Who was Henry Fitzroy?
Henry Fitzroy was the second child, and eldest son, of Henry VIII – the result of the king’s affair with 18/19 year old Elizabeth Blount. Although illegitimate, Fitzroy was a person of importance at the royal court and received multiple titles and appointments. When he was 6 years old, he was made a Knight of the Garter; created earl of Nottingham, and duke of Richmond and Somerset; made Lord Admiral; and appointed as the warden-general of the Scottish marches. Between 1525 and 1529, he lived in Yorkshire – dividing his time between Sheriff Hutton and Pontefract – the traditional base of the royal representatives in the north. A number of potential foreign matches were suggested but came to nothing. In August 1529, he was summoned to parliament and, despite his young age, attended sessions where he was treated as an adult.
Fitzroy’s care was initially entrusted to Thomas Wolsey but, following Wolsey’s fall from favour, the responsibility was given to Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk. After a brief period at the French court in 1532-33, Fitzroy returned to England and, on 26 November 1533 he married Norfolk’s younger daughter, Mary. He appears to have had a good relationship with his father throughout his childhood but there doesn’t seem to have been any serious plan to legitimise him. He also retained a relationship with his mother’s family – some of his relative were in employed his household, and his tutor corresponded with Elizabeth.
On 8 June 1536, Fitzroy attended the opening of parliament. A month later a reference is made to him being ill; two weeks later, on 23rd July, he died at St James’ place. He was buried at Thetford Priory.
Where is the tomb?
The tomb is located on the north side of the high altar in St Michael’s church, Framlingham – one of the most prominent positions in the church. It sits near to the tombs of Mary FitzAlan and Margaret Audley; Henry Howard, earl of Surrey; and Thomas Howard, 3rd duke of Norfolk, and his first wife, Anne of York.
Above: Coats of arms on the Fitzroy tomb. From left to right, Howard; Fitzroy within the garter; Fitzroy quartered with Howard.
Why was he buried at Thetford Priory and why is the tomb now at Framlingham?
Unusually for the time, Fitzroy did not receive a large-scale heraldic funeral. Henry VIII apparently told Norfolk to have the coffin conveyed secretly to Thetford in a closed cart and buried there. However, having taken care of the burial, Norfolk received multiple letters on 5th August warning him that the King was displeased that Fitzroy had not been honorably buried. Norfolk seems to have been concerned enough to make plans to return to court, and to write his will. Another two letters of warning reached him the following day and he was desperate to see Thomas Cromwell before going to Court. Fortunately, he does seem to have acquired Henry VIII’s forgiveness for the perceived slight.
Thetford Priory was dissolved in 1539, at which time Norfolk was in the process of having two tombs constructed – one for Fitzroy and one for himself – at a total cost of £400. His request to be allowed to convert the Priory to a Collegiate church or a parish church was not granted and the decision was made to erect the two tombs to Framlingham. However, the church was not big enough to house them, so work began on enlarging the building. This had not been completed when Norfolk was imprisoned in the Tower in 1547. Building work abruptly stopped – the building work/erection of the tombs was not finished until c. 1555 (after the 3rd duke of Norfolk’s death).
The tomb as it appears today is not the original design from 1539, and incorporates elements added in the 1550s – mostly likely around 1555 as there is graffito on the tomb from this date.
Above left: Relief panel depicting Abraham and the angels. Above right: The drunkenness of Noah
What does the tomb look like today?
It is a large tomb chest without effigies, although it seems likely that these were originally intended. The chest consists of base, central section and upper section. The central section is divided into panels by fluted pilasters, four panels on each side and two at the ends. In the panels are heraldic shields, a mix of Fitzroy quartered with Howard, Fitzroy within the garter and Howard in diamond shields. The shields are very similar in design to those on the FitzAlan/Audley tomb and probably date to the 1555. Originally, there were ducal coronets above all the shields but a number of them have been cut away so that only traces of their shape remain on the tomb.
The upper section consists of an Old Testament narrative frieze, each relief panel containing a story from the Book of Genesis. These include the story of the Garden of Eden; Cain and Abel; Noah’s ark; Noah’s drunkenness; Abraham and the angels; Lot escaping from Sodom and Gomorrah; Abraham and Isaac; and Moses and the tablets of stone. Four figures stand on top of the tomb slab, one in each corner. Although they are wingless, they are often referred to as angels and each holds a shield. The amount of (surviving) religious imagery on the tomb is notable.
Above: Two of the relief panels depicting the story of the Garden of Eden
What did the tomb look like originally?
There are no contemporary designs or drawings of the tombs from 1539 but historians have agreed that they are not in their original form and that material has been lost/new material introduced in the 1550s. Based on the tombs as they are today, and other remains excavated at Thetford Priory in the 19th and early-20th centuries, there have been several attempts to hypothesize the original appearance of the tombs and to determine an exact date for them. The most recent research suggested that they were intended as a pair – Fitzroy’s tomb with Old Testament imagery and Norfolk’s with New Testament imagery. It speculates that, where Norfolk’s tomb has full length figures in shell headed niches along the side, Fitzroy’s tomb would possibly have had bust length figures (examples of these were excavated at Thetford) above different heraldic panels – this would have increased its height to be the same as the Norfolk tomb. It is possible that there would have been baluster shafts at the corners, and angels holding shields with the Instruments of the Passion found at Thetford Priory may have been intended for this tomb.
Beverley Murphy (2008), “Fitzroy, Henry, duke of Richmond and Somerset (1519–1536), royal bastard”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Beverley Murphy (2008), “Blount [married names Tailboys, Fiennes de Clinton], Elizabeth (c. 1500–1539×41), royal mistress”, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Letters & Papers of Henry VIII, Vol XI, 228, 233, 236; Letters & Papers of Henry VIII, Vol XIV pt 2, 815; Phillip Lindley, “Materiality, Movement and the Historical Moment” in The Howards and the Tudors. Studies in Science and Heritage (2015).