Interesting Facts About the Tudors
The Real Tudors
Showtime's historical romp The Tudors is a dramatic interpretation of the life of Henry VIII and his family. Some of it has a basis in fact, but a great deal of artistic licence has been employed. Jonathan Rhys Myers, for instance, might not be a serious historian's first choice for the role of Henry VIII, but that's only a cosmetic objection. There were other, more glaring historical inaccuracies; Henry's two sisters being rolled into one über-Princess had me changing channels very early in the series.
It's a wonder that the producers felt the need to change anything; the Tudors were hardly a boring bunch. Here are the unadorned, but nonetheless interesting, facts about the Tudors.
Facts About Henry VII
- Henry's father, Edmund Tudor, died three months before Henry's birth.
- Henry's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort, was only 13 years old when her son was born.
- He was the last King of England to win his crown on the battlefield.
- Henry's victory at Bosworth ended the War of the Roses.
- He adopted the Tudor Rose as his emblem, combing the White Rose of York and the Red Rose of Lancaster.
Who Were the Tudors?
The Tudor dynasty consisted of five monarchs (plus one interloper). They reigned from 1485 to 1603, hence that period of English history is known as the Tudor period. Generally, it was an age in which England prospered both socially and economically. The Tudors also provided England with some of her most memorable monarchs.
The Tudor family were originally from Wales. The Tudors of Penmynydd in Anglesey were descended from one of Llywelyn the Great's lords, Ednyfed Fychan. It was Owen Tudor (Owain ap Maredudd ap Tewdwr) who started the Tudors' rise to greatness. Owen, a soldier and courtier at Henry V's court, secretly married Henry's widow, Katherine de Valois. The couple had several children, including sons Edmund and Jasper. Edmund, Earl of Richmond, married Lady Margaret Beaufort. Their son, born posthumously in 1457, was Henry Tudor, later King Henry VII. Jasper Tudor helped secure his nephew's crown.
Facts About Two Tudor Princesses
Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York, had four daughters. The Princesses Elizabeth and Katherine died in infancy, but Margaret and Mary survived to adulthood. Both became queens and both had descendants who played an important part in England's history. It's a shame that the producers of The Tudors felt the need to merge them into one character.
Margaret, Queen of Scots
Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scots
Margaret Tudor (1489 - 1541) left England in 1503 after marrying James IV of Scotland by proxy at her father's palace in Richmond. The young Queen of Scots and her husband apparently had a happy marriage. Margaret's happiness was not long-lived. Although she bore the King six children, only one survived infancy. Further tragedy struck when her husband was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 when he invaded England. Queen Margaret was appointed Regent for her young son and managed to broker a peace with her brother.
The following year, however, Margaret blundered. She married a handsome, but unpopular, Scottish nobleman, the Earl of Angus. This lost her the Regency. She and Angus had a daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, whose own son would later marry his cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots (hence two of Margaret's grandchildren married each other). Margaret soon found that Angus was unfaithful and eventually divorced him.
Margaret married for a third time a year after her divorce. Ironically, her brother, Henry VIII, had been opposed to the move; when the English ambassadors to the Scottish court told her she should reconcile with Angus, she told them to "go home and not meddle in Scottish matters".
Margaret's granddaughter (via her first husband James IV) Mary, Queen of Scots took as her second husband Margaret's grandson (via her second husband, the Earl of Angus) Henry, Lord Darnley. The couple had a son, James VI of Scotland, who succeeded Elizabeth I, taking the title of James I of England.
Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon
Mary Tudor and Anne Boleyn
A young Anne Boleyn was sent to the French court as a lady-in-waiting to the new French Queen. Mary didn't like Anne and opposed her brother's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, with whom she had a friendship. Mary died soon after her brother's marriage to Anne.
Mary Tudor, Queen of France
The second Tudor princess was Princess Mary (1496-1533). Mary became a queen in 1514, marrying the French King Louis XII of France (not the King of Portugal, as shown in the TV The Tudors).
The young Queen of France was not enamoured of her ageing husband; indeed she had already formed an attachment elsewhere. She was in love with the dashing Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Her tenure as Queen of France was (for her at least) mercifully short, the King lasting barely three months. A year later, she was secretly married to Brandon, which outraged Henry and his advisers. However, Henry was fond of the couple and let them off with a heavy fine.
The couple had four children, one of whom was Lady Frances Brandon. Lady Frances married Henry Grey and had three daughters. One of the daughters was Lady Jane Grey, who was manoeuvred into taking the Crown of England following the death of her cousin Edward VI.
