On July 23, 1536, Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, died after a brief illness. He was only 17 years old, and his death came as a massive blow to his father, who was left without a male heir.
Henry Fitzroy was born in 1519. His mother was Elizabeth Blount, a lady-in-waiting in the court of Catherine of Aragon, and his father was none other than King Henry VIII. The baby boy was named Henry after his royal parent, and was given the surname Fitzroy, meaning “son of the King”.
Although the King took many mistresses with whom he had many illegitimate children, Henry Fitzroy was the only one who was officially acknowledged. Despite her six pregnancies, Queen Catherine had only given birth to one surviving child, a daughter, Princess Mary. For the King, the birth of Henry Fitzroy showed the world his ability to sire boys, and he proudly showed off his infant son to the court.
When he was six years old, Henry Fitzroy entered Bridewell Palace, where he is believed to have been a part of the royal nursery. A short while later, he was given Durham House as his own residence in London. This marked the beginning of Henry’s elevation in court. The boy was soon created Earl of Nottingham, making it the first time since the 12th century that an illegitimate son of a King was raised to the peerage. In an elaborate ceremony, he was also made Duke of Richmond and Somerset.
In the years that followed, Lord Richmond, as he was now known, was granted a number of appointments, including Lord High Admiral of England. He received an annual income of £4,845 from the King, and moved to Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire.
By this time, King Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon had begun to deteriorate, and it become unlikely that they would have any more children. The King had no legitimate male heir to succeed him, and so it was suggested that Henry Fitzroy marry his half-sister, Princess Mary, to strengthen his own claim to the throne. However, the plan never materialised, and Henry married Lady Mary Howard, the daughter of the Duke of Norfolk in 1533. The marriage was never consummated, and Lady Mary never remarried after her husband’s death.
In the same year, the King had also married his second wife, Anne Boleyn, who he hoped could provide him with a legitimate male heir. However, Queen Anne failed to do so and was executed in May 1536. After Anne’s death, an Act was passed in Parliament to exclude her only daughter, Princess Elizabeth, from the line of succession. At this point, it was thought by many that the King would proclaim Fitzroy as his heir, despite the fact that he was illegitimate. However, before any decisions could be taken, Henry Fitzroy was diagnosed with consumption, and died at St. James’ Palace.
With this death, King Henry lost a potential heir to the throne; besides, he had a great deal of affection for the boy who had been his only son for 17 years. However, he didn’t mourn for long – his legitimate son, Prince Edward, was born a little over a year later. Prince Edward would succeed his father as King Edward VI. Like Henry Fitzroy, Edward too died of a respiratory illness when he was 15, and was succeeded by his older half-sister, Mary.