Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset
On 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:

“I have nothing more to say, save that to-morrow the marriage of the duke of Richmond to the daughter of the duke of Norfolk is to take place.”1

Richmond’s biographer Beverley Murphy points out that the Pope had to grant a dispensation for the marriage on the grounds of consanguinity because the bride and groom were related. Richmond descended from Elizabeth Woodville and Mary descended from Elizabeth’s sister, Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham.2 Although Chapuys’ letter appears to date the marriage to 25th November, with Chapuys saying on 24th that the marriage was due to take place “to-morrow”, the dispensation dates the marriage to the 26th.3

In 1527, various girls were put forward as potential brides for Richmond, including Mary of Portugal, the daughters of the Queen of Denmark, and even his half-sister Princess Mary, but they all came to nothing when the King became consumed with his own marriage problems. So how did Richmond end up marrying Mary Howard?

Well, the Duke of Norfolk, Mary’s father, put it down to Henry VIII, commenting in December 1529 to Chapuys that “the King wishes the Duke to marry one of my daughters”4, as did Mary herself in a letter to Thomas Cromwell in 1538:

“The marriage was made by his [the King’s] commandment without that ever I made suit therefor, or yet thought thereon, being fully concluded then with my lord of Oxford, which marriage would to Christ had taken effect […]”5

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond
Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond
But, as Beverley Murphy points out, “the true architect of the arrangement seems to have been Anne Boleyn”6, and Mary’s mother, Elizabeth Stafford, Duchess of Norfolk, certainly blamed Anne for it. In a letter to Cromwell in 1537 regarding her jointure and that of her daughter, she wrote “Queen Anne got the marriage clear for my lord my husband, when she did favour my lord, my husband.”7 In 1530, Chapuys wrote of how the duchess had clashed with Anne Boleyn because the duchess wanted Mary to marry the Earl of Derby “but the Lady Anne opposed it, and used such high words towards the Duchess that the latter narrowly escaped being dismissed from Court.”8 It obviously suited Anne for Richmond to be married off to one of her relations, rather than to a European princess. Murphy writes that “Henry’s subsequent reluctance to acknowledge the union strongly suggests that he was persuaded into it by Anne, who cannot have viewed the prospect of Richmond making a sparkling European marriage with any pleasure.”9

The marriage was a political match, rather than a love match, and it is not clear how the couple felt about it or how well they knew each other. As Murphy points out, Mary had been at court for several months before the marriage serving her cousin, Anne Boleyn, but Richmond had been away in France for most of that time. The couple did not live together after their marriage and were not expected to consummate their union because of their youth, with Henry VIII not wanting to risk the health of his son. Unfortunately, Richmond died in July 1536 at the age of just seventeen. Mary never remarried.

Click here to read facts about Richmond and his wife Mary Howard.

Notes and Sources

  1. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 2, 1531-1533, 1154.
  2. Murphy, Beverley (2011) Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son, Chapter 4, note 20.
  3. Text of the dispensation: “Sed quia quarto consanguinitatis gradu invicem conjuncti estis, vestrum in hac parte desiderium non potestis adimplere, canonica dispensatione desuper non obtenta. — Henricus dux Richmondiae; et Somerset, com. de Nottingham, magnus admirallus Ang. et praeclara femina Maria Howard praepotentis viri Tho. ducis de Norfolcia filia. — Richard. Gwent deputatus pro Pet. de Vannes, 26° Nov. 1533, 11° pontif. Clem. VII.”, quoted in The Works of Henry Howard: Works of Surrey Vol. I, ed. Geo. Fred. Nott, p.xxviii, citing “Frere’s MSS Collections”. Nott states that he was indebted to Rev. Temple Frere for the use of his collection of documents respecting the Howard family.
  4. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1, 1529-30, 228.
  5. ed. Everett, Mary Anne (1846) Letters of royal and illustrious ladies of Great Britain, from the commencement of the twelfth century to the close of the reign of Queen Mary, p. 373-4.
  6. Murphy, p. 123.
  7. Everett, p. 363.
  8. Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1, 1529-30, 460.
  9. Murphy, p. 124.

