Today is the birthdate of the longest-lived of Henry VIII’s sons, Henry Fitzroy, who died a few weeks after he turned seventeen in the summer of 1536.
I discuss Fitzroy’s birth and how it applies to the theory that Henry VIII has a Kell positive blood type in Blood Will Tell:
On 15 June 1519, Bessie Blount gave Henry what his queen had tried to give him so many times in the past — a healthy baby boy. With a disturbing lack of sensitivity for the queen’s feelings, Henry VIII named the boy Henry Fitzroy and publicly acknowledged him as a royal offspring. The fact that Henry christened his illegitimate son with the same first name as the infant prince that he and Katherina had lost in 1511 is, to be frank, proof of an appalling lack of consideration for his wife. Katherina stoically bore up under her husband’s callous disregard for her emotions. She probably even understood that he was motivated by the need to defend his pride. Doubtlessly, the King’s ego needed to show the world that the lack of a legitimate prince wasn’t ‘his’ fault, and that he was clearly capable of fathering healthy sons. Henry was obviously unconcerned what this display cost his wife.
Some historians, such as Lacey Baldwin Smith, have asserted that the birth of Henry Fitzroy proved that any obstetrical problems were on Katherina’s side of the equation. Smith, who is an otherwise peerless historian, wrote that the king “proved where the fault of sterility lay by siring a son”. However, it is a misstatement to identify Katherina as infertile. According to Merriam-Webster’s Medical Desk Dictionary infertility occurs when a couple is “incapable of or unsuccessful in achieving pregnancy over a considerable period of time (as a year) in spite of determined attempts by heterosexual intercourse without contraception”. Katherina was pregnant on least six, and maybe even as much as eight, occasions from 1509 to 1518. Half a dozen or more pregnancies in as many years make the idea of her infertility ludicrous. It is clear that the queen was fecund. Additionally, it is plain that Henry had no physiological or psychological problems preventing him from having intercourse with his wife.
Henry Fitzroy’s birth does not in any way contradict the theory that Henry VIII was Kell positive. Fitzroy was Bessie Blount’s first known pregnancy and her only child by the King, so her body would not have been sensitized to the Kell antigen yet, and the fetus would have been safe from her antibodies. Some historians have speculated that Henry only had one child with Bessie because he was sexually unaroused by a woman who had borne his child. That seems unlikely, since he had gotten Katherina pregnant annually and she had definitely given birth to his children. Then again, Katherina was also his queen and thus it was his duty as much as his pleasure to try to impregnate her in order to secure heirs, so perhaps he really did reject his mistress because she had become the mother of his son. Nevertheless, it is at least possible that he didn’t have multiple children with his mistress because he couldn’t. Any of Bessie’s subsequent pregnancies in which she carried a Kell positive fetus would not have produced a viable baby, just like many of the losses experienced by Henry’s wife. This must remain speculation, since there is no record of Bessie having ever been pregnant with any more of the king’s children. She did, however, have subsequent children with her husband, Gilbert Talboys.
Obviously, Fitzroy is consistent with the Kell theory, and he is probably my best hope of ever proving any medical hypothesis regarding Henry VIII because he is the only one of Henry’s children it would be theoretically possible to get a DNA sample from. Fitzroy was never officially crowned or in line for the throne, so a team of archeologists wouldn’t necessarily need royal permission to excavate his body and test his remains, which makes the exhumation slightly less unlikely to happen. If Fitzroy had a Kell positive gene, that would make it infinitely more probable that his dad was Kell positive.
Then there is my theory that Henry Fitzroy and Edward VI and Arthur Tudor all died from complications of atypical (non-classic) cystic fibrosis. As I elaborate in Edward VI in a Nutshell:
“if Arthur, Fitzroy, and Edward had all inherited a similar genetic mutation causing non-classic CF, then they could have been relatively healthy as children but have had undetected pulmonary deterioration that eventually needed just one more infection (viral or bacterial) to tip the scales toward their demise. Once their bodies were weakened, more optimistic infections could occur, as well as septicemia and renal failure. The chronic cough, struggle to breath, and the ‘wasting’ effect of mal-absorption of food due to the thick mucus obstructing the digestive system were all symptoms exhibited by the dying Tudor adolescents. The bronchiectasis would have looked a lot like tuberculosis to their physicians, albeit a strangely fast-acting one … Fitzroy’s illness progressed too rapidly to feasibly be tuberculosis; TB usually takes two to ten years to kill the patient. TB can, of course, prove fatal more quickly than its average, but it would be farfetched to think it caused Fitzroy’s death in just a few weeks.”
If we can dig up Fitzroy, we can find out if my theory on CF holds water too. So much ti be learned from one set of bones! Now, does anyone know any documentary producers willing to fund a team of curious archaeologists in a quest to dig up and test Fitzroy’s mortal coil?