Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and SomersetOn this day in history, 22nd July 1536, King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, died at St James’s Palace. He was just seventeen years of age, having been born on 15th June 1519 to the King’s mistress, Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount. In 1525, he had been elected as a Knight of the Garter and created Earl of Nottingham and Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

Charles Wriothesley records Fitzroy’s death in his chronicle:

“Also the twentith tow daie of Julie, Henrie, Duke of Somersett and Richmonde, and Earle of Northampton [Nottingham], and a base sonne of our soveraigne King Henrie the Eight, borne of my Ladie Taylebuse, that tyme called Elizabeth Blunt, departed out of this transitory lief at the Kinges place in Sainct James, within the Kinges Parke at Westminster […] and he was buried at Thetforde in the countie of Norfolke.”1

As Wriothesley records, Fitzroy was buried at Thetford Priory in Norfolk, after Henry VIII had left the burial arrangements to Fitzroy’s father-in-law, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He was later moved to St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, Suffolk, due to the dissolution of the priory. His wife, Mary Howard, was buried with him there after her death in 1557.

We don’t know for sure what Fitzroy died of, but Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, wrote on 8th July 1536 that Fitzroy’s physicians believed him to be “consumptive, and incurable.”2 Fitzroy had been well enough to attend Anne Boleyn’s execution on 19th May 1536 and Parliament on 8th June 1536.

His death must have been a huge blow for King Henry VIII.

Notes and Sources

  1. Wriothesley, Charles(1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1, Camden Society, p. 53-54.
  2. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 11, 40.

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16 thoughts on “22 July 1536 – Henry Fitzroy departed his life”
  1. Iv often wondered was he painted in his night attire only what he’s wearing doesn’t appear to be the usual mode of dress, Tudor courtiers always looking so elaborately clad?

    1. I read somewhere – can’t remember where! – that it was quite fashionable at the time for the upper classes to be depicted in informal attire, hence this miniature of Fitzroy in his shirt and coif, and also the Holbein sketch of the woman some believe to be Anne Boleyn in which the sitter is depicted in her chemise and coif.

      1. I think it’s great, because while I love the pictures of the people in full court glamour, it’s also interesting to see their “regular” clothes, which they would wear during their off time.

        Sounds like the royalty of Pharaoh Akhenaten’s era – the Pharaoh and his family were depicted in ordinary poses and clothing, as well as in ceremonial garb, which was highly unusual for Egyptian art.

  2. The way I understood it was that he died of tuberculosis. His nightshirt and cap denoted illness, could be wrongly informed though

    1. I don’t think that Henry VIII would have allowed a portrait of his son while ill as that would have affected the image of the Tudors. Portraiture was propaganda in those days. A description in the Royal Collection says:
      “The sitter is vividly characterised in what is in essence an informal portrait, one of the first in British art, and a significant prototype for what was to prove the keynote of intimacy in the art form of the portrait miniature over successive centuries. The casual clothes, probably a nightcap and chemise, may be associated with his physical frailty.”
      But there is no evidence of Fitzroy being ill until early July 1536 and this Horenbout miniature gives the sitter’s age as 15, which would date it to 1534 meaning that it could have been painted in celebration of the boy’s marriage to Mary Howard in November 1533.

      1. Hi Claire, I also can’t see Fitzroy being able to sit for a painting whilst he was ill anyway, he seemed also to have fallen ill quite quickly as you say he attended Anne Boleyns execution, yet barely two months later he was dead, unlike poor Edward who had a long lingering illness I suppose you can say it was a blessing he didn’t suffer as much as his half brother, I never knew he fainted at Anne’s beheading and I’m wondering if it was his idea to go there or wether he was coerced, perhaps by Brandon as he was there also and it was said that everyone in the crowd knelt out of respect except himself and the kings son, I should imagine quite a few fainted at executions as beheading must have been ghastly to behold, but although a trauma has been known to set off a serious illness so modern doctors believe, physcological shock can have an impact on the body, it’s clear that this young lad must have had TB or maybe even a viral infection that turned to pneumonia, very very sad for Henry as he had buried so many dead children by then, his young widow never remarried but outlived him for many years, he must have had the kings doctors on attendance but sadly if it was TB there was nothing in those days they could have done.

  3. Some early writers used to blame the shock of seeing Anne Boleyn die, as he fainted at the time, but it is clearly that he was ill at the time, with TB being the best suspect that killed him. I think that his second tomb at Framingham is fantastic. Henry had his son moved of course, but Norfolk had to reassure him that the new arrangements were up to standard, as we are talking about the King’s son here, not jo blogs, which was satisfactory. Henry Viii also contemplated making this young man his heir, but he may have known about his ill health as he did not go through with this. Weirdly Parliament could legitimize any of the royal bastards, the Beauforts had been legitimized by both the Pope and Parliament when Gaunt finally married their mother, so what is new? Without this of course the Tudors would have no claim to the crown at all, let alone the winning of it at Bosworth. As Henry was in the habit of making and unmaking his daughters heirs at will, without a legitimate son as yet, had Henry Fitzroy been healthy and lived he could easily be made legitimate and probably would have been. His marriage to Mary Howard, had it been consummated could also have supplied Henry with an alternative next generation heir as the Howards through the female line had a distant but verifiable claim to the throne from the Mowbary Dukes descending from Edward I. Again Parliament could have passed a law to make it so. It might have caused just as much trouble as passing over Mary and Elizabeth by Edward Vi for his cousin Jane Grey, but it may also have been a temporary solution to Henry Viii complex succession problem. In any event, none of this was to be and the young man must have been mourned as he was a symbol of hope to the King.

