King Henry VII of England (reign from August 1485 to April 1509) was the first King of England of the Tudor Dynasty. He had a difficult reign at times – he had to fight to gain the English throne and fight to keep it, meaning that he was often suspicious of others. Juliana Cummings explains.

A young Henry Vii.

A young Henry Vii.

Birth of a Monarch

History tells us so much about King Henry Vlll; he had six wives, he was terribly fat etc. But we often don’t hear enough about his father, the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. While Henry Vlll feared illness, his father seemed afraid of something deeper. Despite being an admirable  warrior who earned his crown, Henry Vll lived much of his reign in fear.

On the 28th of January 1457, Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond, gave birth to  a son. She was only thirteen years old and the delivery almost killed her.  That son, was Henry Tudor, the future King of England. Henry’s father, Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond had been dead for three months.

Henry Tudor was placed under the protection of his Uncle Jasper Tudor at Pembroke Castle until trouble began again between the Houses of Lancaster and York. Pembroke was seized, Jasper Tudor escaped, and four year old Henry Tudor was taken into custody by Yorkist Sir William Hebert. While Henry’s time with Herbert could be looked at as a time of imprisonment, he was treated like anything but a prisoner. He was well cared for and brought up quite honorably by William Hebert’s wife. Henry would stay with the Hebert family for roughly eleven years until Hebert was killed in battle and Henry was reunited with his Uncle Jasper. 

In 1470, the Lancastrian King, Henry VI was back on the throne but in 1471, Yorkist Edward lV reclaimed the throne once again and Henry Vl, along with his heir, were murdered. There now remained one Lancastrian with a claim to the throne; Henry Tudor. It was Henry’s mother Margaret, who provided the royal bloodline that gave him that claim.  And, albeit small, it was a claim. Margaret was the great granddaughter of John Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and son of Edward lll. This gave her confirmation that her son had every right to seek the crown. But Richard lll, Edward lV’s brother, felt he had a right to the crown as well. And when Edward died on April 9, 1483, it was Richard who declared himself King.


A New King

Jasper Tudor would take the teenage Henry under his protection for the next fourteen or so years. With his mother’s financial support, and the help of the French and the Scottish, Henry Tudor would set sail for the Welsh shore. On the seventh of August, 1485, Henry Tudor and his men landed at Mill Bay in Pembrokeshire. He was twenty eight years. He dropped to his knees and asked God to favor his cause. And because Wales was a Lancastrian stronghold, Henry had their support as well. His army, although a bit muddled, would grow to nearly 5,000.

Despite the fact that King Richard lll had a bigger army, it was Henry Tudor who would prevail at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. With the support of his step father, Lord Thomas Stanley, Henry and his army pulled Richard from his horse and pummeled him to death. And it was Stanley who would then place Richard’s bloody crown on Henry’s head. At Westminster Abbey, on October 13, 1485, Henry Tudor was crowned King of England.

Henry’s reign would prove to be one of great fear for the new king. He knew that what had happened to Richard lll could happen to him and he was continuously reminded that his throne wasn’t far from being in jeopardy. His first action in securing his reign was to marry. During his time as King, Richard was believed to have locked up his two nephews, the sons of his brother Edward, in the Tower of London in fear that they would try to usurp his throne when they were of age.  The detainment of the two boys divided much of Yorkist England and the supporters of the nephews needed somewhere to turn. They turned to Henry Tudor. They also pledged to give him their support if he married Edward lV’s Yorkist daughter, Elizabeth. Henry’s mother Margaret along with Elizabeth’s mother, Elizabeth Woodville, greatly supported the union between their children. Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth York would not only strengthen his position as King but it would become a time of great love for them both. Elizabeth was intelligent and beautiful and Henry adored his new bride. And more importantly, she provided him with a male heir soon after their marriage.


Increasing Threats

While Henry Tudor continued to try to convince his people that he was the rightful King, many of them didn’t believe it.  One of them was the de la Pole family, specifically John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln. His claim was that Richard lll had already named him as the successor. In the year 1487, de la Pole would show to be a real threat to Henry Tudor. He was able to gather financial and military support from German and Swiss Mercenaries as well English rebels who were most likely supporters of Richard lll. But at the Battle of Stoke Field in June 1487, Henry Tudor and his battle hardened army would crush de la Pole’s men. And luckily for Henry, John de la Pole was  also killed in that battle. 

In 1493, Henry Tudor faced another very real dilemma.  Yorkist exiles began to devise a plot to throw Henry from his throne.  A man named Perkin Warbeck, considered a pretender, claimed to be Richard of York, the younger of the two Yorkist brothers who had been locked away in The Tower over ten years ago.  Warbeck claimed that he escaped The Tower long ago and at nineteen years old would fight to take the crown back. The Yorkist exiles didn’t hesitate to use Warbeck as their scapegoat. And for those that believed the two cousins to be dead, Perkin Warbeck would test their loyalty to King Henry. 

This uprising would send Henry Tudor into a downward spiral of paranoia and fear. He began to place spies everywhere; in people’s private homes, in the confessionals, even in his own palaces.  By having this collaboration, The King was able to trace one of his enemies right to his Chamberlain, William Stanley. Stanley, who had fought alongside him at Bosworth, was found with Yorkist jewelry and enough money to raise his own army.  Henry Tudor chose not to use clemency and William Stanley was beheaded in February of 1495. Realizing that support for the Yorkist imposter was growing, Henry grew even more vigilant.  He kept to his apartments when at court and seemed to go into a lockdown in his privy chamber. Only a small group of his most trusted advisors were permitted in his company. He began obsessing over how the court’s money was spent and resorted to micro managing everything, even down to what to pay the servants. He continued to build his network of spies to track Warbeck’s every move. Warbeck, who been staying in what he believed was the safety of Ireland and Scotland had made a few failed attempts at invading England. His last attempt was on September 12, 1497, with only 120 men.  But Warbeck was captured and sent to the Tower. He was hung for treason in November of that same year.


The Changing of a Kingdom

With the threats of Warbeck and de la Pole no longer there, King Henry Vll was able to feel enough confidence that his Kingdom was at peace. While he still kept an ever watchful eye on any known enemies, he was able to focus his attention on other matters.  By the year 1500, his wife Elizabeth had already delivered him another son. Little Henry, or Harry,  as they called him, was now nine years old. And the King and Queen’s daughter, Mary, was three years old. In 1501, Princess Katherine of Aragon would arrive in England as the betrothed of Henry’s oldest son, Arthur. Katherine came from powerful parents, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Her marriage to Arthur would strength England as it would now have the allegiance of Spain. The wedding was a splendid one and there was much celebration in the county over the union of the Prince and Princess.

Sadly though, Prince Arthur’s marriage would be a short one. On April 15, 1502, Arthur succumbed to the sweating sickness and died.  Henry was absolutely devastated. Not only because of the loss of his son but because the death of the heir to the English throne would have a huge political impact on the country.  The future of England now fell on eleven year old Harry. 

Things would only get worse for Henry Tudor. On February 11 that next year, Henry’s beloved wife, Queen Elizabeth, died in childbirth. The King was beside himself. His marriage to Elizabeth had been one of happiness and love and her death not only threatened to tear him apart, but England as well. Many of England’s Yorkist supporters had only chosen to recognize Henry as King because of his union to Elizabeth. With her being gone, it left these people open to consideration about where their loyalties now lay.  This caused the King to become paranoid once again and he was convinced he spotted  treason everywhere he turned. 

Henry got desperate and decided that if he couldn’t make his people like him, then he would make them fear him. He did this by giving people fines for the smallest things, which in turn indebted them to The King. Henry devised a new council called the The Council Learned in the Law, which answered only to The King and would overlook all other legal laws. Edward Dudley, one of the nation’s most prominent lawyers, went to work for The King’s new council.  His expertise alone allowed him to enforce and stretch laws which would ultimately lead to charges on the townspeople.

The Aging King Henry Vll was in a constant state of fear and resentment towards his people.  And he not only worried about his own health, he began to obsess over the fear of his son and heir, Harry. He was terrified that Harry would catch an illness or get seriously injured and so he kept him away from people as much as possible and refused to let him participate in jousts.  But these restrictions would be hard for Henry to carry out.  Harry was now a grown teenager, who towered over his father at more than six feet. Harry was handsome and athletic and had been building his loyalties with the common people as well as in the tiltyard. He was charismatic and had a way with people.  More and more people came to really like Harry and began to form alliances with the soon to be new King.



When Henry Vll lay on his deathbed, perhaps his biggest threat was his own son. Young Harry had promised to be a different kind of king. One of fairness and goodwill. When Henry Tudor died on April 21, 1509 at Richmond Palace, less than fifteen people knew that he had died. His death was kept a secret for two days. While arrangements were made, the new King, Henry Vlll, wanted the people of England to understand that he was different. He ordered the much resented Edmund Dudley executed for treason.  Thomas More, who would become one of Henry Vlll’s closest advisors, said that the new king was like the Spring. He was new and refreshing and offered a time of rebirth. However, if Henry Vlll was the Spring then his father had to have been the Winter; a time of darkness and solitude. 

But despite the sometimes tyrannical reign of Henry Vll, he was a man who fought for what he believed was his. With what seems like the odds being against him for most of his life, he came out of exile and battled his way to the top. He was successful in putting his heir on the throne and succeeded in building possibly the most famous dynasty in England’s history.


What do you think of King Henry VII? Let us know below.

Finally, you can find out more about Juliana on The Savage Revolt site here.

Queen Elizabeth I of England is often seen as one of England’s greatest monarchs. The last of the Tudor monarchs, she strengthened England and her reign became known as a Golden Age. But, despite being the last in the Tudor line, Elizabeth never married. In an extended article, Casey Titus focuses on the life of Elizabeth before she became Queen, including her relationship with her father Henry VIII’s wives, and how this influenced her decision to never marry.

See past Tudor history writing from Casey on King Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI (here), the person who could have been king instead of Henry VIII (here), and on whether the reign of Mary I was a failure (here).

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England that commemorates the 1588 English victory against the Spanish Armada.

A portrait of Queen Elizabeth I of England that commemorates the 1588 English victory against the Spanish Armada.

“Good Queen Bess,” “Gloriana,” or most controversial of all, “The Virgin Queen,” was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor but also one of the most famous and influential. Her 44-year reign oversaw a glorious transformation of a politically and religiously unstable nation into one of the Great Powers in Europe and was subsequently referred to as England’s Golden Age. 

Yet, behind her achievements and beneath her façade, Elizabeth Tudor is a woman we still know little of in personal regards. One of the greatest questions pertaining to her personal life is why this great queen never married. Historians have debated and speculated the reasons why this is with conflicting answers. 

The closest reasons lay most clearly in her early life from her ill-fated mother, her quick-tempered father, and a predatory stepfather. Reasons both personal and political may have disenchanted Elizabeth from a tender age to defy centuries of English history’s expectation of a married monarch, even more so of a female monarch.


The unwelcome birth

The birth of a girl, Elizabeth, in September 1533 was a disappointment to her father, King Henry VIII of England, possibly the “worst” disappointment of his life according to Tudor historian Heather Sharnette of Henry had done the unthinkable in contemporary times by breaking from the Church of Rome and defying the Pope that had refused to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, in order to marry his mistress, the dazzling Anne Boleyn. In his defiance, he had destroyed monasteries and abbeys and put to death loyal friends for defending their faith, only to be given what he already had, a daughter. There was little celebration for her birth and the magnificent Christening that had been planned for the longed for baby prince went ahead anyway.

As long as Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was Queen of England, Elizabeth was treated as the most important person in England, only second to her father and was even proclaimed “princess,” the title to the heiress to the throne. However, this was only short-lived as Queen Anne could not produce any more surviving children. Henry’s passionate love for her had died down. Her sharp tongue, fiery intelligence, and stubbornness that had initially appealed to him began to irritate him. After Catherine of Aragon’s death in January 1536 and the subsequent miscarriage of a boy, Henry was free to dispose of Anne without facing petitions to return to Catherine. Only four months later, Anne was arrested and faced trumped up charges of witchcraft, adultery, and incest. Not surprisingly, she was found guilty and sent to the Tower of London where she was to await her penalty: death. 

The decision to die via burning or decapitation was up to Henry who chose the latter and showed a single streak of mercy towards the woman he once loved by granting her request to be executed by sword instead of the customary axe. Anne was beheaded on May 19, 1536 on Tower Green. Elizabeth was only two and a half years old.


After her mother’s death

The death and disgrace of her mother left little Elizabeth’s lifestyle greatly changed. She was probably far too young to be emotionally affected by her mother’s execution. The marriage between her father and mother was annulled and Elizabeth was declared a bastard with her title of Princess stripped from her. From a young age, Elizabeth took after her mother’s shrewd intelligence and remarked on the change upon her: “How haps it governor, yesterday my Lady Princess, today but my Lady Elizabeth?” 

Just eleven days after her mother’s execution, Henry married her lady-in-waiting, Jane Seymour. With Elizabeth’s new status, her governess found that the little girl’s needs were being ignored even writing to the king to ask him to send for more clothes as Elizabeth had grown out of everything. 

In October of 1537, after twenty-eight years and two wives, Henry finally sired the longed for son, Prince Edward VI. Only a few days later, Jane Seymour died and the king was crushed at her loss. Now Edward, like Elizabeth, would grow up motherless and the two would share a close bond grounded on age proximity, religion, and their mutual passion for learning. Though Elizabeth was on friendly terms with her half-sister, Mary, the sisters were never close. This relationship would dangerously sour for Elizabeth in later years. 

Following the death of Jane Seymour and Henry’s emergence from seclusion, marriage negotiations began once again on behalf of the king’s fiercely Protestant advisors, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer, who maneuvered Henry to marry the mildly Protestant Duke of Cleves’ sister, Anne. They were married in January 1540 after an awkward, disastrous first meeting. Elizabeth now had a second stepmother and according to Italian historian, Gregorio Leti, who wrote the following account two centuries after the event occurred of Elizabeth writing to her father for permission to meet her new stepmother, Anne of Cleves. Anne, upon giving the letter to her husband, Henry “took the letter and gave it to Cromwell” ordering him to write a reply: “Tell her,” he remarked. “that she had a mother so different from this woman that she ought not to wish to see her.” There is controversy as to whether this is true but Elizabeth was eventually brought to Court from Herford Castle to meet Anne. 

Anne, in turn, was reportedly “charmed by her beauty, wit and… that she conceived the most tender affection for her,” and to have Elizabeth “for her daughter would have been greater happiness to her than being queen.” Henry, on the other hand, was not sharing the sentimental atmosphere; as soon as he endured a wedding he could not evade, he become resolute on obtaining a divorce. Six months later, he finally achieved this upon the discovery of a previous marriage contract (but no marriage) to the Duke of Lorraine and on the grounds of non-consummation (the reason being her cruelly remarked appearance). 

King Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was his shortest and least influential marriage but no doubt it may have had the most profound impact on young Elizabeth by this time. She was probably too young to be deeply affected by the deaths of her mother and first stepmother, but by the time Anne of Cleves appeared into her life, she was almost seven years old and better able to comprehend the functions of Court life and her father’s effect on them. Anne was the first stepmother Elizabeth had formed a notable bond with and upon the king’s second divorce, Anne had requested of the king permission to still see Elizabeth which the king agreed to. This bond would remain strong between the two ladies until Anne’s death in 1557. Anne of Cleves was considered the luckiest of Henry VIII’s wives.  Anne’s influence of her stepdaughter’s unmarried state was once supposedly referenced by Queen Elizabeth herself to Count Feria, the Spanish Ambassador, who said that she had “taken a vow to marry no man whom she has not seen, and will not trust portrait painters.”


Catherine Howard becomes Queen

Almost immediately upon her father’s second divorce, he wed the dazzling and witty Catherine Howard. Historians debate on how old she was when she wed the 49-year old Henry. Most calculate that she was about 15 years old and according to Charles de Marillac was “rather graceful than beautiful, of short stature, etc.” Personality-wise, Catherine was described as charming, sensual, and obedient which proved a welcoming contrast to her first cousin, Anne Boleyn. Many observers noted that he showed the most generosity and affection to her than his other wives. De Marillac noted, the “King is so amorous of her that he cannot treat her well enough and caresses her more than he did the others.” 

Once Henry acknowledged her as queen, “she directed that the princess Elizabeth should be placed opposite to her at table, because she was of her own blood and lineage.” At marriage festivities, Catherine “gave the lady Elizabeth the place of honour nearest to her own person.” Elizabeth’s maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Boleyn was a sister to Edmund Howard, Catherine’s father. The young new queen reached out to Elizabeth to formulate a bond with her kinswoman by arranging for her to be taken from Suffolk Place to Chelsea where Catherine joined her. As of November 1541, Catherine presented the eight-year old Elizabeth with a jewel as a kind gesture. 

The fall of Henry VIII’s fifth wife came after John Lascelles revealed to Archbishop Cranmer the Queen’s promiscuity during her years at the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s estate, her step-grandmother. Many young women residing there “entertained” men after hours and Catherine was among them. When she was 13, Catherine engaged in physical relations with Francis Dereham after being earlier involved with her music teacher, Henry Manox.

Cranmer and Lascelles were both ardent Protestants while Catherine came from a conservative Catholic and undoubtedly powerful and influential English noble family. Cranmer launched a full-scale investigation that resulted in allegations of Catherine’s intimacy with Thomas Culpeper, a member of the king’s privy chamber, after her marriage to Henry.

Under interrogation (possibly torture), Culpeper admitted being in love with Catherine and “persisted in denying his guilt and said it was the Queen who, through Lady Rocheford, solicited him to meet her in private in Lincolnshire, when she herself told him that she was dying for his love.” Culpeper rebuffed claims that they had committed adultery despite their secluded time together. 

