by Heather R. Darsie
Henry VIII is generally viewed as a Lothario during his marriages to Katharine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn. During his lifetime, he fathered at least six children with Katharine of Aragon, two or possibly three with Anne Boleyn, one with Jane Seymour, and possibly an additional six illegitimate children. All of Henry’s children were born in or before 1537.
Henry’s first and best-known illegitimate child was Henry Fitzroy, born 15 June 1519 to the unmarried Elizabeth Blount. Fitzroy was roughly 16 months younger than his only surviving sibling through Katharine of Aragon, the future Mary I. Fitzroy’s birth was shrouded in secrecy, so his exact date of birth is unknown. He was baptized 29 June 1519, and raised in relative obscurity until his sixth birthday. Henry later married off Fitzroy’s mother, who appears to have been the only unmarried woman who bore Henry an illegitimate child.
In June 1525, Fitzroy went to Bridewell Palace, where his father Henry VIII bestowed upon him several titles. During the first part of the ceremony, little Fitzroy became the Earl of Nottingham. During the second part, the six-year-old was granted the dukedoms of Richmond and Somerset. Soon after, Fitzroy became known as Richmond. For Henry VIII, these titles had direct connections to Fitzroy’s Tudor ancestors.
Henry VIII did not show much regard for Katharine of Aragon’s feelings during the festivities.
Other offices were bestowed upon Henry Richmond before he turned ten years old. Richmond enjoyed an upbringing befitting a prince, and spent many years at Sheriff Hutton Castle in Yorkshire.
Henry Fitzroy by Lucas Horenbout, c. 1534-1535.
By 1533, it was apparent that Richmond was ready to marry. At first, discussions centered around Richmond marrying his elder half-sister Mary. Not much came of that, so in November 1533 Richmond married Lady Mary Howard, a daughter of Thomas Howard, 3d Duke of Norfolk and cousin of Henry VIII’s new bride, Anne Boleyn. The couple never had children, likely in part because Henry was fearful for his only son’s health and ordered them to postpone consummating their marriage.
Henry Richmond, born Henry Fitzroy, died on 23 July 1536. It is believed that he died of tuberculosis. When he died, there was legislation actively considered in Parliament to disinherit Richmond’s younger legitimate half-sister, the toddler Elizabeth. The language of the act would allow Henry VIII to choose his successor, which could well have been Richmond had he lived. Richmond could also have followed the reign of Edward VI, instead of the queens Mary I and Elizabeth I.
The next several individuals were rumored to be Henry VIII’s children, but none of them were ever acknowledged by Henry. The truth as to their parentage may never be known.
Thomas Stukley was born around 1520. The parents who raised him, his biological mother Jane Pollard and putative father Hugh Stukley, were married before Thomas’ birth. Thomas had several older brothers and sisters through the union of Jane and Hugh. Stukely was mentored by Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and held a position in the household of the Bishop of Exeter.
Portrait of a Young Man by Unknown Flemish Master, c. 1530-1540.
Stukley is best described as a soldier or mercenary, depending on who’s giving their opinion. He was likely present for Henry VIII’s campaign in Boulougne during the mid 1540s. Stukley stayed on in Boulougne until 1550, after which he returned to England and entered into the service of Edward VI’s uncle Edward Seymour. Stukley fled England for France after Seymour’s arrest. Stukley returned in September 1522 with a letter from Henri II of France for Edward VI. Stukley revealed French plans to capture Calais.
The information about Calais was used against Stukley by John Dudley, who convinced Edward VI that the plot was designed by Stukley for use by the French. Stukley was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a period of time as a result. While in the Tower, Stukley was tried for being indebted, and his imprisonment was extended until August 1553. After his release, Stukley returned to France as a mercenary-for-hire.
Stukley entered the employ of Duke Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy. He returned to England in late 1554 during the reign of Mary I, finding himself indemnified against his debts. He married Anne Curtis, who brought some wealth into the marriage. Stukley continued to be a spendthrift, and abandoned his wife when he fled abroad. Stukley returned to the employ of the Duke of Savoy in 1557, later fighting in the 1557 Battle of St. Quentin.
