A Potted History of the Tudor Dynasty: the Royal Family


The Royal Family

Henry VII 1505 at the National Portrait Gallery.
Henry VII 1505 at the National Portrait Gallery.

Henry VII was the son of Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, and he died in 1509. He was raised largely by his uncle, Jasper Tudor, his mother having not been allowed to raise him. He won the English crown at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485. He killed Richard III in the battle and began the Tudor dynasty. He united the warring Houses of York and Lancaster by marrying Elizabeth of York, ending the Wars of the Roses.

Elizabeth of York c.1500.
Elizabeth of York c.1500.

Elizabeth of York was the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville. There were rumours that she had indulged in an affair with her uncle, Richard III before his death. She died in childbed in 1503 and the child died. She had spent some of her childhood in sanctuary and many historians now believe that her brothers – the Princes in the Tower – were murdered.

Anonymous portrait of Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York c.1501.
Anonymous portrait of Prince Arthur, son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York c.1501.

Prince Arthur was the first-born son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He was the first husband of Katherine of Aragon, later wife of Henry VIII, the consummation of the marriage of whom has been debated over for many years, especially during Henry VIII’s ‘Great Matter’ in the late 1520s when he tried to divorce Katherine in order to marry Anne Boleyn. He died at Ludlow Castle just months after his marriage, and Katherine was left to fend for herself until Henry VIII married her after his accession in 1509.

Henry c. 1531, by either Hans Holbein or Francois Clouet.
Henry c. 1531, by either Hans Holbein or Francois Clouet.

Henry VIII was the most famous of the Tudor monarchs. He had six wives and was so focused on the succession that he instigated the ‘Great Matter’ (i.e. the divorce) with Katherine of Aragon, and the Break with Rome which began the English Reformation. His three surviving children all became monarchs (Edward VI 1547-1553, Mary I 1553-1558 and Elizabeth I 1558-1603). His illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, is not included here because he had little impact.

Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte
Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

Katherine of Aragon was the wife of Prince Arthur and his brother, Henry VIII. She was the mother of Mary I and the daughter of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon, who united Spain. Henry VIII divorced her to marry her lady-in-waiting, Anne Boleyn, as she hadn’t produced a son. She refused to turn from Catholicism with the Reformation, and this instilled in her daughter her own faith.

Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait
Anne Boleyn Hever Castle Portrait

Anne Boleyn was Henry VIII’s second wife. She was the catalyst for the Break with Rome and was almost universally hated in England for the divorce. She was executed after just three years of marriage, accused of adultery, incest and treason. Her ghost is said to haunt both the Tower of London and Hever Castle (her childhood home). She was the mother of arguably England’s greatest queen, Elizabeth I.

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.

Jane Seymour was the third wife of Henry VIII and the only one to produce a son – the future Edward VI. It is rumoured that she chose her wedding dress on the day of Anne Boleyn’s execution, and she married Henry VIII just ten days later. She died in her childbed after birthing the longed-for son, of puerperal fever just over a year after her marriage and is privileged to be buried beside Henry VIII at Westminster Abbey, as she was the only one who gave him a son.

Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539
Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein 1539

Anne of Cleves was Henry VIII’s fourth wife, dubbed a Flander’s Mare, as her looks didn’t please Henry VIII. The marriage was intended to make a Protestant alliance. It was Cromwell’s downfall. Henry claimed he was unable to consummate the marriage and divorced her. She became known as Henry’s sister, and managed to survive Henry’s reign, living into that of Mary I.

Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.

Katherine Howard was the fifth wife of Henry VIII and the cousin of his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Like Anne, Katherine was executed for adultery but, unlike her cousin Anne, she was almost certainly guilty as charged. Henry called her his ‘rose without a thorn’ and he was nearly 35 years older than her. It is said that Henry was rejuvenated while he was with her. Only one letter survives from Katherine, to her supposed lover, Thomas Culpeper.

Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.
Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery.

Katherine Parr was Henry’s sixth and final wife, and the only one who had been married before (twice). Many historians believe that she was in fact in love with Thomas Seymour at the time of her third marriage, the brother of Jane Seymour, whom she eventually married after Henry’s death. She was a committed Protestant and looked after both Elizabeth I and Jane Grey at one point, and had a hand in the education of both.

Mary Tudor in the National Portrait Gallery.
Mary Tudor in the National Portrait Gallery.

Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s younger sister (as opposed to his daughter) was first of all married to Louis XII of France who died just months after the wedding took place, supposedly of sexual excesses. She then incurred Henry’s wrath by marrying his best friend, Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk, against his wishes and without his permission. She died in 1533 from consumption, just after Anne Boleyn became Queen, though she refused to attend the coronation.

Margaret Tudor by Daniel Mytens.
Margaret Tudor by Daniel Mytens.

Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII’s older sister, became Queen of Scotland by marrying James IV. She was the grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots, and the great-grandmother of James VI/I, Elizabeth I’s successor. Margaret’s first husband, James IV, died at the Battle of Flodden in 1514, defeated by the forces sent by Margaret’s own sister-in-law, Katherine of Aragon. She went on to marry again.

Edward VI by William Scrots 1550.
Edward VI by William Scrots 1550.

Edward VI was Henry VIII’s only son and was King for six years, dying at the age of fifteen, possibly of tuberculosis. He had changed his will to cut his half-sisters, Mary and Elizabeth, out of the succession, naming Lady Jane Grey as his heir instead. England under Edward was at its most Protestant, owing to the influence of the Protectors Edward Seymour and John Dudley.

Streatham Portrait of Jane Grey, copy of a lost original.
Streatham Portrait of Jane Grey, copy of a lost original.

Lady Jane Grey was the grand-daughter of Charles Brandon and Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, and thereby niece of Henry VIII. If Henry’s children died without heirs, then the crown would have passed to Jane and her heirs, and then her sisters (Katherine and Mary) and their heirs. She was executed by Mary I after the Wyatt rebellion of 1554 along with her husband, Guildford Dudley, within the Tower of London. It is said that Philip II of Spain refused to marry Mary I until Jane was dead.

Mary I 1544 by Master John.
Mary I 1544 by Master John.

Mary I was the eldest daughter of Henry VIII by his first Catholic wife, Katherine of Aragon. She didn’t see her mother for the last three years of her mother’s life because both refused to accept the divorce, Katherine’s Princess Dowager status and Mary’s own illegitimate status. She became known as ‘Bloody Mary’ because she executed Protestants in order to return England to the Papacy.

Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575
Elizabeth I Darnley Portrait 1575

Elizabeth I, also known as Gloriana and the Virgin Queen, was the daughter of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. She is most known for the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 and her supposed relationship with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, whose wife was found dead in suspicious circumstances at the bottom of a flight of stairs with a broken neck. Her death without an heir united the countries of England and Scotland.

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