An almost-king born in Jericho….?

Well, according to the Romford Recorder Henry VIII very nearly gave us Henry IX. This would have been his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, born to the king’s mistress Elizabeth Blount.

Henry Fitzroy is not fiction, but was born in 1519 in the Jericho Priory (see above image) at Blackmore, ten miles north of Romford. The above article states that at one point Henry VIII seriously considered making the illegitimate Henry Fitzroy his heir, brushing aside any legitimate female children the king had. This would have been Mary I, of course, and then Elizabeth I. But Henry Fitzroy died young, and then eventually Henry VIII sired Edward VI on Jane Seymour. Problem solved. For the time being at least, because Edward would also die young and Mary and Elizabeth would eventually reign anyway.

Well, I suppose that Henry VIII would only have been following in Tudor family footsteps…after all his father declared the illegitimate Elizabeth of York legitimate in order to marry her! So why not declare Henry Fitzroy legitimate in order to secure the succession in the male line? The Tudors were a little comme ci comme ça when it came to such inconvenient things.

12 comments

  1. Well, to be fair, the Yorks were a little comme ci comme ça when it came to matters of legitimacy as well, considering the well-knwon reputation of Isabella of Castile as an adulteress and the shaky paternity of Richard of Conisburgh …

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    1. But Edmund of Langley didn’t reject Richard of Conisburgh. He didn’t do anything, so Richard became his legitimate son almost by default. The fact is that legally and in the eyes of the Church, Richard was Edmund’s legitimate second son. The same cannot be said of Henry VIII and Henry Fitzroy.

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      1. Would nobles actually publicly _reject_ children they thought were conceived by their wives’ infidelities? I am not an expert here, but I was under the impression that the standard rules for this sort of situation was to ignore the unpleasantness and avoid bringing outside attention to it. That Edmund stayed silent in his life and then left nothing to Richard (and, I think, made no mention of him in any way?) in his will seemed to me like the most explicit sort of rejection one could expect from a prince of the blood. That Isabella in her own will made an appeal to Richard II, not her husband Edmund, to provide for Richard of Conisburgh is also very highly suspect.

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  2. That’s an interesting question, Arthur; what would a royal duke (or any high-ranking noble for that matter) do about a child that he suspected wasn’t his? On one hand, it would certainly be humiliating to admit it and potentially damaging to the inheritance of any other children he had (because if you can question the paternity of one, what’s to say you can’t question the paternity of all of them?); but on the other hand, you would run the risk of the supposed illegitimate child and their heirs remaining in the succession (or, in the case of a high-ranking noble, inheriting the cuckholded husband’s title and goods). I can’t imagine that either option would be appealing and in a time when there was no way to ever know for sure (unless the husband and wife in question hadn’t had “relations” during the period when the child would have been conceived), maybe the only option WAS to keep quiet. Has anyone come across a contemporary or semi-contemporary instance when a noble denounced a child of his wife as a bastard?

    As for the Vicountess’ post on Henry Fitzroy, I don’t think we can really compare his situation to Richard of Conisburgh. As we all know, Henry VIII was desperate for a male heir and (presumably) he didn’t question whether or not he was actually the father of Henry Fitzroy. While firmly in the Ricardian camp, I’m also far from a Tudor basher and I don’t think it was her intention with the article to point out any sort of Tudor versus York comparison. I think her intention was to illustrate that when it came to the question of a (continuing) legitimate claim to the throne, Henry VIII was on shaky ground. Even if you take the view that Elizabeth of York was legitimate (and I personally don’t, but that’s a whole other can of worms), Henry still found himself in a situation where there were certainly other claimants who were a threat to his rule and hence the desperation to the point of wishing to legitimize Fitzroy. Despite his later actions, you do have to feel some sympathy for the man after losing all of those babies with Catherine of Aragon; and most certainly you must feel sympathy for her, how awful that must have been. The losses don’t justify what came after them, but I think they do go some way toward explaining why Henry became the man he was later on in life.

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    1. Oh, I’m not suggesting we actually debate the merits of Henry FitzRoy vis-à-vis Richard of Conisburgh. As a longtime reader with a slow day at work, I just thought I’d pop in and make my first comment to poke a little fun at the rampart anti-Tudorism 😀 That it gave rise to a question that I’d really be interested in learning the answer to (how would a high-ranking peer react to a possibly illegitimate child in his family?) is as much a surprise to me as it is to you! I’ve always thought that things would just be quietly ignored in such a scenario, but to be honest, I can’t recall if I read that somewhere at some time or whether it’s just an assumption I’ve been making.

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  3. Whatever Edmund of Langley’s reason for ignoring Richard of Conisbrough’s existence, the very fact that he said and did nothing eventually led to Richard inheriting the dukedom. Maybe Edmund revolved in his tomb when it happened. But whether or not Richard was the result of Isabella’s supposed affair with Sir John Holand is beside the legal point. Richard was legitimate because Edmund didn’t reject him, and therefore he was entitled to inherit everything on the death of his childless elder brother (or half-brother, as the biological case may be).

    Maybe admitting to wearing horns was a definite no-no for magnates like Edmund. I can’t think of an instance where a man made a fuss over such a thing, and we know that history is littered with broken bloodlines. There’s one in the line that leads back from the present to the sister of Richard III. At least one wife strayed from the marriage bed.

    Of course, there’s always the possibility that Sir John Holand had nothing to do with Richard of Conisbrough, and the boy was indeed Edmund’s son. Perhaps the actual timing of Isabella’s pregnancy left an element of doubt in Edmund’s mind. Not enough for him to welcome the child with open arms, but enough to prompt pause for thought. Would he want to brand his own flesh and blood, conceived and born within marriage, as a bastard? Edmund wasn’t a hard man, if anything he was ineffectual, so perhaps he couldn’t bring himself to cast out completely a child that could possibly be his. So he chose to allow Richard of Conisbrough his royal legitimacy but ignored him instead. The easy way out for his bruised pride…but this left the inheritance door wide open. He probably thought that his firstborn son was bound to have heirs, so Richard was never going to get a look-in anyway. Edmund banked on it, in fact.

    We’ll never know the truth, but the whole story certainly provides us with an fascinating scandal.

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    1. In any case, the Statute of Merton dictates that a child born to a married woman is legally that of her husband as well unless there is overwhelming evidence to the contrary. He cannot simply “reject” the child of a valid marriage.

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      1. Ah, thank you super blue. So that’s it. Edmund didn’t have overwhelming evidence of anything, so had to shut up. He registered his doubts and real feelings by treating the boy with disdain and leaving him out of the will. He must have prayed that his firstborn produced a whole clutch of male heirs!

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  4. Well, that answers the question, thanks! You have to feel bad for whatever children found themselves in that situation (with a father that doubted their paternity and pretty much nothing to be done about it)…it must have made some highly resentful fathers!

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    1. And I’ll warrant the children didn’t grow up too pleased either. But it was the usual inequality of the sexes too. If Edmund had played around during his marriage, and fathered half a dozen illegitimate children, that was OK by the standards of the day. But if Isabella strayed even once, and got caught, it was a dreadful sin and an insult to her husband. Double standards that still linger today in too many places!

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