Regardless, the Council felt there was enough evidence because Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, Catherine’s lady-in-waiting, confessed to helping them arrange their meetings and implied there was a physical relationship between them. The most damning evidence against the queen was a letter from Catherine found in Culpeper’s belongings.

When the King was informed of the accusations by a document left for him in his church pew, his quick temper exploded.  Supposedly, he demanded a sword to slay her himself as she would never have “such delight in her inconstancy as she would have torture in her death.” Catherine was arrested and taken to the Tower of London. On the night before her execution, Catherine asked for a block to be brought to her so that she could practice placing her head on it. 

On February 13, 1542, the fifth teenage Queen of Henry VIII was executed, “in the same spot where Anne Boleyn had been executed. Her body was then covered [with a black cloak] and her ladies took it away,” recounted Ambassador Chapuys to Charles V. No records survive of Elizabeth’s reactions to the execution of her stepmother and cousin or the loss of any of her stepmothers for that matter. We can, though, infer her reaction through the text of Larissa J. Taylor-Smither’s article, “Elizabeth I: A Psychological Profile” that states that the “shock of Catherine Howard’s execution (at the impressionable age of eight) would have been more immediate, for even if Elizabeth had not been especially close to her young stepmother, Catherine’s sudden extinction must at the very least have had a powerful effect on her subconscious.”


Henry VIII’s sixth wife

Following the execution, Henry VIII passed a law requiring all future queens of England to disclose any ‘indiscretions’ and possess chaste pasts. That certainly narrowed the list for Henry’s next selected wife. A notable candidate by the name of Katherine Parr seemed ideal; she was charming and cordial, pleasant to both nobles and servants and possessed sensibility and was a skilled conversationalist. She was also experienced with stepchildren through her two previous husbands. 

It is certainly remarkable that she was the only one of Henry’s brides that did not want to marry him. Historians surmise that reasons range from her competence to see the pattern of dangers in marrying him to falling in love with Thomas Seymour, Lord High Admiral. Despite her reluctance to enter a marriage she couldn’t back out of, this was her chance, she believed, to promote the Protestant Reformation in England and the promotion of her family. As Queen, Katherine used her influence with the King to bring his children to Court to see their father more. Katherine was already well acquainted with Henry’s eldest child, Mary, as Katherine’s mother was a lady-in-waiting to Mary’s mother. Katherine “greatly admired her [Elizabeth’s] wit and manners.” A letter survives of the 10-year old Elizabeth writing with gratitude and praise at Katherine’s gesture to bring them to court. An excerpt from the letter reveals Elizabeth’s warmness towards her new and fourth stepmother: “…So great a mark of your tenderness for me obliges me to examine myself a little, to see if I can find anything in me that can merit it, but I can find nothing but a great zeal and devotion to the service of your Majesty.”

Between the summers of 1543 and 1544, historians speculate that Elizabeth offended her father in some way that led to her banishment to Ashridge near the Hertfordshire-Buckinghamshire border. Katherine still kept in contact with her stepdaughter and Elizabeth conveyed her belief that the young girl was “not only bound to serve but also to revere you with daughterly love…” Henry was abroad fighting against France and left Katherine as Regent in his absence. This was the first time Elizabeth witnessed firsthand a woman’s ability to rule on her own and revealed Henry’s confidence in his wife. Katherine successfully convinced the King to let Elizabeth join her at Hampton Court again, signifying their mother-daughter bond.

However, Katherine’s place and life was almost stripped from her upon two men attempting to arrest the Queen on the King’s orders. They were Thomas Wriothesley, 1stEarl of Southampton, Lord Chancellor and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who convinced Henry that she concealed radical religious leanings and increased his irritation with her recently expressed views. Wriothesley arranged for forty yeomen of the guard to accompany him with the arrest warrant and crept upon the Queen while she was in Henry’s company at Whitehall gardens.

Unbeknownst to Wriothesley, Katherine had been warned and hurried to her husband to explain herself and apologize. She assured him that she had not discussed theological meanings to lecture him but to learn from him and to distract him from the pain in his leg. Henry forgave her and upon Wriothesley’s arrival to arrest her, the King severely reprimanded him and sent him off. Barely escaping Henry’s wrath that claimed his previous wife, Katherine never again spoke out against the religious establishment. Katherine’s deep love of learning was shared with Elizabeth and she took charge of her education, employing Protestant and humanist tutors.


After Henry VIII

Following the King’s death in 1547, Katherine married the love of her life, Thomas Seymour. Thomas Seymour was shrewdly ambitious and the new king’s uncle and set his sights on Elizabeth as a possible wife and closer step to the throne. Finally catching onto her husband’s inappropriate advances on the 14-year old Elizabeth, Katherine removed her from her household at Chelsea in 1548 to the household of Anthony Denny and his wife at Cheshunt. Katherine was to go into confinement as the time for giving birth drew near, which would have allowed Seymour unlimited access to the vulnerable girl. It is likely Katherine removed Elizabeth for her own safety rather than to punish her. Katherine gave birth to a baby girl, Mary, in August 1548 and died eight days later of puerperal fever. 

With Katherine now dead, Thomas Seymour’s attempts at wooing Elizabeth became more aggressive. Thomas, envious of his brother’s title as Lord Protector of the 9-year old Edward VI, also grew more serious in his quest for power. In 1549, Thomas was caught attempting to break into the King’s apartments at Hampton Court Palace and was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. His associates were arrested, including Elizabeth and her governess, Kat Ashley. She was interrogated for weeks and the flirtatious incidents between Elizabeth and Thomas Seymour were revealed but there was no evidence of Elizabeth conspiring with Thomas against the King. Thomas was convicted of treason and beheaded on March 20, 1549. Elizabeth narrowly escaped conviction.

From the time of her mother’s execution to the death of her most influential stepmother from childbirth, Elizabeth had witnessed the disposal and unstable position of her father’s many queens. The seventeen-year old Henry had begun his reign in 1509 as a popular, pleasant and seemingly sensible monarch. His later years however were marked by violence and tyranny with a formidable quick temper, with theories behind this sudden change in personality ranging from a jousting accident in 1536 to mental deterioration at his wives’ repeatedly failed pregnancies. Henry’s constant mood swings no doubt had an effect on the position of the young Elizabeth and like her half-sister Mary; her illegitimate status had prevented a marriage negotiation as long as her father lived.


From Edward to Mary

In 1553, King Edward VI was fifteen years old and, despite a relatively healthy childhood, had contracted a form of consumption, possibly tuberculosis. When it became clear that the boy would not survive, the new Lord Protector, John Dudley, schemed with the dying king to name a Protestant successor instead of his half-sister, Mary who was an ardent Catholic and would have reversed Edward’s Protestant reforms. An heir(ess) was named – his cousin, Lady Jane Grey, an equally committed Protestant. To John Dudley’s advantage, Jane was also his daughter-in-law. Edward died on July 6 1553, just six years into his reign. Lady Jane Grey was proclaimed queen three days later. However, just nine days into Jane’s “reign,” she was deposed by Mary and her army of supporters. Mary was proclaimed Queen of England on July 19, 1553 in London. John Dudley was arrested and later executed along with Jane Grey and her husband. At first, Mary I viewed Jane as a mere pawn of her husband’s and father-in-law’s treasonous ambition, but after the Protestant Wyatt’s Rebellion, Mary was left with no choice but to put her cousin to death lest she become a figurehead of the Protestant movement that Mary had means to crush. 

Upon Mary I’s start as Queen of England, relations between the two half-sisters remained cordial despite their religious differences. It would only sour after Wyatt’s Rebellion which was in reaction to Mary’s planned marriage to Philip II, the son of her cousin Charles V, and heir to the Spanish throne. Aside from opposing the marriage, the plans were not known in great detail, but one scheme was to have Elizabeth marry Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, to ensure a native born succession to the throne. Elizabeth was once again under suspicion of treason. She denied any involvement or knowledge of Wyatt’s plans though several of Mary’s Councilors were determined to be rid of her. She was taken as prisoner to the Tower of London on Mary’s orders. Many had never returned from this place, including Elizabeth’s mother, and Elizabeth desperately declared her innocence. 

Elizabeth was in a delicate and dangerous situation, where her life depended on the Queen’s orders. Her existence was a threat to her Catholic realm and Mary’s advisors urged her execution. The queen was reluctant, although this was not enough, as she had already succumbed to pressure to execute Lady Jane Grey against her will. Powerful persuasion would have led Mary to sign her sister’s death warrant, but multiple factors led to Elizabeth’s survival: lack of evidence against Elizabeth, Wyatt’s assurance that Elizabeth was innocent, and Elizabeth’s increasing popularity in the country. Instead of execution, Elizabeth was taken to the manor of Woodstock, near Oxfordshire, still as prisoner. Soon after Mary’s marriage to Philip, the queen believed she was pregnant, much to the joy of her Catholic supporters. A Catholic heir to the throne of England diminished hopes of a Protestant England and Elizabeth succeeding to the throne. A discouraged Elizabeth even reputedly considered escaping to France to avoid an imprisoned life.


Queen Elizabeth I

As the months passed, however, Mary’s pregnancy turned out to be nothing more than a phantom pregnancy and no baby would arrive. Philip left England for Flanders to attend to other political matters, leaving his devastated wife behind. The marriage of Philip and Mary was intended as a political match though Mary was reputed to have fallen in love with her husband. It was once again an opportunity for Elizabeth to observe a husband’s unloving treatment of his wife. Philip had departed in the summer of 1555 upon the abdication of his father’s throne and did not return until the spring of 1557, undertaking and flaunting his extramarital affairs before English diplomats in the meantime. At one point, Mary had removed one of her husband’s portraits from her sight and publicly declared “God sent oft times to good women evil husbands.” King Henry II of France even remarked from across the Channel, “I am of the opinion that ere long the king of England [as Philip was styled during their marriage] will endeavor to dissolve his marriage with the queen.”

Within months of his return, Mary believed herself to be pregnant again. However, no baby appeared a second time and this time, Mary was seriously ill. Without a natural heir, Elizabeth was still next in line for the English throne. Though she was Protestant, Philip was concerned that the next claimant after Elizabeth was the Queen of Scots, who was betrothed to the Dauphin of France, and so would fall into French hands. He even persuaded his wife that Elizabeth should marry his cousin to secure the Catholic succession, but Elizabeth refused to be a pawn for political gain.

Mary died on November 17, 1558, either of ovarian cancer or the influenza epidemic that plagued England at the time. Philip was already away when he heard of his wife’s passing and wrote, “I felt a reasonable regret for her death.”


No marriage

Elizabeth was now twenty-five years old and Queen of England. She was the last of the Tudor dynasty and therefore the pressure to marry and produce an heir was focused on from the moment of her succession. If Elizabeth died without a natural heir, many feared rival claims of Henry VII’s distant relatives would propel the nation into bitter civil war that had only ended upon the accession of the first Tudor monarch. The court was abuzz with suitors eager for her hand. European ambassadors busied themselves with marriage negotiations. Queen Elizabeth received offers from the King of Spain, Prince Erik of Sweden, The Archduke Charles, the son of John Frederic Duke of Saxony, The Earl of Arran, and Earl of Arundel, and Sir William Pickering. Only Elizabeth seemed uninterested in the subject of marriage. Over the years it was clear that the queen would never marry, instead “calling England her husband and her subjects her children.” 

Political reasons begin with the complicated matter of a married female ruler as opposed to a male ruler. With the risk of childbirth that had already claimed the lives of two of Elizabeth’s stepmothers, the potential danger of a husband wanting to rule the country rather than being content with consort, a bitter struggle would ensue against various claimants. If Elizabeth married the heir to Spain or France, as already offered, England could have been absorbed into the Spanish Empire for example, losing English identity in the process. Her close relationship with the only man she ever loved, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was immersed in controversy and prevented a marriage from ever taking place. Protestant nations were generally poorer than Catholic ones at the time and alliances with other Catholic nations would have been a conflict of religion and very unpopular with her subjects and Council. Under English common law, a woman who married was the property of her husband and the possibility of sacrificing power to him must have appalled her.

From an early age and into her reign as Queen of England, Elizabeth had witnessed the subservience of women expected in Tudor times and the established pattern of bad marriages that plagued her family. By the time of her death in 1603, Elizabeth had ruled for 44 years and proved that a woman could rule as well as any man. Because of her, England started to become one of the most affluent and powerful countries in the world - and would remain so for centuries. 


C. N. Trueman "Women In Tudor England" The History Learning Site, 17 Mar 2015. 5 Mar 2019.

Ayers, Jessica. “Why Did Elizabeth I Never Marry?” The York Historian, The York Historian, 25 Feb. 2016,

Larson, Rebecca. “Why Queen Elizabeth I Never Married.” Tudors Dynasty, 20 June 2018,

“Queen Elizabeth I.” Queen Elizabeth 1,

“The Fourth Step-Mother of Elizabeth, Katherine Parr.” Elizregina, 4 June 2013,

“The Second Step-Mother to Elizabeth, Anne of Cleves.” Elizregina, 23 May 2013,

“The Third Step-Mother to Elizabeth, Catherine Howard.” Elizregina, 28 May 2013,

King Henry VII of England’s eldest son and first in line to the English throne was Arthur, Prince of Wales (1486-1502). However, he suffered an untimely death at the age of 15 and this led Henry to become first in line to the throne - and later King Henry VIII of England. But what would have happened had Arthur survived and become King of England? Casey Titus explains (and follows her past Tudor article on King Edward VI here).

Arthur, Prince of Wales. Painting c. 1500.

Arthur, Prince of Wales. Painting c. 1500.

The Tudors are one of the most renowned and notorious English royal families in history with countless books, movies, articles, and research devoted to understanding them. No doubt King Henry VIII is the center of historical interest in the Tudors, with particular emphasis on his six wives and the reigns of his three children. Henry VIII of England presided over sweeping political and religious changes that brought the nation into the Protestant Reformation and radically altered the fabric of English life.

But Henry was only second in line to the English throne after his elder brother Arthur, Prince of Wales, who died in April 1502, most likely of tuberculosis. The short life of Prince Arthur Tudor is overshadowed and largely forgotten from Tudor history, only to be recounted in “The King’s Great Matter” nearly thirty years after his death. Had Arthur lived and ascended to the English throne instead of Henry VIII, what course would English history have taken?


The Birth of Arthur

When Arthur was born in Saint Swithun’s Priory (now Winchester Cathedral Priory) on September 19/20 1486, not only was he heir to the English throne but the result of two unified royal houses, York and Lancaster. His place of birth was believed to have been the capital of the legendary Camelot and the site of King Arthur’s castle. Hence, the infant boy was given the name Arthur, to induce memorable sentiments of the legendary King Arthur, who led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the late 5thand early 6thcenturies.

With the Tudor dynasty off to a successful start, Henry VIIwas convinced his son’s birth would bring about a golden age. Arthur was given a magnificent christening on September 24th, noted by David Starkey as “the first of many spectacular ceremonies that Henry used to mark each stage of the advance and consolidation of the Tudor dynasty.” At two years of age, Arthur was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon, the youngest daughter of the joint Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. The following year, in November 1489, Arthur was became Prince of Wales. In 1492, in a traditional precedent set by the grandfather, Edward IV, the heir to England was sent to reside at Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches to begin his education as the future king.

Starkey writes of Arthur growing up to be “a model prince” who “displayed the exaggerated sense of responsibility of the eldest child.” Personality wise, he was “intellectually precocious” and presented a stiff public manner. Historians Steve Gunn and Linda Monckton describe Arthur as “amiable and gentle” and a “delicate lad.”


Meeting his future wife – And Tragedy…

In the autumn of 1501, Katherine of Aragon landed in England and met her husband-to-be at Dogmersfield in Hampshire. They were married on November 14th, 1501. Arthur’s 10-year old brother Henry escorted the bride to the cathedral. Arthur wrote to Katherine’s parents that he would be “a true and loving husband.” We do not know exactly what followed after the traditional bedding ceremony, which was the only public bedding of a royal couple recorded in Britain in the 16thcentury. Yet, the next morning Arthur boasted: “bring me a cup of ale for I have been this night in the midst of Spain!”

His sincere affection and longing for Catherine is noted in a letter from October 1499 in which Arthur refers to Katherine as “my dearest spouse,” and writes:

I cannot tell you what an earnest desire I feel to see your Highness, and how vexatious to me is this procrastination about your coming. Let [it] be hastened, [that] the love conceived between us and the wished-for joys may reap their proper fruit.


After living at Tickenhill Manor for a month, Arthur and his new bride traveled to the Welsh Marches where they established their household at Ludlow Castle. Plague and illness had been lingering around this area, though the young prince disregarded it and carried on with his duties. In late March 1502, he and Catherine were suddenly struck by “a malign vapour which proceeded from the air.” Catherine recovered but not before her husband and heir to the English throne died on April 2nd- just six months short of his sixteenth birthday. Fifty-one years later, Arthur’s nephew, the last male heir of the Tudor dynasty, would die at the same age.

Theories on the cause of Arthur’s death range from cancer to possible consumption. A commonly suggested cause that is consistent with Katherine of Aragon’s illness is the deadly sweating sickness. This disease first made its way to England in the fifteenth century when Henry VII first took the throne and occurred sporadically, with one of the worst epidemics being in 1528.

The heavy responsibility as new heir to the throne would fall on the young Henry VIII who married his brother’s widow in 1509. When his marriage to Catherine of Aragon failed to produce any surviving male heirs, King Henry desired to have it annulled on the grounds that Catherine had been previously married to his brother, something that was forbidden according to Scripture. Catherine argued in defense that her marriage to Arthur had not been consummated. Henry would take matters in to his own hands and break from the Roman Catholic Church to marry his mistress, Anne Boleyn, establish the Church of England, and catapult along the Protestant Reformation in England.


