The British Royal family has long tried to claim descent from King Arthur, particularly through the Plantagenets, but any possible claim might more likely be through the Tudors because of their Welsh origins.
While the Tudor family’s connection to King Arthur remains unconfirmed, the Tudors certainly took full advantage of the possibility, beginning with the first royal Tudor, Henry VII.
After King Henry V died in 1422, his widow, Catherine of France, fell in love with the Welsh prince, Owen Tudor, who claimed Arthurian descent. Their son Edmund Tudor would marry Margaret Beaufort, a member of the English royal family (of the Plantagenet line and a descendant of King Edward III). Through this marriage the future King Henry VII was born. Henry VII, as a member of the House of Lancaster, had the Red Rose of Lancaster as his symbol. To strengthen his claim of an Arthurian descent, he had the Red Rose of Lancaster painted in the center of the Round Table at Winchester. King Henry VII also named his eldest son Arthur, but the prince died before he could become King Arthur, and so his brother instead succeeded to the throne as King Henry VIII.
Henry VIII continued the belief in a descent from King Arthur through his Tudor ancestors by having a figure of King Arthur painted on the Round Table, with Henry VIII’s own face painted as that of Arthur (Le Morte D’Arthur). A family resemblance between the ancient and present king was the purpose, and since no one can say what King Arthur looked like, no one could deny that Henry VIII did not resemble his supposed ancestor of a thousand years before.
Queen Elizabeth I continued the Arthurian tradition in the family. Brinkley declares that “the Arthurian ancestry of Elizabeth was given especial emphasis at the time of her coronation” . When Elizabeth visited Kenilworth in 1575, an Arthurian costume party and masque were held. Upon the queen’s arrival, she was met by a woman dressed as Morgan le Fay, who greeted the queen as Arthur’s heir. During the revels, a set of trumpeters signified that the men of Arthur’s day were superior to modern men. Elizabeth talked with the Lady of the Lake, and her presence allowed her to free the Lady of the Lake from the persecutions of Bruce sans Pitee. A song was also sung of Rience’s demand for Arthur’s beard. It is clear that these events of Kenilworth were based upon Malory’s writings (Merriman 201), and the masque in Chapter 37 of Sir Walter Scott’s Kenilworth borrows and fictionalizes from this historical event.
For more about the British royal family’s claims to being King Arthur’s descendants and how they tried to promote the idea, despite a lack of proof, see King Arthur’s Children at www.ChildrenofArthur.com.
Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, available at www.ChildrenofArthur.com