Henry FitzRoy, 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset (15 June 1519 – 23 July 1536)
Henry VIII had a son; his godfather was Cardinal Wolsey, and in 1536 the king was preparing to name him, seventeen-year-old Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, as his heir. His plan failed at the death…
‘…he has no hope of the Duke of Richmond, whom he certainly intended to be his heir and successor, living long; so fully did he mean this, that, had he not fallen ill, he would have had him proclaimed by Parliament, that being, no doubt, the King's chief reason for insisting so much on the Princess [Mary] subscribing to the statute, which declared her to be a bastard. — London, 22 July 1536.’
Signed: "Eustace Chapuys."
Addressed: "To the Emperor."
Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 5 Part 2 No 77
Who or what got him? On 8 June 1536, Henry VIII’s son, Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, apparently in good health, attended the opening of a new Parliament.
A few weeks later he was dead.
The session had been called to deal with the aftermath of the fall of the Boleyn faction and begin the era of the new Cromwell – Seymour regime. During the session, the law was changed to allow Henry VIII to designate whomever he wished as his successor.
Henry FitzRoy was born on 15 June 1519 at St Lawrence Priory, Blackmore, Essex. His mother was Elizabeth Blount, more often referred to as Bessie Blount, a lady in waiting to Catherine of Aragon. Bessie it was claimed was one of the most beautiful women at court, she was the daughter of Sir John Blount and Catherine Pershall, of Kinlet, Shropshire, a few miles from Ludlow Castle.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was his godfather, and Henry was given the surname FitzRoy (Anglo-Norman meaning son of the king, Fitz Royal) as confirmation that Henry VIII recognised him as his son. Little is known about his early childhood, he may have been brought up by his mother who with Wolsey’s connivance married Gilbert Tailboys, 1st Baron Tailboys of Kyme in Lincolnshire. It is equally possible that he was brought up close to his father in the royal household.
Primary Education in Yorkshire
Beyond early childhood, on 18 June 1525 when Fitzroy had just turned six years of age he became Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Not one dukedom but two, and he was the first illegitimate child to be raised at court since the reign of Henry II.
The ceremony was a lavish affair at Bridewell Palace, led by Cardinal Wolsey (who was secretly working to oust Catherine of Aragon). Also present with the cardinal were the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, most of the bishops of the realm, and a great gathering of earls lords and knights and FitzRoy’s mother, Elizabeth.
For Catherine of Aragon, now forty years of age and unable to produce a male heir. This marvellous display must have been a hideous occasion.
FitzRoy or Richmond as he became known at the time was granted a number of other titles including Lord High Admiral of England, Lord President of the Council of the North, and Warden of the Marches towards Scotland.
Richmond’s position, the figurehead of Lord President of the Council of the North took him, aptly, north to Sheriff Hutton Castle, Yorkshire, indeed it was the young boy's castle, his father had granted it to him. Over the next four years, he received his primary education. His tutors included John Palsgrave and Richard Coke and among his fellow students was William Parr brother of future Queen Katherine Parr. Master of the Horse was none other than Edward Seymour brother of future Queen Jane Seymour.
Windsor with Henry Howard
Henry FitzRoy was ten years of age, on 15 June 1529, and he returned from Sherriff Hutton to Henry VIII’s court. He arrived in the midst of one of the most dramatic showpieces in English history, the Blackfriars trial of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon. It began on 31 May.
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey had pledged to the king that he could arrange a divorce from Queen Catherine. By the end of July 1529, he had failed in that task. He fell from his lofty position as de facto ruler of England. The autocratic clergyman had also overseen the administration of Richmond’s household. The cardinal’s fall now created a void over which magnate Thomas Howard, future Duke of Norfolk, was anxious to exert influence. Thomas Howard hoped his son, twelve-year-old Henry Howard, future Earl of Surrey, ‘may in time become [Richmond’s] preceptor and tutor that he may attain both knowledge and virtue so that a friendship thus cemented promises fair to be very strong and firm and might well be further consolidated by alliance.’
And so, it was that Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset and Henry Howard, future Earl of Surrey became friends.
Richmond’s main residence by now was Windsor Castle, he lived in a recent extension, the Princes Lodging, where he continued his education alongside, among others, Henry Howard. Howard's poems reveal some insight to those years.
…proud Windsor, where I in lust and joy
With a king’s son, my childish years did pass
In greater feast than Priam’s sons of Troy
At Windsor FitzRoy followed the pursuits his father enjoyed; jousting, hunting and tennis, probably in addition to singing, drinking and wrestling. With the Earl of Surrey, they, about the ‘large green courts’, demonstrated their chivalry to ‘the ladies bright of hue’ which occasionally met with ‘looks that tigers could but rue.’
