Plans for Arthur's marriage began before his third birthday; he was installed as Prince of Wales two years later. At the age of eleven, he was formally betrothed to Catherine of Aragon, a daughter of the powerful Catholic Monarchs in Spain, in an effort to forge an Anglo-Spanish alliance against France. Arthur was well educated and, contrary to some modern belief, was in good health for the majority of his life. Soon after his marriage to Catherine in 1501, the couple took up residence at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire, where Arthur died six months later of an unknown ailment. Catherine would later firmly state that the marriage had not been consummated.
One year after Arthur's death, Henry VII renewed his efforts of sealing a marital alliance with Spain by arranging for Catherine to marry Arthur's younger brother Henry, who had by then become Prince of Wales. Arthur's untimely death paved the way for Henry's accession as Henry VIII in 1509. The potential for a question as to the consummation of Arthur and Catherine's marriage, was much later (and in a completely different political context) exploited by Henry and his court to cast doubt on the validity of Catherine's union with Henry, eventually leading to the separation between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1485, Henry Tudor became King of England upon defeating Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. In an effort to strengthen the Tudor claim to the throne, Henry had royal genealogists trace his lineage back to the ancient British rulers and decided on naming his firstborn son after the legendary King Arthur. On this occasion, Camelot was identified as present-day Winchester, and his wife, Elizabeth of York, was sent to Saint Swithun's Priory (today Winchester Cathedral Priory) in order to give birth there. Born at Saint Swithun's Priory on 20 September 1486 at about 1 am, Arthur was Henry and Elizabeth's eldest child. Arthur's birth was anticipated by French and Italian humanists eager for the start of a "Virgilian golden age". Sir Francis Bacon wrote that although the Prince was born one month premature, he was "strong and able". Young Arthur was viewed as "a living symbol" of not only the union between the House of Tudor and the House of York, to which his mother belonged as the daughter of Edward IV, but also of the end of the Wars of the Roses. In the opinion of contemporaries, Arthur was the great hope of the newly established House of Tudor.
Arthur became Duke of Cornwall at birth. Four days after his birth, he was baptised at Winchester Cathedral by the Bishop of Worcester, John Alcock, and his baptism was immediately followed by his Confirmation. John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, Thomas Stanley, 1st Earl of Derby, William FitzAlan, 16th Earl of Arundel, Queen Elizabeth Woodville and Cecily of York served as godparents; the latter two, his grandmother and aunt respectively, carried the prince during the ceremony. Initially, Arthur's nursery in Farnham was headed by Elizabeth Darcy, who had served as chief nurse for Edward IV's children, including Arthur's own mother. After Arthur was created Prince of Wales in 1490, he was awarded a household structure at the behest of his father. Over the next thirteen years, Henry VII and Elizabeth would have six more children, of whom only three – Margaret, Henry and Mary – would reach adulthood. Arthur was especially close to his sister Margaret (b. 1489) and his brother Henry (b. 1491), with whom he shared a nursery.
On 29 November 1489, after being made a Knight of the Bath, Arthur was appointed Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, and was invested as such at the Palace of Westminster on 27 February 1490. As part of his investiture ceremony, he progressed down the River Thames in the royal barge and was met at Chelsea by the Lord Mayor of London, John Mathewe, and at Lambeth by Spanish ambassadors. On 8 May 1491, he was made a Knight of the Garter at Saint George's Chapel at Windsor Palace. It was around this time that Arthur began his formal education under John Rede, a former headmaster of Winchester College. His education was subsequently taken over by Bernard André, a blind poet, and then by Thomas Linacre, formerly Henry VII's physician. Arthur's education covered grammar, poetry, rhetoric and ethics and focused on history. Arthur was a very skilled pupil and André wrote that the Prince of Wales had either memorised or read a selection of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Terence, a good deal of Cicero and a wide span of historical works, including those of Thucydides, Caesar, Livy and Tacitus. Arthur was also a "superb archer", and had learned to dance "right pleasant and honourably" by 1501.