Happy Birthday to Henry Fitzroy

*SPOILERS for Game of Thrones*

Today is Henry Fitzroy’s birthday, and if he were alive he’d be 496 years young. Sadly, the king’s baseborn child with Bessie Blount passed away at the tender age of 17.

Fitzroy was actually being eyed as a potential heir to the throne, illegitimate or not. Henry had recently declared both Mary and Elizabeth bastards too, so the king had only illegitimate children from which to choose his successor. His natural son, Henry Fitzroy, had a reasonable chance of inheriting the throne, due to a strong preference for male rulers. No one at the time knew that Mary had the willpower and backing to usurp a crown, and the idea of a female monarch was dubious at best. Succession was left an open ended question because the king had grown so paranoid that he was afraid to declare any of his children his heir, in case they tried to claim their inheritance before it was due. It is unclear whether or not he was thinking specifically of Fitzroy, who was an intelligent and strapping young man much as Henry himself had been. Did the king fear his son would depose him, if given a chance?  Did he fear the Catholic loyalists would depose him in favor of Mary? The only one of Henry’s children to appear to have less than a snowballs chance in Texas of being crowned was, ironically, Elizabeth. The future Gloriana had no backers and no influential family. This early lesson in real politick seems to have made her self-reliant, to say the least.  

If the king had ever had a true reason to fear his son, the end of his fear was not worth the cost. Fitzroy died on July 23, 1536 from what has commonly been reported to have been tuberculosis (Lipscomb, 2009:93). There had been no sign that Fitzroy had been unwell in the spring, so it was more likely to have been a relatively quick illness rather than the long, drawn-out decline suffered by those with tuberculosis. Perhaps it was non-classic cystic fibrosis?

Another royal bastard has also died, taking his hoped-for potential as king with him. The televised version of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones has caught up with the books and Jon Snow has shuffled off his mortal coil … or has he? The people in the know say that yes, Jon Snow is as dead as a bag of hammers. Fan theory says no, Jon Snow is only MOSTLY dead and will resurrect because he is one of the true Targaryen heirs, albeit misbegotten:

“If the R+L=J theory—that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna—is correct, [Jon Snow has] got dragon blood coursing through his veins … In the novels, Daenerys Targaryen’s trippy visit to the House of the Undying in Qarth presents her with a handful of prophecies, the most tantalizing of which is that “the Dragon has three heads.” Is one of those heads Jon Targaryen-Stark? Probably! … just prior to Jon’s death, we saw Melisandre, the Red Woman, sneaking back into camp at Castle Black after having failed Stannis Baratheon in nearly every way possible. Now that she’s seemingly learned Stannis wasn’t really the savior of the realm, the hero Azor Ahai reborn, what is she going to do? It’s Chekhov’s Gun. They can’t just show us the Red God’s resurrection powers in the first act without firing them in the third. So, a theory: Melisandre resurrects Jon, the only one with the ability to rally the wildlings, reclaim Winterfell from Roose Bolton, and prepare the North for the coming war against the white walkers.

Game of Thrones (dragons and resurrection via the Red God aside) is so popular in part because it is so raw, and thus so reflective of Medieval reality. Battles for the crown were vicious blood fests, and no mistake.

What would have happened if Henry Fitzroy, a royal by-blow who had as much claim to the throne as his legally illegitimate sisters, had still been alive when Edward VI passed away? Fitzroy would have been a 34 year old man in the prime of his life, possibly already rich with children by his wife Mary Howard. Would Edward looked to him instead of Jane Grey? Or would Edward, a stickler in such matters, still turned to his legitimate cousin to fill the bill? What if Fitzroy had been chosen by Edward, in the assumption a male bar sinister was a better fit as ruler than any legitimate woman? Would Mary have dared try to depose Fitzroy, the way she did Jane Grey? Would she have succeeded? If Fitzroy had been passed over as king, would he have dared to try and usurp the throne from Jane Grey, the way Mary did? Certainly Fitzroy would have had many powerful allies, including the full backing of the Norfolk faction behind him, and would have made a formidable opponent. Would England have been split apart by another War of the Roses?

Interesting things to ponder, no?

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