Later Stukley was summoned to answer for charges of piracy, but the charges were dropped and he remained in the favor of Mary I in 1558. Shortly after Elizabeth I became queen, Stukley’s father-in-law passed away leaving more money for Stukley. Stukley supported the suit of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leceister, and also the Protestant cause.
Stukley allegedly referred to Elizabeth to her face that she was his sister. He did obtain some favor with her, and operated as a privateer for the bulk of the 1560s. Stukley was confined in Ireland under allegations that he was using coarse or evil language about Elizabeth I, and in support of a rebellion against her. The charges were later dropped, and Stukley was released.
Stukley wound up in Spain by about 1570, and was instrumental in assisting Philip II’s plans of invading England. Stukley left Spain for Rome in 1571 after more political intrigues. While in Rome, he was assigned a small fleet during the Battle of Lepanto. His actions earned him renewed favor in Spain, to which he returned in 1572. He remained in Spain throughout 1574, acting as a privateer for Philip II.
In 1575, Stukley went to Rome, where he assisted in a plot to put Mary, Queen of Scots on the Throne of England. Stukley continued his military exploits under the employ of the pope, before finally dying in battle during the Battle of Alcacer Quibir on 4 August 1578. It is not firmly know whether Stukley had any children, or multiple wives.
Richard Edwardes, born 25 March 1525, had a much less colorful life. His early life is shrouded in obscurity, and he came from a poor family. From 1540 to around 1546, Edwardes attend Corpus Christi in Oxford, perhaps with the help of Henry VIII. He next went to Christ Church Oxford, and then briefly was at the Inn of Lincoln. Edwardes was appointed a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1557, then Master of the Children. As Master of the Children, Edwardes’ function was being in charge of the boys’ choir. He married Helene Griffith in 1563, and died in 1566.
Engraving of Richard Edwardes created c. 1760.
Two of the better-known but unacknowledged illegitimate children of Henry VIII, Catherine Carey and Henry Carey, were born in 1524 and 1526, respectively. Their mother was Mary Boleyn, the sister of Anne Boleyn. Mary Boleyn wed William Carey in February 1520. During her marriage to William Carey, it was rumored that Mary was Henry VIII’s mistress. The only two children she bore during her marriage to William Carey were Catherine and Henry.
Catherine Carey, born c. 1524, was firmly believed to be Henry VIII’s illegitimate daughter with Mary Boleyn. Unfortunately, the exact dates of Henry’s affair with Mary are unknown, so Catherine’s true paternity is unknown. As a child, Catherine may have witnessed her aunt Anne Boleyn’s execution in Mary 1536. She served as a maid of honor for two of Henry’s queens, namely Anna of Cleves and Katheryn Howard. Catherine Carey was a cousin of Katheryn Howard. In 1540, Catherine married Sir Francis Knollys, with whom she had fourteen children.
Unknown Woman, thought to be Catherine Carey, by Steven van der Meulen, 1562.
Catherine later served her cousin Elizabeth I until Catherine’s death. She was widely known to be Elizabeth I’s favorite female cousin. She died in 1569, survived by her husband and at least twelve, if not thirteen, of her children.
Henry Carey was born around March 1526. It is possible that William Carey, and not Henry VIII, was Carey’s biological father as it is believed that Henry’s affair with Mary had ended by the time of Mary’s pregnancy. Henry Carey’s aunt Anne Boleyn took over Carey’s wardship after the death of William Carey. Carey had regular contact with his mother Mary until Mary remarried William Stafford in 1535 without Anne Boleyn’s knowledge.
Henry Carey, 1st Baron Hunsdon by Steven van Herwijck, c. 1561-1563.
In 1545, two years after Mary Boleyn died, Carey wed Anne Morgan. The couple had sixteen legitimate children, and Carey had additional illegitimate children. Carey lived successfully during the reigns of his putative half-siblings Edward VI and Mary I, and received several appointments during the reign of Elizabeth I. He was created 1st Baron Hunsdon in January 1559, amongst other dignities.
