Book Review: “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham

28999810A new dynasty is born out of war and bloodshed. Hope is restored to the land as the remains of the Houses of York and Lancaster are united when Henry VII marries Elizabeth of York. It was not until the birth of their eldest child and heir, Prince Arthur, that the union was truly complete. Arthur was the hope for the nation, but when he tragically died shortly after marrying Catherine of Aragon, he was replaced by his younger brother who would become King Henry VIII. Arthur’s life was indeed very short, but his legacy and untimely death altered the course of history forever. Arthur tends to be a footnote in history, between Henry VII’s and Henry VIII’s reigns, but what was this young prince like? Why did his death leave such a large hole in the plans for the future of the Tudor dynasty? What was his relationship like with his family and those closest to the prince? These questions and more are explored in Dr. Sean Cunningham’s brilliant biography, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was”.

I had heard about this book from my friends in the Tudor community for a while now and it sounded so intriguing. In my studies of the Tudor dynasty, I have often treated Prince Arthur as a footnote, but I have felt that there was more to his story than his birth, his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, and his death.

To understand the significance of Prince Arthur and his birth, Cunningham briefly explains how the Tudor dynasty began at the end of the Wars of the Roses. To secure the dynasty, the birth of a male heir was essential. His name itself was seen as a way to connect the Tudors with legendary kings of England’s past. The prince’s baptism was as glamorous as his parents’ coronations and wedding, emphasizing the role that his parents expected their son would play as he grew up.

The bulk of this biography is focused on the education and the political moves that Arthur made while he was Prince of Wales. It may have seemed a bit harsh for his parents to send him away at a young age, but as Cunningham explains thoroughly, this was part of a long-term strategy for Henry VII. Although we don’t know much about Arthur’s character, the way he was raised and how he held control in his northern realm showed us a glimmer of what his reign might have been like if he did live long enough to be the second Tudor king.

It was his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, who would be Henry VIII’s first wife, that was the pinnacle of his young life. Normally, the wedding night would not have been a point of intense focus. However, since it was critical to Henry VIII’s divorce case against Catherine, Cunningham explored as much of that night and what we know as possible. Finally, Cunningham tackles the confusing issue of what killed the prince.

Overall I found this book very enlightening and extremely well researched. Prince Arthur was the most prominent Tudor child born to Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, yet he has never been a focal point for Tudor historians. Cunningham has taken every minute detail of his short life to craft this insightful biography of a prince whose death shaped the course of history forever. This is a masterpiece of a biography. If you would like to learn more about the life of the firstborn Tudor prince, I highly recommend you read, “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was” by Sean Cunningham.

Trailer Review: “The Spanish Princess”

As many of you know, the first trailer for “The Spanish Princess”, the new miniseries by Starz and based off books by Philippa Gregory, just dropped. This is the story of Catherine of Aragon coming to England to marry Prince Arthur, but when Arthur dies unexpectantly, Catherine must choose between going back to Spain or marrying her dead husband’s brother Henry Tudor, who would become Henry VIII. I have watched the trailer and I have decided to review the trailer. 

The Books

This series is “drawn” from two of Philippa Gregory’s books, “The Constant Princess” and “The King’s Curse”.  It has been over a year or two since I personally read these books. So before we dive into a review of the trailer, I thought it would be appropriate to look at the summaries of both of these books, which you can find from Philippa Gregory’s website,  to see what we might expect to see from this series.

The first book we will look at is “The Constant Princess”:

61uvmxu-owl._sx326_bo1,204,203,200_We think of her as the barren wife of a notorious king; but behind this legacy lies a fascinating story. Katherine of Aragon is born Catalina, the Spanish Infanta, to parents who are both rulers and warriors. Aged four, she is betrothed to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and is raised to be Queen of England. She is never in doubt that it is her destiny to rule that far-off, wet, cold land. Her faith is tested when her prospective father-in-law greets her arrival in her new country with a great insult; Arthur seems little better than a boy; the food is strange and the customs coarse. Slowly she adapts to the first Tudor court, and life as Arthur’s wife grows ever more bearable. But when the studious young man dies, she is left to make her own future: how can she now be queen, and found a dynasty? Only by marrying Arthur’s young brother, the sunny but spoilt Henry. His father and grandmother are against it; her powerful parents prove little use. Yet Katherine is her mother’s daughter and her fighting spirit is strong. She will do anything to achieve her aim; even if it means telling the greatest lie, and holding to it.

The second book is “The King’s Curse”:

This is the story of deposed royal Margaret Pole, and her unique view of King Henry VIII’s 51qydh3apnlstratospheric rise to power in Tudor England. Margaret Pole spends her young life struggling to free her brother, arrested as a child, from the Tower of London. The Tower – symbol of the Tudor usurpation of her family’s throne – haunts Margaret’s dreams until the day that her brother is executed on the orders of Henry VII. Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret is buried in marriage to a steady and kind Tudor supporter – Sir Richard Pole, governor of Wales. But Margaret’s quiet, hidden life is changed forever by the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon, as Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple. Margaret’s destiny, as an heiress to the Plantagenets, is not for a life in the shadows. Tragedy throws her into poverty and rebellion against the new royal family, luck restores her to her place at court where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine and watches the dominance of the Spanish queen over her husband, and her fall. As the young king becomes increasingly paranoid of rivals he turns his fearful attention to Margaret and her royal family. Amid the rapid deterioration of the Tudor court, Margaret must choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, Henry VIII, or to her beloved queen and princess. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret has to find her own way and hide her knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors, which is slowly coming true . . .

