Sunday, December 19, 2010

Question from Sarah - Arthur Tudor's birth date

Arthur, Prince of Wales was born 8 months into his parents' marriage. Is there any possibility that they consummated the relationship before the official wedding day? Or even that Arthur had a different father? Was it ever suggested by contemporaries or those later?

I was wondering because I was reading about the Princes in the Tower being declared illegitimate, and thinking that someone could have used Arthur's premature birth as an excuse to depose him, if he had become king.

[Most of this question was covered in the thread linked below. - Lara]

1 comment:

Foose said...

I found a reference in Felicity Riddy's book Sir Thomas Malory that the name Arthur was associated with bastardy in the Tudor period. Footnote 22 in the chapter "The World of the Book" notes that Edward IV's illegitimate son was named Arthur, as was the illegitimate son of Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (uncle to Henry VI), and argues "Perhaps the doubtful circumstances of [king] Arthur's birth made his an appropriate name for royal bastards." Queen Elizabeth had an alleged bastard named Arthur Tudor soliciting support at the Spanish court late in the 16th century.

In reference to Arthur Prince of Wales, however, the biographies of Elizabeth of York, Henry VII and Arthur himself that I looked at do not report any contemporary rumor that Arthur was illegitimate (either because his parents may not have been married when he was conceived, or because Henry VII might not have been his father.) It does look that Henry picked the name for the usual reasons given, to inaugurate a new age, emphasize his descent from the legendary kings of Britain, provide a unifying motif across York-Lancaster divisions and perhaps to avoid the acrimony that might have arisen from a straight Henry-or-Edward choice.

He did name his second son Henry, but split the difference by making him Duke of York. Third son Edmund was probably named for Henry's father, but Edmund was also the founder of the House of York (as Edward III's younger son).

Henry's intent is perhaps echoed by his daughter Margaret and her husband James IV naming their second son Arthur in 1512; this is usually seen as a sentimental choice, but Arthur Stewart was born after Henry VIII lost his "New Year's Boy," Queen Katherine had not conceived again, and perhaps James and Margaret were calculating that this child might inherit the throne of England, and needed a name more acceptable than James to his future subjects. By choosing "Arthur," they laid claim to the same mythic British past as Henry VII.

I think "King" Arthur Tudor would have faced pretty much the same challenges as his brother Henry -- coping with a possible resurgence of the White Rose, the issues and choices posed by the Reformation, the position of England in the Valois-Habsburg struggle, etc. Perhaps brother Henry, in a junior role, would have caused trouble. But I don't think Arthur's legitimacy would have been challenged.