Power and prestige in early modern Europe could turn with a rapidity that almost required belief in the divine for it all to make any sense. Titles, fortunes and crowns could be won or lost on the outcome of a single day’s fighting. The right marriage, the untimely death of an heir or the election of a new Pope could shift the balance of European power as quickly and devastatingly as the slip of tectonic plates. Political earthquakes ensued and no event seemed as unlikely, as miraculous or calamitous (depending on which side you stood) as the gilded capture of the King of Castile by the English in 1506.
The New Year celebrations in the court of Henry VII were especially sombre as 1505 gave way to 1506. It was barely three years since his beloved wife Elizabeth of York had died at the tragically young age of 37 and in childbirth. His wife’s death came less than a year after the death of his eldest son Arthur, Prince of Wales. The death of the teenage heir apparent had shaken the Tudor court and weakened their already tentative grip on power. With the Queen also departed, the Tudor dynasty was more precarious than ever.
The King and his courtiers thus exchanged their customary New Year gifts in an atmosphere permeated by an unusually solemn gloom. They couldn’t know that just days later they would receive the most unexpected but astonishing of gifts: Philip the Handsome – King of Castile, Duke of Burgundy and the richest flower of European chivalry.