Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was by Sean Cunningham
|Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was by Sean Cunningham|
|Reviewer: John Van der Kiste|
|Summary: Prince Arthur was the eldest son of Henry VII. Had he lived longer, there might have been no Henry VIII, thus paving the way for a very large counterfactual 'what if' in British history. To produce a full-length biography of somebody who died at the age of fifteen from some unspecified illness is no mean feat. It could easily have been a very thin volume which told us almost nothing, but in fact, he has opened a very considerable window on the early Tudor court.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 304||Date: July 2016|
|Publisher: Amberley Publishing|
Prince Arthur was the eldest son of Henry VII. Had he lived longer, there might have been no Henry VIII, thus paving the way for a very large counterfactual 'what if' in British history. The name Arthur, that of the mythical King several centuries earlier, had great expectations attached, never to be fulfilled.
To produce a full-length biography of somebody who died at the age of fifteen from some unspecified illness – even Mr Cunningham has been unable to ascertain the exact cause of death – is no mean feat. And to compensate for the slender details handed down to posterity about his life and death, there is inevitably a large amount of history as well as descriptions of court ceremonial and routine combined with the narrative.
As with other lives of royalty from Tudor times and earlier, the author has to resort to a good deal of 'would have' and the like in his narrative. He admits in his closing chapter that studies of the Tudor crown have presented him as 'a shadowy young man', and it could hardly have been otherwise. We are told that Arthur's rite of passage in preparation for his reign – the reign which was not to be – would follow exactly that which had been put in place for King Edward V, another sadly shortlived prince from only a few years before. The hard and fast details of Arthur's life can be swiftly summarized: birth, parents and younger siblings, education, marriage to Catherine of Aragon, early death and not that much else.
Parallels, such as they may be, are drawn between his upbringing and that of his father, Henry VII. The latter had been brought up in a tough school, much of it spent in exile before his successful invasion of England against Richard III and victory at the Battle of Bosworth, but it is stated that he probably did not intend to inflict a similar upbringing on his own sons. Nevertheless, he sent Arthur away from the court at Westminster, to Farnham and then to Ludlow for an education which would prepare him thoroughly for the throne. By modern standards it may seem like a harsh childhood with a boy kept apart from his family for so much of the time, but the point is made that we should be wary of applying modern thinking to ring-fence the early years of life as a golden period in which children lead a life entirely separated from adult cares. Life expectancy in Tudor times was short, sudden premature death was commonplace, and the milestones of modern life were achieved at a much faster pace and in a much shorter time.
By far the longest chapter in the book deals with his marriage to Catherine, the negotiations involved and preparations for which had lasted for most of their young lives from early infancy. Although the bridegroom was only aged fifteen at the time, the question on everyone's lips the following day – and again many years later when his brother had married her and was seeking a divorce – was whether young Arthur 'had done his very best to start his life in the expected manner'. Much speculation follows, and of course, it is impossible to know.
Some attention is given to the immediate aftermath of his sudden death. It was not merely a family tragedy, but also one which placed the new Tudor regime in extreme danger, one which was compounded by the death in childbirth of his mother Queen Elizabeth a year later. It is also suggested that King Henry was also starting to struggle to control his flamboyant and very different second son, the one who would be Henry VIII within a few years.
Having come to this book with some misgivings, I can only marvel at how well Mr Cunningham has discharged the task. It could so easily have been a very thin volume which told us almost nothing, but in fact, he has opened a very considerable window on the early Tudor court.
For additional reading on the end of Henry VII's reign and the first months of that of Henry VIII, So Great a Prince: England and the Accession of Henry VIII by Lauren Johnson is also recommended. We can also recommend Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn.
Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was by Sean Cunningham is in the Top Ten Autobiographies and Biographies 2016.
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