Thursday, 23 April 2009

Blackmore: Henry Fitzroy

Blackmore Priory has a royal association because it was to the neighbouring house that a mistress of Henry VIII was sent when it was realised that she was carrying his child. Her name was Elizabeth Blount, a lady in the retinue of Catherine of Aragon. In 1519, she gave birth to a son, taking his father’s name Henry, and the surname for illegitimate offspring, Fitzroy. Henry VIII is said to have been a frequent visitor to the neighbouring Jericho House, so must have known the Priory well. He gave orders not to be disturbed hence the expression used in Court, “He has gone to Jericho”. The original house is no more. The stream that feeds the moat around Jericho House is nicknamed the Jordan.

The King was delighted with the news, which proved his ability to father a son. His previous attempts with Catherine had ended in miscarriage or infant death. Cardinal Wolsey was named the child’s godparent, as he had been for his half sister Mary, the only surviving child born of Queen Catherine, some three and a half years earlier. Elizabeth Blount was quickly married off and had no involvement in Fitzroy’s upbringing.

Henry Fitzroy was much admired and spoilt by his father. At the age of six, when it was considered that a child entered adulthood, and the likelihood of death greatly diminished, Henry Fitzroy was created Duke of Richmond with the titles Earl of Nottingham and Duke of Somerset. This placed Henry Fitzroy in an honoured position because the title held precedence over all other Dukes except potential legitimate sons of the King. By doing so Henry VIII, had elevated his son’s position in society such that he would be a more eligible bachelor. His stepfather, Gilbert Taillebois (or Talboys), was knighted. By the age of eight Henry Fitzroy was Admiral of England, Ireland and Normandy. At 14 he married Mary Howard, daughter of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk. On 23rd July 1536 he died of tuberculosis. He was seventeen. It was said that he was poisoned on the orders of Anne Boleyn, but he witnessed her execution in London just weeks beforehand. Henry was distraught and, following an offer from Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, accepted an offer to have his son discreetly buried at Thetford with other family members. It was an event for which Thomas was not thanked when the King changed his mind. Following the Dissolution of Thetford Priory in 1540, Fitzroy’s final resting place became St Michael’s Church in the shadow of Framlingham Castle in Suffolk.

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