22 July 1536 – The Death of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, at St James’s Palace

Jul22,2014 #Henry Fitzroy

Henry Fitzroy R ClampOn this day in 1536 (some sources say 23rd), seventeen year-old Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, died at St James’s Palace. It is thought that he died of some kind of pulmonary infection, such as tuberculosis (consumption). Fitzroy was the illegitimate son, and only son at this point, of Henry VIII. His mother was Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount.

Henry VIII left his son’s burial arrangements to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, Fitzroy’s father-in-law, and Norfolk arranged for Fitzroy to be buried at Thetford Priory in Norfolk. Fitzroy’s remains were later moved to St Michael’s Church in Framlingham, Suffolk, due to the dissolution of the priory, and joined there by his wife, Mary Howard, after her death in 1557.

Fitzroy had been well enough to attend Anne Boleyn’s execution on 19th May 1536 and the first mention of his ill-health apears to be in a letter from Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, to Charles V on 8 July 1536. Chapuys wrote “the duke of Richmond, who, in the judgment of physicians is consumptive (tysique), and incurable”.1

Click here to read a short bio of him. If you want to read more about him then I would recommend Beverley A. Murphy’s Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son

Notes and Sources

  1. LP xi. 40

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13 thoughts on “22 July 1536 – The Death of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, at St James’s Palace”
  1. A sickly 17-year old forced to watch the beheading of what one might call his stepmother. Very sad.

    1. I’m not sure that he was ill then though. There’s no evidence of him being forced to watch and his illness was only commented on in July 1536 so he appears to have been fine in May 1536. He was also well enough to clamour over the spoils after the arrests of the men and Anne Boleyn 1536, writing to the Bishop of Lincoln to ask if he could have the stewardship of Banbury which belonged to Henry Norris. I think he was very much his own man by 1536, being active in his roles in the Marches and North Wales.

      1. O.K., I’ll retract my assumed “forced” scenario.

        As to Fitzroy’s health, here is something perhaps you can help me with. In Alison Weir’s book Henry VIII – the King and His Court, she writes the following: “On 22 June (1534) Lucas Horenbout … was appointed King’s Painter for life. One of his first commissions in the new role was a miniature of the fifteen-year-old Duke of Richmond, which shows Fitzroy in an opened-necked nightshirt and embroidered nightcap, further evidence that he was known to be terminally ill.”

        I never paid much attention to the history of Fitzroy but now I’m hooked.

        1. The Royal Collection, who own the miniature say that the “nightcap and chemise, may be associated with his physical frailty” but there’s no evidence of Fitzroy being ill in 1534 at his marriage to Mary Howard. I don’t believe that Horenbout would have wanted to depict the King’s son as sickly or frail in any way, so I suspect it’s simply informal attire and perhaps even sporting attire. There is also the sketch by Holbein of an unknown woman (actually labelled Anne Boleyn) in a nightcap/bonnet and chemise.

          He’s an interesting character isn’t he. I wonder if Henry VIII would have legitimised him had he lived. I find it sad that Mary Howard never remarried after Fitzroy’s death.

  2. Interesting …. I wonder what he thought about the view that he should inherit the throne if Henry had no legitimate sons. Could he have had some sort of genetic weakness, like his uncle Arthur and his half-brother Edward VI? Were there any other families that had three related men all die in their mid-teens? (If not, I think coincidence is unlikely here)

    1. I like to bet if he had survived he would have had a good chance at getting the throne, whether written in Henry’s will or no after Edward, one way or another, there was always some one willing to raise a rebellion/army in support of someone with royal blood, no matter how faint it was if the present monarch didn’t suit or it would be to their advantage…what a piece of history that would have made ‘The War of the Tudors’ not the ‘Roses’ this time 🙂

  3. Claire: Love this site! The way you write is so descriptive! I feel like I am literally standingin the room. Thank you for these posts

  4. That seems awfully fast, doesn’t it? Maybe some truth to the notion that someone was poisoning him?

    And thanks for the book info–I had no idea there was a full book about him!

  5. I think that Henry Fitzroy was an interesting person and have read three books on him. He had many of his father’s better qualities and he was an active child, very intelligent and outgoing. Although he may have been unfortunate to inherit what seems to have been the Tudor family curse: consumption; which appears to have killed him at 17; he was not considered weak or sickly. Henry did not keep him seperate from his wife Mary Howard because of his health; he had qualms about the couple being at this stage allowed to live together and consumate the marriage. His son was one of the highest peers in the land as as such he would have witnessed the execution of Queen Anne along with the Privy Council members, but I doubt he needed any forcing as he seems to have been poisoned in his mind against Anne by his father. The King indeed exclaimed that his son and his daughter were lucky to have escaped being poisoned by Anne, and some suspician arose that this was a belated cause of his premature death. Consumption seems more likely and I doubt that Anne or any other Boleyn would be stupid enough to poison him.

