26 November 1533 – Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard get married

On this day in history, 26th November 1533, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset and the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, married Mary Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, at Hampton Court Palace. They were both fourteen years of age.

The wedding appears to have been rather low-key, so much so that it is not mentioned by chroniclers Edward Hall and Charles Wriothesley, and even Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, only mentions it in passing at the end of a letter to Charles V:

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13 thoughts on “26 November 1533 – Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard get married”
  1. If the king had made Henry legitimate and his heir rather than annul his marriage with Katherine and break with Rome how well would that have been accepted? Regardless, his death at such a young age was very tragic.

  2. Yes Fitzroy was the name given to the illigitemate children of the monarch, it goes back to early times, there were rumours when young Fitzroy was growing up that some at court seriously thought he was a contender for the throne, after Katherine lost her last child and she entered menopause eyes turned towards his bastard son, was it possible that Henry may make him heir to his kingdom, he himself was descended through bastard stock, via John of Gaunt and his mistress Katherine Sywnford, down through to Edward 111, also William the Conqueror was born out of wedlock but he seized the crown through battle and it was not an easy task, his son Henry 1st had the same dilemma when his son and heir died tragically at sea and he was faced with the knowledge that his daughter would inherit, he had many bastard sons yet never dreamed of leaving his crown to his eldest one, he knew the great men of the realm would never accept it, and if five hundred years later his descendant and namesake had chosen to go down that route it would not have been an easy one either, it brought the monarchy into disrepute and would the English have accepted a bastard son over an illigitemate daughter? Parliament would have to agree and how also would his wife have reacted, she would have fought tooth and nail to defend her child’s birthright as years later she did when Anne Boleyn appeared on the scene, yet Henry could be very persuasive and used to getting his own way, however at this moment he was not as tyrannical as he later became and still had to bend the knee to Rome, he conferred on him the royal title Duke of Richmond and the ceremony was quite elaborate. bringing him to court where he was feted much to Katherines anger, however Mary was still called Princess of Wales and when he fell in love with Anne he decided she could give him a son or two therefore young Fitzroy was not a threat to the princess, but Katherine must have been so bitterly hurt, the child of a mistress did not matter but a queens did, the country looked to her to provide the kingdom with a son and her lady in waiting had succeeded where she had failed, there is evidence that Fitzroy unlike his older much learned sister was not a scholar and loved the hunt and other sports, this he no doubt inherited from his father yet Henry was quite concerned as he wanted him to devote himself to study more, Henry himself had been an all rounder, gifted with an athletic vigorous body and an academic mind he also had a love of music, both with writing and playing and also at languages, he wanted his son whom he adored to be like him, it is not hard to imagine Henry wishing so fervently he had been born on the right side of the blanket, his portrait shows a young man with an uncanny resemblance to his auguste father, he has his long nose and small mouth, both features which his sister Elizabeth inherited, I can also see a likeness to young Edward 1V, the brother he sadly never knew and who succumbed to illness in the first flush of manhood as he himself did, the sketch of his young bride Mary Howard shows an equally good looking young girl with an oval face and neat regular features, how Mary felt about marrying Henrys natural born son is unknown but maybe being so young she treated it more like a game and found it all rather exciting, also among the nobility and royalty they were told from a young age they would marry for expediency, love or even mere liking did not come into it, and people in those days had a strong sense of duty, mere affection could turn to love after the arrival of children and in fact some marriages were very successful, some however were not, Marys own parents for example, her mother is described as a bitter angry woman who hated her husband as he was unfaithful to her with his mistress who happened to be his wife’s washer woman, and who was in Anne Boleyns service, she also had fallen out with Anne who wanted this marriage as it was a way of keeping Royal favour in her family, the Duchess her aunt wanted Derby yet was this just to antagonise Anne? this was not unusual to keep good marriages in the family as Elizabeth Woodville herself had members of her own family promoted at court with good marriages and high positions, the close blood tie between Mary Tudor and Fitzroy meant that a marriage there would not have been taken seriously by Henry V111 either, and Katherine would opposed that as she would have preferred a grand match for her daughter with a European prince no doubt, it was also sad that her marriage proposals had come to nothing whilst her half brother who was a few years younger was being married before her, anyway Anne had her way like she did in most things and Fitzroy was married to her cousin but it was just a quiet affair, maybe a bit like a register office compared to a full blown church wedding, why did Henry keep the wedding so low key, maybe he did not want Europe to think he was favouring his son over Mary by giving him a grand wedding, poor Mary now was deemed a bastard like her brother yet the fact she was female must also have made her look less important, certainly her father had ruined her marriage prospects, Fitzroy died of a wasting disease not long after his step mothers execution, it was said he fainted at the horror of it all and his young widow never re married which I think was rather sad, she went onto lose her feckless brother to the axe and her father was imprisoned in the tower also awaiting death yet by sheer good luck, the King died before he could sign the death warrant, her cousins Anne and Catherine Howard, both queens to her father in law also died by the axe except Anne who had the sword, she was born to an ambitious noble family, the noblest in the kingdom for her father was Earl Marshall, she had the honour of marrying the Kings much loved son but the joy it could have brought was short lived, however I like to think that she lived a peaceful happy existence unlike several members of her family did.

  3. Another few years and Henry would have been the most important person in the realm, because in the Spring of 1536, Henry Viii seriously tried to make his illegitimate son his heir in the draft of the Second Act of Succession. It was his death in July 1536 which prevented his name being declared by Parliament to make this law. Henry wanted his son as heir in the default of no sons by Jane Seymour whom he had recently married. The boy would have made a good King and he had already represented Henry in many official capacities, including in Calais and in Parliament. It would have also put another Howard on the throne, with Mary Howard as his Queen.

    The fact that Henry Fitzroy Duke of Richmond and Somerset was illegitimate would make little difference if Parliament made him heir because it would change the laws banning illegitimate children from inheritance. Under Henry Viii even his legitimate children had their own status changed from heirs to cast off Princess, because he didn’t believe his marriage was lawful. Who Parliament made legitimate or illegitimate in the Royal families of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was a matter of convenience as well as law, with the children of Edward iv being declared illegitimate and then legitimate again and Mary was declared illegitimate, then reversed this herself as Queen. Elizabeth was made heir in her place in 1533, then also set aside in 1536. Both Elizabeth and Mary were restored to the succession in the Third Act of Succession 1544, but not made legitimate again. A clause in the Act allowed Henry to name anyone his heir. Henry confirmed them as true heirs after his only legitimate son, Edward vi in his will.

    Anne Boleyn knew what she was doing working this marriage but she hoped to be Queen for a long time in 1533 and her family were of course in power. It was to her advantage to have the King’s son, legitimate or not marry into her own family. Had the two young people consummated their marriage as they would have done in time, another heir to the throne and Boleyn – Howard clan would surely follow. The girls mother wasn’t too keen on the idea, but when a King commands you smile and accept.

    Henry viii was not a man to say no to. The people of this time may rise up against religious changes but they more or less accepted which King or Queen they ended up with if Parliament and the nobles accepted them. Henry was a formidable character. I doubt anyone would have questioned his son being hid heir, unless another of his children challenged their right, as Mary did with Jane Grey.

  4. I will have to read his biography as iv always been quite interested about Henrys natural born son, I don’t really like using the word ‘bastard’, I think it just doesn’t sound nice and the other word illegitimate is too long, I wonder what he was really like was he affable and easy going or so puffed up with his own importance, maybe he was after his father placed him in the second act of succession or maybe he was unaware, somehow I think his father would have prepared him for such an important piece of information, he must have been so pleased when Elizabeth was born a girl that still made him Henrys only surviving son, after her death and the little princess lost her title and her place in the succession, the road to glory seemed much smoother, or perhaps he wasn’t ambitious and had no desire for the throne, his fathers third marriage proved that he still hoped for a legitimate heir but at least he had young Fitzroy as a standby, then he too died but then Edward was born so he had his son and heir at last, however the curse of the Tudors was ever prevalent and he followed his numerous half sisters and brothers to an early grave.

    1. I read his bio again last year after reading an article on here about his death and he was described as being a personable young man, charming and intelligent. This is what made him the ideal candidate to represent the King in some delicate and important situations in Parliament, to win the nobles and commons over. Henry had the idea of sending Henry Fitzroy to Ireland as his Ambassador/Representative because of his charm and abilities. Ireland had become a thorn in his side with the divorce and Supremacy and the King needed a charm offensive as well as increasing military presence in Ireland to prevent the increased threat from the Grendalines to rise against his authority. However, his son died before he could complete this option.

      You are correct about labels, neither are very acceptable and neither are accurate for the period either. Weird as the term may sound ” natural born son” “natural born daughter” was the term used in most of the literature and ” bastard” although not a swear word as such was an insult. Elizabeth was referred to as this by either Chapuys in some of his letters/reports, although very rarely or later on by her enemies. The term illegitimate may or may not have been used very often but is used more today as the term “bastard” is unacceptable. It is a horrible term and of course has a different meaning also. Saying “natural born” to people who don’t understand the term gets silly feedback on other, less intelligent forums, but it is and was the correct term of the day. I also prefer it, but I have formed the bad habit of saying illegitimate, even though like most labels it is a mouth full. Henry would have used the terms “natural born” or “naturally begotten” in the legal documents granting Henry Fitzroy his titles in 1525, for example. It is a very old term and yes, it sounds much better.

