Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, (June 15, 1519 – July 23, 1536), was the son of King Henry VIII of England and his mistress, Elizabeth Blount, and the only child born out of wedlock whom Henry VIII acknowledged. He was the younger half-brother of Queen Mary I, as well as the older half-brother of Queen Elizabeth I and King Edward VI. Through his mother, he was the elder half-brother of the 4th Baroness Tailboys of Kyme and of the 2nd and 3rd Barons Tailboys of Kyme. He was named FitzRoy, which means “son of the king”.
Henry FitzRoy was born in June 1519. His mother was Elizabeth Blount, Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting, and his father was Henry VIII. FitzRoy was conceived when Queen Catherine was approaching her last confinement with another of Henry’s children, a stillborn daughter born in November 1518. To avoid scandal, Blount was taken from Henry’s court to the Augustinian priory of St Lawrence at Blackmore near Ingatestone, in Essex.
FitzRoy’s birthdate is often given as June 15, 1519, but the exact date is not known. His birth may have been earlier than predicted. Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was out of London from June 9 to 18 when he reappeared back at court in Windsor. The following day he was expected at Hampton Court, but he did not reappear at a council meeting at Westminster until June 29. The policy of discretion worked, as the baby boy’s arrival caused no great stir, and diplomatic dispatches record nothing of Henry VIII’s illegitimate son.
The infant boy was given the surname FitzRoy to make sure that all knew he was son of the King. Henry VIII perhaps felt that his lack of a male heir was a slur upon his manhood since he openly acknowledged the boy. At one point he proudly exhibited his newborn son to the court.
The boy’s upbringing until the moment when he entered Bridewell Palace in June 1525 (six years following his birth) remains shrouded in confusion. Although the boy was illegitimate, this did not mean that young Henry lived remotely from and had no contact with his father. On the contrary, it has been suggested by his biographer, Beverly Murphy, that a letter from a royal nurse implies that FitzRoy had also been part of the royal nursery, and he was often at court after 1530.
In the sixteenth century royal and noble households were in a state of constant movement and transition, so it is unlikely that FitzRoy grew up in any one house. He was probably transferred from household to household around London like his royal siblings: Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. In 1519 the only surviving legitimate child of the King was the three-year-old Princess Mary. In that year her household was reorganised, suggesting that Henry made some provisions for his only son. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury replaced Lady Margaret Bryan as lady Mistress of Mary’s household.
By 1525, the Tudor dynasty had been on the throne for 40 years. However, cracks were beginning to appear. By the sixteenth year of Henry’s reign, 34-year-old Henry still lacked a male heir with his 40-year-old wife Catherine of Aragon. Their only surviving child and heiress was Princess Mary, who at the time was a girl of nine. Henry, though, had another child, an illegitimate one, a sturdy six-year-old son.
Although Henry may have had other illegitimate children, Henry FitzRoy was the only one the King acknowledged. Henry VIII was also the only surviving son of Henry VII. Henry had no surviving younger brother nor any close male relations from his father’s family who could be called up to share the burden of government in the King’s name. As Henry and Catherine’s marriage remained without a son, the king’s only living son became more attractive for onlookers to observe. The King’s chief minister at the time was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and since Henry FitzRoy’s birth he had taken an interest in his monarch’s only son. In a letter dated June 1525 the Cardinal refers to the King’s son: “Your entirely beloved sonne, the Lord Henry FitzRoy”.
In 1525, FitzRoy was given his own residence in London, which he was granted by his father: Durham House on the Strand. Since his birth FitzRoy had remained in the background, although the boy had been brought up in remarkable style and comfort, almost as if he were a prince of the blood and not an acknowledged royal bastard.
Such discretion over his son may not have been to the King’s taste, and he may have felt his manhood and virility should be publicly demonstrated. He fully made up for his son’s quiet birth and equally quiet christening when on June 18, 1525 the six-year-old boy was brought to Bridewell Palace on the western edge of the city of London where honours were showered upon him. That morning of the 18th, the six-year-old Lord Henry FitzRoy travelled by barge from Wolsey’s mansion of Durham Place, near Charing Cross, down the River Thames. He came in the company of a host of knights, squires, and other gentlemen. At 9am his barge pulled up at the Watergate and his party made their way through the palace to the king’s lodgings on the south side of the second floor. The rooms were richly decorated, with various members of court and the nobility coming to see FitzRoy’s elevation.
Among them were numerous bishops, as well as Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and the King’s brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. During the first ceremony, when he was created Earl of Nottingham, FitzRoy was attended by Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland, who carried the sword of state, along with John de Vere, 14th Earl of Oxford, and William FitzAlan, 18th Earl of Arundel. Six-year old Henry knelt before his father as Sir Thomas More read out the patents of nobility.
It was the first time since the 12th century that an illegitimate son had been raised to the peerage, when Henry II, King of England had created his son William, Earl of Salisbury. To be a duke was a significant honour. It was the highest rank of the peerage, and the title, originally devised by Edward III, King of England for his son Edward, Prince of Wales as the Duke of Cornwall, retained its royal aura.
