Who Were the Tudors?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

The Tudors, a British family, descended through minor nobility to become the reigning family of England after the end of the Plantagenet reign. Despite their humble background, many prominent members of the family were considered geniuses of their age. Their royal dynasty survived for over a century, beginning with Henry VII in 1485 and ending with the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603.

King Henry VIII was a member of the Tudor monarchy.
King Henry VIII was a member of the Tudor monarchy.

Owain ap Maredudd was a Welsh courtier, the descendant of Prince Rhys ap Guffudd. After the death of King Henry V, his widow, Catherine of Valois, took Owain into her household. The two eventually became lovers, and though no document survives to confirm it, are believed to have wed around 1428. The relationship produced at least six children, including Edmund, who would become the father of the first king of the Tudors, Henry VII. Owain, who had anglicized his name to Owen Tudor, was beheaded in 1487 as a Lancastrian leader in the War of the Roses.

The Tudor dynasty ended with Queen Elizabeth I's death.
The Tudor dynasty ended with Queen Elizabeth I's death.

After his defeat of King Richard III, Henry VII married Elizabeth of York, uniting the two houses on the throne as the Tudors and ending the war. Henry spent much of his reign restoring order across the country and attempting to replenish the depleted royal treasury. He established an order of traveling judges to go from town to town, holding court and hearing grievances. After the deaths of his wife and heir, he went into a serious decline of health and died in 1509, leaving the throne to his second son, Henry VIII.

The often-married monarch Henry VIII was a vivid example of the charisma and abilities of the Tudors. Years away from the obesity that would plague his later life, Henry was an excellent sportsman and athlete. He wrote many poems and songs, and his philosophical and religious treaties are considered by some experts to be works of genius.

As Henry aged, he is believed to have become extremely egotistical and paranoid. He ordered the deaths of many of his closest advisers and companions, and even had two of his wives beheaded. Though he had disinherited both of his daughters, Henry’s sixth wife persuaded him to include them in the line of succession to prevent the end of the Tudors’ reign, should anything happen to Henry’s beloved son, Edward VI.

The brief reign of Edward VI was marked by years of the persecution of Catholics, as the boy king sought to eradicate devotees in favor of Protestantism. Although records show evidence of Edward’s devoted faith, it is likely most of the decisions of his reign were ordered by regents, as Edward was only nine when he was crowned king. He died, probably from tuberculosis, at the age of 15.

Despite Protestant attempts to raise a different queen, the succession of the Tudors as insisted on by Henry VIII could not be denied, and the Catholic Queen Mary I took the throne in 1553. Under her rule, Edward’s decrees were reversed in favor of Catholicism, and many devoted Protestants were imprisoned or executed for heresy. Although Mary I is often remembered for her bloody rule, it is interesting to note that she could have ordered her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth executed rather than allow her to take the throne. Records suggest that Mary was a complicated and deeply religious woman who might have proved a better monarch in a more peaceful time.

When Elizabeth I took the throne in 1559, her kingdom was in total social, economic and religious disarray. By successfully playing one faction against another while pursuing a consistently moderate course of action, Queen Elizabeth restored England to a prosperous, relatively peaceful land. Accounts portray her as a charming and brilliant woman, able to speak five languages fluently and considered the most educated woman of her day. Despite constant entreaties by her counselors to marry and produce an heir, Elizabeth retained her power by remaining single.

Although this decision ensured her own continued reign, it was also the downfall of the Tudors, as her childlessness ended both the direct line of the family and its reign as monarchs. Elizabeth was the last monarch to bear the name Tudor, all though the Windsor rulers of the 20th and 21st century trace their lineage back to this momentous family.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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