November 26, 1533 – Henry FitzRoy Marries Mary Howard

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikipedia Commons)

Henry FitzRoy was the illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Elizabeth Blount. Mary Howard was the second daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and Anne Boleyn’s cousin. The marriage was an enormous coup for the Howard family.

There had been talk, when Henry VIII first began to consider divorcing Catherine of Aragon, to have FitzRoy marry his daughter Mary and thereby assure the future of the Tudor line. The Pope pushed for this solution as the perfect solution to Henry’s Great Matter, and offered to issue the required dispensation. It might even have worked, except that the King was in love with Anne Boleyn…

By November 1533, Anne Boleyn had become Queen of England. She had given birth to her daughter Elizabeth and a son was expected next. The marriage between the fifteen year old FitzRoy and the fourteen year old Mary Howard was a triumph for the Howard family, cementing their position as the premier English family. It also gave assurance that, one way or another, Howard blood would join in the royal line after Henry…

Unfortunately for the young couple, they were not allowed to consummate the marriage. The King was afraid that too much sexual activity had hastened his older brother Arthur’s death (remember – it was at the base of his annulment from Catherine that the two had consummated that marriage) and didn’t want to chance his own son. Thus, when FizRoy died of consumption in 1536 right after turning 17, Mary was not entitled to many of the lands she should have expected as the widow – because without the consummation, the marriage was not a true marriage (a trick Henry was to use again to rid himself of Anne of Cleves)(!).

But that is a story for later. For today, let us toast happiness to the newlyweds and to the still-triumphant Anne Boleyn….

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July 23, 1536 – Death of Henry Fitzroy

July 23, 1536 - Death of Henry FitzRoy, Henry VIII's illegitimate son - and backup plan for the succession. Read about it on

Henry Fitzroy, by Lucas Horenbout

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!


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January 31, 1528 – A Request From an Older Henry FitzRoy

Letter from an Eight-Year old Henry FitzRoy to Henry VIII. Read the letter on

Letter from an Eight-Year old Henry FitzRoy to Henry VIII

Two weeks ago, I shared the 1527 letter that Henry FitzRoy sent to thank Henry VIII for his Christmas (actually New Year’s) gift. Today, I am sharing the one that the young Duke penned only one year later.

He obviously worked very hard. Gone is the childish scrawl, the uneven lines. The eight year old FitzRoy had mastered italic script (though I’m told that if you look closely at the original, you can still make out the faint parallel guidelines he had drawn for the height of his letters) and had expanded his vocabulary (subject of course to the spelling liberalities of the day).

My favorite part of this letter: the self-confidence this boy exhibits. Presumably following just a couple of weeks after a thank you for his seasonal present, he’s asking for something new: a harness. At the time this letter was written, Henry had not yet started divorce proceedings. I still wonder whether Henry FitzRoy believed at this point that he might wiggle into the succession…and was perhaps preparing for the same.

In most humble and loyal wise, I beseech your highness of your daily blessing. In like wise, praying the same to be advertised  that I effectually give mine whole endeavor, mind, study and pleasure, to the diligent appliance of  all such sciences and feats of learning as by my most loving counsellors I am daily advertised to stand with your most high and gracious pleasure. Therefore making most humble and loyal intercession unto the same to remember me, your most humble and loyal servant, with an harness for my exercise in armys according to my learning in Julius Cesar. Trusting in God as speedily and profitably  to prosper in the same as your Grace shall perceive that I have done in all mine other learning. Whereof my right trusty and full entirely well beloved Mr. Magnus, director of my counsel, can make credible report. And thus the most glorious trinity have you my most [drad] and sovereign lord in this  most gracious tuition. At your Castle of Pontefract the last day of January. Your most loyal servant,

H. Richmond

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January 24, 1536 – Henry VIII’s Jousting Accident

January 24, 1536 - Henry VIII's Jousting Accident. Read about the life-changing event on

Henry VIII’s Armor

Today in history, Henry VIII, fully armored, was thrown from his horse in a joust. His horse, also fully armored, fell on top of him. Henry was unconscious for two hours after the fall, and people thought he had actually died or that his death was inevitable. Many historians see this as the incident that turned the King into the tyrant he was in his later years, for several reasons:

  • Doctors today theorize that Henry suffered a traumatic brain injury which profoundly affected his personality (National Geographic did a wonderful documentary about this called Inside the Body of Henry VIII).
  • Henry exacerbated the sore on his leg.  Painful unhealing ulcers plagued him the rest of his life, the pain often making him irascible and even more prone to rages.
  • His near-death experience is believed to have intensified his obsessive quest for a son. Had he in fact died, it is clear that the country would not look the same today. Although all of England had sworn the Oath of Succession that they would honor the rights of the Princess Elizabeth to the throne, she was not even three years years old and definitely not the right bet. Henry Fitzroy would have been the natural choice of the English people – he was a boy after all. And now that Mary was technically as illegitimate as he was, he would have the upper hand. But Charles V would have invaded to put his niece on the throne….and then rule in her name afterwards.  The scenario Henry feared, that England would become a province of Spain, would be all but inevitable. This, too, would have sealed Anne Boleyn’s fate when she “miscarried her savior” a few days later.

The irony of all this:  while technically in honor of St. Paul (staged on the eve of the anniversary of his conversion), the joust might have been planned as another way to celebrate of Catherine of Aragon’s death. We know there were archery tournaments and jousts that went on for days – this might well have been another unseemly display. Of course, the superstitious among us already point to the fact that Anne’s miscarriage occurred on the day of Catherine’s funeral. But I like to think she also got in a zinger at Henry…

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January 14, 1527 – A Thank You Letter from Henry FitzRoy to Henry VIII

FitzRoy Letter 1527

Original Letter from State Papers at the Public Record Office

In 1519, Bessie Blount gave Henry VIII his first son. While the boy was not legitimate, Henry was thrilled and, in his opinion, vindicated (if he could have sons outside of his marriage, it *must* be all Catherine’s fault) so he showered the boy with honors. The infant boy was named Henry after his father, and given the surname FitzRoy (from the French “fils du roi,” meaning son of the King) to trumped the parentage. In 1525, the boy was given his own residence in London (Durham House on the Strand) and created Duke of Richmond and Somerset.  The choice of duchies was quite interesting. The Earldom of Richmond had been held by Henry VII, while the Dukedom of Somerset had been held by John Beaufort, father to Henry VII’s mother Margaret Beaufort – and himself a royal bastard who had been legitimized following his parents’ adultery and subsequent marriage. Many people believed that Henry was grooming the young boy to succeed him instead of Mary….

In January 1527, the seven-year-old Duke penned a letter thanking his father for a New Year’s gift. The letter is written in a childish hand, you can see from the photo the effort it took the young boy. He seems to have had a good relationship with his father, it is interesting to consider whether he might indeed have succeeded his father if Anne Boleyn had not appeared on the scene…

After most humble and most loyal request and petition had unto your grace for your daily blessing, it yt the same, to be advertised, I have received your most honorable and goodly new years gift. And give unto your said grace most loyal thanks for the same, humbly beseeching your grace to accept and take this my letter penned with mine own hand for a poor token at this time. At your castle of pontefract, the 14th of January.

Your humble servant,

H. Richmond

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