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GREAT MONARCHS OF GREAT BRITAIN

 

 

Travel is people. You may go abroad to see the famous sites, but what you remember best are the people you meet. Among them, like unexpected treasure, are a few memorable contacts that will make your travels unique, special, and delightful. "People" is devoted to some of those you may come in contact with during your Home At First travels.

This article first appeared in October, 2008.                                        Most recent update: 2014.

Inventors of the Modern World

— FIRST OF A SERIES —

PART I

June 28,1491 — April 21, 1509

Portrait by an unknown artist of Henry VIII at about the time he became king at the age of 17 in 1509. PD-Art.
Portrait by an unknown artist of
Henry VIII at about the time he
became king at the age of 17 in 1509.


I

n the time of King Henry VIII someone would have lost his (or her) head. The last great medieval king of England, the Anglo-Saxon Renaissance man, the consolidator of the United Kingdom has been snubbed by his no-longer trembling subjects.
          In 2002 the BBC polled their viewers to determine whom they believed to be the 100 greatest Britons of all time. The British, bless 'em, have a keen sense of history. As you might imagine given the long, nearly continuous monarchy of England, several kings and queens placed high in this ultimate national popularity contest:

Queen Elizabeth I — daughter of King Henry VIII — was the highest ranked monarch, placing 7th
   (right behind of scientist Isaac Newton and immediately ahead of musician John Lennon).

-
Oliver Cromwell came in at #10. Cromwell, while technically not a king, served regally as England’s
   Lord Protector during the 17th century interregnum known as the Commonwealth of England.

-
Alfred the Great reached #14, somewhat surprising for a regional sovereign (he was King of Wessex
   only: principally SW England), an Anglo-Saxon from the Dark Ages (9th century). Alfred is revered as
   a defender of England: he held off the Danes.

-
England’s longest reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, whose 63-year term stewarded the heights of
   the British Empire in the 19th century, was voted in at #19.

-
Owain Glyndŵr (aka Owen Glendower), the last all-Welsh Prince of Wales (early 15th century) and
   figurehead of modern Welsh nationalism, made the top 25% of the list, placing at #23.

-
Queen Elizabeth II (#24 in the BBC poll), the current sovereign going strong with 56 years on the
   throne, may eclipse her great-great-grandmother as England’s longest reigning queen or king.

-
Coming in at #35 is another great British queen, Boudica (perhaps still better known at Boadicea), the
   queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe (of the area we identify today as East Anglia) who took on the Romans
   shortly after the death of Christ.

 

          Where’s that most macho and domineering of English monarchs, King Henry VIII, the Tudor terror, he of six wives, various mistresses, a sickly son and two powerful daughters, the man who declared himself God’s intermediary for England and Ireland, who thumbed his nose at the two most powerful men in the world the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor who personally led armies to victory against the French and won jousting tournaments in full armor, and, we believe, helped invent the modern world? How ironic that Henry VIII was voted only to #40 in the reader’s poll, behind seven other British sovereigns (or demi-sovereigns) including four women, a commoner and a Welsh rebel. Henry the 8th, massive man with a massive ego, would have been livid! Who was Henry VIII, and why might his legacy not be as revered among his countrymen today as perhaps it once was?


King Henry VII (Henry Tudor), founder of the Tudor dynasty and father of Henry VIII. Portrait by an unknown artist circa 1500. P-D Art.
Portrait by an unknown artist of
King Henry VII at about 1500.

B

orn just 13 months before Columbus set off from Spain on his first voyage of discovery, Henry was the second son and third child of King Henry VII (formerly Henry Tudor) and his wife Elizabeth of York. His older brother, Arthur, was Prince of Wales and heir to the throne. Young Henry, second in line to the throne, prepared for a future as a kind of vice president: a heartbeat away from the throne. His education was lavish, and generalized, but with a concentration in religion. The Renaissance was underway, and, like a young de' Medici, Prince Henry received instruction in art, languages, science, religion, music, mathematics, the classics, and geography.
          Henry VII arranged for Arthur to marry the daughter of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, Catherine of Aragon. They married he was 14, she 15 in 1501. Their marriage was designed as a political union between Spain and England. At the time Spain having itself only recently become united by the

join monarchy of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile was a major European power looking to bolster its power base through this alliance by marriage to the future king of England. But Arthur was not a robust teenager, and he caught the sweating sickness (a mystery disease that swept England with four epidemics over fifty years) and died within six months of taking wedding vows.