In 1569, Carey succeeded in quelling the Rising of the North. For his efforts, Elizabeth awarded Carey the position of Warden of the Eastern March. His military successes continued throughout Carey’s life, and he continued to receive more appointments. On his deathbed, Elizabeth is said to have offered Carey the Earldom of Wiltshire, once held by their maternal grandfather Thomas Boleyn. He turned down the offer. Carey died on 23 July 1596. Both Henry Carey and his sister Catherine were buried in Westminster Abbey.
Ethelreda Malte, a Tudor courtier, was another rumored child of Henry VIII. Ethelreda was born in 1527 to a woman named Jane, with an uncertain last name. Jane’s mother married John Malte, who was a tailor for Henry VIII. Henry later gifted John Malte property after Malte recognized Ethelreda as his own daughter. Ethelreda later inherited a substantial amount of wealth after the death of her putative father, John Malte, in 1547. Ethelreda married John Harrington the next year
Portrait of an Unknown Woman painted by Corneille de Lyon c. 1535-1540.
Not much is known about Elthelreda, although she was purportedly present with Elizabeth when Elizabeth was imprisoned in the Tower of London in March 1554. She was also present at Elizabeth’s coronation in January 1559. Ethelreda died in 1559.
Henry VIII’s final rumored illegitimate child, John Perrot, was born between 7 and 11 November 1528 to Mary Berkeley. He was Mary’s third child during her marriage to Thomas Perrot, and his being a child of Henry VIII is dubious at best. Perrot’s early life was not of much note, and his fortunes faltered a little after the death of Henry VIII.
Sir John Perrot, 18th century copy by George Powle.
In 1551, Perrot joined William Parr on his expedition to France. Parr was to negotiate a marriage between Edward VI and Elizabeth de Valois. During the reign of Mary I, Perrot was labeled a heretic and briefly imprisoned. During the first years of Elizabeth I’s reign, Perrot appeared to obtain royal favor once more. Perrot married his first wife Anne Cheyne in the early 1550s, and the couple had a son who lived to adulthood. It is possible that Anne Cheyne died due to birthing complications.
Perrot married his second wife, Jane Prust, c. 1563. The couple had a son and two daughters who survived to adulthood. Additionally, Perrot may have had four illegitimate children of his own.
He was appointed to the position of Lord President of the Irish province of Munster in 1570. Perrot was not thrilled. The province was in the midst of a rebellion, and Perrot’s chief task after landing in Ireland in February 1571 was to restore peace. He was successful, though he hanged upwards of 800 people along the way. He quit the position in Summer 1573 and returned to the English court.
Perrot attempted to retire to Wales, but was later appointed as Lord Deputy of Ireland in 1584. Perrot gained a reputation for being sharp-tongued and a drunk. He asked to be recalled from the post, and finally was in early 1588. His fortunes took a turn after he arrived in England.
After the Armada invasion in 1588, Perrot was accused of high treason. Letters allegedly signed by Perrot in his capacity as Lord Deputy of Ireland and addressed to Philip II of Spain. Perrot was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1592, and later brought to trial. He was found guilty. Perrot was not immediately executed and languished in the Tower until his death in September 1592. It is not known if Elizabeth ever intended to pardon him.
Out of all of Henry’s children, acknowledged or not, one thing is true: they certainly had interesting lives.
Love learning about the Early Modern period? Are you interested in Tudor history or Women’s history? Then check out my book, Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’, a new biography about Anna of Cleves told from the German perspective!
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Sources & Suggested Reading
- . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Bullen, Arthur Henry. ‘Edwards, Richard.” Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1900. Vol. 17. Smith, Elder & Co (1900).
- Ives, Eric. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: ‘The Most Happy’. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing (2005).
- Jones, Philippa. “Chapter 9: The Mysterious Mistress and the Tailor’s Foster Daughter”. The Other Tudors: Henry VIII’s Mistresses and Bastards. London: New Holland Publishers (UK) Ltd (2009).
- Turvey, Roger. “Perrot, Sir John (1528-1592).” Oxford Nat’l Biography. Oxford University. Published online.
- Darsie, Heather R. Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’. Stroud: Amberley Publishing (2019).