Henry Fitzroy, the king’s only living son at the time, died on July 22, 1536 from what has been commonly reported to have been tuberculosis. There’s some doubt about that diagnosis, though. There had been no sign that Fitzroy had been ill in the spring, which doesn’t fit the long, drawn-out death suffered by those with tuberculosis. It is more likely to have been a relatively quick decline, meaning a much more rapid ailment.
Claire Ridgway, over at the Anne Boleyn Files, did an excellent sum up of Fitzroy’s life, including records of his appearance: “John Joachim, Seigneur de Vaux and the French Ambassador, wrote of Richmond as ” a most handsome, urbane and learned young gentleman, very dear to the King on account of his figure, discretion and good manners… he is certainly a wonderful lad for his age” and in 1531, the Venetian Ambassador said: “so much does he resemble his father.”
When he received news of his son’s passing, the King ordered the Duke of Norfolk to bury the teenager in secret; the succession was in grave doubt and (although illegitimate) Fitzroy had been a possible heir. The King may have wished to keep Fitzroy’s death a secret until Henry had impregnated his new queen, Jane Seymour. Maybe he was worried people would panic if there wasn’t at least one male heir. Whatever the King’s motives, Norfolk tired to follow Henry’s directions.
Fitzroy’s body was covered in straw and transported on a wagon, followed by only two mourners. He was then interred surreptitiously at Thetford Priory. When the King heard the details about the small funeral he flew into a rage. In one of the lightening fast shifts of mood that can occur for sufferers of McLeod syndrome, Henry forgot the fact he had ordered a furtive burial and was furious that his son had not been given a more lavish service.
He threatened to imprison Norfolk in the Tower, much to the dumbfounded Duke’s fear and consternation. Norfolk first wrote his will, because Henry’s anger was not conducive to longevity, and then he wrote to Cromwell to insist that he was not a traitor. Fortunately for Norfolk, the King’s vexation waned, and the Duke was spared.
Norfolk was also Fitzroy’s father-in-law. The young widow, Mary Howard, never remarried. This wasn’t from sentiment. The power politics at court never lined up another suitable mate at a suitable time.
Henry Fitzroy was only 17 years old at the time of his death. His as-yet-unborn brother Edward would die when he was 15 years old. His uncle, Prince Arthur Tudor, died when only 16 years old. People have speculated that there was a genetic condition that caused these deaths, but no one had figured out what it is.