What if… Arthur had become King?

But had Arthur survived and remained married to Catherine, how would history be different? Specifically, what would be the role of reformation in England and would he have lived up to the great legend and “golden age” his parents hoped for?

By all accounts, Arthur’s nature most resembled his father. Italian visitors in 1497 reported that Henry VII “evidently has a most quiet spirit.” In 1504, a Spanish visitor reported back to the Catholic Monarchs that “… He is so wise and attentive to everything; nothing escapes his attention.” It seems the late prince would have been less argumentative and more faithful to his wife like his father and unlike his brother. With his understanding of duty to his country and the likely happy marriage Arthur Tudor and his Spanish bride would have had, Arthur would have had little reason or temptation to relinquish the alliance with Spain. He would have had much less reason to break away from Rome and catapult the English Reformation, especially if Arthur and Catherine managed to produce male heirs. The Reformation had already sprouted in German states.

Much unlike Henry, who would have been trained in the workings of the church as the younger son, Arthur would not have involved or interested in the English church and the strict devotion to Catholicism of Catherine would further deter him from risking excommunication. If, by any far-stretched chance, Arthur was faced with the same succession crisis as Henry, would he have divorced Catherine and remarried? Being the staid boy he was, Arthur would have made some foreign alliance with another European power through a second marriage.

All of this is simply speculation though. If Arthur had indeed fulfilled his parents’ hopes, it would likely have been in the image of his father, which would represent a more careful and consolidated reign that would both avoid war and replace medieval rule with a centralized and united Tudor state. The court would have remained very similar and there would likely have been a distant and occasionally absent king.


And the Tudor Dynasty?

On the question of the continuation of the Tudor dynasty, Arthur and Catherine’s surviving children could have accomplished this for multiple generations. Yet, where would the union of the crowns of England and Scotland come into place? Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I, without an heir, the English throne was passed to her cousin, King James VI of Scotland, uniting the crowns of both countries. It is unlikely this would have taken place under the continuation of the Tudor dynasty.

Especially under Queen Elizabeth I’s reign, England saw a golden age of literature, music, and visual arts in the midst of the English Renaissance. Would the same have occurred under King Arthur and his descendants? As a child, he was a skilled pupil and educated in poetry and ethics and studied the works of Cicero, Homer, Ovid, and Virgil. By 1501, he had even learned to dance “right pleasant and honourably.”

As for the economic might of England, Henry VII’s hopes for his eldest son would have undoubtedly included lessons on wisdoms and parsimony. Combined with Arthur’s temperate nature and disinterest in fighting wars with other countries, this could have produced a more flourishing economy during Arthur’s reign.

At the time of Arthur’s birth, the fate and hopes of England and that of his father rested on him with the expectation of ushering in a new era. Now, five centuries after his untimely death, he has been easily forgotten and overshadowed by his younger brother, the infamous Henry VIII, and his nephews and nieces. If the 15-year old prince had survived his deadly affliction in 1502, no doubt history would have been drastically different.


What do you think? How would English history have been different if Arthur had become King instead of Henry VIII?


“Arthur, Prince of Wales.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 27 Nov. 2018,,_Prince_of_Wales.

Buckingham, Maddie. “What If Arthur Had Become King of England?” W.U Hstry, 16 July 2016,

Crowther, David. “The History of England.” The History of England, 2016,

NikitaBlogger. “A Real King Arthur: How Would English History Have Been Different If Arthur Tudor Had Lived?”Royal Central, 17 May 2017,

Ridgway, Claire. “Arthur, Prince of Wales.” The Anne Boleyn Files, 20 Sept. 2010,

Ridgway, Claire. “The Death of Arthur Tudor by Sarah Bryson.” The Tudor Society, 16 July 2018,

The Tudors monarchs were a very important part of English history for over 100 years. The Tudor kings and queens ruled from 1485 to 1603. Here, Anthony Ruggiero follows his article on Tudor Queen Mary I (here), and considers how the Tudors took power in England and the importance of the reigns of King Henry VII and King Henry VIII. The article includes a consideration of England’s relationship with France and Spain.

Portrait of King Henry VIII of England,

Portrait of King Henry VIII of England,

Throughout the sixteenth century, the monarchs of the Tudor dynasty each left a mark on England. For example, King Henry VII reorganized a country that was in disarray after years of civil war, while his son, King Henry VIII, established precedence through forming the Church of England. The Protestant Reformation also greatly affected the country. The Reformation challenged the practices of the Catholic Church, as well as the Pope’s authority in Rome. Many English people were critical of the Roman Catholic Church and embraced the Reformation. While religion was one of the most important and persistent issues, the Tudor monarchs also handled foreign relations with two prominent Catholic and Western European nations at the time, Spain and France. These two countries engaged in an on-and-off rivalry during the sixteenth century, with Tudor England being placed in the middle. England’s involvement with Spain and France would have both negative and positive impacts on the country, such as war, marriage, and trade.


The Tudor Rise – King Henry VII

Prior to the Tudors, the political and social state of England during the fifteenth century was in disarray. The country was divided in a civil war between multiple noble families who were all vying for the English crown. Fifteenth century England was a “prison-house,” where any progression seemed impossible to achieve due to the country’s political issues.[1]Church officials, nobles, and knights controlled a majority of the aggregate land. For example, between 60 and 170 barons, earls, and dukes controlled the land.[2]These nobles produced two-thirds of revenue in the country.  Additionally, there were between 9,000 and 10,000 Church parishes in England.[3]Resources produced on these manors were primarily being sold in local markets. Additionally, foreign advances in trade and alliances were scarce, despite England controlling lands such as Calais in France.[4]

The year 1485 was a pivotal year in England’s history as it resulted in the rise of one of England’s most significant dynasties, the Tudors. Throughout the fifteenth century, the English crown was primarily divided between the ruling houses of Lancaster and York, which fought in a civil war known as “The War of the Roses.” By 1485 the York house had been restored, and King Richard III ruled over England. Despite the restoration, the country was still engaged in a civil war, now between King Richard III and Henry Tudor. Henry’s claim to the throne came through his mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, who was a descendant of King Edward III. Although his claim was questionable, Henry staunchly fought for his right to the throne.[5]The two engaged in battle at Bosworth Field, where on August 22nd, 1485, Richard III was slain, and Henry, later styled King Henry VII, emerged as the new king of England, effectively ending the War of the Roses.[6]During his reign, Henry VII managed to have multiple positive impacts on the country that helped move England from a decentralized, medieval state towards a stable nation. For example, Henry managed to unite the feuding houses in England through his popular marriage to Elizabeth of York, who was viewed as having a strong claim to the throne in her own right. Henry VII was also responsible for printing books, building more chapels and monasteries, helping reorganize Parliament, and establishing trading relations with the Netherlands and Spain. The latter two resulted in more revenue for England, such as obtaining more trade products in cloth and access to fisheries to increase English food supply and trade circulation.[7]The Spanish treaty also resulted in the marriage of Spanish princess, Catherine of Aragon, to Henry’s son Arthur, and after Arthur’s death in 1502, to Henry’s younger son, Henry. [8]England under Henry VII experienced political stability, economic expansion and a royal marriage that addressed decades of animosity with Spain.


King Henry VIII

Following Henry VII’s death in 1509, his then seventeen-year-old son, who would ultimately become one of England’s most famous and notorious monarchs, Henry VIII, inherited the throne. Henry VIII would ultimately be remembered for breaking away from the Catholic Church; however, prior to these events Henry was a devout Catholic, raised with a strong knowledge of theology. Earlier in his reign, when German priest Martin Luther spoke out against the practices of the Catholic Church that sparked the Protestant Reformation, Henry defended Catholic traditions and was declared “Defender of the Faith,” by Pope Leo X in 1521.[9]However, after the papacy refused to grant him a divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to remarry to produce a male heir to the throne, Henry sought autonomy from the Catholic Church and decided to break from the Church in what would be known as the English Reformation between 1532 and 1534. During this time, Henry and Parliament devised a series of acts that ultimately fashioned Henry as the Supreme Head of the newly-created Church of England.[10]The Act of Restraint Annates, devised in 1532, forced the clergy in England to stop paying taxes to the church in Rome and required them to pay taxes to the Church of England, which ultimately meant the crown.[11]That same year Parliament would also pass the Submission of the Clergy Actthat would force them to deny the authority of the Pope or face confiscation of their landholdings.[12]Finally, the Act of Royal Supremacy in 1534 officially recognized Henry as the head of the Church of England.[13]Although many of these changes shared similarities with Protestantism, Henry’s new church possessed many Catholic traditions. For example, under the publication of his Six Articlesin 1539, the clergy were recommended to take vows of chastity, which contradicted the Protestant views that the clergy should be allowed to marry. This publication also declared private mass and Holy Communion valid, and any denial of these decrees was subject to excommunication and execution.[14]Henry VIII had a lasting legacy and effect on England through his establishment of the Church of England. Despite these reforms religion would remain a controversial and divisive issue through the reigns of Henry’s three children: Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. 


