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In the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth I at Worcester

Arthur, Prince of Wales, was the elder brother of Henry, who became King Henry VIII. Arthur was born in September 1486, just over a year after his father, Henry Tudor, had become King Henry VII by virtue of his victory over King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth.

Arthur was therefore seen as the great hope for a new Tudor dynasty, and a suitably prestigious marriage was arranged for the future king. This was to Catherine, the daughter of Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. The betrothal took place when Arthur and Catherine, who was a few months older than Arthur, were still young children, and the marriage took place by proxy in 1499, when they were still too young to be husband and wife in anything but name.

The couple met for the first time in November 1501, shortly before their official marriage in St Paul’s Cathedral. They were sent to Ludlow Castle, on the border between England and Wales, to begin their life as Prince and Princess of Wales, but disaster was to strike only a few months later.

A mystery illness – probably a viral infection – swept across the region early in 1502. Both Arthur and Catherine fell victim to it and were confined to bed in the hope of recovery. Catherine did indeed recover, but Arthur did not.

This event was to have massive repercussions in later years, because Catherine was then passed on to Henry’s new heir, then aged 11. They married seven years later, and it was her failure to produce a male heir that led to the drama of the English Reformation.

Arthur’s death, at the age of 15, was clearly a great tragedy that called for a suitable resting place to be found for his remains. This was Worcester Cathedral, not far from Ludlow, and already a royal resting place due to the tomb of King John that had been there since 1216.

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(The chantry chapel)

Arthur’s tomb was placed not far from that of King John, but in a separate chantry chapel to one side of the altar steps. The tomb, which is not topped by an effigy of Prince Arthur, occupies most of the space, but it is possible to walk all round the tomb to pay one’s respects. The stonework of the chapel was intricately carved, but some of the figures of saints still bear the marks of the axes of Cromwell’s soldiers who did their best to eliminate such signs of Catholic idolatry in the 17th century.

Entry to the chapel is via two stone steps, which have been worn down by the feet of many thousands of visitors during the 500 and more years since they were put in place. It is known that one such visitor was Queen Elizabeth I who came to Worcester to pay homage to her royal predecessor King John and her late uncle Prince Arthur, who had died more than 30 years before she was born.

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(Arthur’s tomb)

Today’s visitors can therefore know that their feet are treading exactly where those of Queen Elizabeth trod nearly 500 years previously. To be accurate, though, today’s footprints are probably a couple of inches lower than those of Good Queen Bess!

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