Henry Fitzroy was born in June, 1519 at the priory of St Lawrence in Blackmore, Essex, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII and Elizabeth Blount. His mother, who had been a lady in waiting to Queen Catherine of Aragon, later married Gilbert Tailboys of Lincolnshire, and the king (through an act of parliament) assigned several manors and properties to her for life, both in Lincolnshire and in Yorkshire.
Henry's godfather was Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who is thought to have been the person to name the boy after his royal father. Henry VIII openly acknowledged his natural son and boasted frequently of him at court, but it was to Cardinal Wolsey that the boy's early care was entrusted.
It was customary at that time for a boy, when he reached his sixth birthday, to no longer be under the care of womenfolk but to have his education from that point on be overseen by his father. On 18 June 1525, the month that young Henry celebrated his sixth birthday, he was taken to Durham House on the Strand, one of Cardinal Wolsey's residences, and from there on a ceremonial barge, accompanied by a host of knights and other court officials, to Bridewell Palace. There the six year old boy was dressed in elaborate robes and, preceded by trumpeters, the eight Heralds of the College of Arms, and the Garter herald, was ushered into a chamber packed with nobles, his godfather, and the king. Henry Fitzroy was formally created earl of Nottingham, and immediately afterward in a separate ceremony created Duke of Richmond and Somerset. Because there were only two dukes in England at that time, the double dukedom made him the highest ranking peer in the country with the exception of the king.
Not since the twelfth century, when Henry II made William Longsword the earl of Salisbury, had a king of England raised his illegitimate son to the peerage. The dukedom of Somerset was also a significant choice on the king's part that was not lost on his audience. John Beaufort, who was created the earl of Somerset in 1397, had been a royal bastard who was subsequently legitimated. Young Henry's elevation to the peerage was an occasion of great celebration...."the Heralds' reports all testify to the splendour and gravity of the occasion. The ceremonies were followed by 'great feasts and disguisings'."
Prior to his elevation to the peerage, Henry Fitzroy had been elected on 7 June 1527 to the Knights of the Garter, and his installation was held in a separate ceremony on 25 June of that year. He was elected into the third stall on the princes' side, formally occupied by Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, who moved down to make a place for him. This position placed Henry Fitzroy second only to actual royalty (the king, Charles V, and Francis I). As duke of Richmond and Somerset he was given lands whose revenues were in excess of £4000 per annum. The following month he also became lord admiral of England.
Six year old Henry was then established in his own household, which was furnished lavishly and which included a staff of 245 attendants to care for the young boy and ensure his home ran smoothly. Many of these people remained in his service until his death.
Most of Henry's adolescence was spent in Yorkshire at either Sheriff Hutton or Pontefract, where he had residences. His two primary tutors were among the most reknown scholars in England at that time, and he studied Latin, Greek, and French in addition to history and the art of warfare. He preferred outdoor sports to his studies, however, riding and hunting every day. He became quite proficient at archery and excelled on the tennis court. In spite of his youth, he was often consulted on matters regarding his dukedom and, although he had advisors to conduct the business of the estate, they always considered the young duke's opinion.
On 22 June 1529 Richmond became Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and was nearly despatched to that country with an army of 600 men to quell the unrest there and (rumors abounded) become the king of Ireland. The Duke of Norfolk intervened in these plans, however, convincing the king that the situation in Ireland was too precarious and would be significantly dangerous for the young boy. Instead Sir William Skeffington was appointed as Richmond's deputy, and sent with an army to Ireland to govern there in his stead.
On 9 August 1529 Henry was summoned to the first parliament called since his elevation to the peerage. He was ten years old, and "...dressed in robes of crimson velvet edged with ermine and laced with gold...topped with a large scarlet and ermine cap, [Henry] was sandwiched between the bulk of the king and the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk as they processed to Westminster Abbey, returning to sit in the White Chamber of the Palace of Westminster along with the other two dukes, on the left hand of the throne." What is even more remarkable is that he sat there thoughout the entire session, not once looking bored or figeting.
In October 1529 Thomas Wolsey was accused of deliberately slowing the process of the king's divorce from Queen Catherine and stripped of his government office and properties. Responsibility for the oversight and care of Richmond was given to Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk.
By the age of fourteen Henry was often present at court and officially deputizing for his father on state occasions. The French ambassador, John Joachim, described him as "a most handsome, urbane, and learned young gentleman, very dear to the king on account of his figure, discretion, and good manners." Because he spoke fluent French, he was often called upon to attend meetings with the French delegation in his father's stead.
In 1532 he had accompanied the king to Calais, where his father introduced him to Francois I. Following this meeting, in company with one of his best friends, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, he spent the winter in Paris as a guest of the dauphin and was made a member of the french king's privy chamber. At this time, many of his contemporaries believed that Richmond would eventually be crowned king of Ireland and, possibly, become legitimized as his father's successor to the throne of England.During his entire lifetime, he was the king's only son (Prince Edward was not even conceived until after Richmond's death). He enjoyed an honor (being elected a Knight of the Garter) that was not even given to Henry VIII's legitimate son during the king's lifetime. The king loved him and was proud of his accomplishments, often referring to him as "my most beloved son." Richmond, even when he was still a young child living in Yorkshire, maintained a regular correspondence with his father and they always exchanged birthday and holiday gifts.
