A King in Waiting: Building Prince Arthur’s Power in the Welsh Marches
When Arthur, Prince of Wales first arrived in the border region of England and Wales in the spring of 1493 he was at the head of an intimidating group of Henry VII’s insiders and loyalists. The visitors are visible in the historical record as the bench of justices for the quarter sessions held at Hereford Castle, but their purpose in the marches at that time was much broader. They were there to transplant Arthur into his new homeland and to emphasise to the people of the region just what was expected from them in terms of loyalty and obedience.
The company was headed by the king’s uncle and life-long mentor, Jasper Tudor, duke of Bedford and included the prince’s godfather the earl of Arundel, the half-brother of the queen, Thomas, marquis of Dorset, the king’s chamberlain, Sir William Stanley, and the Chief Justice Sir William Hussey, along with many other lords, knights and lawyers from the core of Henry VII’s court – a very powerful set of men for a provincial sessions of the peace.
This mission into the marches sent the strongest message that the Tudor crown was a visible presence in the region and would be active in maintaining the power of the prince. The communities along the march between Hereford, Leominster, Ludlow and Shrewsbury would have to play their part enthusiastically. They would have a key role in Arthur’s practical training; and the obvious incentive for their diligence was a share in royal patronage when, in future, the prince became King Arthur.
Many of the men who accompanied Arthur in 1493 were royal councillors and so would already have known King Henry’s long-term plans for his son’s education. Arthur was to follow the same path that Edward IV’s heir, Prince Edward, had taken in the decade after 1473. Arthur would be based at Ludlow Castle in southern Shropshire. The jurisdiction of the Council of the Marches of Wales had already been revived in his name. Plans were underway to grant to the prince the lands and rights of the earldom of March – one of the chief props of the aristocratic power of Edward IV and his father before 1461.
This region was one of the few areas of the country that King Henry knew personally from the time before he was king. He had been a ward of William Herbert, earl of Pembroke, at Raglan Castle in the 1460s and then lived for eighteen months with Herbert’s widow, Anne Devereux, at Weobley near Leominster after 1469. That local knowledge perhaps allowed Henry to prepare the ground for his son’s move from Farnham in 1493. The king could adapt the institutions of power for his son relatively easily. He faced a more complex task before he could be sure that Arthur was prepared personally for his future role.
Arthur was aged only six in 1493. This move to Ludlow was the early stage in establishing his status as a semi-independent lord. King Henry would ensure that Arthur learned everything that a king-in-waiting needed to know. Some of that came from a mixture of schoolroom education in languages and history, with training in the kingly arts of rhetoric, debate, and personal interaction. His tutor, Bernard André was experienced enough and trusted to meet King Henry’s demands in this area. Arthur’s skills would also be developed in ways that all politically active landowners were expected to master. Those included managing estates and tenants, learning the law and the extent of the jurisdictions linked to his titles, and how to be a leader in time of war. The prince’s counsellors and household officials were given those responsibilities.
What might have been harder to address were the complexities of court life that fed off proximity to the departments of state at Westminster, the commercial centre of London, and state occasions like the sessions of parliament. The decision to complete Arthur’s upbringing on the Welsh Marches therefore represented an initial prioritisation of self-reliance and the skills of lordship over mastery of the complexity of the court and the mechanics that kept national government working. What was important to the king, it seems, was to ensure that his son learned to understand how people behaved within the service relationships that members of the ruling elites had with the crown. Other responsibilities could be delegated or developed later. Significantly, the self-contained region under the rule of the Council of the Marches supplied experienced councillors and servants who could act as a safety net for any mistakes or misjudgements Arthur made as he developed.
The little snapshot of activity in spring 1493 tells us a great deal about how Henry VII felt he had to demonstrate his own authority. At that time, Perkin Warbeck’s conspiracy was gaining traction among former supporters of the Yorkist kings. Later records suggest that Sir William Stanley and his colleague in charge of the ‘downstairs’ part of the royal household, John, Lord Fitzwalter, had already committed themselves to Warbeck, whom they believed to be the queen’s brother, Richard, duke of York – one of the Princes in the Tower.
Arthur’s brother, Henry, who was the duke of York, was not yet eighteen months old. In terms of the Tudor dynasty’s strength-in-depth, therefore, things were still a little precarious for Henry VII. Granting the power of the earl of March at that time to Arthur and his steward, Sir Richard Croft (another local man experienced in the methods of the royal household), was probably a deliberate attempt to dominate the regional links to the House of York and to begin the process of binding them to the reigning Tudor royal family.