Foreign Policy – France & Spain

England’s involvement with two of the major European powers, Spain and France, would have significant impacts throughout the Tudor period. During the 1490s and early 1500s, Spain prospered from multiple explorations and the accumulation of resources from the New World. During this time, King Charles ruled over the Catholic Spain and would later be created Emperor Charles V.[15]Despite both countries maintaining the Catholic faith, Spain would often clash with France. Ruled by the Valois family, particularly under King Francis I, France plunged itself into war with Spain over claimed lands in Italy, known as the Italian Wars, throughout the sixteenth century.[16]During this time both countries made attempts to rally England behind them; these alliances would alter throughout the fifteenth century and inevitably lead to conflicts between each country. Under both Henry VII and Henry VIII’s regimes England’s relationship with both countries regularly shifted. England’s treaty with Spain earned the country revenue and resulted in the marriage between Catherine of Aragon and the later King Henry VIII. England and France would engage in battle 1513 and would attempt to negotiate a treaty in the years that followed, including at the Field of the Cloth of Gold, which resulted in the betrothal of Henry VIII’s daughter, Mary, to the dauphin of France.[17]However, Henry’s pro-French policies quickly soured, the betrothal of Mary to the dauphin was canceled, and Henry once again turned his attentions towards Spain. This new alliance also resulted in the betrothal of Mary to Charles V who was sixteen years her senior. However, the age gap was an issue for Charles, who ultimately called off the betrothal in favor of a matured bride. This angered Henry who again looked to France for an alliance.[18]This back and forth would ultimately continue through Henry’s reign, but would also occur throughout the reign of his three children.


In Conclusion

The Tudors had significant impact on England during their reign over England in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Henry VII brought stability to England following years of warfare. Although Henry VIII may be remembered by some due to his six marriages, his religious changes ushered in the English Reformation, impacting England for years to come. Furthermore, through Henry VIII’s three children: Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI, England would continue to experience various changes that would ultimately result in the country emerging as a world power.


What do you think of the importance of King Henry VII and King Henry VII in the rise of England as a global power? Let us know below.

[1]Feiling, England Under The Tudors and Stuarts,8.

[2]Peter Turchin and S. A. Nefedov, Secular Cycles(Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 83.

[3]Turchin and Nefedov, Secular Cycles, 84.

[4]Feiling, Keith. England under the Tudors and Stuarts. New York: H. Holt and, 1927, 7-8.

[5]Feiling, England Under The Tudors and Stuarts, 19.

[6]Sharpe, Kevin. Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-century England. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009, 61-62.

[7]Feiling, England Under The Tudors and Stuarts, 27.

[8]Sharpe, Selling the Tudor Monarchy: Authority and Image in Sixteenth-century England, 62-64.

[9]Jones, Whitney R. D. The Mid-Tudor Crisis: 1539-1563. London: Macmillan, 1973, 75.

[10]Jones, The Mid-Tudor Crisis: 15.

[11]Conrad Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), 94.

[12]Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660, 98-99.

[13]Russell, The Crisis of Parliaments: English History, 1509-1660, 100-101.

[14]Jones, The Mid-Tudor Crisis: 1539-1563, 77.

[15]Thomas, Hugh. The Golden Empire: Spain, Charles V, and the Creation of America. New York: Random House, 2010, 2-4.

[16]Titler, The Reign of Mary I, 77.

[17]D. M. Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1558(New York: St. Martin's Press, 1979), 6, 8.

[18]Loades, The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government, and Religion in England, 1553-1558, 8-9.

King Henry VIII is one of the most legendary kings of England - for many of the wrong reasons. He gained a fearsome reputation among his subjects. Nevertheless, his break with the Papacy in Rome established the Church of England and began the English Reformation - which ultimately helped lead to the foundation of the United States. His two daughters would gain unforgettable legacies during their respective reigns as well. Yet, little is known about the male heir Henry had sacrificed three wives and national stability for. In his unfortunately short reign and life, King Edward VI of England still managed to stamp his own mark on history before being overshadowed quickly by his two half-sisters.

Casey Titus explains.

King Edward VI of England as a child.

King Edward VI of England as a child.

1.     Edward was King Henry’s only legitimate son

Henry VIII was famously known to have had six wives, two divorced, two executed, one died in childhood, and the last that outlived him. Along with six wives came innumerable mistresses. His first wife, Katherine of Aragon, bore him five stillborn children and one surviving daughter, Mary I. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, miscarried two sons and birthed one living daughter, Elizabeth I. His third wife, Jane Seymour, gave birth to one surviving son, Edward VI. Henry acknowledged one illegitimate child, Henry Fitzroy, the son of his mistress Elizabeth Blount, and granted him a dukedom. At least six others are suspected of being his illegitimate children, including Catherine and Henry Carey, the children of Anne’s sister, Mary Boleyn.

2.     Edward grew up coddled and educated

From the age of six, Edward was educated in philosophy, theology, the sciences, French, Spanish, and Italian. He was even said to have a high intelligence and a firm understanding of monetary affairs. Visitors spoiled Edward with toys and luxuries that included his own troupe of musicians. Both of Edward’s sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, doted on their younger brother. Edward wrote to Mary in 1546 that he “love(d) her most,” and Elizabeth had gifted him a shirt of her own working. Henry demanded his son’s household be strictly secured and cleaned, as little Edward was “this whole realm’s most precious jewel.”

3.     Prince Edward was betrothed as a young boy

In July 1543, Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Greenwich with the Scots which would not only unite the two kingdoms but the betrothal between six-year old Edward and seven-month old Mary, Queen of Scots. In a turn of events, the Scots renounced the treaty six months later to renew their alliance with France. Henry was furious and ordered Prince Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, to attack Scotland in possible the most brutal military assault launched by England against the Scots. This war, known as “The Rough Wooing”, would continue into Edward’s reign.

4.     Edward ascended to the English throne at just nine years old

King Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547 and was laid to rest beside Edward’s mother, Queen Jane Seymour, at his request, possibly for the sole reason of having bore him the son he desperately desired. Since Edward was still young at the time Henry passed away, he arranged a council of regency that would rule on Edward’s behalf. This was overridden by Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who took power and named himself protector. Nine-year-old Edward VI was crowned at Westminster Abbey on February 20, 1547 the first English Protestant King. At his coronation service, Thomas Cramner, a leader of the English Reformation, even referred to Edward as a “second Josiah” and would urge him to propel the reformation of the Church of England as the focus of young Edward’s reign.

5.     Edward had quite the busy 6-year reign

An English Prayer Book was published in 1549 with an Act of Uniformity to ensure it was used across the country. Peasants in the West Country rebelled against the Book. Simultaneously, Kett’s Rebellion from Norfolk responded to the enclosure of land, concentrating on economic and social injustices. In addition, the French declared war on England. Kett’s Rebellion was suppressed by John Dudley, Earl of Warwick. Dudley would unexpectedly use this victory to engineer the downfall of Edward’s uncle, Edward Seymour. The 14-year-old Henry wrote of his uncle’s execution plainly and coldly: “The Duke of Somerset had his head cut off upon Tower Hill between eight and nine o’clock in the morning.” By this time, Edward was writing on subjects such as military campaigns and currency reform and was being briefed by advisors selected by him. He was beginning to resemble his father; when his Lord Chancellor refused to accept a document signed by King Edward because it had been countersigned by his advisors, Edward reacted forcefully: “It should be a great impediment for me to send to all my council and I should seem to be in bondage,” he wrote. Like Henry, Edward VI believed the king was free to use his powers any way he felt was necessary.

In 1553, Edward was rapidly dying from a lung infection, most likely tuberculosis, and composed a “Devise” for royal succession. The “Devise” was the most puzzling document of Edward’s reign, a trick of the elusive and shrewd boy-king.

Edward compelled the judicial and political establishments of his kingdom to sign the “Devise” while ignoring the lawful, legitimate claims of Mary (first) and then Elizabeth (second) to the throne. Edward recognized them both as illegitimate, especially Mary for her Catholic faith and her threat to dismantle Protestant efforts in England.


Edward named his first cousin once removed, Lady Jane Grey, as his successor.

In Conclusion…

On July 6, 1553, Edward whispered his last prayer and died at the age of 15 at Greenwich Palace at 8PM. His last words were: “I am faint; Lord have mercy upon me, and take my spirit.” He was buried in Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey on August 8, 1553 with reformed rites performed by Thomas Cramner. Lady Jane Grey would only be queen for nine days before Mary took the throne with overwhelming popular support.

Many historians have judged the legacy of King Edward VI. One school of thought stamps him as weak and sickly, never likely to survive to manhood. Another is Edward being a puppet, manipulated by powerful revolutionaries around him. The third remembers Edward as a brilliant intellectual and ruler. Less commonly known is that Edward was Protestant England’s hero in their fight against the Pope and the Catholic Church.

What do you think of Edward VI of England? Let us know below.

Over the course of 2014 we have had a great variety of fascinating blog articles on the site. Below are 5 of our favorites...

George Washington on his Deathbed by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851.