    The King in 1536 also altered the Act of Succession and his illigitimate son was promoted to his possible heir had he not had any children. Henry would not have considered this if his sons health had have been in doubt; it would not have been worth it. Whatever it was that made him sick; it seems to have developed quickly and taken over his life in the last few months. This seems to have been a pattern of the Tudor males who died in young adullthood: Prince Arthur was not a sickly child, he was not a sickly teen, but was struck down by a similar pattern of decline and illness over the last few months of his life in 1502 aged 16. The same can be said of Prince Edward. It is assumed by many people; including unfortunately some historians; that Edward was a sickly child. This is nonsense. All children, even those in robust health have fevers and childhood illness; it is normal. Children were exposed to even worse things back then than Western children are today; and Edward had a fever or two, including a very bad one in 1541. But he was rebust enough to recover from it. There is little evidence that he was really sick until the last few months of his life and again his decline was rapid and sudden, lasting a few months; and taking his life in the end. He too probably died of consumption. It is also possible that had the consumption hit them in adulthood that they would have lived longer, suffering regular bouts, and had a longer decline over the years as with the Kings sisters. Henry VIIi was lucky; he escaped the disease; but he must have carried the gene. Mary and Elizabeth were also lucky; their genes may have played apart; that is a medical mystery that we cannot really solve; but it would be interesting to study none the less.

    One thing I think was an error and a shame; was that Mary Howard and he did not consumate their marriage; that a child did not follow and that they had only a short time together. I think they could have made a successful couple; despite it being an arranged marriage; for young Fitzroy seems to have had a good personality; although Mary was a bit stubborn and difficult; I am certain he treated her well and would have been a good husband given the chance. They never where. I am happy though that he is buried in the Howard Chaple in Framlington.

  6. Can’t help feeling sorry for Henry V111 losing most of his children, when you consider the Plantaganets they had no problem siring healthy sons, there must have been a weakness in the Tudors somewhere, Henry V11s mother was only thirteen when she became pregnant which was dangerously young, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he himself was weak and passed it onto his children, just a theory but it’s possible.

    1. There is no evidence of weakness in Henry Tudor. Even if he had an inherited disease it was not evident until his last years. He was 56 when he died, not a bad age for the time, and Henry Viii was anything but physically weak. The early Tudor family had plenty of sons, his father was one of four brothers and died of the plague not some weakness. Jasper Tudor was a seasoned warrior, and there was nothing wrong with Owen Tudor either. There is clearly a genetic or gynocological problem somewhere causing a higher rate of stillbirth and miscarriage of the sons of Henry Viii but this is hard to pinpoint. I think that although many infants died Henry was unfortunate that the figure was even more. I have a lot of sympathy for Henry losing so many children, the pain for him and his wives must have been terrible. Clearly consumption was carried in the family, but reasonable proportion lived well into adulthood and had children who where healthy. The disease is hit and miss. Henry was strong enough to survive a difficult birth as was the thirteen year old Margaret, although sadly she suffered internal injuries that left her unable to have any more children. The fact that both lived well into adulthood and old age shows they were not weak. Henry was no warrior, but he was trained in arms and every other manly pursuit. The information does not give a clear clue but if they did have a medical condition that meant males were vulnerable to something that killed them, statistically if the couple produced many children, females in nature are more likely to live in any event. The Tudors lack of sons was not unique, Isabella had four daughters and one son and they also had tragic death rates, few sons produced or living. Also two of Anne’s brothers died in early childhood, pointing to a gene pool on both sides of the family with a low expectation of producing live, healthy sons. Even Elizabeth of York only had two brothers and at least seven sisters. By the end of the Plantagenet era, the numbers of male children being born or living to adulthood was dropping. Richard lll only had one son in ten years and he died when he was ten, so the sons of York were not as productive as their father and grandparents had been. Only Edward had several children, the majority being female.

      1. Blame the women! Isn’t it more likely that the problem of infertility lay with Henry VIII? Both Catherine and Anne Boleyn had several miscarriages and the claim that Mary Boleyn had two children by Henry is questionable. The way he carried in with women, isn’t it possible he picked up veneral diseases? Interesting about the Tudor men dying in their teens. The third installment about Hilary Mantel’s books on Cromwell talks about Richmond as a young man fully expecting to become king.

  7. Women have always been biologically stronger than men, it’s something Mother Nature has provided us with to continue the human race, even today cot deaths appear to be more boys than girls and there are some illnesses that only boys get, they could have had weak hearts, the female heart is stronger as it has to sustain another life therefore the odds of females surviving are and always have been greater than men.

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