Henry VII‘s advisers already knew that the region could be volatile. Ever since Arthur’s birth in 1486 there had been an expectation that, at some point during his childhood, he would take up residency at Ludlow and Tickenhill Place in Bewdley. The king’s reliance on many Yorkist innovations and practices made it likely that he would see the value in duplicating elements of Edward V’s education in the marches (but be mindful of how it had ended abruptly in April 1483). From the spring of 1487 there had been some jostling for influence along the march between Richard Croft and Sir William Stanley. Stanley’s main ally on the spot was Sir Thomas Cornewall. He and Croft flexed their strength for control of the town of Leominster. Against the background of the invasion and rebellion that forced the king to fight the battle of Stoke in June 1487, each man made accusations against the other of treason, rioting, appropriating of the king’s authority and the retaining of bands of unsavoury men from the lands of the Principality of Wales.
Once Arthur took up residency, the struggle for dominance – of which this dispute was a long-running symptom – became more intense. It spilled over into the higher levels of the Council of the Marches. The king’s relatives and allies from further afield, like Jasper Tudor, Sir Richard Pole and Sir Rhys ap Thomas, were drawn into struggles across the region in efforts to restrain those engaged in violence. Since Henry VII had decided not to place Arthur under the care of a single senior noble (as Earl Rivers had dominated Prince Edward’s household by 1483), it was far more likely that there would be some tensions over status between the councillors of the Marches and the men of the prince’s household. There was overlap between the two institutions as regional gentry manoeuvred to become associated with the prince’s service, but prominent roles were limited. There was political skill involved in displacing rivals while staying on the right side of the law in demonstrating loyalty and versatility.
The marcher families could see the resources devoted to building up Arthur’s household and the related growth of his influence in the territory between Gloucestershire and Cheshire during the second half of the 1490s. The longer the Tudor king survived the more assertive and secure his kingship would become. Sir William Stanley’s condemnation on the grounds that if Perkin Warbeck truly was Prince Richard then he could not, in conscience, stand against him, must have been a strong lesson for others less sure of their ability to influence events. Men were increasingly less willing to risk the influence and associations they had built up by dabbling in treason. That was the trump card that the king held. Their decision-making was encouraged by a tangle of pledges and sureties that ensnared many in bonds to guarantee the good behaviour of a few.
The king surrounded Arthur with family members and experienced friends linked to his mother, like Bishop William Smith of Lichfield, president of the Council of the Marches, and Sir Richard Pole, who was Arthur’s household chamberlain. Their role at Arthur’s side became more important when Jasper Tudor and William Stanley died in 1495. That period marked the height of Warbeck’s threat. But by then, Arthur’s independent status was becoming a source of strength for Henry VII’s national power, rather than a potential risk to its continuation. Suspicions over the loyalty of the Stanley family were counterbalanced by a stronger role given to George Talbot, 4th earl of Shrewsbury in the background of Arthur’s lordship. Shrewsbury’s relative by marriage, Sir Henry Vernon, was Arthur’s personal governor. He was in a prime position to manage who had access to the prince and who was able to influence his development.
The role of the king’s friends expanded further. Arthur’s vast estates and interests were overseen by loyal stewards like Rhys ap Thomas and Richard Pole. As a result, they were able to deliver thousands of Welsh light cavalry into the king’s armies when required. They mustered the same quantity of archers and billmen as the most powerful noblemen for the armies assembled against Scotland in 1497 (most of whom went on to fight at the battle of Blackheath). Arthur was kept secure in his own country by these troops. Collectively, they formed one of the military powerhouses of the regime. So even by the time he was aged eleven, Prince Arthur’s personal power was literally a force to be reckoned with. Henry’s risk in educating his heir away from his siblings and his family seemed to be paying off by the end of the 1490s.
It is frustrating that the detailed journal books of the prince’s household spending do not appear to have survived (they are certainly not yet identified in any archive or library). These records would reveal so much about Arthur’s daily life at Ludlow and Tickenhill right up to and beyond his wedding in November 1501. Evidence of meals, furnishings, visitors, pastimes, events and celebrations would allow us to reach behind the closed doors of his houses and into his private chambers and personal life.
The glimpses we do have suggest that the prince carried the weight of his father’s expectations with dignity, resilience and skill. These sources imply that his life was one of constant learning and preparation, but that surely hides a true picture of a powerful young prince enjoying all the benefits of the most privileged upbringing. Unlike his brother, Prince Henry, whose progression from teenage prince to domineering king is well-documented, Arthur’s death before he was sixteen freezes his legacy on the cusp of adulthood. Yet even in that brief life, we can see something of the devotion he attracted and the type of king he might have become.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean Cunningham, Ph.D., author of the newly released Prince Arthur: The Tudor King Who Never Was, is a prolific researcher of late English Medieval and early Tudor History. Already highly respected for his previous works, Henry VII and Richard III, a Royal Enigma, Dr. Cunningham the Head of Medieval Records within the Advice and Medieval Records Department of The (British) National Archives. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and co-convenor of the Late Medieval Seminar at London University’s Institute of Historical Research.
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