra­phies of Henry VII and Richard III. in­ter­view with… Dr Sean Cun­ning­ham

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