George Washington on his Deathbed by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851.

  1. In this sadly fascinating article, Robert Walsh considers an American battle that took place on the last day of World War I – and the absurd and terrible reason behind it. Article here.
  2. Nick Tingley writes here on a fascinating topic. He postulates on what could have happened had the 1944 Normandy Landings against Nazi Germany taken place in 1943. As we shall see, things may well have not turned out as well as they did… Article here.
  3. In this extended article, Rebecca Fachner looks at the story of King Henry VIII’s seventh wife – the one that got away. We venture in to the tale of Catherine Willoughby, one of the most enchanting women of her age and Henry VIII’s would-be wife.
  4. Helen Saker-Parsons considers the fascinating similarities between the sons of two very important men who were killed in tragic circumstances – John F Kennedy and Tsar Michael II of Russia. Article here.
  5. William Bodkin tells us the fascinating story of William Thornton, the man who wanted to resurrect George Washington after his death. Article here.

We hope you find those articles fascinating! And because we really like you, here is one more:

Tanks have been integral to armies since World War One. But over the years a number of prototype designs have been made that never quite worked. Here, Adrian Burrows tells us about the most bizarre tank designs… Article here.

If you enjoyed any of these articles, please do tell others by sharing, liking or tweeting about this article. Simply click one of the buttons below!

George Levrier-Jones

Thomas Boleyn was an important figure for many years in King Henry VIII of England’s reign. He was also the father of Henry VIII’s second wife Anne, as well as George Boleyn, Jane Boleyn’s husband. But was he a controversial, bad man? Or is that view misguided? Jennifer Johnstone gives us her opinion.


Thomas Boleyn

Thomas Boleyn was a more prominent figure than his daughter-in-law, Jane Parker (later Jane Boleyn, a lady who we have considered previously), as he was a leading politician during King Henry VIII’s reign. Indeed, he worked as a diplomat for both Henry VIII, and his father Henry VII. Born in 1477, in Norfolk, England, Thomas Boleyn was a shrewd and calculated politician. He knew how to work his way to the top, to the extent that his daughter became the queen.

That was not the only noteworthy achievement of Thomas though. He was a successful politician and man in his own right; he had become Earl of Ormond and Earl of Wiltshire by 1529. His political career was forced to end after a scandal involving his daughter and son; however, unlike his successor Thomas Cromwell, Boleyn managed to keep his head. He also retained his wealth and prestige, something that Jane Boleyn had taken from her when Anne and George Boleyn were executed.

Thomas was also honored with the knight of the garter, an elite and high honor in the Tudor era. In 1532 Boleyn was granted the Lord Privy Seal. All told, an impressive array of titles. Boleyn was obviously astute enough to play the game of Tudor politics and largely succeeded in that game.

An image that is said to be of Thomas Boleyn.

An image that is said to be of Thomas Boleyn.

The career of a diplomat

Thomas wasn’t just a politician, he was a diplomat too. One of his more prominent roles as a diplomat was as Ambassador to France, a role he started in 1518. As ambassador, he was responsible for arranging the Field of Cloth and Gold, a meeting between King Henry VIII and King Francis I of France in 1520. He was also appointed envoy to Charles of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor, in 1521.


The reputation of Thomas

In my last post, I discussed how Jane Boleyn suffered - and suffers - from a bad reputation. This is unfair, but another person from the Tudor era who suffers a bad reputation is Thomas Boleyn. In the television show The Tudors, Boleyn is portrayed as an individual who used his children as bait to achieve his own political ends. In the show we also see that he is not very sympathetic towards his children when they are condemned to be executed. A perfect example of this is when Thomas is set free by Henry. He is not convicted of doing anything wrong, and on his way out of the castle, he stops to turn around. There he sees his daughter Anne looking out of a window, imprisoned, and gives her a cold look before walking off. Is this an accurate portrayal of Thomas Boleyn - was he a bad guy?

Well he tried to marry off his daughters Mary and Anne. Mary had an affair with the King, but it didn’t last – it was an unsuccessful fling. But Thomas was successful in marrying his second daughter Anne off to Henry. Even so, Thomas wasn’t unique in marrying, or trying to marry, his daughters off - it was common in Tudor England. So seeing Thomas as a bad guy for this alone is unfair. It’s more accurate to call Thomas an opportunist, and wanting the best for him, his daughters, and his family - and who wouldn’t want that?!

Even so, as much as Thomas could not prevent Mary’s affair, he tried to assist Anne. Indeed, Thomas removed Anne from court when he saw the King gaining an interest in her. And he brought Mary back to England from France when he heard about her exploits there. It seems as if he cared about his daughters.

He also gave his daughters the best education possible, sending them abroad for their studies. Women and girls being educated at that time was uncommon, as woman were seen as home makers, not as scholars or academics. It shows that perhaps Thomas wasn’t traditional, and that he was more liberal and open minded than many men of his time.


A lesson for the future

As we can see from both Thomas Boleyn and Jane Boleyn, their characters could be far removed from what we believe them to be. We will never really know what type of people Jane and Thomas Boleyn were as the sources available can be biased and or unclear, and so it is hard to really know their true motivations.

I suppose we have to look at the primary sources ourselves, and come up with our on judgments. We also have to view situations in context, and ask whether it was conventional for people to behave in a certain way in a given era, or when people were acting out of character. To know historic people, we must question sources - who wrote this? Why did they write this? What were their political and religious ideologies?

Sometimes people can be completely different depending on the angle through which we view them.


What do you think about this article? Do you agree? Let us know by leaving a comment below…

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post

Jane Boleyn, the wife of George Boleyn and sister-in-law to Anne Boleyn, is often portrayed as a wicked and jealous woman who was instrumental in the downfall and death of both her sister-in-law Anne, and her husband George. But is that the case? Is she the villainous woman that she is made out to be? There is evidence to suggest that she is not. Jennifer Johnstone explains…


Jane’s life

Jane Boleyn was born Jane Parker, to Henry Parker, 10th Baron Morley, and mother Alice in 1505. She came from a wealthy upper class family. Her father was an intellectual, a lover of books and writing. Little is known about her mother. There is speculation about Jane’s early life in Julia Fox’s Jane Boleyn: The Infamous Lady Rochford, but little solid evidence.

The first documented evidence we have about Jane is when she comes to the royal court as a teenager, and serves Catherine of Aragon. Her exact date of her arrival is not documented though. Unfortunately, we do not know what Jane truly looked like either, as there is no official portrait of her. Fox gives us a portrait in her book of what Jane might have looked like though.

Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford.

Jane Boleyn, Viscountess Rochford.

Scapegoat or villain?

In Fox’s book, she argues that Jane was history’s scapegoat, rather than an instrumental player in the downfall of her family members. Some other contemporary historians disagree with this, arguing that rather Jane was to blame for the executions of her family members.

As there is limited evidence, we have to work with what few sources we have about Jane. First let us see the evidence for Jane as a villain.



Jane has always been thought of as the woman who gave evidence to Thomas Cromwell about George and Anne having an affair, or Anne having an affair - depending on the source. There is evidence to say that Jane Boleyn spoke out about her husband during court proceedings. But there is no clear evidence for what Jane actually said, or, what her motivation was for saying whatever she said about her husband. So, if we don’t know what Jane said, we can’t condemn her for this. There is also no record of Jane saying anything about her alleged role in their downfall. Some have speculated that Jane gave this evidence in spite towards her husband for having affairs. But, is there any truth to these claims?

Let’s take the example of George’s alleged affairs. There is a poem called Metrical Visions about a womanizing young man - the young man is said to be George Boleyn. Even if this poem is accurate - that George had extra-marital affairs - there is nothing to suggest that there was friction between his and Jane’s marriage. Indeed, Julia Fox argues that the marriage between Jane and George was not an unhappy one! Of course, if there were affairs, Jane would have had a reason to be jealous, and that could have been her reason to give evidence against her own husband at the court trials. But even if it were true that George had an affair, or a string of affairs, at the time, it was the done thing in this age; it was common for men to have mistresses. So, if he did have affairs, it would not have got George into terrible trouble; it would have got a woman into trouble though.

However, there is evidence to suggest that Jane was instrumental in the Boleyn’s downfall. This evidence comes from the Bishop Burnet. Bishop Burnet claims he had access to primary sources, which show Jane’s role in the downfall of her own family. The source says, ‘’Jane carried many stories to the King or some about him (George) to the King.’’ There was further evidence Jane allegedly gave to the King, and that was that ‘’there was a familiarity between the queen, and her brother, beyond what so near a relationship could justify.’’

There are several problems with this source. One, there is no evidence from anyone else about this source documented, not from the King, Cromwell, or Chaupys. If this was true, it would have been well known within the court, and it would have at least been recorded by one other person – notably Chaupys as he documented many events and was well aware of court activities. A second reason to not believe this source is that it is from several decades after Jane was executed. A third, and final reason why I believe this source is not accurate is because there is little evidence of these primary sources that Burnet claimed to have.

