Henry VIII regarded the birth of Henry Fitzroy as a sign from God he could hire a healthy living son. Fitzroy was illegitimate but he was also considered as an heir.

Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, illegitimate son of Henry VIII of England
Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond, illegitimate son of Henry VIII of England

Henry VIII’s affair with his teenage mistress, Elizabeth Blount, led to the birth of his only acknowledged illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. Henry took an active interest in his son’s welfare. He also displayed a large degree of paternal pride as Fitzroy resembled his father. Some believed Richmond had a better chance of succeeding Henry VIII than his two sisters.

He was born Lord Henry Fitzroy at the Priory of St Lawrence at Blackmore, Essex, on 15 June 1519.

Fitzroy received some basic education. His tutor complained Fitzroy recited his prayers with a “barbarous Latin Accent”.

Duke of Richmond

Henry created the boy Earl of Nottingham, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and granted his son several important posts including Lord High Admiral of England, when Richmond was only six years old. Richmond later became a Knight of the Garter.

Sheriff Hutton Castle Privately owned ruin. Alison Stamp [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Sheriff Hutton Castle Privately owned ruin. Alison Stamp [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Henry’s queen, Catherine of Aragon, regarded Richmond’s ennoblement as a public snub.

Richmond was sent to Sheriff Hutton Castle, Yorkshire, for four years where he was raised as a Renaissance prince. Henry also wanted his son to learn the art of government.

The Queen firmly put her foot down when Henry wanted to appoint Richmond King of Ireland. Henry appointed his son Lord Lieutenant of Ireland instead.

Marriage

A search for a foreign princess as Richmond’s bride proved unsuccessful.

Mary, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset by Hans Holbein the Younger
Mary, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset by Hans Holbein the Younger

Even Richmond’s half-sister Mary was considered as a possibility to offset domination by a foreign power. Rome was prepared to offer everything except the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine—even a dispensation between Mary and Richmond!

Richmond became friends with Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey as they shared lessons at Windsor.

He accompanied Henry and Anne Boleyn to France in October 1532. Richmond visited the French court, accompanied by Surrey, to acquire some polish. He was warmly welcomed by Frances I and his three sons.

Richmond married Lady Mary Howard on 25 November 1533. It was never consummated as the young couple were ordered to wait. (They feared too much sex too soon would kill Richmond!)

Death

Portrait of Henry VIII by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger.
Portrait of Henry VIII by the workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger.

Richmond died from tuberculosis on 22 July 1536. He was secretly buried at Thetford Priory.

Henry was furious with Norfolk for not burying his son with honours. The Duke was later laid to rest in Framlingham Church, Suffolk, in an ornate tomb.

His seventeen-year old widow retired from court whilst Surrey mourned his friend by writing poems in his memory.

Mary faced a long struggle. She was not allowed to keep the lands she was entitled to as a widow. Henry expressed doubt whether his son’s marriage was not binding and lawful because it was not consummated. Mary would lose more than her jointure (£1,000 per year) if the marriage was declared invalid.

A compromise was reached in 1540 after a legal wrangle. She was granted several former Church properties which gave Mary an income of over £744 per year.

Sources

Fraser, Antonia, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London, 1992 (Seventh Impression 1993)

Murphy, Beverley A, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son, Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, 2001 (Reprinted 2002)

Weir, Alison, Henry VIII King and Court, Jonathan Cape, London, 2001

Weir, Alison, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Pimlico, London, 1991 (reprinted 1992)

© 2009 Carolyn Cash

This article was originally published by Suite 101 on 7 January 2009.

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