Throughout history there are instances where fine young men and women who survived infancy were destined to be king but died before they ascended the throne. As historians, it’s always an intriguing exercise to examine their lives and the consequences of their death. Here are just of sampling of some of these princes who died too soon.
William Aetheling, born in 1103 in Winchester, was the son of King Henry I of England and Matilda of Scotland. Known as Adelin (meaning Prince), he was the pride and hope of his father for maintaining his dynasty. Henry invested William with the title of Duke of Normandy during his lifetime and he William fought capably with his father against the French King Louis VI. When Queen Matilda died in 1118, William replaced her as regent in England.
In November of 1120, William and his retinue were planning to sail from Normandy to England in the White Ship, one of the fastest in the fleet. The party had plenty to drink before boarding and once at sea, the passengers urged the captain to overtake the king’s ship. In the pursuit, the ship hit a rock and capsized. William and a few others managed to get into a small boat. But when William heard his illegitimate half-sister Matilda yelling for help, he went to her and the boat sank and both William and Matilda were drowned. Devastated at the loss of his son, Henry quickly named William’s sister Matilda his heir. When Henry died, the nobles in England were averse to being ruled by a woman and Henry’s nephew Stephen of Blois was proclaimed king. But Matilda later fought for the throne, leading to a period of civil war in England called the Anarchy.
Juan, Prince of Asturias
Juan, the only surviving son of Queen Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, was born in 1478 in Seville and given a classical education and taught martial arts. He enjoyed music and wore sumptuous clothing. While his parents were loving, they were demanding and Juan’s fragile health was always a cause of great concern for them.
At the age of seventeen, his parents made an alliance with the Hapsburgs and Juan married Margaret of Austria, who later became the Regent of the Netherlands under her nephew Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Following an impressive wedding ceremony the couple embarked on a honeymoon that lasted about three months. Although Queen Isabel worried all the lovemaking would be hazardous to Juan’s health, they allowed it. The couple were happy and in love but unfortunately, Juan’s health deteriorated and he died, probably of consumption.
Juan’s death elevated his sister Juana, making her heir to the throne of Castile. As part of the Hapsburg alliance, Juana married Philip the Handsome, Duke of Burgundy. Upon the death of Queen Isabella, political anarchy ensued with Philip and Juana’s father Ferdinand of Aragon wrangling to rule in Juana’s place. After the death of Philip, Ferdinand and Juana’s son, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, pronounced Juana mad and kept her incarcerated to rule Spain in her place.
Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales
Arthur Tudor, born in 1486 at Winchester, was the son of King Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and the pride and joy of his parents. The Tudor dynasty of English kings was new and Arthur’s birth went a long way in securing the Tudor’s place on the throne. They gave Arthur a fine classical education and invested him as Prince of Wales. In 1501, they made an impressive alliance with Queen Isabel of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon that included the marrige of Arthur to the Spanish monarch’s youngest daughter Catherine, the sister of Juan, Prince of Asturias.
King Henry VII wanted to impress the people and staged a magnificent wedding ceremony at Old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. The couple were sent to Ludlow to live and four months later, Arthur died. The cause of death, listed as the sweating sickness by the chroniclers, could have been anything from the flu to pneumonia or possibly even cancer or consumption. Arthur’s death left his parent in great grief and elevated his younger brother Henry, Duke of York as the heir to the throne. Catherine of Aragon returned to court and spent seven years in limbo and poverty. When Henry became king in 1509, he married Catherine of Aragon.
Edward of Lancaster, Prince of Wales
Edward of Lancaster was born at the Palace of Westminster in 1453, the son of King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou. His birth came eight years after his parents were first married. Henry VI had gone into a catatonic stupor during Margaret’s pregnancy. Following his birth, they presented Edward to his father but, in the grips of his mental illness, Henry never acknowledged the presence of the child.
Margaret closely monitored Edward and made sure he was given a fine education and taught martial arts. Because Henry VI was mentally incapacitated, there were others who believed they were more competent to rule the country in his place. Margaret thought otherwise and did the best she could to administer the government to ensure Edward’s rightful inheritance. All of the turmoil led to the outbreak of strife which later came to be known as the Wars of the Roses. After much fighting, Henry VI was deposed and imprisoned in the Tower and Edward IV took the throne. Margaret and Edward spent some time in exile in France.
After a few years, Margaret garnered enough support to attempt a return of her husband to the throne. She took her son to England where a battle was fought at Tewkesbury and Edward died in combat, a few months short of his eighteenth birthday. Margaret finally surrendered, gave up the fight, and eventually returned to France. Henry VI died in the Tower of London, probably on the orders of King Edward IV. We will never know what kind of king Edward would have been.
