An Illegitimate Birth
Arthur Plantagenet was the illegitimate son of Edward IV and his mother was probably Elizabeth Lucy, daughter of one Thomas Wayte, a Hampshire gentleman. The date of Arthur’s birth is similarly lost in time, but believed to be between 1461 and 1475. 1462 is more probable as Edward possibly met and seduced Elizabeth Lucy, a widow, on a summer progress in 1461.
Edward’s mother, the dowager Duchess of York, was furious when Edward married the portionless Elizabeth Woodville in May 1464. The duchess claimed that Edward’s marriage was invalid as Edward had promised to marry Elizabeth Lucy. Thomas More claimed in his History of King Richard III[i] that, the seemingly naïve, Elizabeth Lucy under examination agreed that Edward had never promised to marry her;
‘She said his grace [Edward IV} spoke so loving words unto her that she verily hoped he would have married her, and if it had not been for such kind words she would never have showed such kindness to him to let him so kindly get her with child.’[ii]
Written sometime after the event and more with an eye to drama than accuracy, the history traduces the author’s patron’s predecessors. Sir George Buck claimed that Edward;
‘Loved her well and she was his witty concubine, for she was a wanton wench, and willing and ready to yield herself to the king and to his pleasures without any conditions.’[iii]
Arthur’s birthplace was Calais, the last bastion of Plantagenet holdings in France[iv]. Now all that was left was the Pale of circa 120 square miles surrounding the town and including the fort of Guisnes. Arthur was originally known as Arthur Wayte. It is highly possible that Elizabeth was also the mother of Elizabeth Plantagenet, born in 1464, which would imply that she had become the king’s mistress.
Arthur at Court
|Elizabeth of York|
Arthur’s godfather was William FitzAlan, 16th Earl of Arundel. Arthur spent his childhood at the Edward’s court. At the age of ten he moved to join his mother’s family at one of their manors; Byrne tentatively identifies the manor as that of Soberton in Hampshire. In 1472 the king’s tailor was ordered to make Arthur several robes. When Edward died in 1483 the 23 year old Arthur disappeared from the record for 17 years.
Having usurped the throne from Richard III[v] in August 1485, Henry VII married Arthur’s legitimate sister Elizabeth. In 1501 Arthur reappeared joining his half-sister Elizabeth’s household. When Elizabeth died in 1503 Arthur then became part of his brother-in-law’s household. Henry was indulgent to his brother-in-law.
Arthur’s relationship with the royal family was acknowledged and the de la Poles from the Countess of Salisbury down greeted him as cousin. In turn Arthur habitually referred to Cardinal de la Pole as ‘my cousin Reynold Pole.’ Arthur took after his father in that he was easy going and agreeable. He also continued the family trait in that he was a veritable giant of a man, being over 6’3”[vi]. Thomas More described Arthur as;
‘Princely to behold, of visage lovely, of body mighty, strong and clean made.’[vii]
When Arthur’s nephew Henry succeeded to the throne Arthur was made an Esquire of the King's Bodyguard and was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber. He was a close companion of Henry's despite the disparity in ages. Arthur was also appointed the King’s Carver, although the date of the appointment is not known.
Marriage Number One
|Edward Dudley (R), Henry VII (C)|
On 12th November 1511 Arthur was married to Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Edward Grey, 1st Viscount Lisle. She was the widow of Edmund Dudley, treasurer to King Henry VII, who had been executed the previous year on charges of treason. The day after the wedding the king granted Arthur some of the Dudley estates which had reverted to the crown as a result of Dudley's attainder.
Elizabeth had three sons by her previous marriage; Arthur’s eldest stepchild was John Dudley[viii]. The year after the wedding John was made the ward of Sir Edward Guildford and was taken into his household. Elizabeth’s second son Andrew was placed in the household of the Duke of Norfolk. Arthur seems to have taken no interest in either Andrew or Jerome, Elizabeth’s youngest son. Jerome apparently was mentally or physically disabled and, although destined for the priesthood, was unable to take orders.
Arthur and Elizabeth had three daughters: Frances[ix], Elizabeth[x] and Bridget who was placed in the care of Dame Elizabeth Shelley, Abbess of St Mary’s Abbey in Winchester .
