It happened today - November 14, 2015

History does furnish some important rules of thumb. Things like “Don’t attack the Anglosphere” and “don’t invade Russia” and “Don’t marry Henry VIII.” Of course the last one is of limited practical application today. But it was a solid one in its day.

Remember, it was Catherine of Aragon’s marriage to Henry that resulted, albeit indirectly, in England’s break with Rome. And to his marriage to Anne Boleyn which proved fatal to her while giving England Elizabeth I. And his marriage to Jane Seymour killed her giving birth to Henry’s only legitimate son, the sickly and short-reigned Edward VI. Etc.

Meanwhile, one peculiarity in this whole story is that Henry VIII wasn’t the first Tudor Catherine of Aragon married. His father Henry VII, who’d successfully asserted the Tudors’ highly irregular claim to the throne by brute force, was bent and determined to ally England with Spain against France. And so he first managed to marry Catherine to Henry’s older brother Arthur.

It was typical of the dynastic marriages of that time. The bride and groom had never met when they got engaged, which isn’t that surprising since she was two at the time and he was not yet one. They were then married by proxy in 1499, when neither was yet five, and began corresponding in Latin. (When they finally met ten days before their real wedding, which was November 14 1501, they discovered that, having been taught different pronunciations of Latin, they could not actually speak to one another.)

Oh well. I don’t know that you could actually call the marriage unhappy so much as brief. Both fell ill within months and Arthur died on April 2, 1502. Henry VII didn’t give up, though, and after resisting Henry VIII did marry his brother’s widow shortly after he became king in 1509.

The Tudors really were a scurvy lot. They began their tortuous ascent to the throne when Owen Tudor, a Welsh adventurer, surreptitiously married the widow of Henry V, Catherine of Valois, the charming French princess in Shakespeare’s play “Henry V,” provoking a law against secretly marrying royal widows. And on that slender pretext, given that neither Owen nor his wife was in the line of descent from English kings, they schemed and plotted, fought and married their way to the throne where they produced not merely the cold and brutal Henry VII and the scary Henry VIII but Bloody Mary before fizzling out after holding the throne for just over a century, and having endless heir problems from Henry VIII’s lack of sons to Elizabeth’s lack of progeny, which in turn brought the revolting Stuarts to the throne because Henry VII had married Henry VIII’s sister to the King of Scotland.

It is typical of this conniving dynasty that they would have poached the mythical name of “Arthur” from the mists of English history to reinforce their shaky claim to the throne. And that he should never have sat on it.

OK, so maybe the rule should be don’t marry or crown Tudors. All in all, poor Arthur is a bit player in the story. But Catherine, who never accepted her divorce from Henry VIII and died unhappily within a few years, would certainly have done better to remain in Spain and never marry any Tudor of any description.

It happened todayJohn Robson