Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset

Henry FitzRoy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset (15 June 1519 23 July 1536), was the son of King Henry VIII of England and his mistress, Elizabeth Blount, and the only illegitimate offspring whom Henry VIII acknowledged. He was the younger half-brother of Queen Mary I, as well as the older half-brother of Queen Elizabeth I and King Edward VI. Through his mother he was the elder half-brother of the 4th Baroness Tailboys of Kyme and of the 2nd and 3rd Baron Tailboys of Kyme. He was named FitzRoy, which means "son of the king".

The Duke of Richmond and Somerset

Portrait miniature, at age 15
Lord High Admiral of England
In office
MonarchHenry VIII
Preceded byThe Duke of Norfolk
Succeeded byThe Earl of Southampton
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
In office
Preceded byThe Earl of Ossory
Succeeded byWilliam Skeffington
Personal details
Born15 June 1519
Blackmore, Essex
Died23 July 1536(1536-07-23) (aged 17)
Thetford, Norfolk
Resting placeFramlingham Church
Spouse(s)Lady Mary Howard
ParentsHenry VIII of England (father)
Elizabeth Blount (mother)


Henry FitzRoy was born in June 1519. His mother was Elizabeth Blount, Catherine of Aragon's lady-in-waiting, and his father was Henry VIII. FitzRoy was conceived when Queen Catherine was approaching her last confinement with another of Henry's children, a stillborn daughter born in November 1518. To avoid scandal, Blount was taken from the royal court to the Augustinian priory of St Lawrence at Blackmore near Ingatestone, in Essex.[1]

FitzRoy's birthdate is often given as 15 June 1519, but the exact date is not known.[2][3] His birth may have been earlier than predicted. Thomas Cardinal Wolsey was out of London from 9 to 18 June when he reappeared back at court in Windsor. The following day he was expected at Hampton Court, but he did not reappear at a council meeting at Westminster until 29 June. The policy of discretion worked, as the baby boy's arrival caused no great stir, and diplomatic dispatches record nothing of Henry VIII's illegitimate son.[4]


The christening of the newborn Henry FitzRoy was not recorded even though Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was his godfather and known to have been present at the event. This puts the date of the christening possibly before 29 June when he reappeared at court.[5] The identity of the other godfather is unknown, and although Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk would take a great interest in Henry FitzRoy when he was older, in 1519 he was still the heir to the Duchy of Norfolk, and styled the Earl of Surrey. If Henry had chosen the House of Howard, he would have chosen the elder Thomas Howard, who at the time was the 2nd Duke of Norfolk. This Thomas Howard had fought and defeated the Scots at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. Another suggestion for the second godfather could be Henry VIII himself: Henry had taken the role of godfather at the christening of his own nephew, Lord Henry Brandon in March 1516, and his daughter Princess Mary stood godmother to her half-brother Prince Edward in 1537.[6]


The infant boy was given the surname FitzRoy to make sure that all knew he was son of the King.[7] Henry VIII perhaps felt that his lack of a male heir was a slur upon his manhood; he certainly abandoned all discretion and openly acknowledged the boy.[8]

At one point he proudly exhibited his newborn son to the court.[9] This could have taken place when the Queen threw a sumptuous banquet at her manor of Havering-atte-Bower in honour of French hostages in August 1519. Alternatively, Henry might have showed his son off at a banquet in the recently refurbished manor of Newhall, Essex; this would accommodate the myth that Henry had been revamping it for the use of one of his mistresses.


The boy's upbringing until the moment when he entered Bridewell Palace in June 1525 (six years following his birth) remains shrouded in confusion. Although the boy was illegitimate, this did not mean that young Henry lived remotely from and had no contact with his father. On the contrary, it has been suggested by his biographer, Beverly Murphy, that a letter from a royal nurse implies that FitzRoy had also been part of the royal nursery, and he was often at court after 1530.[10] The boy was born in the sixteenth century, and at that time households were in a state of constant movement and transition, so it is unlikely that FitzRoy grew up in any one house. He was most likely transferred from household to household around London like his royal siblings: Mary, Elizabeth and Edward. In 1519 the only surviving legitimate child of the King was the three-year-old Princess Mary. In that year her household was reorganised, suggesting that Henry made some provisions for his only son. Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury replaced Lady Margaret Bryan as lady Mistress of Mary's household. At the same time at least two of Mary's carers appear to have left her service.