Mary was her brother's favourite sister and he famously named his great ship Mary Rose for her. Their great affection for each other came under strain when Henry fell under the spell of Anne Boleyn (see right); Mary retreated to the country and spent little time at court. She died in 1533 but did not lie in peace; her body had to be moved from its resting place at Bury St Edmonds' Abbey when her brother dissolved the monasteries.
- Henry VII (reigned 1485-1509)
- Henry VIII (reigned 1509 - 1547)
- Edward VI (reigned 1547 - 1553)
- Lady Jane Grey was declared Queen after Edward's death, but quickly overthrown by Mary 1
- Mary 1 (reigned 1553 - 1558)
- Elizabeth 1 (reigned 1558 - 1603)
Facts About the Illegitimate Tudor Son
Henry VIII was famously desperate for a son. Only one of his legitimate sons survived infancy; Edward VI. Henry did have another son, Henry FitzRoy (1519 - 1536). Henry was the product of Henry's long-standing affair with Elizabeth "Bessie" Blount, a teenage maid-of-honour to Catherine of Aragon. Once the boy was born, Henry discontinued the affair and Bessie was married to one of his courtiers.
Henry FitzRoy was the only truly illegitimate child of Henry's to be acknowledged (he did have both his daughters declared illegitimate when he got rid of their mothers, but he had been married to them). Not only did Henry allow the boy to be called "FitzRoy" ("son of the King"), but when he was six he gave him the titles of Duke of Richmond and Somerset and Earl of Nottingham and, rather curiously, made him Lord High Admiral of England. Although the young Duke was raised in Yorkshire, his father ensured that he was treated as a prince and was apparently very fond of him.
Young Henry was married at the age of 14 to Mary Howard, a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. There had been a suggestion that he could marry his half-sister Mary to secure Henry's succession and avoid the annulment of Henry's marriage to Mary's mother Catherine of Aragon. The Pope actually drafted a dispensation to allow this.
King Henry made his son Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland and it is likely that he intended to declare him King of Ireland. However, he died in 1536 of either consumption or the mysterious "sweating sickness". Henry's only legitimate son, Edward, was born the following year.
The Musical Tudors
- Henry VIII was a gifted musician and composer. He didn't compose, as popularly supposed, Greensleeves, but he did write "Pastime with Good Company" and several other ballads (see video)
- Mary I could play the virginals by the age of four.
- Young Prince Edward had a troupe of minstrels and could play the lute and the virginals.
- Elizabeth I did not play herself, but kept musicians at Court since she loved pageants and dancing.
Henry VIII's Greatest Hits
The Tudors and Executions
Between them, the Tudor monarchs executed thousands of people. Mary I ("Bloody Mary") was particularly thorough in ridding herself of those who disagreed with her views. However, the rest of her family weren't shy about authorising executions, even of their own relatives.
- Perkin Warbeck claimed to be the son of Edward IV and tried to overthrow Henry VII. He made two attempts, but was imprisoned and hanged in 1499.
- Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, was a niece of Edward IV. Her family fell out with Henry VIII and Margaret, at the age of 67 was ordered to the block. She didn't go quietly and ran around the scaffold, until the executioner hacked her down. Her ghost is said to haunt the Tower of London.
- Henry VIII famously executed two of his wives, Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard, who haunts Hampton Court.
- Young Edward VI ordered the execution of his uncles Edward and Thomas Seymour.
- Mary I toyed with executing her sister, Elizabeth, choosing to imprison her instead. She did however, order the deaths of approximately 300 people.
- Mary also ordered the execution of her cousin Lady Jane Grey.
- Elizabeth I ordered the beheading of her cousin Mary, Queen of Scots, after repeated plots to take the throne.
Find Out More About The Tudors
If your thirst for Tudor facts isn't quite quenched, try reading a discussion of the coolest of Henry VIII's wives, find out why Elizabeth I is so much greater than Queen Victoria and discover the sad story of Katherine Howard, the ghost at Hampton Court Palace.
The Link Between Queen Elizabeth II and the Tudors
It's tempting to think that the present Queen cannot be descended from the Tudors because none of Henry VIII's children had issue. However, Henry's sisters did, and it is through one of them that the Queen is related to the Tudors. She can trace her ancestry back to James I, the grandson of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. So, the Elizabeth II does have Tudor blood, albeit 16 generations back!
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