22 July 1536 – Henry VIII loses a son
Posted By Claire on July 22, 2015
Today marks the aniversary of the death of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, at St James’s Palace, London. The seventeen year-old duke was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII, by his mistress Elizabeth (Bessie Blount), and the husband of Mary Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. It is thought that he died of some kind of pulmonary infection, such as tuberculosis (consumption). He had been well enough to attend Anne Boleyn’s execution in May 1536 and Parliament on 8 June 1536, but was recorded as being ill on 8 July 1536 in a letter from Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, to Charles V. Chapuys wrote: “the duke of Richmond, who, in the judgment of physicians is consumptive (tysique), and incurable.”
Henry VIII, who must have been grief-stricken at the death of his only son, left the burial arrangements to Fitzroy’s father-in-law. Norfolk arranged for Fitzroy to be buried at Thetford Priory in Norfolk. His remains were later moved to St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, Suffolk, due to the dissolution of the priory, and he was joined there by his wife, Mary, after her death in 1557.
You can read more about Fitzroy in Sarah Bryson’s article over at the Tudor Society – click here.
Notes and Sources
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 11: 40
14 thoughts on “22 July 1536 – Henry VIII loses a son”
The death of Henry Fitzroy had to have struck such a dart of fear into the heart of his father! Suddenly, Henry VIII had gone from having an (illegitimate) heir to having no surviving male issue. Is it possible he (Henry VIII) wept over his dead son? There are few, if any, records of emotions felt by those at Henry VIII’s court – perhaps emotion was viewed as a liability.
Wasn’t Henry Fitzroy at his death approximately the same age (between 15 and 17) as Prince Arthur and Edward VI? Can’t help wondering if there was some genetic pre-disposition or something.
Also, any idea why he was not given a more lavish funeral?
Could be because he was only an illegitimate son.
Esther, that’s my opinion, too. It has to be genetics, 3 boys in 2 generations, at the same age from apparently the same condition.
something that hits with puberty perhaps?
I think Arthur died of a disease that was going around at the time, Catherine caught it to but survived, could be the ages of the boys deaths were just coincidence given the high mortality rate of the age.
Elizabeth Norton, in her book on Bessie Blount, puts forward the idea that Fitzroy’s death was a political disaster for Henry VIII as Fitzroy had been the only proof of the King’s virility. It “cast doubts on all his future hopes for the succession and his chances of siring a legitimate son by his new wife”. This does makes sense when Anne Boleyn had recently been found guilty of adultery and at George Boleyn’s trial he had read out a note about a discussion questioning the King’s potency. Norton goes on to write that Henry wanted a secret funeral for Fitzroy. He didn’t want to draw attention to the death of his only son, hence the transportation of the body out of London and the burial at Thetford.
Wasn’t this death of a son whom he loved, the most poignant marker of Henry’s annus horribilus? (My AppleMac has a habit of substituting words it thinks I must have got wrong for words it thinks must be right; so right before my eyes it removed my word ‘horribilus’ and replaced it with HORNBILLS. Then it just did it again! So Henry’s year, according to Apple, was an ‘annus hornbills’.) Perhaps, if Apple will allow this comment, this was one too many tragedy, with which he could not deal, delegated to Norfolk who misread the signal, and buried the beloved boy in a manner he thought fitting but which did not please his king and master? Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.
Yes, it was definitely an awful year for Henry – Anne’s miscarriage following Catherine’s death, his brush with mortality, Anne’s fall, Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion, talk of his sexual problems, Henry Fitzroy dying etc. Whatever we think about his involvement with Anne’s fall, that year must have really posed a challenge to his masculinity and his kingship.
However ‘difficult’ it is to feel compassion for men like Henry VIII, I actually do here. Claire, do you think this year changed the king forever, as Suzannah Lipscombe says, or…………not, or what? I am one who did actually nurse a dominant, very masculine husband through his terminal illness, and so perhaps, tend to have more sympathy for Henry VIII than I should!
I don’t think it changed him as dramatically as Lipscomb feels. He started off his reign executing Empson and Dudley as scapegoats, he treated the Observant Friars dreadfully and the Carthusian monks brutally, he executed Edward Stafford, Thomas More, Bishop Fisher, Elizabeth Barton etc. all before 1536. He treated challenges to his authority harshly and I think 1536 was just a case of lots of challenges to his authority and masculinity at once. I’m with Scarisbrick who says “Henry was not notably more cruel afterwards [after his 1536 accident] than he had been before.”
Sorry to hear about your husband and what you went through. I do think that Henry’s ill health had some bearing on his behaviour, after all, we all get crabby when we’re in pain, but I don’t think it’s an answer to his tyranny.
Whether or not the loss of Henry’s adult son was a political disaster or not, it was a great personal loss of dearly beloved son, a son that Henry had placed great hope in and was close to. The loss of any children to a parent, even in an age when children did die in infancy, died of illness, died in the womb, were stillbirth was common, death of a child was keenly felt. Memorials on adult tombs and poems bare witness to the loss of children. Henry was proven to be able to have sons with the birth of Henry Fitzroy in 1519 and he invest
invested his son with the royal titles of his own father. Henry even thought of making this young man his heir, the act of 1536 would have made this law. By the death of Henry Fitzroy Henry Viii did not have a male heir, nor could he guarantee that Jane would have a son, so yes in that sense the death. of this young man was a political disaster. However, it is more important to see his loss as a personal adversity, and I really feel for Henry and his mother at this time. He also left a young widow, the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk, Lady Mary Howard, and his tomb now lies in Frammlington, Suffolk, to where it was moved after Tetford Priory was dissolved. Henry is recorded as saying to his son that he was lucky to be alive as rumours went about that Anne Boleyn wanted to poison him. His death, a few months after the queens execution must have raised questions, although the evidence suggests that Henry died of consumption. He fulfilled his role as a peer of the realm, he sat in the House of Lords, he made a dynastic match, which was for some reason delayed in the consummation, he was on the judges bench at the trial of Anne Boleyn, and he attended her execution. His father was involved in his life and there is no reason to believe that his death was anything but keenly and deeply felt by his father, who loved him.
I can see the likeness to his father in that portrait, he has Henrys long nose and little mouth and winged eyebrows, I wonder if he had lived he would have grown obese like him, possibly not but who can say, Henry turned to food as a comfort after his accident and just ate more and more, his grandfather was a glutton to, Edward 1V but not as huge as Henry became, in some families a tendency to put on weight is genetic but Henrys lifestyle after his accident didn’t help, the depression he had with his lack of heirs and as he called them ‘cursed marriages’ all these contributed to the obese old tyrant of legend, but it’s interesting to imagine how Richmond would have turned out had he lived.