The Trailer

The trailer for “The Spanish Princess” begins with the introduction of the show’s protagonist, Catherine of Aragon, played by Charlotte Hope, walking outside in her white wedding dress. Her purpose in England was to marry the future King of England in order to make an alliance between England and Spain. I think Charlotte Hope looks the part of Catherine of Aragon. She looks rather regal, a bit shy at first, but she becomes a strong and determined young woman. Plus she has auburn hair; which is the actual hair color Catherine of Aragon was known to have. A huge plus for fans of Catherine of Aragon and her life story.

The first few seconds of the trailer, we are introduced to the important members of the English court. King Henry VII, played by Elliot Cowan, is an older man who seems to dress quite lavishly and who seeks to make England a better country. The one problem that I have with the character of Henry VII is his accent. Though we are not sure what kind of accent he might have had since he was part Welsh and lived in France and Brittany for a time in his life, one would assume he might have some French or Welsh accent, but his accent, from what we can gather, sounds solely English. I might be nit-picking here a bit, but it did bother me a little bit. Always next to Henry’s side is his wife, Elizabeth of York, who is played by Alexandra Moen.

Now we come to the two brothers, Arthur and Henry, or “Harry” as he is called in this series. Prince Arthur, who is played by Angus Imrie, looks very thin and almost sickly in the images that we do see of him. From what we know of Arthur, he was rather healthy, until his death shortly after marrying Catherine. Henry “Harry”, played by Ruairi O’Connor, has that suave and debonaire feel to him. The one problem that many people have, myself included, is the fact that when Catherine and Henry first met, Henry was around 10 or 11 and Catherine was around 16. The trailer makes it seem as though the two were around the same age when they met, which was not the case.

Henry and Catherine developed feelings for each other and Henry wants Catherine to stay and marry him, although she is his brother’s widow. We see two members of the English royal family who are not exactly thrilled with this match. They are Margaret Beaufort, Henry VIII’s grandmother, played by Dame Harriet Walter, and  Margaret “Maggie” Pole, played by Laura Carmichael. We also get a look at the ladies of waiting to Catherine of Aragon, Lina, and Rosa, who are played by Stephanie Levi-John and Nadia Parkes respectfully. The series also decided to include Oviedo, played by Aaron Cobham, who falls in love with Lina.

I do enjoy the costumes for this series as they do seem to honor the past. The scenery is intriguing and transports the viewer to the time of the Tudors. The one scene that I did have a slight problem with was the last one in the trailer, which shows Catherine, Lina, and Rosa dressed in black in the cathedral, mourning for Prince Arthur. From what it looks like in the trailer, it is Arthur’s funeral. Lina and Rosa are wailing while Catherine is in the middle, no tears down her face, as she looks stoically at the camera. My issue with this scene is the fact that members of the royal family did not attend his funeral because of the risk of the sweating sickness. If you would like to read more about Prince Arthur’s funeral, Dr. Sean Cunningham, who wrote the book “Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was”, wrote a fascinating article for On the Tudor Trail, which you can find below in the sources.

The series also uses nicknames such as “Harry” for Prince Henry, “Maggie” for Margaret Pole, “Charlie” for Charles Brandon and “Meg” Tudor. It is not clear if “Meg” is a combination of Mary and Margaret or if it is just Margaret Tudor. I don’t know why they would choose to go down this route as both Mary and Margaret are important figures, being the sisters of Henry and Arthur Tudor. Another notable absence from the list of characters is Isabella of Castille, Catherine’s formidable mother. We do, apparently, get an appearance from Christopher Columbus, according to the cast list, but not from Catherine’s own mother, who really shaped what kind of woman Catherine would become.

Overall, I did enjoy the trailer. I think it is interesting that Starz decided to combine both the stories of Catherine of Aragon and Margaret Pole into a mini-series. From what was shown in the trailer, it looks like their main focus will be Catherine and Henry so hopefully, we will see more of Margaret later in the show. “The Spanish Princess” looks like it will be an enjoyable show for those who love historical dramas.

What are your thoughts about this trailer and will you watch “The Spanish Princess”?

 

Sources:

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/film-tv/a26038583/the-spanish-princess-starz-first-teaser-trailer/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8417308/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast

https://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-constant-princess

https://www.philippagregory.com/books/the-king-s-curse

http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/2016/07/30/prince-arthurs-funeral-ceremony-despair-and-shifting-politics-in-1502/

https://thefreelancehistorywriter.com/2015/06/19/the-wedding-of-arthur-tudor-prince-of-wales-and-catherine-of-aragon/