In addition, the correspondence of the child's first known tutor makes it clear that FitzRoy also received some rudimentary education prior to his elevation to the peerage in 1525. John Palsgrave grumbled loudly that Henry had been taught to recite his prayers in a "barbarous" Latin accent and dismissed the man who had instructed him as "no clerk". It is not impossible that Princess Mary's household could have been reorganised some time before her former servants found posts with Henry FitzRoy.[11] Although he was more well known from 1525 and onwards, there is some evidence that he was already in receipt of royal favour even before his ennoblement; this comes from a surviving list of "Wardrobe stuff appointed for my lord Henry". The "Lord Henry" in question is not identified but given that the subject was not considered to require a title and that the list has survived with further documents relating to the household established for Henry FitzRoy after his ennoblement, it would seem reasonable to assume that it is Henry FitzRoy. The familiar way in which he is described as "My Lord Henry" is also interesting and suggests that, amongst the officers close to the King, at least, his existence was hardly a secret.[12] Alternatively, he may have been raised in the north with his mother and her husband Gilbert Tailboys, 1st Baron Tailboys of Kyme, and their children.


By 1525, the Tudor dynasty had been on the throne for 40 years. It had strong government, an end to the Wars of the Roses, and a beloved king on the throne. However, cracks were beginning to appear. By the sixteenth year of Henry's reign, he was a 34-year-old man still in his prime; however, he lacked a male heir with his 40-year-old wife Catherine of Aragon. Their only surviving child and heiress was Princess Mary, who at the time was a girl of nine. To make matters worse, Henry had no surviving younger brother nor any close male relations from his father's family. Henry of course had another child, an illegitimate one, and even better the child was a sturdy six-year-old son. Although Henry may have had other illegitimate children, Henry FitzRoy was the only acknowledged bastard. Also, he was never overshadowed by legitimate siblings, as after 10 years of marriage, Henry could boast only a single living daughter. Equally significant, Henry VIII was also the only surviving son of Henry VII. He was not overshadowed by male relations who could be called up to share the burden of government in the King's name.[13] As Henry and Catherine's marriage remained without a son, the king's only living son became more attractive for onlookers to observe.[14] The King's chief minister at the time was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, and since Henry FitzRoy's birth he had taken an interest in his monarch's only son. In a correspondence from June 1525 the Cardinal makes sure to ask for the King's son: "Your entirely beloved sonne, the Lord Henry FitzRoy". In 1525, before he was to turn six, FitzRoy was given his own residence in London, which he was granted by his father: Durham House on the Strand.[15] The boy had been brought up in remarkable style and comfort, almost as if he were a prince of the blood and not an acknowledged royal bastard.

Since his birth FitzRoy had remained in the background; such discretion over his son may not have been to the King's taste, and he may have felt his manhood and virility should be publicly vindicated, but he fully made up for his son's quiet birth and equally quiet christening when on 18 June 1525 the six-year-old boy was brought to Bridewell Palace on the western edge of the city of London where honours were showered upon him. That morning of the 18th, the six-year-old Lord Henry FitzRoy travelled by barge from Wolsey's mansion of Durham Place, near Charing Cross, down the River Thames. He came in the company of a host of knights, squires, and other gentlemen. At 9am his barge pulled up at the Watergate and his party made their way through the palace to the king's lodgings on the south side of the second floor. The rooms were richly decorated, with various members of court and the nobility coming to see FitzRoy's elevation. Among them were numerous bishops, as well as Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and the King's brother-in-law, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. During the first ceremony, when he was created Earl of Nottingham, FitzRoy was attended by Henry Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland, who carried the sword of state, along with John de Vere, 14th Earl of Oxford, and William FitzAlan, 18th Earl of Arundel. Six-year old Henry knelt before his father as Sir Thomas More read out the patents of nobility. It was the first time since the 12th century that an illegitimate son was raised to the peerage, when Henry II, King of England had created his son William Earl of Salisbury. However, the ceremony was not complete. The onlookers watched as the young Lord Nottingham re-emerged into the chamber. The Earl of Northumberland carried the robes; behind him came Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset, carrying the sword; the Earl of Arundel, carrying the cap of estate with a circlet; and the Earl of Oxford with a rod of gold. Once again young Henry FitzRoy knelt before his father, and as the patent was read he was invested with the trappings of a duke. This time when he rose to his feet he was Duke of Richmond and Somerset.

