Death of Henry FitzRoy

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On the 22nd of July 1536, Henry FitzRoy, the Duke of Richmond and Somerset, who was the only acknowledged illegitimate son of Henry VIII and his mistress, Elizabeth Blount, died at St James’s Palace. Born on the 15th of June 1519, he turned only seventeen over a month before his death.

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Charles Wriothesley (the author of “A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors, From A.D. 1485 to 1559”) recorded Henry FitzRoy’s death:

“Also the twentith tow daie of Julie, Henrie, Duke of Somersett and Richmonde, and Earle of Northampton [Nottingham], and a base sonne of our soveraigne King Henrie the Eight, borne of my Ladie Taylebuse, that tyme called Elizabeth Blunt, departed out of this transitory lief at the Kinges place in Sainct James, within the Kinges Parke at Westminster […] and he was buried at Thetforde in the countie of Norfolke.”

Most historians think that FitzRoy died of tuberculosis that is the most probable natural cause of his death. It seems that FitzRoy became sick some time before his death, although his biographer Beverley A. Murphy cites his documented public appearances and activities in April and May 1536, including his attendance at the execution of Anne Boleyn. Most likely, FitzRoy’s health was deteriorating slowly, but steadily, over a year and perhaps even longer.

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However, FitzRoy’s sudden death caused quite a stir at his father’s court: there was a persistent and groundless talk that the young duke might have been poisoned. According to some sources, when Anne Boleyn was arrested on the 2nd of May 1536, Henry VIII went to Henry FitzRoy and pulled his son into his arms, weeping and saying that the young man was lucky to escape being poisoned by Anne. But Anne had been dead for over two months by the time FitzRoy drew his last breath, and the theory of Anne’s implication in the Duke of Richmond’s poisoning is totally implausible.

Henry VIII was utterly devastated with the loss of Henry FitzRoy. I think the king’s grief was partly caused by a feeling of his personal failure as well: Henry was married to Jane Seymour, but Prince Edward wasn’t born yet, and at that time he didn’t have a male heir and any other surviving illegitimate son. The king’s bereavement was real, but it also had a selfish tinge to it as well.

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FitzRoy didn’t have a lavish funeral. Henry had left the burial arrangements to FitzRoy’s father-in-law, Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, and FitzRoy was quietly at Thetford Priory. His remains were later moved to St Michael’s Church, Framlingham, due to the dissolution of the priory; his wife, Mary Howard, was buried with him there after her death in 1557.