FitzRoy and Henry Howard Shared a chamber at Windsor and Howard recounted those bygone days through his poetry.
The secret thoughts, imparted with such trust;
The wanton talk, the divers change of play;
The friendship sworn, each promise kept so just,
Wherewith we passed the winter night away.
Betrothal to Mary Howard
In 1524 upon the death of the second duke Thomas Howard became the 3rd Duke of Norfolk and thus Henry Howard became Earl of Surrey.
The influence of the ambitious Howards was aided by Anne Boleyn’s command over the malleable king, her mother, Elizabeth Boleyn nee Howard, was Thomas Howard’s sister. The ties between the Howards and the monarch grew ever closer and, in the spring of 1531, FitzRoy was betrothed to Thomas Howards daughter Mary, a political union rather than a love match. Mary, however, would not bring with her a dowry. That is to say, in contradiction to custom, but as testimony to Anne Boleyn’s authority over a subservient king, her family would not contribute any property, gifts or money to the marriage.
Break with Rome and Marriage to Mary Howard
In 1532 the clergy submitted to the authority of the king, and in May the following year the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer declared Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled which rendered their daughter Mary a bastard, the same status as FitzRoy, save he was a male. Henry had already married Anne Boleyn in secret because she was pregnant and prayed for a baby boy.
In September Anne Boleyn gave birth to a child, Elizabeth. If the child had been a boy then things may have been very different, but the political ground created after Wolsey’s fall which had at first been taken up by the conservative reformers made up of the Boleyn – Howard faction was now under serious threat from the more radical Seymour group which included Thomas Cromwell. There was to be no male heir from the union of Anne and Henry, which, in Tudor England was a deficiency to be exploited by others.
At the age of fourteen, on 28 November 1533, at Hampton Court, the Duke of Richmond and Somerset married Lady Mary Howard.
The following year Anne and her brother attempted a marriage union between Princess Elizabeth and a son of Francis I of France, but when Thomas Cromwell scuppered that move, the Seymour faction began its bid for power.
Royal Progress 1535
In 1535 the royal progress, (a royal tour, usually an annual summer occasion, of king and court along with an enormous entourage of a thousand or more nobles and servants creating a meandering train stretching over a mile or more) snaked its way across the countryside) to the west country.On slowly towards Bristol – Seymour country – was a significant event in the English Reformation. It travelled for the most part in parallel to a group of government officers undertaking a valuation of the monasteries (Valor Ecclesiasticus as it became known).By the time the great procession returned to Windsor in the autumn the Seymours had turned the king against the Boleyns and organised a programme for the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
The Drama of 1536. There was, even more, to come in the year after this happened!
The Parliament, as mentioned above, and for which FitzRoy appeared in good health, began on 8 June 1536.
1536 was a dramatic year, and by 8 June Catherine of Aragon had died, Anne Boleyn had a miscarriage, Henry VIII fell off his horse and banged his head, which knocked him out. Anne had been charged with treason, found guilty and executed on 19 May. Just before that on 17 May the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer had annulled Henry’s second marriage, and thus Elizabeth was also a bastard – the same status as Mary and FitzRoy, save FitzRoy was a male.
On 30 May FitzRoy’s father married Jane Seymour, the sister of the Master of the Horse at Sheriff Hutton. Parliament had been summoned principally for two causes. One was the revocation of the laws which had made it treason to speak against Anne Boleyn. The second was that ‘Henry unlike most princes perceived that he was mortal and wished above all things to leave the realm to his posterity free from all dangers and divisions, even if he should chance to die without legitimate children.
Howard vs Seymour to the Death
Henry VIII, as we have seen, now had three children and they were all bastards – all of the equal status. He was married to Jane Seymour, but in June 1536 he had no way of knowing if she would deliver a child, let alone a male child. FitzRoy, son of the king, was a few days from his seventeenth birthday, securely married into the kingdom ‘second family’ the Howards and so he intended to have Parliament proclaim Henry Duke of Richmond and Somerset heir to the throne of England.
This, however, did not suit the Seymour faction, which included Thomas Cromwell. They had overthrown the government and now with Jane Seymour married to the king they had other intentions for the future of the English monarchy.
From the Seymour –Cromwell point of view in June 1536 they could suppose that Henry VIII might live for, say, another ten years or so. In ten years or so Henry FitzRoy, from their point of view would probably have grown up into a twenty-seven-year-old, athletic man, groomed for kingship, with a Howard wife and quite probably Howard blood in the veins of the king’s grandchildren. In June 1536 the Seymours had nothing but the marriage alliance with Jane Seymour to keep them in power.
In any event, however, on 23 July 1536, Henry FitzRoy was dead.
Henry VIII, the Reign.
Henry VIII, the Reign.