Henry, Duke of York

It was the year 1494. Elsewhere, Christopher Columbus had discovered America, and the practice of raping the new world was beginning. Europe was in a furore over the new discoveries, but in England, King Henry VII still struggled to maintain a foothold over his decade old power.

It is the fate of every royal second son not to rule but yet to be raised high above others. King Henry VII created Henry as Duke of York in 1494. Under a most confused atmosphere where Perkin Warbeck was passing himself off as Richard, Duke of York, and gaining support from the Continent, Henry was but a master pawn. His creation of the office of Duke of York was clouded by imposters and threat of war.

S.J. Gunn in his biography of Henry VII in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies says:

 “To distract attention from the soi-disant duke of York, Henry on 31 October 1494 gave that title to his second son, Prince Henry, a creation he proceeded to celebrate with a splendid round of tournaments.”

Young Henry presided over these jousts and along with his elder sister, Princess Margaret, presented the winning noblemen with their presents. It was his first joust as well as his first public appearance. The celebrations dragged on for a few days with the young prince being presented to the public as the real Duke of York.

There must have been concerns about how such a small child would be taught all the niceties accompanying such an event, especially as the purpose was to show that the Tudors were as royal as they come. Henry was merely three years old then, and weaned for just about a year. But they need not have worried. Three year old Henry took to pageantry and royal pomp as a fish to water.

It was decided that Henry would be made a companion of the Knight of the Bath and a Duke of York in October 1493. On 29th of October 1493, little Henry rode into London, seated all by himself on a horse, with neither support nor help. And he seems to have made a grand entrance. This was his first public appearance, and he pulled it off successfully.  A mention in the Great Chronicle of London claims wonder that such a young man should sit astride a “great warhorse” so wonderfully.

On the next day, he was created a knight of the Bath and had the honour of serving the King while he ate; his specific job being to offer his father a towel to dry his hands on. It was a task that was easy, simple and honourable for a child of three and a half years.

Amazingly, this event is barely recorded in Edward Hall’s History of England. A single sentence suffices:

“This yere was borne at Grenewiche lord Henry, seconde sonne to y kyng, whiche was created duke of Yorke, and after prynce of Wales, and in conclusion succeded his father in croune and dignitee.”

Does this mean that this event, though a fine display, was not really significant or important at that time? However, he was supported with an income of a thousand pounds a year to help keep up with the dignity of his new title. This was made possible by an act of Parliament that made Henry the heir of his great uncle, Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford. These lands were later returned to the Crown at the accession of Henry VIII as King.


S.J. Gunn: Henry VII, Oxford Dictionary of National Biographies

David Starkey: Henry Virtuous Prince

Edward Hall: History of England


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