Even people who argue against Jane, who argue she was responsible for the downfall of her husband and sister-in-law, admit that many details are unknown about her. This tells us that because we know so little about Jane, it is unwise to call her names such as ‘vindictive’ ‘wicked’, and ‘spiteful’.



It is equally plausible that Jane might have been innocent of the accusations that have been placed against her.

There were many noble women who gave evidence at the trials, not just Jane; there is nothing to say that it was her testimony that brought the axe down on her family. The ever reliable Chaupys does not tell us it was Jane who gave the damning evidence. In fact, he does not name anyone. He just says ‘’that person’’, was to blame for the downfall. I think it’s important to take Chaupys as a reliable source here as he championed Lady Mary’s return to court when it would have been in his interests to name and shame a Boleyn, because of the religions fraction between the Protestant Boleyns, and the Catholic Mary. Wouldn’t Chaupys want to stir up trouble for the Boleyns? After all, this was not a man shy of his words - he called Queen Anne ‘’the concubine’’.

It is still disputed today who brought down the Boleyns. Some believe that it is the Seymours, some believe it was the Boleyns themselves, other historians believe that it is Cromwell, or Lady Mary, and lastly, some think that the king himself wanted Anne gone. Whatever the truth, with missing evidence, and court politics and cover-ups, we are likely to never know the answer. We can but speculate.


One last thing…

But, there is one final and interesting point that Julia Fox raises. It is perhaps the most important point - Jane had everything to lose from the Boleyns falling. Why would a woman who had everything to lose, by turning on her own family, bring them down? It doesn’t make sense. She had never been in a better position because she was wealthier and more prestigious than she had ever been when they fell.

Maybe the truth is still waiting to be discovered somewhere…


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How familiar are you with the Tudors? In this article, Jennifer Johnstone introduces us to some of the key events and people in the period including bloody religious change, kings and queens, and King Henry VIII’s six wives.


Everyone is familiar with the Tudors. Or at least, most people know about Henry VIII, and his six wives: Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, and finally Catherine Parr, alongside another one of England’s longest serving monarchs: Elizabeth I. The first Tudor royal was King Henry VII (1485-1509), then his son, Henry VIII (1509-1547), then to the boy King Edward VI (1553), briefly Lady Jane Grey sat on the throne in 1553, to be ursurped by Mary I, sometimes referred to as ‘Bloody Mary’ (1553-1558), and finally, the last of the Tudor monarchs was Elizabeth I (1558-1603). In the television program The Tudors, Catherine of Aragon describes Anne Boleyn as ‘the scandal of Christendom’; however, it seems like an accurate description of the Tudors themselves, as they divided a country religiously, broke with Rome, and reformed England in a way that changed the country forever.

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn

Family divisions

The Tudors did not only divide the country of England religiously, between Catholic and Protestant, but they were divisive amongst themselves too. They were a family of intense division.

One of the divisions in the Tudor court came from the contentious relationship Mary I had with Anne Boleyn. It is said that they hated each other, and even tried to kill one another. The Imperial Ambassador of the time, Eustace Chapuys, claimed that Anne tried to poison Mary. But there is a lac k of evidence to suggest that Chapuys’ claim is true. Chapuys wasn’t an impartial figure in the Tudor court; he is said to have supported Lady Mary and her mother Catherine of Aragon. But it is also claimed that Anne said to her brother George that, “she would consider putting Mary to death if the King ever left her as Regent while he was away in France.” Perhaps there is some truth to the claim that Anne thought that it would have been easier on her if Mary was out of the equation, but to accuse her of murder without strong evidence, doesn’t give us an accurate picture of what Anne really thought of Mary.

So, what did Mary think of Anne? Well, Mary seems to have resented the new Queen. And that she even rejoiced when Anne did not and could not produce a son for Henry. Mary seemed to blame Anne for her parents’ divorce, and the ill treatment by her father towards her. It’s possible that Anne could have been partly to blame for Henry’s mistreatment towards Mary, but Henry stripped Mary of being a princess of his own accord; she was in favor one minute and banished the next minute from court. Henry also had the notion that a son was more important to the Tudor’s future; seeing Mary as inferior in this way must have affected her psychologically too. Indeed, Mary later became a bitter, resentful, and brutal Queen.


Henry VII

The divisions which were rife throughout the Tudor period can be seen from the dawn of the Tudor period as Henry VII came to power in a divided country. The country was at civil war when Henry VII defeated King Richard III in battle. The civil war was called the 'The War of the Roses', a battle between two families, the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster (the Tudor Rose), hence the name 'Roses'.

Henry VII is know for his ruthless taxes on the populace. With the money taken from these taxes, Henry VII was able to leave a fortune to his son Henry VIII. Henry VII also reformed laws, and the powers of the King. All told, although Henry VII came to power with a bang, nothing terribly noteworthy happened in his reign, hence why some regard Henry VII as an unmemorable ruler. But, we do not have that problem with his son.


Henry VIII

Henry VIII succeeded his father to the throne on April 21, 1509, and his coronation took place on June 24, 1509. He is well known for forming the Church of England at the expense of the Catholic Church. This was partly because the Pope would not grant Henry an annulment on his first marriage, to enable him to marry again. The establishment of his own church gave Henry the chance to marry a total of six times. Interestingly, his marriage with Anne of Cleaves lasted only six months, but he remained friends with Anne for the duration of their lives. Catherine Parr had understandable reservations about becoming Henry's Queen - who of us would want to marry a King who easily tired of his wives, and was prepared to chop off their heads? They say the only one that Henry really loved was Jane Seymour. Perhaps this was because she gave him the son that he desperately wanted.

But Henry seemingly had several other sons, albeit ‘bastard’ (illegitimate) ones. They were Henry FitzRoy, Thomas Stukley, and Richard Edwards. Considering that Henry VIII had many affairs, and the social stigma that surrounded 'bastard' children, there were very likely more children of Henry's too. Of his three sons, only one was recognized by Henry VIII. The rest were not. In short though, Henry VIII can be seen as a self-serving King, particularly during the Reformation.


The Reformation

The Reformation brought scandal to Christendom across Europe. But was the English Reformation about political and religious rule for Henry? Or was it just about Henry VIII seeking to remarry?

The answer is a mixture of both.

The Lutheran Reformation, which began in 1517, was focused on challenging clerical power and educating the public about the bible, including encouraging them to read the bible in English. Another factor were the resented taxes imposed by the Catholic Church on the people of England. The Catholic Church had a lot more power over countries in those days; Cardinals were the politicians of their day. Cardinal Wolsey would be a perfect example; he had a lot of power in Henry VIII’s day.

Usually in history it's a collection of elements that spur these political breaks, so it would be naïve of us to think that the break with Rome was just an issue of Henry wanting to remarry.


Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn is often seen as one of the main driving forces of the English Reformation; this is indeed true. Her faith in Protestantism was strong. She adhered to the Lutheran doctrine, a point that one of Anne's Boleyn's biographers argues. In her book on Anne Boleyn Joanna Denny argues that Anne was a passionate reformer. She writes: “Her views were evangelical, many would say Lutheran. She read the bible daily, and believed that everyone should be able to read the bible in a language they understand.” Therefore, it can be seen that Anne, as well as Henry, were both in favor of bringing the Reformation to England. However, they were not alone; there were plenty of powerful figures in the Tudor court that supported the English Reformation, such as Thomas Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell.

So, a country that Henry VII united, was divided again by the Reformation, into two main religious ‘ideologies’: Catholicism and Protestantism. After Henry's VIII’s reign, Mary I burnt Protestants at the stake, while after her Elizabeth I burnt Catholics at the stake.

But to end, let us consider Henry VIII’s own words:

''Alas, how can the poor souls live in concord when you preachers sow amongst them your sermons of debate and discord... here will see these divisions extinct, and these enormities corrected.''


You can find out more about the Tudors as part of our English Civil War blog post series. Read the first article in the series by clicking here.

This week we show you all of King Henry VIII’s six wives. Plus, we will tell you how to find out about the one that got away – ‘wife’ number seven.


We all know that King Henry had six wives and here they all are... That’s right, scroll on down for images of all of King Henry VIII of England’s wives. Plus, find out about number seven!

Number 1. Catherine of Aragon. Divorced 1533.

Number 1. Catherine of Aragon. Divorced 1533.

Number 2. Anne Boleyn. Beheaded 1536.

Number 2. Anne Boleyn. Beheaded 1536.

Number 3. Jane Seymour. Died 1537.

Number 3. Jane Seymour. Died 1537.

Number 4. Anne of Cleves. Divorced 1540.

Number 4. Anne of Cleves. Divorced 1540.

Number 5. Catherine Howard. Beheaded 1542.

Number 5. Catherine Howard. Beheaded 1542.

Number 6. Catherine Parr. Outlived King Henry VIII.

Number 6. Catherine Parr. Outlived King Henry VIII.

And what about wife number 7?

Here is the story of the nearly wife… Click here!

George Levrier-Jones

AuthorGeorge Levrier-Jones
CategoriesBlog Post