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6 thoughts on “26 November 1533 – The wedding of Henry Fitzroy and Mary Howard”
  1. He was a nice looking boy very like his father, his open shirt shows a good physique although of course he was anything but healthy, I read that the artist sketched him in his night attire due to his not very robust condition, in the Tudors he was portrayed as having died young but that wasn’t the case, it’s sad he died young out of all Henrys children he alone seems to have resembled him the most, although Elizabeth had her fathers character.

  2. I would be very interesting in learning more about the boy would could have been Henry IX, Has anyone read ‘Bastard Prince’? Is it worth a look?Thanks.

    1. Hi Michael,

      Finished the book you mention about 3 weeks ago. It’s very detailed and at times I found it a hard read but stuck with it and would recommend it to anyone who wants to know the truth about the Duke of Richmond. The author (Beverley A Murphy) has researched the primary sources and built up a picture of this young man who could have been Henry IX. He is one of those people who showed so much promise, but thanks to the times, died before he could prove himself.

  3. Yes Christine, two very young and good-looking (Mary Howard, portraited by Hans Holbein) for a superb match .
    If we all knew of H VIII’s obsession about his only male progeny (before Edward’s birth), thanks to Claire, I now learn that this really royal wedding was all made by Queen Anne Boleyn .
    No wonder if we consider Mary was her first cousin.
    But this act of authority (even against the Howards’ own opinion) might show that she was not that sure to give her own royal husband an heir .
    In 1533 (ie Elizabeth birth), these obvious doubts can of course have different meanings
    The Howards were never far from the throne – until Queen Catherine née Howard, real disaster for the family’s ambitions… – an ancestor John Haward had already married Joan of Cornwall (illegitimate breed from Richard Plantagenet of Cornwall), then his descendant Robert Howard of Tendring married Margaret Mowbray, daughter of Elizabeth, née Fitzalan, herself being granddaughter of “the fair maid of Kent” . More recently, the very duke of Norfolk (ie Thomas Howard, Anne’s uncle, mother’s side) had married first a sister of Elizabeth, queen of H VII Tudor (but this bride’s children never survive to be adults) and then a Stafford (Buckingham) daughter.
    All that was much high-ranked.
    Again, we see how important was this boy ; the queen searching a relative of her, after some royal princesses (among them a portuguese one) were thought after .
    A Stafford daring think she can refuse an illegitimate royal child so much praised by his powerful father certainly was something uncommon…
    Did King H VIII consider marrying this girl afther his own son’s death ?
    I of course can guess it was less important after he had a true royal heir (Edward Tudor), but he feared so much (with some reason as History would show) he could die leaving no heir…
    It is nearly incredible that we know so few about the bride’s fate (she died about 20 years later, after all); she certainly shared something of Queen Catherine’s fall, but nothing of certainties … ?

  4. Recently finished reading the biography about Henry Fitzroy and it was interesting just how important he became as a teenage noble and represented and deputies for the King in several public capacities and ceremonies. He was connected with being the King’s deputy in Ireland, but this did not come about. The Appendix looks at the real possibility of Fitroy becoming King, through the Parliamentary process of Acts of Succession and even suggested that had he lived it is possible that he would be named to succeed Edward or even be preferable as an adult heir, legitimized to succeed ahead of Edward. Now that may have been seriously a problem with the will of Henry Viii, but it is not beyond imagination that a rival faction could have upheld such a claim. Traditionally brothers and other family members had been preferred in ancient and early medieval kingdoms over a child King. Child King’s and their protectorates had proven a disaster in England on more than one occasion. Rival claims could be just as risky, plunging her into civil war, but a successful coup, peaceful succession, even a usurpation, supported by the council and Parliament could also lead to the formulation of a great new Dynasty. Certainly it is possible that Richmond could succeed Edward, if the legislation allowed, with the legitimizing of him, support of Parliament, even if older laws declared illegitimate children could not inherit, such laws could be repealed or rendered inconvenient.

  5. I am sorry but I find it highly amusing that the couple, no doubt it was Norfolk or other prominent Howard family member who arranged it, still had to ask the Pope for permission to get married, which was the correct thing as Catholic people, as they are very much related. The normal thing was to get the dispensation but it is amusing in the light of the political and religious situation in the country at the time, that is the break from Rome. O.K this was not final until 1534 so things continued as normal for a time. Various pieces of legislation would later make such contact with Rome impossible but for now the usual permission was confirmed.

