Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales (February 19, 1594 – November 6, 1612)was the eldest son of James VI and I, King of England and Scotland, and his wife Anne of Denmark. His name derives from his grandfathers: Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley and King Frederik II of Denmark. Prince Henry was widely seen as a bright and promising heir to his father’s thrones. However, at the age of 18, he predeceased his father when he died of typhoid fever. His younger brother Charles succeeded him as heir apparent to the English, Irish and Scottish thrones.
Henry was born at Stirling Castle, and since his father James VI was the reigning King of Scotland the new born prince and heir became Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland automatically on his birth. Henry’s baptism on August 30, 1594 was celebrated with complex theatrical entertainments written by poet William Fowler and a ceremony in a new Chapel Royal at Stirling purpose-built by William Schaw.
With his father’s accession to the throne of England in 1603, Henry at once became Duke of Cornwall. In 1610 he was further invested as Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester, thus for the first time uniting the six automatic and two traditional Scottish and English titles held by heirs-apparent to the two thrones. The ceremony of investiture was celebrated with a pageant London’s Love to Prince Henry, and a masque Tethys’ Festival during which his mother gave a sword encrusted with diamonds, intended to represent justice.
He also disapproved of the way his father conducted the royal court, disliked Robert Carr, a favourite of his father, and esteemed Sir Walter Raleigh, wishing him to be released from the Tower of London.
The prince’s popularity rose so high that it threatened his father. Relations between the two could be tense, and on occasion surfaced in public. At one point, the two were hunting near Royston when James criticised his son for lacking enthusiasm for the chase, and Henry initially moved to strike his father with a cane, but rode off. Most of the hunting party then followed the son.
“Upright to the point of priggishness, he fined all who swore in his presence”, according to Charles Carlton, a biographer of Charles I, who describes Henry as an “obdurate Protestant”. In addition to the alms box to which Henry forced swearers to contribute, he made sure his household attended church services. His religious views were influenced by the clerics in his household, who came largely from a tradition of politicised Calvinism.
Henry is said to have disliked his younger brother, Charles, and to have teased him, although this derives from only one anecdote: when Charles was nine years of age, Henry snatched the hat off a bishop and put it on the younger child’s head, then told his younger brother that when he became king he would make Charles Archbishop of Canterbury, and then Charles would have a long robe to hide his ugly rickety legs. Charles stamped on the cap and had to be dragged off in tears.
Henry died from typhoid fever at the age of 18, during the celebrations that led up to his sister Elizabeth’s wedding. (The diagnosis can be made with reasonable certainty from written records of the post-mortem examination, which was ordered to be carried out in order to dispel rumours of poisoning.) He was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Prince Henry’s death was widely regarded as a tragedy for the nation. According to Charles Carlton, “Few heirs to the English throne have been as widely and deeply mourned as Prince Henry.” His body lay in state at St. James’s Palace for four weeks. On 7 December, over a thousand people walked in the mile-long cortège to Westminster Abbey to hear a two-hour sermon delivered by George Abbot, the Archbishop of Canterbury. As Henry’s body was lowered into the ground, his chief servants broke their staves of office at the grave. An insane man ran naked through the mourners, yelling that he was the boy’s ghost.
Immediately after Henry’s death, the prince’s brother Charles fell ill, but he was the chief mourner at the funeral, which his father, King James (who detested funerals) refused to attend. Henry’s titles of Duke of Cornwall and Duke of Rothesay passed to Charles, who until then had lived in Henry’s shadow. Four years later Charles, by then 16 years old, was created Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester.
Had he lived he would have reigned as King Henry IX of England, Scotland and Ireland….and the history of England would have been very different.