The former Henry FitzRoy was subsequently referred to in all formal correspondence as the “right high and noble Prince Henry, Duke of Richmond and Somerset”. As if to compound this sense of royal dignity and endow the child with as much respectability as possible, Henry VIII had granted his son the unprecedented honour of a double dukedom.
While he is mostly known as Richmond, some pains were taken to see that he bore both titles in equal weight. The bulk of Richmond’s new lands came from Margaret Beaufort’s estate. These were lands which were the rightful inheritance of King Henry VII when he was Earl of Richmond and the lands which had belonged to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, the father of Margaret Beaufort. The use of the Duchy of Somerset must have struck a chord among the courtiers, as it was well known that the Beauforts’ eldest child was John Somerset, a royal bastard who had been legitimised following his parents’ adultery and then marriage.
A part of the Beaufort connection to the Somerset duchy, the title of Duke of Richmond was important as the earldom of Richmond had been held by his grandfather King Henry VII and by his great-grandfather Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond. The earldom of Nottingham had been held by Richmond’s great uncle Prince Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the second son of Edward IV. Seeing Henry’s obvious pride and affection for his son, many of those who witnessed Richmond’s elevation must have wondered if this was what the King had in mind.
It was a proud day for Henry, and for his former mistress Elizabeth; however, the ceremony did nothing to spare the Queen’s feelings. She knew she had failed to give England a prince and was anxious about her own daughter’s prospects. In a private letter the Venetian ambassador wrote: “It seems that the Queen resents the earldom and dukedom conferred on the King’s natural son and remains dissatisfied. At the instigation it is said of her three Spanish ladies her chief counsellors, so that the King has dismissed them from court, a strong measure but the Queen was obliged to submit and have patience”.
In that same year (1525), Richmond, as he came to be known, was granted several other appointments, including Lord High Admiral, Lord President of the Council of the North, and Warden of the Marches towards Scotland and Governor of Carlisle, the effect of which was to place the government of the north of England in his hands. He held the offices in name only, the power was actually in the hands of a council dominated by Thomas Magnus, Archdeacon of the East Riding.
From now on, the Duke was raised like a Prince at Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire. His father had a particular fondness for him and took great interest in his upbringing. Sir Thomas Tempest was comptroller of his household. In February 1527, Thomas Magnus told the young Duke that James V of Scotland had asked for hunting dogs. FitzRoy sent the Scottish king 20 hunting hounds and a huntsman.
Kingdom of Ireland
On June 22, 1529 Richmond was made Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and there was a plan to crown him king of that country, though the King’s counsellors feared that making a separate Kingdom of Ireland whose ruler was not that of England would create another threat similar to the Kingdom of Scotland. After Richmond’s death, the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 established a personal union between the English and Irish crowns, providing that whoever was King of England was to be King of Ireland as well. King Henry VIII of England was proclaimed its first holder.
When Henry VIII began the process of having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, it was suggested that FitzRoy marry his own half-sister Mary in order to strengthen FitzRoy’s claim to the throne. Anxious to prevent the annulment and Henry’s possible break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope was even prepared to grant a special dispensation for their marriage.
At age 14, on November 28, 1533 the Duke instead married Lady Mary Howard, the only daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He was on excellent terms with his brother-in-law, the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The marriage was never consummated.
Possible heir to the throne
At the time of Richmond’s death, an Act was going through Parliament which disinherited Henry’s daughter Elizabeth as his heir and permitted the King to designate his successor, whether legitimate or not. There is no evidence that Henry intended to proclaim Richmond his heir, but the Act would have permitted him to do so if he wished. The Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys wrote to Emperor Charles V on July 8, 1536 that Henry VIII had made a statute allowing him to nominate a successor, but thought the Duke of Richmond would not succeed to the throne by it, as he was consumptive and now diagnosed incurable.
The Duke’s promising career came to an abrupt end in July 1536. According to the chronicler Charles Wriothesley, Richmond became sickly some time before he died, although Richmond’s biographer Beverley A. Murphy cites his documented public appearances and activities in April and May of that year, without exciting comment on his health, as evidence to the contrary.
He was reported ill with “consumption” (usually identified as tuberculosis, but possibly another serious lung complaint) in early July, and died at St. James’s Palace on July 23, 1536. Henry Fitzroy was 17 years old.
Richmond’s father-in-law, the Duke of Norfolk, gave orders that the body be wrapped in lead then taken in a closed cart for secret interment. However, his servants put the body in a straw-filled wagon. The only mourners were two attendants who followed at a distance. The Duke’s ornate tomb is in Framlingham Church, Suffolk, which contains various Howard family monuments. One of the houses at the local high school is named after him.
His father outlived him by just over a decade, and was succeeded by his legitimate son, Edward VI, born shortly after FitzRoy’s death. Most historians maintain that Edward, like Henry FitzRoy, died of tuberculosis. It is said that Henry FitzRoy might have been made king had Henry VIII died without an in-wedlock son: