15 June 1519 – The birth of Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son

This date in history, 15th June 1519, is the date traditionally given for the birth of Henry VIII’s recognised illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

Fitzroy was born at the Priory of St Lawrence, in Blackmore, Essex. His mother, Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount, had been sent away from court to the prior’s house at Blackmore by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey before her pregnancy became visible. Bessie had been noticed by Henry VIII when she was serving his wife, Queen Catherine of Aragon, as a maid of honour.

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Also on this day in history, 15th June 1536, Henry VIII sent members of his council, led by Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, to visit his daughter, the Lady Mary, and bully her into accepting her father as supreme head of the Church in England, and acknowledging that she was not the legitimate heir to the throne.

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6 thoughts on “15 June 1519 – The birth of Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son”
  1. Henry’s excitement had to have been overwhelming. This was proof that he could sire a male child. The unfortunate part of this is that it put him on the road to serial monogamy until he could do it again.

    I have a question: If Henry Fitzroy had not died so young could the King have made him heir?

  2. Elizabeth ‘Bessie Blount’ was said to be a golden haired beauty and she became Henry V111’s mistress whilst serving his wife Katherine of Aragon, the couple were said to be quite in love and their union was blessed with a son, Henry was delighted as with his wife he only had the princess Mary, and he must have thought how ironic it was that it was his mistress who gave birth to his son instead of his wife, this was proof he could sire a healthy son and Katherine must have been utterly devastated, she may not have known of their affair first of all but gossip would have soon reached her ears, it was said when Henry bestowed on him the Royal dukedom of Richmond and Somerset she was incensed and maybe she feared this showering of honours on the young boy as it could mean Henry was seriously considering him to be his heir presumptive, however Mary was princess of Wales and she was pleased when Mary was sent to Wales in readiness for when she would become queen, although Henry still hoped to have a son, Henry Fitzroy must have been a delightful chubby golden haired boy and his portrait shows him to have had fair colouring hardly surprising since both his parents were fair, he has his fathers long nose and small mouth and arched eyebrows, there is also a resemblance to his dead uncle Arthur, and had he been allowed to live well into middle age he could well have exhibited traits of his famous father, but he was said to be a sweet lad who did not care for studying and here is where he differs from his siblings, as Henrys all three legitimate children showed a very real love of learning and were a tutors dream, but young Fitzroy was no intellect and loved to spend time in the fields so he did inherit his fathers love of sports, there has been debate about the attire he wears in his portrait and it is said to be his night gown, certainly it does look like a nightshirt with the loose collar unlike the flamboyant day time clothing of high Tudor society, and he is depicted thus to show his frail state of health, he had for his godfather the great Cardinal Wolsley, said to be the most important man in the kingdom after the King, or some might dare say more than the King, that Henry trusted his discretion is evident in the way he let him manage the affair of his pregnant mistress, from time immemorial Kings have had children born out of wedlock, Henry 1st was said to have had thirty and yet he only had one legitimate son, who tragically drowned, as the years went by and all Katherines children were either born dead, or survived just a few days after birth or died as a result of miscarriage, Henry must have turned more and more to the idea of making him his heir, by now Bessie had been married off with several children, and one a daughter as Norton suggests could be the Kings also, if she was and Henry had known of it, he decided to keep silent as there would have been no need to mention the birth of another daughter, sadly Fitzroy died before he reached his prime wasted possibly by the same disease that was to claim his half brother sixteen years later, he had married his stepmother Anne Boleyns cousin Lady Mary Howard and he left her a young widow, she was never to remarry and died herself many years later childless, Henry had quite a few mistresse’s in his time but Elizabeth is the most famous and their love affair lasted for several years, she is famous for being the mother of his only acknowledged illigitemate child and whilst he quite possibly had many others actual proof of their parentage will never be known.

  3. Do we know how old Elizabeth Blount was? I read that she was about fourteenth or fifteenth but that seems a bit too young, especially for Henry, who would have been twenty seven in 1518 when she conceived his child, but she might have been that age when they began a love interest. Elizabeth Norton and others seem to agree that she was born in about 1500, which would make her seventeen or eighteen during their relationship and in her nineteenth year when she gave birth to Henry Fitzroy, the King’s son. Elizabeth Norton also suggested that Henry possibly fathered her daughter, also called Elizabeth.

    Henry Viii didn’t just acknowledge and provide well for his son, proof that he could actually have a son, but he invested a good deal of personal time into his son and they developed a close relationship. Had Fitzroy gone on to have children, who knows he could have founded a Bastard Dynasty, later legitimized like the Beauforts, who spawned the Tudors. In 1536, when Parliament declared his second daughter, Elizabeth, illegitimate, with no heir in sight, on wife no three, and his eldest daughter, Mary already declared thus, Henry Viii intended that Henry Fitzroy be made legitimate and his heir. Unfortunately, the seventeen year old young man, became ill and he died shortly afterwards. He had, however, shown great ability in decision making and an ability to be a leader, he had represented Henry at Parliament and had represented him in a conference with Irish Lords. Henry intended his son to act as Lord Deputy of Ireland. His death prevented this.

