Unto Us, a Dynasty is Born

This was quite a day for the Tudor dynasty. In 1457, the future Henry VII was born at Pembroke Castle in Wales. Exactly 90 years later, his son and successor, Henry VIII, died at the Palace of Whitehall.

Those 90 years were, to say the least, important and tumultuous in the history of England (and Europe). Henry VII exploited a very distant and questionable claim to the throne (his mother was a great-granddaughter—through an illegitimate line—of John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III) to set himself up as a reasonable replacement for Richard III. He gathered powerful supporters like the Woodville family (in-laws of Richard’s late brother, Edward IV) and Francis II, Duke of Brittany. With an army of around 5,000 soldiers, Henry defeated Richard’s army at the Battle of Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. Richard was killed during the battle, and the throne was Henry’s.

The following January, he married Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV, thus uniting the formerly warring houses of York and Lancaster. Despite the unification and the official end of the Wars of the Roses, several rebellions cropped up over the next several years; obviously none of them were successful.

Henry and Elizabeth had seven children: Arthur (1486-1502), Margaret (Queen of Scotland, grandmother of Mary, Queen of Scots,1489-1541), Henry VIII (1491-1547), Elizabeth (1492-1495), Mary (Queen of France, Duchess of Suffolk, grandmother of Lady Jane Grey, 1496-1533), Edmund (1499-1500), and Katherine (born and died 1503). Shortly after Katherine’s birth, Elizabeth of York died.

Henry’s reign is generally viewed as a fairly successful one. He refilled the nearly empty coffers of the exchequer, signed treaties and established alliances with France and the newly united Spanish kingdom, and brought the country’s powerful nobles to heel. He died at Richmond Palace of tuberculosis on April 21, 1509.

Upon his father’s death, Henry VIII took the throne. He’s primarily remembered for marrying a lot of women, partying like crazy, establishing an entirely new religion in England, and being ginormously fat (he had a 54-inch waist late in life. He was also a Renaissance man, interested in music and scholarly pursuits (he wrote poetry and composed several popular pieces of music including, possibly, the tune “Greensleeves”), and he was a formidable athlete in his youth, excelling on the tennis courts and the jousting fields.

Unlike his father, Henry VIII was a spendthrift, and he squandered more than one fortune building palaces, entertaining lavishly, and expanding the Royal Navy. His financial burdens were eased slightly after he started appropriating church property during the Reformation, but he managed to spend almost all of that too before he died.

As pretty much everyone knows, Henry was married six times and had three legitimate children, all of whom would eventually succeed him.

Henry’s active sporting life was effectively ended in the 1530’s, when a fall from his horse exacerbated an old leg injury, which ulcerated and refused to heal. The same accident may have also caused the crazy mood swings Henry suffered from in his later years, which would have been bad enough in an ordinary person, but in someone who had the power to have people executed were particularly damaging. He became a stress eater, overindulging in fatty foods, and soon enough became morbidly obese, a situation that probably hastened his death at age 55. Henry died on January 28, 1547 and was succeeded by his only son, nine-year-old Edward, who was England’s first Protestant ruler.

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