Earlier this week, we brought you 8 facts about Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty, as part of our July Book of the Month feature on Brazen by Katherine Longshore. Today, we’re detailing the lives of Mary Howard — the main character in Brazen — and her husband, Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of Henry VIII.
Born in 1519, Mary Howard was the daughter of Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. She was the cousin of both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard – both of whom would later become a wife to Henry VIII, and be executed on the King’s orders.
In 1533, following negotations between Henry VIII and the Duke of Norfolk, Mary was married to Henry FitzRoy, the illegitimate son of the king. Mary was 14 or 15 at the time (the exact date of her birth is not known); Henry FitzRoy was 15. However, fearful that sex had hastened the death of his older brother Author, Henry VIII forbid the couple from consummating their marriage.
With no male heir, many believed (and in the Howard family, hoped) that FitzRoy would be legitimized and named first in line to the throne. The Duke of Norfolk hoped to see his daughter become Queen. It was an idea the king often contemplated, but ultimately never fulfilled.
As it was, FitzRoy died at the age of 17 from consumption.
Following the death of her husband, Mary lost most of the lands that would have been her right as FitzRoy’s widow — because the King insisted the marriage was not valid, as it had not been consummated.
For some years following FitzRoy’s death, Mary remained at court, serving in various capacities. She was briefly imprisoned in the Tower of London, along with the rest of her family, following Catherine Howard’s imprisonment and execution for adultery.
Though her father tried to see her married to Thomas Seymour (twice) and her brother suggested she seduce the King, Mary never remarried. Angered by his suggestion that she try to seduce the King, Mary broke ties with her brother, even giving testimony that later lead to his trial and execution for treason.
After the death of Henry VIII, Mary left court. She died peacefully in 1557.
Read more about Mary Howard here.
The 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset, Henry FitzRoy was the only illegitimate child Henry VIII ever acknowledged. Born in 1519, FitzRoy’s mother was Elizabeth Blount, a maid-of-honour to Henry’s wife Catherine of Aragon. (Elizabeth was supposedly Henry’s mistress for some eight years!)
Named Henry after his father, the surname FitzRoy was also meant to indicate he was the son of the King. Though illegitimate children were usually kept quiet, the King was vocal in his desire for a male heir. At the time of his birth, FitzRoy was the King’s only son.
In 1525, most likely as a result of the King’s desire for a male heir, FitzRoy was named 1st Duke of Richmond and Somerset. The boy was only six years old at the time. He was later also named Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.
In 1533, FitzRoy was married to Mary Howard — though, as stated above, the two were forbidden by the King from consummating their marriage.
During FitzRoy’s lifetime, the King ended his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn.
It was during Anne’s fall from grace when Parliament considered an Act which would disinherit Elizabeth (the King’s daughter with Anne Boleyn) and allow the King to name his own successor, legitimate or not. This would have paved the way for FitzRoy to be named heir to the throne.
However, less than two months after Anne Boleyn’s execution, FitzRoy died from consumption. Sadly, he was buried in secret, with only two attendants to mourn him.
Read more about Henry FitzRoy here.