Prince Arthur

Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, was the eldest son of King Henry VII and the older brother of Henry Tudor, later to be King Henry VIII. Prince Arthur was born on 20th September 1486 and died at Ludlow aged only 15. He is buried in Worcester Cathedral near the other royal tomb of King John. Arthur had married Catherine of Aragon, and there had been lavish celebrations on her arrival in England in 1501.

Prince Arthur had been sent to the region known as the Welsh Marches to gain experience in governing an area before he was to succeed his father. For example, he acted as a Justice of the Peace in Worcestershire alongside the Prior of Worcester monastery, according to a register in the Cathedral archive. Unfortunately, Prince Arthur died of an unknown illness on 2nd April 1502.

The princeís body was embalmed and then, after several weeks at Ludlow, the funeral cortege set off to Worcester. They would have been met by the Bishop of Worcesterís representative, many clergy, and Worcesterís civic leaders called bailiffs. The coffin was then taken to the Cathedral in a torch-lit procession.

When they arrived at Worcester Cathedral three bishops, as well as abbots and priors from many local monasteries, and the Prior and monks of Worcester Cathedral, met the hearse. It was recorded that there were two great standards, banners of the Kings of England and Spain and banners of the Queens of England and Spain. There were also banners showing the coat of arms of the Prince of Wales, two banners bearing the Welsh flag, one for an ancient Welsh ruler called Cadwaladr, and over one hundred other lesser flags and banners. This must have been an impressive sight for the local people.

That evening a preliminary service was held, called a Dirige. Nine lessons were read during the funeral, which was the Worcester custom. Military members of Prince Arthurís household, such as Knights and Squires, then watched over the coffin in the cathedral until the next morning.

In the morning, after three masses, and various other ceremonies and a sermon, money was distributed to the poor. Further ceremonies followed, such as the censing of the corpse. The body was then taken and laid in the grave, and the senior members of the Princeís household then broke the badges of their office, such as a staff, and cast them into the grave. ††††

In the Cathedral archive is a monastic account roll dated to 1501-02. It has a few references to the funeral, including the ringing of the cathedral bells at the funeral of the lord prince and at his burial for which the bell ringers received 5 shillings. The church cleaners and other workers were also paid 4 shillings and 8 pence to get the Cathedral ready for the funeral.

The Chantry Chapel of Prince Arthur housing his tomb is located in a position of honour by the High Altar. When you visit the Cathedral keep a look out for the Chapelís exterior walls. They are covered in symbols of the Tudors, such as the Tudor Rose or the portcullis of the Beaufort family, and former Yorkist symbols such as the rose with sunshine. There are also Spanish heraldic symbols no doubt representing his widow, Catherine of Aragon, and her familyís origins. For example look for the pomegranate and a bundle of arrows.

There are also a fascinating number of small carved images of saints and kings on the exterior. These possibly include Saints Kenelm, Oswald of Worcester, Wulfstan, Edward the Confessor, Egwin, Agatha, Barbara and Margaret, although there are too many to list here. Inside the Chantry chapel above the Altar are five statues in the reredos. These depict four saints and Jesus Christ as the Man of Sorrows. In the chapel interior are further carvings including angels, and Old Testament figures. The box-like tomb chest is now thought to have been constructed in the 1520s. If you look carefully you will notice that the nearby tombs for King John and for Princeís Arthurís loyal friend Griffith ap Ryce also have box-like tomb chests.

Catherine of Aragon was later to become the first wife of King Henry VIII. She had one daughter. This girl was to become Queen Mary I Tudor. Eventually Catherine would be divorced by King Henry VIII. If Prince Arthur had survived and had children, then the history of England and Wales may have been very different.

In 2002 there was a re-enactment in the city and in the Cathedral of the funeral service of Prince Arthur, in which many local people took part. There was also an academic conference held at Worcester in 2002 about Prince Arthur and the book of the conference proceedings Ė Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales: Life, Death and Commemoration - was edited by Steven Gunn and Linda Monckton (Boydell 2009). The account of Arthurís funeral can be found in Gordon Kipling (ed.) The Receyt of the Ladie Kateryne, published for the Early English Text Society by Oxford University Press, 1990.


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