To commemorate the five hundredth anniversary of the birth of Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII, in Blackmore a display has been mounted around the eight sides of the Font in the Priory Church of St Laurence telling his story and connection with the village. The display will remain in place throughout the month following its 'unveiling' at the Blackmore Village Fayre over the Spring Bank Holiday weekend. For those unable to see this in person, the eight panels are repeated below.
Born June 1519, Blackmore
Henry Fitzroy, the illegitimate son of King Henry VIII was born at Blackmore Priory in June 1519. His mother, Bessie Blount, a lady in the retinue of Queen Catherine of Aragon, was one of the King’s mistresses. “Without the birth of Henry Fitzroy, Bessie’s own affair would have probably gone unrecorded”. When Bessie became visibly pregnant Thomas Wolsey discreetly dispatched her to Jericho House in Blackmore, the home of the prior Thomas Goodwyn. “Bessie made her final appearance at court early in October 1518”.
There is no surviving record of Henry Fitzroy’s baptism anywhere. It is possible that the ceremony was held here at Blackmore around this Font. Cardinal Wolsey was a godparent. He was absent from Court from 19 June to 29 June 1519. Wolsey had been godparent for the boy’s half-sister Mary, the only surviving child born of Queen Catherine. Could this font have been the place where the ceremony quietly took place?
Henry VIII is alleged to have been a frequent visitor to Jericho House where Bessie stayed after Fitzroy’s birth. The King is said to have given orders not to be disturbed hence the expression used in Court, “He has gone to Jericho”. The Priory was one of the King’s “Houses of Pleasure”. (The present Jericho Priory was rebuilt c.1712.) Bessie Blount may have later had a daughter by the King around 1520 at Blackmore. She was married off to Gilbert Tailbois (or Tailboys), who hailed from a rich Lincolnshire family. They may have married in April 1522 because “the king began to be conspicuously generous to Gilbert Tailboys”.
Henry Fitzroy Coat of Arms
Blackmore Priory was dissolved in 1527 because of its immoral goings-on. In that year there were only four Canons in residence. From “the records of the dissolution … it does appear that the prior was somewhat more worldly than he should have been”: its debts ran to one third of the annual income. Perhaps the expenditure was higher than usual, sheltering a future King? Cardinal Wolsey was granted the income from the dissolution.
Much admired and spoilt by Henry VIII, Henry Fitzroy was, by the age of six, 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. By the age of eight Henry Fitzroy was Admiral of England, Ireland and Normandy.
Early Marriage & Early Death
Thomas Howard was the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, a very powerful and ambitious man in the court of Henry VIII. He brought about the marriage to Henry VIII of his nieces, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard and for good measure his daughter Mary was married to Henry Fitzroy. Henry Fitzroy died in 1536 of tuberculosis. He was 17 years old. His body was buried at Thetford Priory but later transferred to Framlingham Church in Suffolk, where it lies in an ornate tomb alongside other members of the Norfolk family. Had he survived the course of English history could have changed and Fitzroy crowned Henry IX.