The royal line of the Tudors lasted from 1485 to 1603. one hundred and eighteen eventful years. They will be remembered for ‘the Tudor Rose’, ‘The six wives’, ‘St. Thomas More’, ‘the Queen’s pirates’, ‘the Invincible Armada’ and ‘Mock-Tudor houses’.
The great adventure started with an obscure family of Welsh gentry. Henry V, having won the Battle of Agincourt (1415 q.v.) and the heart of a French princess called Katherine of Valois, married her and had a weakly son, later to become, albeit briefly, Henry VI. The Wars of the Roses, chiefly fought between the great landowning barons to see who could drive the youngster off the throne and replace him with one of their own, were calamitous and noisy enough to conceal a vary dubious marriage connection between Owen Tudor and the widow of Henry V, who died no more than fifteen months after marrying his French princess. Perhaps no one noticed that a royal princess, Henry V’s queen, had as a widow formed an attachment with her wardrobe master. Nor did people notice that Owen Tudor was illegitimate.
As the Wars of the Roses toiled on poor Owen Tudor got caught in them and he had his head cut off after taking part in the Battle of Mortimer’s Cross (1461), but not before he had made Katherine pregnant.
The son was called Edmund (1430 – 1456) and because of his mother’s bloodlines he had somehow become Earl of Richmond. Not only that; he managed to marry into the Beaufort family, descended from Edward III. But the Beauforts were illegitimate too, descended from three bastards fathered by John of Gaunt on his mistress Swynford before his last inconvenient wife died and he could marry her. These children had been made legitimate in 1407, but with the exclusion of any right to the throne.The exclusion hardly affected the three because each did well. Thomas became Duke of Exeter, John, Lord High Admiral and Earl of Somerset, and Henry was Bishop of Winchester until he was made a Cardinal. In the Wars of the Roses the York side showed they had no love for the Beauforts. All three of the Earl of Someset’s grandsons were killed in battle or executed. The male line was thus ended, but a niece, Margaret, daughter of John, Duke of Somerset, married Edmund Tudor. No obscure family could have been more upwardly mobile. Edmund was the son of Owen.
Edmund and Margaret had a son, not at all sickly, who became a celebrated soldier and Earl of Pembroke. His claim to the throne became more acceptable to the commons after the death of Henry VI’s son Edward of Lancaster in yet another battle of the Wars of the Roses. Chroniclers of the time said that it was Richard of York himself who cut the young man’s throat, and Shakespeare says the same thing.
As we all know, Richard was a younger brother of the Yorkist King Edward IV, and he eventually became King Richard III (q.v.) after a series of questionable manoeuvres. Losing the support of great barons like Buckingham, Stanley and Northumberland, Richard was himself defeated in a red sea of carnage at Bosworth Field (1485). Now can you guess who became King?
Henry VII was that celebrated soldier called Henry who through his mother was an illegitimate descendent of John of Gaunt. His father was Edmund Tudor, and his claim to the throne was to say the least tenuous, but his forces won Bosworth and by right of victory he was chosen as King. The Tudor dynasty swept down on England.
Once crowned, Henry showed his consummate but ultimately sinister skills by marrying Elizabeth of York, the Yorkist heiress, and they had eight children: four survived. He also set up a secret intelligence service in England, and hounded out and had killed almost all surviving members of the Yorkist clan. His son Arthur (another sickly one) was married to Catherine of Aragon, herself a princess, and promptly died, leaving Henry VII no option but to marry her off to the younger brother – a promising tennis player and musician – the future Henry VIII (q.v.).
The appallingly bloodthirsty and expensive reign of the monster Henry VIII has been detailed by hundreds of historians and novelists, as well as in articles on this website. He cost England more money than it had, and married six times striving to have a male heir. He did have one, but Edward VI died in his youth, so his sister Mary Tudor became queen after a typically brief episode in Tudor politics in which a teenage female pawn (and her teenage husband) were sacrificed by among others, Northumberland and Suffolk.
Mary Tudor (Mary I) died after a short but distressing reign (specially distressing for Protestants), during which she got married to the King of Spain (who didn’t like her), and lost the port of Calais for the English. She was succeeded by the only Tudor worth anything – Elizabeth I; but ‘Gloriana’ never married, though she enjoyed numerous affairs with gentlemen who usually ended up minus a head. Thus was ended the House of Tudor.