   

H

enry had two sisters, Margaret Tudor, 19 months his elder, and Mary Tudor, almost 5 years younger. Because the practice of English royalty was that a woman could not become sovereign as long as a male heir could be found, Henry and not his older sister Margaret replaced his brother as Prince of Wales three months before his eleventh birthday. The female children of royalty in England and Scotland as in Spain proved very useful politically through arranged marriages designed to create alliances. Both of Henry’s sisters served in this capacity. Margaret became Queen of Scots when she married King James IV of Scotland. Mary Tudor engaged at 11 to marry the 5-year-old future Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire instead became Queen of France when she married 52-year-old King Louis XII when she was 18.
          Henry’s older brother Arthur had died in 1502. When his mother, Queen Elizabeth of York, died in childbirth in 1503, Henry’s father the king did not forsake his dream of a marital alliance with Spain. If he could get the Pope to agree to permit Arthur’s young widow
Catherine of Aragon to be eligible to remarry, the king thought the Spanish princess a good match for himself or for his son

Portrait said to be of Margaret Tudor, elder daughter of King Henry VII and older sister of Henry VIII. Married off to King James IV of Scotland, she became the power behind the throne after her husband's death. She was mother of King James V of Scotland, grandmother of Mary Queen of Scots, and great-grandmother of King James I of England, founder of the Stewart (Stuart) dynasty followed the Tudors with the death of Queen Elizabeth I. Early 16th century painting by an unknown artist. P-D Art.
Portrait said to be of Margaret Tudor,
elder daughter of King Henry VII and
older sister of Henry VIII. Married off
to King James IV of Scotland, she became
the power behind the throne after her
husband's death. She was mother of King
James V of Scotland, grandmother of Mary,
Queen of Scots, and great-grandmother
of King James I of England, founder of the
Stewart (Stuart) dynasty that followed the
 Tudors upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I.

and heir, Henry. When Catherine swore that her marriage to Arthur had never been

 

consummated, the pope agreed to the annulment,

The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1469 united Spain into a major European power. The Spanish co-monarchs hoped to leverage an alliance with England by marrying off their daughter, Catherine of Aragon, first to Arthur, Prince of Wales, and, when Arthur died suddenly, to his brother Henry, the replacement heir to the English throne. Composite portrait of Ferdinand and Isabella: P-D Art.
The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon
and Isabella of Castile in 1469 (above)
unified
Spain into a major European
power. The Spanish co-monarchs hoped
to leverage an alliance with England by
 marrying off their daughter, Catherine
of Aragon
first to Arthur, Prince of
Wales, and, when Arthur died suddenly,
then to his brother Henry, the
replacement heir to the English throne.

and King Henry VII quickly announced the betrothal of 13-year-old Henry to the 19-year-old widow of his brother.

T

he engagement continued for the next four years. King Henry VII and Ferdinand & Isabella dragged their royal feet: Henry VII delaying paying the required dowry for Catherine of Aragon and the Spanish co-monarchs withholding the delivery of promised gold and silver wedding gifts. Then in April 1509, England’s 52-year-old king suddenly died some say he had never recovered from the loss of his wife and first-born son leaving his 17-year-old heir still unmarried and the alliance with Spain uncertain. Teenaged King Henry VIII, sportsman, bon vivant, and learned ecclesiast, found himself catapulted onto the throne facing the same challenges that had consumed his father’s life: consolidating the power of the English monarchy into the Tudor dynasty, establishing England’s secure place among the powers of Europe, and producing a healthy male heir to keep the kingdom united and civil unrest at bay.

 

Live like a King when you come to London.
Stay at HOME AT FIRST’s Apartments at St. Katharine’s Marina.
They’re all named after their famous neighbors at the
Tower of London next door: the wives of Henry VIII.
Learn more about the individual apartments here:
 
Catherine of Aragon    Anne Boleyn    Jane Seymour    Anne of Cleves    Kathryn Howard

— END OF PART I —
Next Time: PART II — Young King Henry, Renaissance Man

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED OCTOBER, 2008.                                                               MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

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