July 22 – The death of Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son

On this day in Tudor history, 22nd July 1536, Henry VIII’s son by his former mistress, Elizabeth Blount, died at St James’s Palace.

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, was just 17 years of age at his death, and the death of his only son was a huge blow to the king.

In the video and transcript below, I share details about Fitzroy’s illness, death and burial, and also just how much of a favourite he was with his father.


On this day in Tudor history, 22nd July 1536, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, King Henry VIII’s seventeen-year-old illegitimate son by his mistress Elizabeth or Bessie Blount, died at St James’s Palace.

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”, i.e. suffering from tuberculosis. Fitzroy had been well enough to attend the execution of his father’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, on the 19th May 1536, and also Parliament on 8th June 1536, but was taken ill in early July. His death must have been a huge blow for King Henry VIII, and also for Fitzroy’s wife of less than three years, Mary Howard, daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.

Charles Wriothesley records Fitzroy’s death in his chronicle:
“Also the twentieth two day of July, Henry, Duke of Somersett and Richmonde, and Earle of Northampton [actually Nottingham], and a base son of our sovereign King Henry the Eighth, born of my Lady Tailboys, that time called Elizabeth Blunt, departed out of this transitory life at the King’s place in Saint James, within the King’s Park at Westminster […] and he was buried at Thetforde in the countie of Norfolke.”

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, the Duke of Norfolk. His remains were later moved to St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, Suffolk, due to the dissolution of the priory. His wife, Mary, was buried with him there after her death in 1557.

Trivia: With his double dukedom, Fitzroy was the highest ranking peer in the country. He was also a Knight of the Garter, Lord High Admiral of England, Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Lord President of the Council of the North, Warden of the Marches and Chamberlain of Chester and North Wales. Phew!

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One thought on “July 22 – The death of Henry Fitzroy, Henry VIII’s illegitimate son”
  1. Maybe Henry’s superstitious mind told him that the almighty took his only remaining son for murdering his second queen on very flimsy charges indeed, yet although Henry V111 does inspire revulsion at the way he ordered Anne Boleyn’s execution and sent thousands of others to their deaths, we can spare some vestige of sympathy for this king who had lost so many children over the years, Henry Fitzroy it seems was borne out of a deep love his mother and father had for each other, their affair lasted several years and possibly only ended with her pregnancy, Henry was overjoyed at his birth and strengthened his belief that his first marriage was cursed, and Fitzroy was a son to be proud of, he is described as healthy and had a prowess for sports, but was not as studious as his father would have liked, his mother Bessie short for Elizabeth was said to be blonde and beautiful, a good dancer and very popular, he does not appear to have suffered from any dangerous childhood illnesses, only the usual mumps possibly chicken pox, and measles, usual childhood illnesses, his mother was married of to Gilbert Tailboys a courtier and brought up in their care at Tailboys residence, how he felt having to bring up the kings bastard we do not know, but the king would have made sure the family did not go unrewarded, he was married at fourteen to Anne Boleyn’s cousin Lady Mary Howard, her mother the Duchess of Norfolk who disliked Anne immensely argued against the match maybe thinking the boy was not good enough, but it went ahead and the young couple did not consummate their marriage being considered too young, however maybe they did sleep together eventually we do not know but no child was born, his illness seems to have come on suddenly, not a long drawn out one which is what often happens with consumption, TB as we call it today, the violent coughing accompanied by the bringing up blood extreme tiredness are the symptoms of TB and the royal physician’s had seen enough of this terrible disease to know when another victim was suffering from it, but within a month he was dead surely too swift to be this fatal illness which along with the plague was the scourge of the age? There is a theory that his uncle Prince Arthur died from TB and King Edward too also fell victim to it, but Arthur and Henry could have had something more sinister, King Edward caught measles or chicken pox which lowered his immunity so a year later, he could not fight of the disease which is now thought to have been TB, before a vaccine was discovered in the twentieth century many died all around the world of this terrible illness, the portrait of young Fitzroy is the only one we have of him, dressed in a simple linen shift and cap which appear to be nightwear, it could be his father commissioned this portrait knowing he was on the verge of death, he looks remarkably like the king with his long nose and small mouth, had he lived his nose would have developed into the Roman bump that Henry V111 had, and his half sister Elizabeth, there were rumours at one time that he was being moulded into kingship and the two dukedoms of Richmond and Somerset both royal dukedoms which belong to King Henry V11, were bestowed upon him, an act which upset Queen Katherine terribly, she had only given the king a daughter all her other babies had died, and so it must have been dreadful for her to know that another woman one of her own maids had succeeded where she had failed, wether Henry would have made his bastard son heir to his realm is something we will never know, since he met Anne Boleyn and decided to end his first marriage and get a son on his new love, then he annulled that marriage and made his second daughter a bastard like his first, so he now had three bastard offspring and no legitimate one, and in two months after Anne had her head struck of Fitzroy succumbed to death, so I agree 1526 was a most eventful year for Henry V111, Fitzroy left his young widow who never remarried, Henry left Mary’s father to the funeral arrangements possibly being too distraught to do it himself, but Fitzroy was the last child of his to precede him, years later Mary was buried beside him, how she felt about her husband is anyone’s guess, it was an arranged marriage but they could have been happy together, Fitzroy was said to have been of a sweet disposition and such people draws others to them, Lady Mary was a Howard and Firzroys body was moved to lie beside hers in the church at Framlingham near to the family seat, her brother the famous poet executed on the orders of Henry V111 is also there lying in his own magnificent tomb, RIP Lord Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset KG and holder of numerous other titles and offices.

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