Henry Fitzroy was Henry VIII’s illegitimate son by Bessie Blount. Born in 1519, the child had long been considered a possible heir to the throne – especially after 1525, when Henry created him Duke of Richmond and Somerset. The titles themselves were quite telling: Henry VII had been Earl of Richmond, and his mother Margaret Beaufort’s father had been Duke of Somerset. Passing these hereditary titles along to his son implied that Henry was considering passing an even more important one in the future. And truly, there seemed to be few other options at the time. Catherine of Aragon’s last pregnancy had occurred in 1518, by 1525 she was believed to be too old to conceive further children…what else was a son-less king to do?
Of course, we know that Henry came up with an alternate plan soon afterwards, when Anne Boleyn appeared on the scene. But when his new marriage failed to produce the promised son, the King took a new approach: he not only took a new wife, Jane Seymour, he also sought and received Parliamentary authority to name his own successor. On the one hand, that removed some of the pressure from Jane – but unfortunately, Fitzroy died only two months after her accession, leaving the King and the Kingdom still in desperate need of an heir.
Had he lived, Henry Fitzroy would have presented an interesting alternative history prospect. The boy was well-educated and self-confident (check out the thank-you letters he wrote his dad in 1527 and 1528, to see the enormous progression from when he was seven to when he was eight); he was also not strongly Catholic or strongly Reform. He was married to Mary Howard, daughter of the Duke of Norfolk (though the marriage was never consummated because of his age), so he would have the strength of the Howard clan behind him. Would Henry have chosen him over his legitimate son – so as to avoid leaving England in the hands of a nine-year old boy? Would he simply have succeeded Edward VI? Or would he have simply forever posed a threat due to his proximity to the throne? Interesting questions, I’d love to hear your answers!