Book Review: “Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son” by Beverley A. Murphy

I was doing some research for an article on Henry Fitzroy, illegitimate son of King Henry VIII and happened to find this book. I was pleasantly surprised as I had no idea someone had written a biography of Fitzroy. The book was first published in 2001 and I was lucky enough to find a used copy.

Beverley Murphy apparently wrote her dissertation on Fitzroy and felt his life deserved further investigation. She was encouraged by the historian David Loades to write the book. I like the format of the book. She begins with the life of Fitzroy’s mother Bessie Blount. While this recognized mistress of Henry VIII has been a shadowy figure, Murphy fills in the gaps with the known information on her life. The next chapter discusses how King Henry may have considered making Fitzroy his heir. Indeed this is a theme throughout the book. Murphy covers the pros and cons of the argument, giving insight into how King Henry may have viewed this possibility.

King Henry elevated Fitzroy to the dual titles of Duke of Richmond and Somerset and he was therefore known primarily as the Duke of Richmond. The years Richmond spent in the north of England at Sheriff Hutton and Pontefract are covered in detail here. There are plenty of primary sources giving Murphy great insight, especially regarding his finances. Richmond was given a huge patrimony of land, castles and income, making him the premier noble in England. Part of his duties included being the titular head of a reconstituted Council of the North, the position held by Richard, Duke of Gloucester (the future King Richard III) under his brother King Edward IV.

Another position given to Richmond was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. The duties of this position were covered by a council and Richmond never visited Ireland. Murphy makes the case that Henry VIII considered elevating Richmond to King of Ireland, possibly in an effort to make him more sought-after on the marriage market. There were some efforts to marry him to a continental princess. Murphy has a whole chapter on the role of the council in Ireland under Richmond and how the council was used a political tool by King Henry and Thomas Cromwell.

As Richmond approached his adulthood, he was beginning to assert himself. He was more in charge of his holdings and was given a role in representing the king such as acting as a witness to the execution of the Carthusian monks of the London Charterhouse and the execution of Queen Anne Boleyn and in entertaining dignitaries at court. There were plans for him to move into Baynard Castle in London and to begin conjugal relations with his wife Mary Howard. But all this was for naught as Richmond died. He was only ill for a short time and most likely died of the same medical issue as his half-brother King Edward VI.

This book is thorough, well written and an enjoyable read. Murphy covers Richmond’s legacy and has a discussion on how he nearly became King Henry IX. There are genealogical tables, a section of pictures and a comprehensive bibliography. I’m willing to venture this is the definitive biography of Richmond and I highly recommend it.

Book Review: “The Seymours of Wolf Hall: A Tudor Family Story” by David Loades

The Seymours of Wolf Hall book cover

It seems the Seymour family is more interesting than they appear on the surface. Most who know Tudor history are familiar with Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII and mother of King Edward VI. Others may have heard of Jane’s brothers, the dour Lord Protector Edward, Duke of Somerset and the swashbuckling Thomas, Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord Admiral. This book goes into even more depth about the family.

The introduction and initial chapter traces the Seymour ancestry back to France and how they migrated to England. I found the information on Jane’s father Sir John Seymour to be of great interest. He was a man of means and had ties to the court but didn’t spend much time there, choosing to live in Wiltshire and tend to business at home. Edward and Thomas were introduced to court and had valid careers in the navy, as gentlemen of the court and in Edward’s case as a successful soldier.

There are chapters in the book dedicated to Jane, Edward, Thomas and other siblings. Something I found most interesting was how Henry VIII really took a liking to Edward and rewarded him. He was very much part of the inner circle of the King. In addition to being the uncle of Edward VI, this is how he earned his important place on the council to rule England during Edward’s minority after Henry’s death. Loades also clarifies the reasons for Edward’s downfall. Thomas is by far the most attention-grabbing figure in the family. Mercurial and indiscreet, he seems to have set in motion all the mechanisms for his own downfall. The last part of the book traces the descendants of Edward Seymour and his wife Anne Stanhope down to the present day.

I’ve never read anything by Loades before and he certainly has the credentials of a competent historian. He puts his own spin on all aspects of this family which I found new and refreshing. Because of this, I recommend this book. My only quibble is the format of the book. It seems the author penned the book and sent the manuscript to the publisher and it was published straight from that. The paragraphs all run together and there are some grammatical and punctuation errors. Most egregiously, there is no index for the book. The publisher could have engaged the services of an editor to correct these errors but it doesn’t detract from the history as presented by the author.