A 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.