Nowadays, Henry is often seen as a great English monarch, so it might come as quite a surprise to learn that he was never supposed to be king. Henry’s parents, Henry VII, King of England; and his wife, Elizabeth of York, were famous for ending the Wars of the Roses (fought between 1455 and 1487) and uniting the two houses of York and Lancaster. However, to make sure that their union was secure, they needed to have a male son and heir who would be related to both sides.
The first male child of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York was a boy called Arthur, born in 1486. He was the great hope for the future, and his parents were confident that he would go on to be king. Arthur was sent away from his brother and sisters to be raised as the next king at a castle in the Welsh Marches called Ludlow.
Henry’s childhood was very different. He was born in 1491 in Greenwich, a place which is now part of London. Henry was christened in a grand ceremony, with beautiful fabrics, important men and the sound of trumpets celebrating his arrival. There was no expectation that Henry would go on to become king, and so he was brought up alongside his sisters. He had much closer contact with his mother than Arthur, and historians argue that he was probably given a lot of affection.
Henry’s education began when he was four years old, and some historians suggest that it was his mother who taught him basic skills like handwriting. A couple of years later, Henry was given his own tutor, a poet called John Skelton, who taught him English and Latin.
In 1501, Henry’s brother Arthur married Catherine of Aragon, a Spanish princess. This was a very good marriage – it would make the English royal family more secure and meant that Arthur had a wife ready to give him children. However, in 1502 disaster struck – Arthur died at the age of fifteen. Suddenly, Henry’s situation changed dramatically. He had gone from being a valued but relatively unimportant member of the royal family to becoming the precious and vital male heir who would become king.