    1. Having rejected Queen Katherine and subsequently the Church of Rome, for Anne, would the Pope have agreed to legitimise Fitzroy, or did King Henry consider an Act of Parliament at his behest would be sufficient at some future date?

      1. Hi Laniex, in this case the Pope would of course not been involved, as Henry had broken from Rome. The case of the Beauforts was in the late fourteenth century and early fifteeth, well over 100 years earlier, when England was a faithful Catholic country. Henry Viii could of course ignore the Pope and merely have a Bill put through Parliament or have Cranmer open up a court and do the honours. In fact a church court could easily do the same job, with Parliament ratifying the court’s decision. The Beautforts were still living in the era of England being part of the Catholic Church, Henry had to do things differently as this was no longer the case. When Henry had a new Act of Succession in 1536 after the death of Anne Boleyn, I am certain that he was considering having Henry Fitzroy placed in it, but I am not entirely sure. The thought was there, it was just not acted on.

        1. Thanks Banditqueen. I guess KH was optimistic that he would eventually succeed in having a legitimate male heir to underpin the Tudor dynasty he so desperately wanted. Perhaps he felt it wasn’t enough to achieve/maintain rule through earlier Tudor right of conquest, rather than inheritance, and legitimizing Fitzroy, to gain credence with his nobles & people (not forgetting other nations’ royalty and Church stance) to cement his KH place in history. Is it just coincidence that he married Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – both from the older/ancient nobler Norfolk/Howard family tree? Or that Fitzroy was married to young Mary Howard? All to add gravitas and strong support for his dynastic line? KH must have been devastated having lost Fitzroy and young Edward. Sorry for long response. Find Claire’s website and your/others comments fascinating.

        2. Hi Laniex, thanks, glad I could help. I think it is certainly very interesting that Henry ended up married to two cousins from the same family, especially as both were related to Norfolk, but if your the head of the largest faction/clan and one of the oldest families at court, I guess you will have a daughter or niece or two to dangle around the King. lol.

        3. Hi Laniex, thanks, glad I could help. I think it is certainly very interesting that Henry ended up married to two cousins from the same family, especially as both were related to Norfolk, but if your the head of the largest faction/clan and one of the oldest families at court, I guess you will have a daughter or niece or two to dangle around the King. lol.http://www.historyextra.com/sites/default/files/3D%20scan%20Duke%20of%20Richmond's%20monument%2C%20Framlingham-1.jpg. A picture and article of the three D scan done by Leicester University in 2013 of the original tomb meant for Henry Fitzroy made from gold.

  4. I think we must consider that young Henry’s illness may well have played a part in the fall of Anne. As long as Fitzroy was alive and well, Henry had a backup plan. It is the perfect storm-Katherine’s death, Henry’s accident, Anne’s miscarriage in January, the quarrel with Cromwell, and young Fitzroy’s illness. It was now clear that Anne would be unlikely to bear a living, healthy son-she was over 30, and there was clearly some issue preventing her from having her pregnancies coming to full term successfully. Henry’s backup plan would soon be gone. He had to have a new wife before this happened, preferably already pregnant. I believe the decision to accuse Anne of adultery did not come from Henry, but that the entire management of the affair was in Cromwell’s hands. I suspect that he engineered the whole deal so that Henry had not even specified to Cromwell that Anne must go. Cromwell, as he did so often, steered his master in the direction he believed necessary, and which he knew Henry himself wished to go, whatever he might say.

    I suspect that Cromwell’s fall had its roots in the fall of Anne. He had successfully extricated his master from a dynastically unsuccessful marriage, but at a humiliating price, with aspersions cast on his virility. Henry had loved Anne deeply, and on some level, her loss must have been a deep hurt that he would, of course, blame on Cromwell, however he might howl about Anne herself.

    That the young Duke was viewed as a backup plan is clear. The royal titles, given at about the time Henry gave up on getting sons from Katherine-when she turned 40, makes it clear he was bent on legitimizing his son if necessary. Katherine herself was known to fear this. I think also the fact that Henry never acknowledged any other illegitimate child is also telling-he wanted the boy’s way made clear.

    Cromwell would have known before anyone except the Duke’s own household that he was ill, and would have laid his plans accordingly. Poor Anne-she was no match for Cromwell.

  5. These were tough years for Henry, 1533-6. First, although he achieves his desire and marries Anne, their fist child is not the longed for son, but a girl. In the meantime, his beloved sister Mary dies at quite a young age-under 40. Then in the following March, her only surviving son dies, leaving Henry with no legitimate heir other than James V. Henry never reconciled himself to making James his heir, so now all he has are his own children, none of whom is really a perfect situation. Plainly, he would have preferred Richmond to either daughter, but Anne would never have tolerated that. It also had become clear that Anne was not going to succeed in producing a healthy son. Her pregnancies after Elizabeth all failed, even if we are not sure how many there were. We do know she miscarried in January 1536, and this, coupled with Richmond’s illness, left Henry with two girls, and at this point, he was not going to give up on getting a legitimate son. Anne, by this time, may have been as old as 35, not the best age for childbearing.

    Ironically, Katherine had doomed her rival by delaying her marriage long enough to injure her chances of delivering a healthy son. We have no means of knowing the root cause of either Queen’s issues, but both paid for it dearly.

  6. In the book The Six Wives of Henry VIII written by Paul Rival first published in 1937 (without notes), he describes the attendance of Richmond at Anne Boleyn’s execution: “They had brought with them young Richmond, overgrown at seventeen, worn by premature excesses and already marked out by consumption.”

  7. Hello, everybody. I’m going to ask you two questions. The first: why Henry VIII never recognized any other illegitimate children he had with his many mistresses?And the second: I believe he had one son also with Mary Boleyn. Is this true? And why did not recognize the child? Thank you very much,

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