In the beginning, the king had believed that siring such an intelligent, attractive, and 'sturdy' son was proof that, given time, he would be able to father an equally wonderful legitimate heir. However, that belief was beginning to waiver. Anne Boleyn had reason to fear that, if she could not produce a son for the king, Richmond might well find himself on the throne rather than her own daughter. Near the end of his sojourn in France, in July 1533, Richmond came close to being fatally poisoned and suspicion fell on George Boleyn, Anne's brother. Richmond returned to his rooms one night and noticed a glass of wine, which he shared with his friend Surrey. Both of them became violently ill afterward, and it was determined that, if he had consumed the entire glass himself, Richmond probably would not have survived. George Boleyn left France so precipitately after this incident that he forgot to take any of his clothing, or any of his servants, with him.
The following month, on 25 August 1533, Richmond and Surrey were both recalled to England and Richmond's marriage to the youngest daughter of Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk, was arranged.
By dispensation dated 28 November 1533 (a papal dispensation was necessary because they shared the same great-great-grandmother) Henry Fitzroy, duke of Richmond and Somerset married Mary Howard at Hampton Court Palace. She was the daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and Elizabeth Stafford, and the sister of Richmond's best friend, Henry Howard, earl of Surrey. Both Richmond and his bride were fourteen years old. As was customary at that time, when minors became legally married they often did not cohabit until it was agreed that they had both reached a suitable age. Mary, who was reputed to be both beautiful and accomplished, returned to her duties as a member of the Queen's household, and Richmond continued to live at Windsor. It was expected that his presence would be required once more in Ireland, but that trip was never made. Instead he continued to carry out assignments from his father at court, where he doubtless found opportunities to further his acquaintance with his new wife.
On 17 May 1534 Richmond became a lieutenant in the Order of the Garter; in November of that year he hosted a feast in honor of the French admiral; and the following February he entertained the imperial ambassador. In May 1535 he witnessed the execution of the Carthusian monks as his father's representative, and in May 1536 the king required him to also witness the execution of Anne Boleyn.
Richmond's own death only two months later was a stunning turn of events.
In May 1536 Richmond was appointed chamberlain of Chester and north Wales, lord warden of the Cinque Ports, and constable of Dover Castle. This was an indication not only of the king's approval, but that Richmond appeared to be in good health. He had so far escaped even mild childhood illnesses. He appeared at the opening of parliament on 8 June 1536 and did not seem to be suffering from ill health. By 8 July, however, rumors began to surface that Richmond was seriously ill. Two weeks later, on 23 July, he was dead, presumably of a pulmonary infection, at St James's Palace. There was no autopsy done and most historians attribute his death to consumption or tuberculosis. Although the plague was common throughout London at this time, none of Richmond's other household members became ill. Poison has also been suggested but is impossible to prove. It is not scientifically significant but is interesting to note that although Elizabeth Blount had four healthy daughters, each of her other two sons died of tuberculosis in their teenage years.
The king's reaction to his son's death was not recorded. Only a few weeks earlier, parliament had passed an act which, for the first time, did not confine the succession to legitimate heirs but allowed the king to designate his own successor, whomever that might be. Now his only son was dead, and in the course of annuling his marriages he had made his daughters illigitimate. In his grief, Henry instructed the duke of Norfolk to bury Richmond as quietly as possible.
The duke of Richmond and Somerset was secretly carried, eight days after his death, in a wagon covered with straw, to the Thetford Priory in Norfolk, the traditional burial place for the Howard family. His only companions on this journey were two individuals dressed in green who walked some distance behind the wagon: they were George and Richard Cotton, the governor and the comptroller of Richmond's household, and they were not allowed even to wear the duke's colors on this occasion. Only three other mourners attended the funeral service at the priory....Mary, the duchess of Richmond and Somerset (his wife), Henry, earl of Surrey (Mary's brother and Richmond's good friend), and the duke of Norfolk (Mary's father). The following week, the king regretted his impetuous decision and in a fit of temper threatened to have the duke of Norfolk thrown into the Tower for not giving Richmond an honorable funeral.
Upon the dissolution of the priory at Thetford, Richmond's tomb and remains were removed, and he was interred in St Michaels Church at Framlingham, Suffolk. Mary retired to her father's house at Kenninghall. Richmond had been too young to draw up a valid will and make provision for her.. Although her marriage contract provided for a widow's jointure of £1000 per annum the king, who was loathe to pay it, claimed that the couple had not really been married because the marriage was never consummated. Despite the court's ruling in Mary's favor, the king did not grant her any money until 1538 and she was forced to sell all of her jewelry to pay for living expenses. She never remarried and at her death in 1555 she was buried beside her husband in St Michaels Church at Framlingham.
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