New Year Baby

Madonna and Child and Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII in the BBC's Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)
Madonna and Child and Katherine of Aragon and Henry VIII in the BBC’s Henry VIII and his Six Wives (1972)
Happy New Year! And to start the year we will start by mentioning an important event that (had it not ended in tragedy) could have changed the fate of Henry VIII’s first wife and Consort, Katherine of Aragon and the fate of England itself.
On the first of January 1511, Katherine of Aragon gave birth to her first son, Henry Tudor, Prince of Wales and Duke of Cornwall. Though never formally invested, his titles and place in the line of succession were secured. It was also a personal triumph for Katherine whose first pregnancy had been disastrous. He was a perfectly healthy boy and to celebrate his birth, bonfires burned, the streets ran with wine to the ‘great gladness of the realm’. Henry organized all kinds of pageants and tournaments. The baby was christened four days later on the fifth of January. His godparents were William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, Henry’s aunt Katherine of York (Elizabeth of York’s younger sister) and Countess of Devonshire and Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Surrey who stood for the Archduchess Margaret Habsburg of the Netherlands and Louis XII of France. Henry felt so joyful for the birth that he went on a pilgrimage to Our Lady of Walsingham at Norfolk to give thanks.

Once she was churched, Henry and Katherine moved from Richmond to Westminster where Henry hosted a series of tournaments commemorating the birth of his son and his Queen. It was here where Henry became known as ‘Sir Loyal Heart’ and adding to the chivalric tradition which Henry was brought in, he had all of his knights (himself included) wearing the letters ‘H’ and ‘K’ in gold. Riding with the King were Sir Edward Neville (representing Valiant Desire), Sir Thomas Knyvet as Good Hope, and William Earl of Devonshire as Good Valor. They addressed Katherine, congratulating her for the ‘good and gracious fortune of the birth of the young prince that it hath pleased God to send to her and her husband’. Jousts continued for nearly two weeks with Katherine giving prizes after every tourney, and then they stopped when terrible news came from Richmond. Prince Henry, Duke of Cornwall, the king and queen’s firstborn son and one day future king, had died. It is not known what caused his death. There has been many speculation but we can be assured it was nothing out of the ordinary. Sadly, child mortality was very high, and anything from a common cold to an infection could have been responsible for the little prince’s death.

Katherine and Henry took his death really hard. Here was the Prince they hoped would one day succeed his father as King of England. For Katherine, the loss was more devastating because a son helped her husband secure the line of succession and her place by his side. When she was told of her son’s death, Henry went to her side and comforted her and told her what he would one day tell his second wife when she bore him a daughter, that they were still young and they could have more children. And at the time nobody thought differently. Katherine was after all twenty five and Henry nineteen. Not only that, they had also known each other since childhood and Henry still loved her, so the future looked bright.

Sources:

  • Sister Queens: The Noble and Tragic Lives of Katherine of Aragon and Juana of Castile by Julia Fox
  • On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Catherine of Aragon by Garett Mattingly
  • Six Wives and the Many Mistresses of Henry VIII by Amy Licence
  • Six Wives of Henry VIII by David Starkey
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