Disaster at Sea
In 1512 Arthur was made a member for the Commission of the Peace[xi] for Hampshire and he remained so for many years. The following year Arthur was made a Spear of Honour, a crack corps of men of noble blood.
Eager to prove his martial prowess, and bound by a treaty of 5th April 1513[xii], Henry’s troops invaded France while Louis XII’s troops were involved elsewhere in a fruitless attempt to regain his maternal inheritance in Italy[xiii]. Arthur held a command in the navy and was responsible for the seas between the Thames estuary and Brest.
The fleet under the command of Sir Edward Howard[xiv], Lord High Admiral, took to the waters on 20th April; it suffered from a lack of victuals due to the speed of the orders from Henry. Arriving in Brest, Howard found the weather inclement, the town and harbour heavily defended by Admiral Prégent de Bidoux. The English ships were unsuited to close infighting in the harbour.
Howard, pressured by a letter from Henry, made an attempt to attack the French galleys[xv]. Howard managed to board Prégent’s galley but Howard was driven overboard and drowned, dragged down by the weight of his own armour. The dispirited fleet returned to Plymouth on 30th April to regroup under the new Lord High Admiral, Edward’s elder brother Thomas, Earl of Surrey[xvi] who wrote to Henry that the sailors;
‘Had as leve go in to Purgatory as to the trade [of battle]’[xvii]
Henry’s scathing letters of rebuke to the captains had only made things worse. Howard requested permission to launch raids into Brittany. Henry was only too happy to authorise this as it gave cover for the land invasion due in short measure.
Victory on Land
|Maximilian (L) and Henry VIII (R) meet at Therouanne|
The English troops in conjunction with the troops of Maximilian I[xviii], the Holy Roman Emperor besieged Thérouanne, and defeated the French led by La Palice at the Battle of the Spurs on 16th August; the Imperial Master of the Posts wrote;
‘Early in the day the Emperor and the King of England encountered 8,000 French horse; the Emperor, with 2,000 only, kept them at bay until four in the afternoon, when they were put to flight.’[xix]
The allies then went on to capture Tournai; the two towns were all the booty that Henry was to receive as a result of his efforts.
In an attempt to divert English involvement in France James IV of Scotland[xx] invaded England at Louis’ behest. The Scots failed to draw Henry's attention from France, and James’ death and the Scots' catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Flodden on 9th September did nothing to assist the Scottish cause.
Richard III’s ‘Beloved Cousyn’ – John Ashdown-Hill, The History Press 2015
The Lisle Letters – Muriel St Clare Byrne, Penguin Books 1985
Cardinal Wolsey – Mandell Creighton, MacMillan & Co 1891
The Royal Bastards of Medieval England – Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis, Barnes and Noble Inc. 1984
Elizabeth and Leicester – Sarah Gristwood, Bantam Press 2008
The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009
Thomas Cromwell – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2008
The Earlier Tudors – JD Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992
Thomas More – Richard Marius, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1993
The Tudor Navy – Arthur Nelson, Conway Maritime Press 2001
Illustrated Letters of the Paston Family – Robert Virgoe (Ed), MacMillan London Ltd 1989
[ii] Thomas More – Marius
[iii] The Royal Bastards of Medieval England – Given-Wilson & Curties
[vi] When his coffin was opened in 1788 his skeleton measured 6’3.5”
[vii] The Lisle Letters - Byrne
[ix] Frances was married twice: firstly to her step-brother John Basset (1520–1541) of Umberleigh, Devon, the son of Arthur's second wife by her first marriage. When he died she married Thomas Monke of Potheridge, Devon, of an ancient Devonshire family. Her great-grandson by this marriage was George Monck, 1st Duke of Albemarle (1608–1670)
[x] She married Sir Francis Jobson, Member of Parliament for Colchester; he was also a Receiver in the Court of Augmentations. A proposed marriage to the eldest son of Sir Francis Lovell fell through
[xi] Now known as Justices for the Peace or JP or Magistrates
[xiii] A small part of the War of the League of Cambrai
[xv] Brought round from the Mediterranean
[xvii] The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune - Head
[xviii] By this time Ferdinand had come to an agreement with Louis XII and left his son-in-law in the lurch
[xx] A traditional ally of France against the English