Francois de Valois, Dauphin of France and Duke of Brittany
Francois , born in the royal château of Amboise in France in 1518, was the son of King Francois I and Queen Claude, Duchess of Brittany. Francis received the required education for a young man of his status. At the age of six, his mother invested him with the title of Duke of Brittany. In 1525, his father went to Italy to fight for territory and suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of Pavia and was taken prisoner. A clause in the treaty for his release required King Francois to promise his two sons, Francois and Henri as hostages.
Francois and Henri were taken to Spain and held captive by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V for four years and four months. Eventually, King Francois paid the ransom required and the two boys were released. When Francois came of age in 1532, they crowned him Duke of Brittany in Rennes. Although he wanted to administer his duchy, his father would not allow him any independence and from this point on, Brittany was considered a province of France.
In August of 1536, while Francois played tennis at the castle of Tournon, a storm arose. Francois went inside and drank a glass of cold water. He died shortly thereafter. Although there were rumors of poisoning, he most likely died of consumption or pleurisy which he may have contracted while a prisoner in Spain. Francois appeared to have all the attributes necessary to be a good king. Instead, his brother would become King Henri II upon the death of King Francois I.
Louis, Duke of Guyenne and Dauphin of France
Louis, born in January 1397 at the Hôtel de St. Pol in Paris, was the son of King Charles VI of France and Isabeau of Bavaria. He had an older brother Charles but he died in 1401, raising Louis to be Dauphin of France. They later invested him with the duchy of Guyenne and gave him an education commensurate with his status. His father suffered from a severe form of mental illness during which he moved in and out of lucidity. Louis remained in the care of his mother but there was a great deal of instability in the government of France which affected Louis’ life.
In 1404. Louis married Margaret of Nevers, the daughter of John the Fearless, Duke of Burgundy. As Louis grew older, with the help of his mother, he tried desperately to bring peace between the various fighting factions of nobles who sought control of the government for political and financial gain. In the summer of 1413, his father-in-law urged the butchers of Paris into rebellion. Louis and his wife were confronted by the rebels in their own home. It must have been frightening but it only gave him more resolve to take greater control.
Right at the moment when he was about to have a breakthrough, he became ill and died, possibly of consumption or dysentery. Due to Louis’ death, his younger brother Charles became the new dauphin. It was now up to Charles to end the Hundred Years War with England with the help of Joan of Arc, after which they crowned him King Charles VII.
Henry Frederick Stuart, Prince of Wales
Henry Frederick Stuart was born in February of 1594 at Stirling Castle in Scotland, the first born child of James VI, King of Scots and Anna of Denmark. The king put Henry in the care of John Erskine, Earl of Mar, presumably so he would not be influenced by his Catholic mother. Upon the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603, Henry’s father became King James I of England and the family moved south.
In 1605, Henry entered Magdalen College at Oxford. He did not get along with his father. He found the court to be pleasure loving and he despised Robert Carr, his father’s favorite. Henry also was against the imprisonment of Sir Walter Raleigh whom he held in high esteem. In 1610, the king invested Henry as Prince of Wales.
Extremely popular in England, Henry grew to be tall, strong and well proportioned, handsome, intelligent and athletic. He collected paintings, sculpture and books, enjoyed literature and music and showed a keen interest in architecture. In November of 1612, Henry died of typhoid fever. The nation considered his passing a national tragedy. The consequence of his death was that his younger brother Charles Stuart would become Charles I after the death of King James. Charles would be the first and only English king to be beheaded.
Princess Charlotte Augusta of Wales
Princess Charlotte Augusta was the daughter of King George IV and Caroline of Brunswick, whose marriage had been a complete disaster from the very beginning. It is nothing short of a miracle that Charlotte entered the world when she was born in January of 1797 at Carlton House. In the beginning, her mother had access to see Charlotte but by the time she was nine, they considered her mother’s behavior so reckless, she was not allowed to be with Charlotte. She respected her father but didn’t love him. From this point going forward, she was raised by governesses in isolation at Carlton House and visited her mother once every fortnight.
Charlotte grew up to be very attractive, sensible and affectionate with energy and vitality and a strong sense of duty. High in popularity with the English people, when she made appearances, the crowds went wild, much to the chagrin of her father. In 1813, King George arranged a marriage for Charlotte with William Prince of Orange. When Charlotte realized she would have to move to Holland, she balked and they called off the wedding. She wanted to remain in England and endear herself to the people.
In early 1816, a new suitor appeared. Charlotte fell in love with the handsome Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg and considered marrying him. Following an interview with her father, it was agreed they would wed. The ceremony took place in May and the couple lived quietly in wedded bliss at Claremont and their London residence of Marlborough House.
Charlotte became pregnant and awaited the birth of her child. In November of 1817, after a long and painful ordeal and bumbling physicians, Charlotte gave birth to a stillborn son and she then died a few hours later. Her death precipitated a succession crisis. The remaining brothers of King George IV scrambled to find wives and have legitimate children to claim the throne. The first child to be born was the daughter of the Duke of Kent, Alexandrina Victoria, the future Queen Victoria.