There are always points in history where a different choice could have been made and the end would have been very different. There are many what if points in the Tudor time period. In this post, I will address two of the most tantalizing.
Prince Arthur lived and became King of England
Arthur Tudor was the first born of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. He was meant to be the embodiment of the golden age of England, and the flower of the Tudor dynasty. He was married to Catherine of Aragon on November 14, 1501. The newly married pair traveled to Ludlow and administered Wales from that castle. In real life, Arthur died of an unknown illness not long after their arrival setting in motion a train of events that led to the troubled reign of Henry VIII that has fascinated many people over the years. But what if Arthur survived?
Catherine and Arthur could have had a line of healthy children including a son and heir. This would solidified the alliance between Spain and England against France. Catherine was quite active in pillow side diplomacy with Henry, so it is reasonable to theorize she would be with Arthur as well. With a bevy of healthy children with both Spanish and English royal blood running in their veins, he would have no reason to go against Spain. This takes the Spanish armada coming against England out of play.
However, it is theorized the illness that laid him low at Ludlow would have weakened him. Also, Catherine had difficulty carrying a child to term, and this may not have been due to a problem with Henry. We have no way of knowing. Therefore, this casts doubt on their ability to have healthy sons. Arthur and Catherine may have been in the the same succession crisis as Henry and Catherine, however, this is no doubt Arthur would have handled it differently than Henry. Arthur had been trained more closely by his father, Henry VII, and was said to take after him in his cautious nature. It is doubtful he would have put aside his wife, and if he did it would not have been for a commoner. Arthur would have made a powerful European alliance with his second marriage.
Without the tantalizing prospect of Anne Boleyn and her slender white hands pushing books on reform into Henry’s hot hands, the reformation of the English Church would have not been so violent. The will to reform the church was there, but would spring not from the government or the monarchy. In this scenario, it would come from a more grassroots level. And who knows what Bishop Henry, the king’s brother and defender of the faith, would think of it?
Catherine and Henry’s first son lived
Born on January 1, 1511, Henry, Duke of Cornwall, was the son and heir of Henry VIII and his wife Catherine of Aragon. The couple had already lost a stillborn daughter, and were overjoyed at the birth of this healthy boy. The public called him “the New Year’s Price” or “little Prince Hal” and toasted him with wine and bonfires and dancing in the streets. He was christened a few days later with all the pomp and circumstance of a prince of England at the Chapel of the Observant Friars at Richmond. His father, King Henry, jousted at a tournament in his honor carrying the motto “Sir Loyal Heart” as a tribute to the prince’s lady mother. Then it all went wrong.
In real life, the wee babe lived only fifty-two days. No one knows for sure what happened to the child, but infant mortality was high in the those days. But what if the little prince had lived? Henry had his heir. There would be no pressure or rush for him to get rid of his older wife Catherine. When the lovely Anne Boleyn came back to court, she would have no card to play to convince the king to put her on the throne. It was mistress or nothing. Perhaps she would have passed through his arms like her sister did. Or perhaps she would merely flirt and end up happily married to Henry Percy. It is highly likely that Henry would have continued the grand tradition of having a mistress, but no one would have faulted him for it. Both Charles V and his son Philip as well as Francis of France had their share of extramarital affairs. It was the way of the times. But as long as Catherine did her duty and gave the King an heir, there would be no reason to get rid of her. No Great Matter.
Their daughter Mary would have a much happier life as the younger sister to the heir apparent. Her childhood would have been much happier as she would never be forced to chose between her two beloved parents. As the legitimate daughter of the King of England she would have had her pick of eligible princes and been the wife and mother she longed to be.
As in the previous scenario, religious reform would be bottom up not forced from the top down. It is unknown how Henry would react. Henry was always against Lutheranism, but it is possible he could have listened to other reforms. Perhaps Catherine would have brought a moderating influence to his decisions. However, she was a daughter of the monarchs who instituted the Inquisition, so it is possible she could have pushed him to a more hard line position.
However, none of this was meant to be and a beautiful young woman named Anne Boleyn strayed into the King’s gaze and the rest as they say was history.
Sources available on request