What is arguably the most interesting dynasty in English royal history may have never come to be. Before the Tudors of Wales became the Tudors, Richard III sat on the throne, head of the house of York. But during one little battle, Henry Tudor and his guys swept in and had the monarch knocked off his horse and onto his noggin. When his bones were discovered under a Leicester car park in 2012, they showed evidence of fatal blows: It seemed a sword had entered his skull on one end and came out the other after slicing through his brain, and another segment of his skull had been whacked clear away. The king was dead, long live the new king!
Henry VII was clever enough to wrap up the Wars of the Roses by marrying Elizabeth of York, Richard III’s niece and the only heir left on the York side. It was an opportunistic move at first: Pair up with the girl from the other side of the conflict, relocate her mother to a nunnery, bring peace and happiness to all of England (except, of course, the mother in the nunnery, as well as Richard III’s supporters).
Seventeen years and seven babies later, Elizabeth of York succumbed to complications of childbirth. Understandably, the royal widower was heartbroken and ducked out of public view completely for six weeks. He came down with an illness similar to tuberculosis and it nearly killed him. However, he bounced back and got on with the business of raising his new heir, Prince Henry.
In time, the king was encouraged to remarry for diplomatic reasons. Sensing that her daughter (none other than Henry VII’s widowed daughter-in-law) Catherine of Aragon might be in his line of vision, Queen Isabella of Castille tried distraction: “Hey look, over there, something shiny! It’s Joan, Queen of Naples!” Henry VII was interested enough to send his ambassadors to get the goods on Joan; he clearly wanted to know what he might be getting into. Aside from needing to know the height of her forehead and the possibility of hair on her upper lip, he had the ambassadors report on: