Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I
All three of Henry VIII's legitimate children – Mary, Elizabeth and Edward – became queens or kings of England. They played an important role in both British history and the history of the royal palaces. However, none of them had children themselves, and on Elizabeth’s death, the Tudor dynasty ended.
Mary, born in 1516, was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII’s 24-year marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Seventeen years later, Elizabeth was born to Henry and his second wife Anne Boleyn, in 1533. Henry's third queen Jane Seymour gave him his long-awaited male heir, Edward, in 1537.
Henry also had an illegitimate son, named Henry Fitzroy (meaning ‘son of the king’), born in June 1519. In 1524, aged 6, the King made Fitzroy Duke of Richmond, and ensured he was well provided for. Fitzroy enjoyed a ‘prince’s life’ until his premature death at 17, probably from tuberculosis.
Header: Detail of The Family of King Henry VIII, Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Henry Fitzroy's mother was the attractive ‘girl-about-court’ Bessie Blount, and the King acknowledged their handsome, healthy boy publicly, much to the Queen’s distress.
Edward, who became Edward VI, was born and christened at Hampton Court Palace, and grew up there surrounded by luxury.
As Mary I, Henry’s elder daughter received a proposal of marriage at the palace in 1554, and it was there that the English and Spanish courts gathered to await the arrival of her child in 1555, although the baby never came, her swollen belly the result of a phantom pregnancy.
Elizabeth I was fond of Hampton Court and is said to have had constructed a marvellous ‘paradise room’ there, decorated with precious metals and gems to impress visitors. The Queen was also fond of a joke, and installed a fountain at the palace that squirted water at anyone standing nearby. In 1570 Elizabeth had a new Privy Kitchen built at the palace, which today houses a visitor café. The Queen also loved the gardens at the palace, where on cold mornings she liked to march about vigorously!
Aerial view of Hampton Court Palace, looking down into Base Court.
Edward, born and christened at Hampton Court Palace was the eagerly-awaited son of Henry VIII and his third wife, Jane Seymour. Henry is said to have wept with joy as he held his infant son, then wept again a few days later when the queen died from post-birth complications. As a little boy Edward was spoiled and indulged, he even had his own fighting bears.
Edward was extremely well educated by a set of forward-thinking Cambridge scholars, who instilled in the prince a desire for religious reform. Even before he was 10, Edward was, apparently, fairly fluent in Latin, Greek and French.
Edward VI after Hans Holbein the Younger c1542, © National Portrait Gallery, London
Edward was crowned aged 9 although his uncle, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, acted as the young King's governor and lord protector of the realm until he was deposed in 1550.
Edward's reign saw the foundations laid for one of the great transformations of English society, the English Reformation, but the King did not live to see the successful realisation of many of his religious plans. Falling ill in 1552, probably with tuberculosis, he finally succumbed on 6 July 1553, aged only 15.
Edward VI (1537-53) c.1550, attributed to William Scrots, Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
Mary Tudor was the only surviving child of King Henry VIII’s 24-year marriage to Katherine of Aragon.
Reportedly pretty and privileged, she received a scholarly education, partly directed by her staunchly Catholic mother.
When Henry divorced Katherine, Princess Mary’s royal future looked doubtful, and she was demoted to the status of ‘lady’, no longer a princess.
When her younger brother became king, Mary became a focus for conservative and catholic opposition to the reforming protestant ideas of Edward VI and his ministers.
Queen Mary I by Master John, 1544, © National Portrait Gallery, London
Mary I was the first Queen of England to rule in her own right. As queen, Mary became determined to return the country to the ‘old religion’.
Her persecution and execution of protestants earned her the title ‘Bloody Mary’ but this must be seen in the context of the eventual triumph of the Church of England and later writers’ successful attempts to destroy her reputation.
In 1554 Mary married Philip II of Spain. A year later, it was thought the queen was pregnant, and the court gathered at Hampton Court Palace to await the birth. However, no baby ever came.
Mary’s swollen belly was possibly the result of a psychological phantom pregnancy.
Queen Mary I after Anthonis Mor (Antonio Moro), © National Portrait Gallery, London
Elizabeth was the only daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.
After the execution of her mother on charges of adultery and treason when Elizabeth was only 2, the little princess found her royal status threatened.
In the later years of Henry VIII’s reign, his three children were all once again included in the succession, and so – eventually – Elizabeth became queen after both her brother Edward and her sister Mary died childless.
Portrait of Princess Elizabeth, c.1546. Attributed to William Scrots (active 1537-53), Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017
Elizabeth’s sympathies with religious reformers meant she became the focus for opposition during the reign of her sister, Mary I.
At one point, Mary imprisoned her in the Tower of London on suspicion of treason.
Elizabeth’s shrewdness and coolness under questioning demonstrated a growing political maturity, skills which were sorely tested during her own extraordinary 45-year reign.
As queen, Elizabeth presided over a golden age of English literature and drama, but political and religious troubles remained an ever present challenge.
Elizabeth, the ‘Virgin Queen’, famously never married. The Tudor dynasty died with her in 1603.
Queen Elizabeth I by an unknown continental artist, circa 1575, © National Portrait Gallery, London
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