    There was apparently no sign of any real ill health in 1533 when Henry married Mary Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk and the marriage seems to have been suggested by Anne. Mary Howard was of the reformed persuasion and Anne, herself was interested in reform, so perhaps she saw an ally. The marriage was not at this time consummated on the grounds of youth, but both were of the lawful and acceptable age for a sexual union, so something else is assumed as the reason for their separation. One theory is that Henry separated them because he didn’t favour the match with a Howard rival, which could see a Howard heir on the throne. There is little evidence to back this up, but without any other evidence for another theory, it’s as good a reason as any and it suits the mindset of Henry Viii and the Tudors in general.

    It was to his son that Henry confided his fears about Anne Boleyn, after her arrest and trial, that he believed Anne had betrayed him and had slept with half his Court. Henry on that occasion gave a very good performance, weeping that Anne intended to kill the boy and his half sister, Mary. Whether Henry genuinely believed all this and was shocked or if it was meant for the benefit of hiding the truth, that Anne was being set up and Henry was part of a plot against his wife, meant to gain sympathy, is really something for much debate. However, it worked because his son does appear to have believed and supported his father. Ironically, he would attend Anne’s execution and collapsed. His health went into decline and he died a couple of months later. I can well imagine this would have fuelled rumours that Anne’s supposed threats had been carried out. He was buried first of all in Tetford Monastery but moved to the family chapel at Framlingham Castle, to a grand tomb, which was recently studied and revealed in three D. It was gold and magnificent.

  4. The delegation to Princess Mary was intended to scare her into submission and that is exactly what they did. I don’t believe they would have dared hurt her and the remarks about beating her and then banging her head until her brains were mush were unauthorised and going too far. However, Mary, after they had left took them seriously. Chapuys had real genuine fears that Henry may imprison or execute Mary and the Supremacy was being taken to the next level and would be given to Mary to swear or face charges of treason. It is highly unlikely, in my opinion that Henry would kill Mary as he may have need of her as a marriage bargaining chip or a default heir again one day, but he may keep her confined until he did so. Chapuys loved Mary like a daughter and he looked out for her as best he could. He now wisely saw the truth of all this, that Mary was in danger and her only real hope was to take such threats seriously and submit to her father’s demands. Henry had sent a list of articles for Mary to sign, to say her parents were not legally wed and she was illegitimate and Henry was the Supreme Head of the Church, all violently opposed to her deeply held beliefs, but by signing them she guaranteed her father’s blessing and pardon. Chapuys persuaded Mary to do so would be the only way to be safe and that she could make a separate declaration that she signed under duress. He also must have told her that the Emperor was no longer willing to raise an army in her defence after his Aunt had died. In any event, wisely, Mary signed and within weeks Jane Seymour had arranged for father and daughter to meet, they were reconciled and later she returned to Court and a beneficial relationship with the King.

    Mary must have been shocked that Anne Boleyn was not entirely to blame for her problems and although she had ordered her to be constantly bullied and mistreated, it was her own father who had allowed it. His own actions now were even worse as they terrified her into submission. I have to say, however, Henry was well within his rights to act this way by the standards of his day. He was the King and he was the appointed representative of God on the throne and Mary was both his child and his subject. She was under obligation to obey him as his daughter and his subject. A parent could discipline their disobedient children severely and not be called cruel. Under the Treason Act she denied the King’s former marriage, although that no longer counted and she denied his title. She denied his authority. It may seem extreme, but in Henry’s eyes, Mary was an ungrateful and rebellious daughter. She could only be forgiven and accepted back into his love and protection if she submitted fully.

  5. Henry Fitzroy must have been ailing at the time of Annes execution and to expect him to attend such a horrific event shows how insensitive the Tudors were, yet it was an age where children grew up quickly and there was no transition from childhood to teenage years to adulthood, children were married of young and young Princesse’s sent abroad to marry unknown husbands, sometimes unlucky for them twenty years or more older, Henrys sister Mary was wedded to the elderly King of France, he could well have collapsed from nervous exhaustion, his illness excarberated by the horror of witnessing such a bloody death, the scene (wether it was play acting on Henrys part to garner sympathy), where he gathered both Mary and Fitzroy to him and wept whilst he told them they were lucky to escape the cursed venomous whore who had planned to poison them is poignant, yet as we have seen with Henry smiles soon followed tears during the days when he in much haste replaced his second queen with his third, what his young son thought also of his stepmothers arrest and execution is not known, but like many close to Henry he probably just believed it as his loyalty would surely lie with his father than the cousin of his wife, when he died many possibly believed Anne had poisoned him but what would she gain from his death, Henry must have been distraught, I have seen a picture of his tomb and it is beautiful, likewise that of the young executed Earl of Surrey, the Howard’s certainly made sure their own had wonderful resting places.

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