Henry VIII adored his illegitimate son Henry FitzRoy – the living proof that his failure to father an heir was not his own fault. People often question why the boy was not given these titles upon his birth in 1519, why he had to wait for six years. Standard practice in the Tudor era offers a partial explanation: it was typically around six that Tudor boys “left the women” who raised them to begin their formal educations (it worked this way for the future Edward VI as well). Many also believe that Henry wanted to make sure that the boy would actually live before starting trouble. Because trouble it was: FitzRoy’s elevation was a sign that Henry was starting to consider alternatives to the succession – after all, in 1525 Catherine was 40 years old, and her last pregnancy had ended seven years before.
The “alternatives” theory gains strength from the double dukedom (which itself smacks of royalty) and from the titles chosen. Richmond was the first, therefore more important. What I mean by this is that when people referred to each other back then, they used their titles as their names. Therefore Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was Thomas Norfolk and Henry Fitzroy became Henry Richmond – indeed, that’s how he signed his letters to his dad (here is a link to one that I’ve posted before – it will take you to a second one if you want to go down that rabbit hole!). The Richmond title was closely associated with the Tudors: Henry VII was Earl of Richmond before he came to the throne – that was a pretty telling narrative right there. But Henry doubled down on the family connection: his grandmother Margaret Beaufort was the daughter of the Duke of Somerset. And the Somerset title hinted at something more: John Beaufort Somerset was a royal bastard who had been legitimized following his parent’s adultery and then marriage…
In the end, whatever plan Henry may have had was abandoned when Anne Boleyn arrived at court (good thing, since FitzRoy/Richmond died in 1536). But there is one more interesting thing that hits me : Edward Seymour chose to become Duke of Somerset after Henry died. The Somerset title was a great choice to highlight the familial connection between Edward and the Tudors – certainly better than the “Richmond” that had become associated with FitzRoy. But in light of the way some of the older nobility saw Edward as an upstart, was the Somerset association to legitimization a bit of an “in your face”? Probably not, but a fun idea to consider….
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