November 26 – Henry Fitzroy marries Mary Howard

Posted By on November 26, 2022

On this day in Tudor history, 26th November 1533, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, married Mary Howard at Hampton Court Palace.

Henry Fitzroy was King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son by his mistress Bessie Blount and Mary Howard was the daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. They were both fourteen years old at the time of their wedding and were not expected to consummate the marriage or live together.

It appears that the marriage, which was a political match rather than a love match, was the idea of Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Find out more about the marriage and its context…


On this day in Tudor history, 26th November 1533, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset married Mary Howard. Fitzroy was the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII by his mistress Elizabeth or Bessie Blount, and Mary was the daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. They were both fourteen years old.

This wedding at Hampton Court Palace 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.”

Let me tell you a bit more about this wedding and its context. This talk is based on an article I did for the Anne Boleyn Files site a few years ago.

By the way, a bit of trivia to begin with. Fitzroy means “son of the king”. It is a contraction of “fils de roi”, French for son of the king, and was traditionally given to illegitimate sons of the king.

Back to Fitzroy and Mary Howard…

Fitzroy’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. Fitzroy was descended from Elizabeth Woodville and Mary was descended from Elizabeth’s sister, Katherine, Duchess of Buckingham. 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.

In 1527, various girls were put forward as potential brides for Fitzroy, 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 Fitzroy 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”, 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 […]”

But, as Beverley Murphy points out, “the true architect of the arrangement seems to have been Anne Boleyn”. 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.” 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.” It obviously suited Anne for Fitzroy 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.”

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 Fitzroy 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, Fitzroy died in July 1536 at the age of just seventeen. Mary never remarried.

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