|Henry VIII (L), Pope Leo X (C) & Charles V (R)|
Birth of a Bastard
Henry VIII, king of England, had never been sexually continent, so it can have been no surprise to anyone when, in 1514, he took up with Bessie Blount, daughter of Sir John Blount of Kinlet, Shropshire. Bessie was a distant relative of the Queen’s Chamberlain, Lord Mountjoy[i]. In the autumn of that year one Fray Diego was complaining of Henry having ‘badly used’ Katherine of Aragon. News of Henry’s dalliance with Bessie had clearly been broadcast.
Bessie joined the Tudor court in 1512 at the age of 12. She received the sum of 100s per annum[ii] as one of the Queen’s household. By Michaelmas Bessie had been raised to be one of Katherine’s maids of honour and her salary was doubled. It was not surprising that the young Bessie should be swept away by a man described by the Venetian Ambassador as;
‘The handsomest potentate I ever set eyes on: above the usual height with an extremely fine calf to his leg, his complexion fair and bright and his auburn hair combed straight….a round face so very beautiful that it would become a pretty woman.’[iii]
|St Lawrence Priory church|
The affair continued for at least five years, but well out of sight of Katherine’s eyes. Bessie shared with Henry a love of singing, dancing and ‘goodly’ pastimes. In 1519 Bessie disappeared from court for several months; Henry arranged for Bessie to stay at Jericho[iv], a house he leased from St Lawrence Priory in Blackmore[v], Essex. Henry maintained a private suite in the house where he entertained female friends.
Henry visited Bessie a number of times during her stay and was overjoyed when she produced him a son, who was named Henry after his father. Henry Fitzroy was born on 15th June 1519. The affair finished with the birth of her son, but Henry had Cardinal Wolsey arrange for Bessie to marry Gilbert Tailboys Baron Tailboys of Kyme. The marriage took place no later than June 1520[vi].
A Short Childhood
With his red hair and wilful Tudor personality Fitzroy was clearly the king’s son; he was called Lord Henry Fitzroy. Wolsey stood as godfather to the baby at his christening, Fitzroy having been openly and proudly acknowledged by the king. As godfather, honouring the tradition of New Year gifts, in January 1525 Wolsey gave Fitzroy a gold collar with a hanging pearl worth £6 18s 8d[vii]. Bessie gave Fitzroy presents from time to time including two horses and a doublet of white satin.
In 1519 it is possible that Margaret Bryan, formerly Mistress of Princess Mary’s household, was made responsible for Fitzroy, following the reorganisation of Princess Mary’ household. Henry himself was an affectionate father who took an active interest in Fitzroy’s welfare. Henry declared that;
‘[Fitzroy] is my jewel.’[viii]
Henry was becoming desperate for a male heir; Katherine had born Princess Mary in February 1516, but had given birth to no living child since[ix]. Now that the queen was pronounced to be beyond her child bearing years Henry panicked. He already had a son who looked very much like him and Henry now debated whether to have Fitzroy named legitimate and/or to wed him to his half-sister Mary. Even the pope was prepared to grant a dispensation so that the two children could marry.
Henry may have made the decision to elevate Fitzroy to the nobility after Charles V[x], Holy Roman Emperor, broke off his engagement with Princess Mary earlier in the June of that year[xi]. However a letter from Wolsey in May refers to preparations for the ceremony which would imply that plans for Fitzroy’s elevation had been in train for some time previously.
A Noble Prince
On 18th June 1525, at the age of six, at a ceremony at the Palace of Bridewell and in the presence of his father and assembled peerage, young Henry Fitzroy was made Earl of Nottingham, Duke of Richmond and Somerset[xii]. Henceforth Fitzroy was to be referred to in all formal correspondence as the ‘right high and noble prince Henry, Duke of Richmond and Somerset’.