To be a duke was a significant honour. It was the highest rank of the peerage, and the title, originally devised by Edward III, King of England for his son Edward, Prince of Wales as the Duke of Cornwall, retained its royal aura. The former Henry FitzRoy was subsequently referred to in all formal correspondence as the “right high and noble prince Henry, Duke of Richmond and Somerset”. As if to compound this sense of royal dignity and endow the child with as much respectability as possible, Henry VIII had granted his son the unprecedented honour of a double dukedom. While he is mostly known as Richmond, some pains were taken to see that he bore both titles in equal weight. The bulk of Richmond's new lands came from Margaret Beaufort’s estate. These were lands which were the rightful inheritance of King Henry VII when he was Earl of Richmond and the lands which had belonged to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, the father of Margaret Beaufort. The use of the Duchy of Somerset must have struck a chord among the courtiers, as it was well known that the Beauforts' eldest child was John Somerset, a royal bastard who had been legitimised following his parent’s adultery and then marriage. A part of the Beaufort connection to the Somerset duchy, the title of Duke of Richmond was important as the earldom of Richmond had been held by his grandfather King Henry VII and by his great-grandfather Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond. The earldom of Nottingham had been held by Richmond’s great uncle Prince Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, the second son of Edward IV. Seeing Henry’s obvious pride and affection for his sturdy little son, many of those who witnessed Richmond’s elevation must have wondered if this was what the King had in mind.[16] To support his new status, Henry granted his young son an annuity of £4,845.[17] Following the ceremony, what took place was a “great feasts and disguising”. Henry wished to celebrate his six-year-old son with customary extravagance. It is unknown if Elizabeth Blount was present, but it is certain that the new duke's stepfather Gilbert Tailboys, 1st Baron Tailboys of Kyme was present and must have given her an eyewitness account.

It was a proud day for Henry, and for his former mistress Elizabeth; however, the ceremony did nothing to spare the Queen's feelings. She knew she had failed to give England a prince and was anxious about her own daughter's prospects. In a private letter the Venetian ambassador wrote: "It seems that the Queen resents the earldom and dukedom conferred on the King’s natural son and remains dissatisfied. At the instigation it is said of her three Spanish ladies her chief counsellors, so that the King has dismissed them from court, a strong measure but the Queen was obliged to submit and have patience".[18]

Also at Richmond's elevation was Sir Henry Courtenay, his father's cousin through Catherine of York, the younger sister of Elizabeth of York. He was raised from being merely the Earl of Devon to be the Marquess of Exeter. Sir Thomas Manners, a great nephew of Edward IV through his sister Anne of York was made the earl of Rutland. Henry Clifford was made the new Earl of Cumberland and would cement his ties to the Tudor dynasty by marrying his son and heir, Lord Henry Clifford, to Richmond's cousin, lady Eleanor Brandon, the King's niece. Richmond's ceremony was by far most spectacular but it was also a public relations display, as the last militant sprig of the Yorkist faction, Richard de la Pole, was dead since the Battle of Pavia. The young Henry Brandon became the new Earl of Lincoln, a title which had once belonged to the de la Pole family.

Crown Offices

In that same year (1525), Richmond, as he came to be known, was granted several other appointments, including Lord High Admiral of England, Lord President of the Council of the North, and Warden of the Marches towards Scotland and Governor of Carlisle, the effect of which was to place the government of the north of England in his hands.[19] He held the titles in name only, the power was actually in the hands of a council dominated by Thomas Magnus, Archdeacon of the East Riding.

The young Duke was raised like a Prince at Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire. His father had a particular fondness for him and took great interest in his upbringing. In February 1527, Thomas Magnus told the young Duke that James V of Scotland had asked for hunting dogs. FitzRoy sent the Scottish king 20 hunting hounds and a huntsman.[20]

Kingdom of Ireland

On 22 June 1529 Richmond was made Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and there was a plan to crown him king of that country, though the King's counsellors feared that making a separate Kingdom of Ireland whose ruler was not that of England would create another threat similar to the Kingdom of Scotland. After Richmond's death, the Crown of Ireland Act 1542 established a personal union between the English and Irish crowns, providing that whoever was King of England was to be King of Ireland as well. King Henry VIII of England was proclaimed this first holder.[21]


When Henry VIII began the process of having his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled, it was suggested that FitzRoy marry his own half-sister Mary in order to prevent the annulment and strengthen FitzRoy's claim to the throne. Anxious to prevent the annulment and Henry's eventual break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope was even prepared to grant a special dispensation for their marriage.[22][23][24][25]

At age 14, on 28 November 1533 the Duke instead married Lady Mary Howard, the only daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk.[26] He was on excellent terms with his brother-in-law, the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. The marriage was never consummated.[27]

Possible heir to the throne

At the time of Richmond's death an Act was going through Parliament which disinherited Henry's daughter Elizabeth as his heir and permitted the King to designate his successor, whether legitimate or not. There is no evidence that Henry intended to proclaim Richmond his heir, but in theory the Act would have permitted him to do so if he wished.[28] The Imperial ambassador Eustace Chapuys wrote to Charles V on 8 July 1536 that Henry VIII had made a statute allowing him to nominate a successor, but thought the Duke of Richmond would not succeed to the throne by it, as he was consumptive and now diagnosed incurable.[29]


The Duke's promising career came to an abrupt end in July 1536. According to the chronicler Charles Wriothesley, Richmond became sickly some time before he died, although Richmond's biographer Beverley A. Murphy cites his documented public appearances and activities in April and May of that year, without exciting comment on his health, as evidence to the contrary.[30] He was reported ill with "consumption" (usually identified as tuberculosis, but possibly another serious lung complaint) in early July, and died at St. James's Palace on 23 July 1536.

