The Tudor Dynasty
The most famous and infamous ruling house in England’s history, the Tudors are still with us. After the triumph over Richard III, the Tudors claimed the throne for over 100 years. Made the subject in hundreds of books, operas, movies, plays and television series, the Tudors have fascinated scholars and audiences because of their pivotal place in history but also because of the color and drama of their lives. Blood, tyranny, passion, betrayal, revolution, love, brilliance and ruthlessness all figure into these individuals.
Henry VII ( 1457-1509) the Parsimonious
The two ambitious houses of England, the Yorks and the Lancasters, clashed in armed conflict for the throne: the War of the Roses. Henry deposed the despised Richard III and ascended the throne. He married Elizabeth of York effectively fusing the two houses and establishing the Tudor dynasty. He reigned for 23 years and was notoriously cheap. However he put England on a sound financial and administrative footing and stabilized the country.
Elizabeth of York ( 1466-1503) the Beautiful
Queen consort of Henry VII she was uniquely the daughter, sister, niece and wife ( Edward IV, Edward V, Richard III and Henry VII) of a reigning English king. Apparently happily married, Elizabeth gave birth to eight children but died at 37 after giving birth to her last child. She was extravagantly mourned.
Prince Arthur ( September 20, 1486-April 2, 1502) The Blank Slate
Arthur was named after the legendary King Arthur of Camelot fame. He was the first child of King Henry VII and Queen Elizabeth and was, thus, the heir to the throne of England. At the age of three he was made a knight of the Garter and Prince of Wales, and by 15 he was married to the Spanish Infanta Catherine of Aragon. The night of their wedding day they were put to bed by the court in the traditional bedding ceremony. Arthur claimed that he was “lusty and amorous” prior to his wedding. After their first night together he called for a cup of ale, saying “for I have been this night in the midst of Spain”.
In less than a year after the marriage, Arthur died of tuberculosis or the mysterious “sweating sickness”. He left Catherine with no children. She remarried to Henry, Arthur’s brother.
The details of Arthur and Catherine’s marriage bed became the flashpoint of his brother, Henry VIII’s divorce/annulment from Catherine of Aragon. She claimed that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated and on such things the course of history is determined.
Mary Tudor ( 1496-1533) the Romantic
Daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII Mary was intelligent, beautiful, spirited and willful. She was one of the most desired women of her time. She was persuaded to marry the old, gouty French king Louis XII at the age of 18. Three months later Louis died, exhausted by trying to impregnate Mary.
As a young widowed Queen of France she was a useful pawn for her brother Henry. In defiance of Henry’s scheming Mary quickly married one of Henry’s best friends, Charles, Duke of Brandon. Henry’s anger was volcanic.
She and Brandon came back to England after Henry’s temper cooled and lived the rest of her life bearing children ( Mary is the grandmother of Lady Jane Grey) and living in the country.
Margaret Tudor ( 1489-1541) the Conflicted
Margaret was the formidable eldest daughter of Henry VII. Margaret was used as an emollient to ease tensions between England and Scotland by marrying the King of Scotland, James IV. Tensions continued because of the inadequate dowry provided by her famously parsimonious father.
When he came to the throne her brother Henry VIII frustrated the peace by declaring war on France, Scotland’s ally. In response, James IV invaded England and was slaughtered with the flower of Scottish nobility at Flodden
Margaret became regent to her infant son, James V. She naturally preferred England over France in defiance of Scotland’s treaty. Then she secretly married Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, known as a “young witless fool”. The Scottish nobility was given the excuse to exile her to England.
Later Margaret divorced Angus and returned to Scotland. She was placed back as regent in a coup d’etat. She shifted her alliance to France. After her son came of age and started to rule on his own, Margaret married for the third time to Henry Stuart.
Margaret was the formidable eldest daughter of Henry VII. She was crowned queen and wife of the Scottish king, James IV. The purpose of this marriage was to create peace between the two countries. She gave birth to the future king James V.
Peace was not to be and Margaret found herself torn between the two countries and their shifting alliances with France. Her husband was killed by the English at Flodden as a result of this conflict. She went on to marry two more times, mixing exile, coup d’etats, regencies, politics, intrigues and divorces into her nimble dance to survive.
Margaret’s legacy can be seen in the ascendancy of her great grandson James I who succeeded Elizabeth I, establishing the Stuart dynasty.
Henry VIII ( 1491-1557) the Monster
Henry started his reign as the quintessential renaissance prince: handsome, educated, generous and lively. However he ended his reign as one of the most unstable, greedy, neurotic, paranoid, cruel and disgustingly obese English kings.
He dragged England to the Protestant faith only because he was desperate to divorce his first wife and marry Anne Bolyen in order to begat a male heir. Elizabeth I was the result.
His callousness and cruelty to his six wives is the stuff of legends.
Catherine of Aragon ( 1485-1536) the Virtuous
First wife of Henry VIII and daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand of Spain. She loved and was ferociously loyal to her husband of 24 years. Unable to fulfill her primary duty to bear a son and heir, she was pregnant six times and the only surviving child was Mary.
Catherine was divorced by Henry after a protracted process where she displayed the stubbornness, emotion, eloquence, bitterness and rigid Catholicism of her nature. The separation of England from the Catholic church was the result of the divorce.
Anne Boleyn ( 1505-1536) the Gambler
Pretty, clever, chic, sharp tongued and ambitious, Anne kept Henry’s lust at bay for 8 years while she schemed to become wife and queen. In triumph she was crowned in 1533 pregnant with her first child Elizabeth. Three miscarriages later Henry turned his back on her.
She was accused of treason using trumped up charges of blatant infidelity with a number of men(including her brother). Anne was executed by decapitation with a sword. She was queen for less than 3 years.
