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Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Grafton, KG (September 28, 1663 – October 9, 1690) was an illegitimate son of King Charles II of England, Scotland and Ireland and his mistress Barbara Villiers. A military commander, Henry FitzRoy was appointed colonel of the Grenadier Guards in 1681 and Vice-Admiral of England from 1682 to 1689. He was killed in the storming of Cork during the Williamite–Jacobite War in 1690.

Early life and military career

Born to Barbara Villiers, Countess of Castlemaine in 1663, Henry FitzRoy was an illegitimate son of King Charles II of England, the second by Barbara Villiers. His mother was the daughter of William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison, and Mary Bayning (1623-1672), heiress to a fortune of £180,000. Viscount Grandison was a colonel of one of King Charles I’s regiments who was killed in action during the Civil War.

William Villiers, 2nd Viscount Grandison, was born in 1614, eldest son of Sir Edward Villiers (1585-1626) and Barbara St. John (ca 1592-1672). His father was the older half-brother of George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham, favourite of both James I-VI of England, Scotland and Ireland and Charles I, a relationship from which he greatly benefitted.

On August 1, 1672, at the age of nine, a marriage was arranged for Henry FitzRoy to the five-year-old Isabella Bennet, the only daughter of Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, a Royalist commander, by his wife, Elisabeth of Nassau (1633–1718). Elisabeth was a daughter of Louis of Nassau-Beverweerd and thus a granddaughter of Maurice of Nassau, Prince of Orange, and a great-granddaughter of Prince Willem I the Silent, Prince of Orange.

In 1675 Charles II created Henry, Duke of Grafton. A wedding ceremony between Henry FitzRoy and Isabella Bennet took place on November 7, 1679. At the time of his marriage, Henry FitzRoy was created Baron Sudbury, Viscount Ipswich, and Earl of Euston. After their wedding the couple lived at Euston Hall. Isabella and her husband had one son, Charles FitzRoy, who succeeded his parents as 2nd Duke of Grafton and 3rd Earl of Arlington.

King Charles II made his son a Knight of the Garter in 1680. He was appointed colonel of the Grenadier Guards in 1681.

FitzRoy was brought up as a sailor and saw military action at the siege of Luxembourg in 1684. In that year, he received a warrant to supersede Sir Robert Holmes as Governor of the Isle of Wight, when the latter was charged with making false musters. However, Holmes was acquitted by court-martial and retained the governorship.

In 1686 Henry FitzRoy killed John Talbot, brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, in a duel. FitzRoy was appointed Vice-Admiral of the Narrow Seas from 1685 to 1687. At King James II-VII’s coronation, Grafton was Lord High Constable. During the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth he commanded the royal troops in Somerset.

Originally called James Crofts or James Fitzroy, the Duke of Monmouth was Henry Fitzroy’s half-brother, the eldest illegitimate son of Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland with his mistress Lucy Walter.

Monmouth led the unsuccessful Monmouth Rebellion in 1685, an attempt to depose his uncle King James II-VII. After one of his officers declared Monmouth the legitimate king, (alleging his mother was legally married to Charles II) in the town of Taunton in Somerset, Monmouth attempted to capitalise on his Protestantism and his position as the son of Charles II, in opposition to James, who was a Roman Catholic. The rebellion failed, and Monmouth was beheaded for treason on July 15, 1685.

Henry FitzRoy acted with John Churchill, and joined his cousin and his wife’s kinsman, Prince Willem III of Orange to overthrow the King in the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, 1st Prince of Mindelheim, 1st Count of Nellenburg, Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, KG, PC (1650 – 1722 O.S.) played a defining role in defeating both the Monmouth Rebellion in 1685 that helped secure James on the throne, but he was also a key player in the military conspiracy that led to James being deposed during the Glorious Revolution.

Death

Henry FitzRoy died in Ireland on October 9, 1690 aged 27, of a wound received at the storming of Cork while leading King William III’s forces. His body was returned to England for burial.

On October 14, 1697 his widow married Sir Thomas Hanmer, a young Buckinghamshire baronet, who became Speaker of the House of Commons and an authority on the works of William Shakespeare. The Dowager Duchess of Grafton died in 1723.

Legacy

The Duke of Grafton owned land in what was then countryside near Dublin, Ireland, which later became part of the city. A country lane on this land eventually developed into Grafton Street, one of Dublin’s main streets. Grafton Alley in Cork, close to where he was shot, also bears his name.