    The marriage of course linked the Howard family even closer to the Crown and if Fitzroy was legitimized, there was a possibility, a remote one for an alternative heir to the throne. Perhaps this and not their age was the real reason they were not at present allowed to consummate the marriage which they were both of a legal age to do. Anne Boleyn was riding reasonably high in November 1533 because she was recovering from one healthy child, albeit a daughter and was in realistic hope of a son soon, was high in favour still and had the King’s ear. She could very easily persuade him still for family favours and Norfolk was high in favour also. Henry, however, may have wanted for now to be cautious, the couple were very young and waiting was very wise. In the end they didn’t have children, the marriage most probably wasn’t consummated but the death of Fitzroy in 1536, most likely from poison or tuberculosis or an inherited disease (all three have been favoured at some time of another, but the latter was most recently examined in 2011 in the Historical Journal by Catarina Banks Whitley and Kyra Courneleus Kramer in their work on McCloud Syndrome which is a genetic condition suffered by people who have the K antigen in their blood. In two books this was explored further, one on tge health of Henry Viii and one on Edward vi, who also died in his sixteenth year, as did Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur. All three were apparently healthy and then went down hill rapidly and unexpectedly. It can also account for a high number of miscarriages and still births or early infant deaths, but so can a lot of things and for me it remains and interesting but unproven theory in the cases above as we need their blood work, tissue samples and DNA to be certain. It is a tantalising theory, however, because it also fits with Henry’s patterns of decline in later life and the fact that from two fertile females he had two children who grew up, both girls. Henry wasn’t infertile as his wives conceived on a regular basis, despite Anne Boleyn’s slanderous remarks to the contrary. Henry did suffer from erectile dysfunction in later life, well passed his mid forties, but there is no evidence of it with his first three wives. There was a delay in Jane Seymour conceiving, but the cause is unknown and it is possible she may also have suffered a miscarriage. We don’t know how much more fertile she may have been as she herself died from the complications of child birth, but she had the good fortune of having a healthy son. Other than dangerous childhood fevers which could have killed him, but which he survived, which proves he was robust, there is no evidence Edward was a sickly child. Henry put on weight and a lot of it after his fall in 1536 and this alone as well as any complications it brings could account for his later lack of fertility. McLeod Syndrome is also a candidate, but remains only one of several theories.

    Why did I suggest poison? Well the suspicion against Anne Boleyn on the rumour mill after her trial was that she intended to poison Henry Fitzroy, Earl of Richmond and Princess Mary. Interestingly, this time the accusations come from the lips of Henry Viii himself. Henry was of course meant to be upset and he was obviously concerned that his son was close to Anne who he got on with and he needed to influence him against her. On the other hand Fitzroy was one of those who wrote to make a claim on the property of the men wrongly accused of adultery and treason with Anne before they were even tried. I don’t believe Anne did attempt to poison Fitzroy and Mary, but it was suggested around the time of his death. Henry was clearly trying to turn his son against his Queen, it was part of the black propaganda campaign which has haunted Anne Boleyn for over 500 years. However, as Fitzroy fell ill soon after he collapsed at his step mother’s execution, it wouldn’t surprise me that the rumour mill went to work. It was easy to obtain and use poison cheaply and several plants were poisonous, even in small doses. The death of the man who was on the brink of being named as heir in Parliament in July 1533 was alarming, but Anne is unlikely to have poisoned him and others may hardly have bothered either.

    Other causes of death are tuberculosis and pulmonary artery disease or even pneumonia. He could easily have become infected some months earlier, collapsed with weakness and shock and then declined. The mystery is, how soon did he become ill and did he present with any symptoms? His father certainly thought him well enough to consider naming him as heir before his death, which makes no sense if he had a long, lingering illness. The fact is in Tudor England many versions of things we have now were much worse and could kill quickly and efficiently, even previously healthy adults as young Fitzroy was becoming. His death was devastating to Henry and may even have been a factor in the changes which overtook him after 1536.

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