Jane Seymour ( 1508-1537) the Vessel
Sweet, pale, compliant and obedient, Jane was the exact opposite of Boleyn. Jane married Henry just 11 days after Anne’s execution in 1536. She gave birth to the future Edward VI in 1537 after two days and three nights of hard labor.
Jane died 12 days later of a bacterial infection from a tear in her birth canal.
Anne of Cleves ( 1515-1557) the Fortunate
Growing up in Cleves under the parsimonious boot of her brother, Anne was lucky to have been picked at the bride of Henry VIII after he saw a deceptively pretty portrait of her by Holbein.
However, Henry did not find her attractive and refused to consummate the marriage. He was grossly fat and suffered from a stinking leg abscess so Anne probably got lucky when he divorced her after less than 7 months of marriage.
She lived the rest of her life in England in luxury, happiness and honor. Anne never married again.
Katherine Howard ( 1524-1542) the Strumpet
Manipulated by her Uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, Katherine was presented to Henry at the age of 15 as a “rose without a thorn”. Sexually active at an early age she had no interest in a crippled man weighing 300 pounds. But Henry was King and he was infatuated with her.
Katherine turned to Thomas Culpepper, a favorite courtier of Henry’s, for carnal pleasure. She and her lover were exposed, tried for treason and beheaded in 1542.
Catherine Parr ( 1512-1548) the Survivor
Catherine was married four times. Her third husband was Henry VIII and was strong-armed into marrying him over her real love, Thomas Seymour.
She was a supportive and patient wife and also performed the duties of a nurse to her aged, cantankerous and diseased husband. She survived Henry, barely avoiding arrest for her pro-protestant views. She became a beloved Queen Dowager.
Catherine finally married Seymour but died after giving birth to her only child.
Edward VI, King of England ( 1537-1553) the Wolf’s Cub
The beloved, much sacrificed for son of Henry, Edward came to the throne at the age of nine.
His brief reign centered on the bold confirmation of the reformation in England. If he had lived, Edward was suspected of becoming a fanatical protestant.
Edward died an agonizing death from tuberculosis of the bones at the age of 15.
Jane Grey ( 1537-1554) the Exploited
Although placed in direct line of succession by Edward VI, Jane Grey never wanted to be queen. Harshly brought up but allowed to flourish in her studies, Jane is one of the unluckiest Tudors.
However because of Jane’s fervid Protestantism she was an attractive alternative to the Catholic Mary.
She had to be bullied mercilessly by her parents into accepting the crown after Edward VII’s death. She was queen for nine days until she was thrown into the Tower of London by the rightful heir, Mary Tudor.
She was executed by Mary at the age of 17.
Mary Tudor, Queen of England ( 1516-1558) the Disappointed
Mary had a tragic, sad childhood where she was separated from her mother, isolated and bullied by her father and forced to obey no matter how bitterly she resisted. Her only refuge was her Catholic orthodoxy.
After years of loneliness, spinsterhood and tears she triumphantly claimed the throne of England. Starved for love she married Philip II of Spain who reacted to Mary with polite indifference.
Mary loved children but was frustrated and mortified by her inability to become pregnant. In her bitterness she lashed out at her subjects burning more than 300 Protestants at the stake.
She died reviled and feared, imprisoned by her bigotry and unhappiness.
Philip II ( 1527-1598) the Bludgeon
A political marriage was arranged between Queen Mary and the 27 year old heir to the Spanish empire in order to consolidate the Catholic resurgence in England. Mary was 37 years old. She was passionately in love with Philip and he was never less than courteous with her but he never loved her. They produced no children.
Philip was implacable in his aim to eradicate Protestantism in England and wholly supported Mary’s burning of the supposed heretics.
Philip had no understanding of England and never spoke the language. He has been described as vain, bigoted and ambitious but, in the end he can be considered a austere micro-managing statesman of a huge empire. His reign signals the peak of the Spanish Empire.
Elizabeth I ( 1533-1603) the Blaze of Glory
Elizabeth reigned as queen for 45 years. She was a popular monarch who presided over a golden age in English history. She was highly intelligent, tolerant, shrewd and cautious. She could also be indecisive, temperamental, vain and capricious.
After a youth spent in uncertainty veering from luxury as a princess to fear of the executioner’s ax she inherited the crown much to the delight and relief of her people.
Elizabeth’s reign was fraught with threats of invasion from Spain to threats to her throne at home from rebels and Catholics. However her firm grip on the reins of government coupled with the advice of a skilled advisors. Her triumph over the Spanish Armada marked the zenith of her lifetime.
Elizabeth ruled over a period of an immense flowering of the arts exemplified by the plays of Shakespeare and the music of Thomas Tallis .
She never married, preferring that her marriage to her people to be her only love.
Mary, Queen of Scots ( 1542-1587) The Dazzling Fool
A direct descendant of Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, Mary had a legitimate claim to the throne of Elizabeth I. However, she was a catholic.
Mary was raised at the court of France and married Francis II when she was 17. After Francis died she sailed to Scotland to in her homeland.
The sophistication of her youth in France was not a good fit for the austere court of Scotland. She was beautiful, extravagant, headstrong, passionate and impulsive. Mary had a knack for bad timing and unsuitable marriages. Her second husband was a dim, pretty English aristocrat who was murdered by the Scottish lords with the complicity of Mary’s second husband the Earl of Bothwell. The result of the marriage resulted in the abdication of Mary and exile to England, the country of her cousin and enemy Elizabeth.
Mary was placed under arrest for plotting the overthrow of Elizabeth and the re-establishment of the Catholic church in England. She remained in isolation for almost nineteen years. After a cask of letters were discovered that implicated Mary’s involvement in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth she was executed.