      The laws were very unfair to children born out of wedlock, especially inheritance rights. While it is right that a legitimate child inherit first, you would think something could be given to recognised “natural” children. Grants were often given to them and their mothers during a father’s lifetime, with an allowance for life and title or gifts of land, just as they may give to anyone such gifts that they controlled, but they could not inherit the family estate in a will. Henry’s attempt to put Henry, Duke of Richmond into his succession was extraordinary. Parliament may even declare him legitimate but he should still be barred from the crown, following protocols. The fact that John of Gaunt’s brood by Katherine Swinfyrd, later his third wife were declared “legally begotten” and able to share in his family inheritance by the Pope and then Parliament under Henry iv, didn’t mean they had the same rights as his sons from his first and second lawful marriages. The Beauforts as they were known were specifically banned from claiming the crown but via Henry Viii’s grandmother did so anyway. Henry was aware of this when he made this boy Duke of Richmond, his grandfather held the title as Earl and his father held it as well. There was some talk that Henry intended this son to succeed him, while married to Katherine and the status he was accorded really upset her. Henry F was very much part of his father’s life, had his own household and was raised almost as if he was a Prince. It was not acceptable that he should be named as heir but it was not something anyone was likely to do much to oppose, unless they challenged his right as King later on and that would end up in civil war.

      It’s interesting that Isabella of Spain had to oust her illegitimate half brother as King by raising an army and then she took her rightful place as Queen of Castile. Mary Queen of Scots was challenged by her natural half brother, James Stewart who had the support of much of the Protestant nobles, but Mary won and pardoned him. He would later take a hand in her downfall and the custody of her young son. So it was very possible for those who were born out of wedlock to cause trouble and make a claim by force. Had Henry Fitzroy lived he would have been heir behind any son with Jane Seymour or even another wife, but if not then he was a serious contender. Henry would need to word his Act with care but in May and June 1536, his seventeen years old, natural son by Bessie Blount was on the verge of being his successor.

      1. Base born is another term used in the olden days to describe a person born out of wedlock, I too find this offensive, it’s as if the child itself has a stigma attached to him/ her all their life, yet it’s not the child’s fault if they are born, we have no hand in our conception and birth, whilst I was researching my family tree my sixth times grandmother had on her baptism record the word ‘spurious’ I had never heard this word therefore looked it up, and was surprised when the dictionary said it means a person of illegitimate birth, I felt quite sad really, she may not even have known who her real family was and could have been adopted, of course the Kings children knew who their father was, born in or out of wedlock, the fact that Henry was trying to put his son in the succession smacks of desperation and also it’s quite telling as he must have thought he would have no more sons, we have to remember that Henry was always concerned about leaving his country to a mere female, Mary may have the blood of that formidable and very capable ruler Isabella in her veins yet she was still only a woman, and he didn’t wish England to be seen to be vulnerable as with a woman at the helm she could well be, I doubt he would have approved of her choice of bridegroom either, although outwardly allies with both France and Spain at times he didn’t trust either of them, what he feared was England being controlled by a foreign country and of course as we have seen, Marys marriage to Philip was much disproved of, it is true issue born on the wrong side of the blanket were often very helpful politically, King Johns daughter Joan married Prince Llewelyn and he was not on good terms with her father, Joan was used as a go between to bring peace to both Wales and England, John was very fond of his daughter by all accounts and much loved by Llewelyn, Henry 11’s two sons born out of wedlock served him well unlike his warring brood with his queen Eleanor, such a shame Fitzroy died young, out of all his children only his two daughters survived into middle age, and both died childless, I do not mention Catherine Knollys here as there is no proof she was his only speculation and Ethelreda Malte may have been his but again, there is no hard proof.

        1. I am convinced that my great grandfather had an illegitimate child, whom he ‘adopted into the family ‘ a daughter whom my nan knew as an unofficial sister whom he had taken in. She was one of seven surviving children, but she had two cousins living with them and this other ‘sister’ who they were all fond of and treated well, like one of the family, but she was something of a mystery. I think she was their fathers child by another woman, but it was never something I can prove. Over the generations all kinds of stories of cousins or mysterious “sisters” and ” brothers ” hidden in families, unofficially adopted have popped up in the last 200 years. Before social services and official adoption, children could just be taken in and cared for without too many questions being asked.

          Henry ii had a few extra sons and three were raised in the royal nursery, to the disappointment of Eleanor of Aquitaine, but one, Geoffrey as Archbishop of York worked tirelessly to help raise Richard the Lionheart’s ransom with the Queen, when her son was captured after his Crusade. They were better sons than his legitimate brothers. Henry Viii possibly had other children, but as you say, he only recognised one and without any indication of who they were and DNA there is no proof. There is no doubt Henry Fitzroy was his. You can see the likeness. There was a courtier called Thomas Stukesley who was also believed to be the son of Henry Viii although this is very much debated as it was never proven.

          We think we have the monopoly on having variety when it comes to family makeup and most certainly the definition has possibly never been wider, with extended family, standard, mum, dad, two or three kids, single family, two mums, two dads, step families, adopted family, families with numerous parents and many children, multiple wives and multiple husbands and couples with no children. However, when you see how fluid who and what a family makeup has been over history, there have always been many varieties of family life, making up a rich texture in society. The Ottoman Turks had a Sultana, an official wife with wide powers, but with many other wives and women who gave the Sultan sons and daughters. However, this led to trouble over the succession and unfortunately the answer was brutal. Once the heir was proclaimed his brothers were all killed. This was changed to the equally cruel blinding and imprisonment in a fancy palace, but it was definitely a prison, and ended in madness. Having too many wives and sons was even more of a nightmare than having too few. Henry ii had three rebellious sons and one, John, who in the end was also named as his enemy and Edward iii had that many that too many rival houses for the crown ended up fighting each other. I am tempted to say, they should have settled things on the women, but it was often the women who were causing the fighting. Henry couldn’t accept that Mary or Elizabeth could and should rule because very few people did believe a woman could rule. It was one thing to rule in the name of her husband, son or as a Regent during war, but the idea of a woman having power in her own right was frightening to most men. Yes, I think Henry was desperate in 1536, having failed to have a son with two Queens in 27 years, in his mid forties, not in his prime, with failing health, which led to Henry Fitzroy as a backup, a guarantee in case his third wife also failed. Henry even expressed concern that he may not have any more children due to his age. It was a rare admission from a King who believed everything was the fault of someone other than himself and that, although he had not been blessed by God, would be in the end as The Lord’s Anointed.

  5. My great grandmother also I think had an illigetimate daughter born out of wedlock, she is recorded as having her mothers name not her fathers, which is very telling, great gran was not married prior to marrying my great grandfather so she must have been the result of an illicit love affair, wether her father was married or he deserted my great gran when they found she was pregnant is unknown, but i felt quite sympathetic towards her as it was considered shocking to have a child born out of wedlock years ago and she must have had it really hard, especially if she was abandoned by her lover or sadly he may have died and perhaps they had intended to marry, for a woman in that situation they had to rely on their families help and support this is what I find truly fascinating about family research, all these names come up and I don’t know if you do Bq, but I put faces to them and imagine how their lives were all those years ago, and we never get to know all the nitty gritty but can only speculate with the facts laid down before us, however she married my grt grandad and he officially adopted her child so he must have loved her very much and they went onto have quite a large family so alls well that ends well, also about a hundred years before her time an uncle of mine had an illegitimate son whom his wife took in and cared for and he was brought up with her own children, however this son of my uncles always had a chip on his shoulder as proved in a letter from his wife to my five times gran, saying how ungodly he was and surly and resentful, but maybe he suffered from bullying, name calling and so on, it is not the stigma it is today and we can imagine how hard it could have been for the innocent child, the fact his father took him in and his wife cared for him was very good fortune for him but maybe the wife resented his presence who knows, she may not have been very nice to him herself which of course would account for his negative outlook on life, here we are talking about our own family history and we should be debating the Tudors but I’m sure Claire won’t mind.

    1. Another thing I found whilst doing my family research was that my grandmother as a young girl lived in a house which is currently occupied by a friend of mine, the house is Victorian and my friend and her boyfriend think it’s haunted, they swear they have seen a little girl sometimes go running up the stairs or in the kitchen, walking through a wall, which means that there could have been a door there years before, I found out I had a great aunt who died when she was nine and I’m sure the ghost is of her, my great aunt Emily, it was so strange finding out my great grandparents lived in her house and she was shocked to, but it’s lovely going round there and I imagine them bustling round the kitchen and having their meals, I imagine their all watching me, sounds rather fanciful I know but had I never sought to uncover my family tree I would have known they had lived there, you never know what you will uncover.

      1. Wow fascinating details and what a coincidence finding a friend living in an old house connected to your family history. It really is interesting what you can uncover. Family secrets always surface eventually.

        1. Yes it just goes to show what a small world it is, I’m longing to see aunt Emily but she hasn’t seen fit to show herself to me as yet, still I live in hope, mind you if I was suddenly to see her I’d probably faint in shock.

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