Norfolk gave orders that the body be wrapped in lead then taken in a closed cart for secret interment. However, his servants put the body in a straw-filled wagon. The only mourners were two attendants who followed at a distance. The Duke's ornate tomb is in Framlingham Church, Suffolk. One of the houses at the local high school is named after him.

His father outlived him by just over a decade, and was succeeded by his legitimate son Edward, born shortly after FitzRoy's death. Most historians maintain that Edward, like Henry FitzRoy, died of tuberculosis. It is said that Henry FitzRoy might have been made king had Henry VIII died without a legitimate son:

Well was it for them[31] that Henry Fitzroy his natural son ... was dead, otherwise (some suspect) had he survived King Edward the Sixth, we might presently have heard of a King Henry the Ninth, so great was his father's affection and so unlimited his power to prefer him.

Thomas Fuller[32]

Family tree


  1. Hutchinson, Robert, House of treason: rise and fall of a Tudor dynasty (London, 2009), pg. 58.
  2. Hutchinson, Robert (2012). "Dramatis Personae". Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII. Macmillan. p. 262. ISBN 1250012740. Retrieved 21 November 2013.
  3. Murphy, Beverley, The bastard prince: Henry VIII’s lost son (Stroud, 2004) pg. 25.
  4. Murphy, Beverley, The bastard prince: Henry VIII’s lost son (Stroud, 2004) pg. 25.
  5. Lipscomb, Suzannah, 1536: The year that changed Henry VIII (London, 2009) pg. 90.
  6. Norton, Elizabeth, Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII (Stroud, 2011) pg. 137.
  7. "FitzRoy" means "Son of the king" or "Son of a king" in Anglo-Norman (cf. article Fitz)
  8. Weir, Alison, Henry VIII: king and court (London, 2002) pg. 220.
  9. Mattingly, Garrett, Catherine of Aragon, pg. 145.
  10. Lipscomb, Suzannah, 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII, p. 91.
  11. Norton, Elizabeth, Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII, p. 121.
  12. Norton, Elizabeth, Bessie Blount: Mistress to Henry VIII, p. 181.
  13. Murphy, Beverley, The bastard prince: Henry VIII’s lost son, pg. 34.
  14. Murphy, Beverley, The bastard prince: Henry VIII’s lost son, pg. 35.
  15. Jones, Philippa, The other Tudors, pg. 80.
  16. Murphy, Beverley, The bastard prince: Henry VIII’s lost son, pg. 39.
  17. Hutchinson, Robert, A Tudor dynasty: The rise and fall of the house of Howard, pg. 59.
  18. Murphy, Beverley, The bastard prince: Henry VIII’s lost son, pg. 45.
  19. Murphy 2001, 61
  20. State Papers Henry VIII, vol. 4 part 4 (1836), 464–5, Magnus to Wolsey 14 February 1527.
  21. Scarisbrick, J. J., English Monarchs: Henry VIII, University of California Press
  22. Weir, Alison (2000). The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3683-4.
  23. Lacey, Robert (1974). The life and times of Henry VIII. Praeger.
  24. Tjernagel, Neelak Serawlook (1965). Henry VIII and the Lutherans: a study in Anglo-Lutheran relations from 1521 to 1547. Concordia Pub. House.
  25. Elton, Geoffrey Rudolph (1991). England under the Tudors, Volume 4. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-06533-X.
  26. Cawley, Charles (3 June 2011), English Earls 1067-1122, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  27. Cawley, Charles (3 June 2011), English Kings, Medieval Lands database, Foundation for Medieval Genealogy,
  28. Murphy,172–174
  29. Gairdner, James, ed., Letters and Papers Foreign and Domestic Henry VIII, vol. 11 (1911), no. 40 & preface
  30. Murphy, 174
  31. I.e. Mary and Elizabeth, Henry VIII's daughters.
  32. Thomas Fuller, The Church History of Britain, III, 232, cited in Murphy, 243.
  33. Jones, Philippa., The Other Tudors (London, 2009) Pg. 77
Political offices
Preceded by
The Duke of Norfolk
Lord High Admiral
Succeeded by
The Earl of Southampton
Preceded by
The Earl of Ossory
as Lord Deputy
Lord Lieutenant of Ireland
Succeeded by
William Skeffington
as Lord Deputy
Preceded by
Viscount Rochford
Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Cheney
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