On 25th June Fitzroy was inducted into the Order of the Garter and on 16th July was made Lord High Admiral[xiii] and Warden General of the Marshes. In addition he was made Captain of the Town and Castle of Berwick upon Tweed and Keeper of the City and Castle of Carlisle. By the time Fitzroy was elevated to the peerage he was living at Wolsey’s mansion at Durham Place[xiv]. Fitzroy was generally considered to be;
‘Very personable and of great expectation, insomuch that he was thought of not only for the ability of body but mind to be one of the rarest of his time.’[xv]
It is not known where Fitzroy spent the first six years of his life, possibly living with his mother or there is some suggestion that he was incorporated into the royal nursery. From now on Fitzroy was to be;
‘Well brought up like a prince’s child….[and] furnished to keep the state of a great prince.’[xvi]
In addition to all Richmond’s noble titles, Bessie and her husband received gifts; Gilbert was made Bailiff and Keeper of Tattershall Castle and was raised to the rank of Knight. To the Tudor court the implication was obvious; if Henry could not get a boy by Katherine he would put his illegitimate son on the throne after him. The queen was deeply offended by Fitzroy’s ennoblement and could not hide her disapproval, considering that Henry’s actions were a snub to her.
From Stoke Newington
|Henry Fitzroy's arms|
On 26th July 1525 Fitzroy began his journey north from Stoke Newington along with the 245 people of his household. His furniture included hangings for six chambers, a closet, a chapel and a hall[xvii]; furnishings including 25 carpets and 21 beds; most of his new goods and chattels had been paid for out of Fitzroy’s purse. It required a chariot and seven horse-draughts to transport Fitzroy’s possessions.
Fitzroy’s men wore his livery of blue and yellow emblazoned with the new dukes’ badge; a demi-lion rampant bursting out of the Tudor rose. Even the horses were elaborately embellished with cloth of gold or silver and satins and velvets. Henry meant for his subjects to be impressed by his son’s train.
Fitzroy travelled in a horse litter provided by Wolsey; an extravagant affair padded in crimson velvet and cloth of gold, but Fitzroy, already a determined child used to getting his own way, did not care for the litter;
In all which journey my lord’s grace rode not in his horse litter, but only from William Jekyll’s house 3 or 4 miles, which riding in his said horse-litter his grace liked nothing; but ever since his grace hath ridden upon his hobby [pony], and hath been very well at ease.’ [xviii]
The journey north was broken by stops at the homes of the great and good;
‘My Lord of Richmond departed….unto my Lady Parr[xix]’s, where his grace was marvellously well intreated and had good cheer….at Huntingdon the Abbot of Ramsey sent unto his Grace certain swans, cranes and other wild fowl, in a present.’[xx]
The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune – David M Head, University of Georgia Press 2009
House of Treason – Robert Hutchinson, Phoenix 2009
Henry VIII – Robert Lacey, Weidenfeld & Nicholson & Book Club Associates 1972
The Earlier Tudors – J D Mackie, Oxford University Press 1992
Cardinal Wolsey – Mandell Creighton, MacMillan & Co 1891
Bastard Prince – Beverley A Murphy, Sutton Publishing 2001
Six Wives – David Starkey, Chatto & Windus 2003
Henry VIII – David Starkey (ed), Collins & Brown 1991
The Six Wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir, Pimlico 1992
The Lost Tudor Princess – Alison Weir, Vintage 2015
[ii] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £3,408.00 labour earnings of that income or wealth is £30,450.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £116,900.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,822,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iii] Bastard Prince - Murphy
[iv] So named because this was where Henry conducted his illicit relations out of the Queen’s purview
[vi] Bessie and Gilbert had three children Elizabeth Tailboys, 4th Baroness Tailboys of Kyme, George Tailboys, 2nd Baron Tailboys of Kyme, Robert Tailboys, 3rd Baron Tailboys of Kyme and Lady Bridget Dymoke, Bessie’s second marriage to Edward Clinton, Earl of Lincoln produced Katherine Clinton, Baroness Burgh, Margaret Clinton, Baroness Willoughby of Parham.
[viii] House of Treason - Hutchinson
[ix] On 10 November 1518 she gave birth to a daughter, but the child was weak and lived either only a few hours or at most a week
[x] Katherine’s nephew
[xi] The engagement had been arranged in 1522
[xiii] The previous holder, the Duke of Norfolk, was so incensed that it took him a month to surrender his patent; Norfolk’s other patents were also removed and handed to Fitzroy; a piece of spite on Wolsey’s part. Norfolk continued as vice-Admiral
[xv] Bastard Prince - Murphy
[xvi] The Six Wives of Henry VIII - Weir
[xviii] Bastard Prince - Murphy
[xx] Bastard Prince - Murphy