Henry VIII and his bastard children

Sir John Perrot
Born in 1528, Sir John Perrot was a profligate and altogether reckless man, whose life seems to have been an unending sequence of quarrels, emnities and squabbles. His family was well connected at court, but the highlight of Perrot’s first spell of service in the house of William Paulet, when Perrot was eighteen, seems to have been a fight with his peer, Henry Neville, sixth Lord Bergavenny, which ended with Perrot smashing a glass into Neville’s face. By the early 1550s he had amassed extraordinary debts of between £7,000 and £8,000, some of which was possibly accrued on foreign service, since he is said to have saved the life of the French king, Henri II, who was attacked while hunting by a wild boar.

Although he spent much of Mary’s reign in prison, either for his protestantism or for debt, the accession of Elizabeth brought him considerable rewards, and he served her for much of his career in Wales and Ireland. He had a talent for making enemies, however, and by the end of the 1580s these certainly included William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and Sir Christopher Hatton, and – in all likelihood – Sir Walter Ralegh too.

Those enemies – but principally Burghley – engineered a treason charge against Perrot; he was charged in December 1590 and spent a year in the Tower awaiting trial. He was sentenced to death on 27 April 1592, but died on 3 November the same year, while in prison still, but without the sentence having been carried out. There were rumours that Elizabeth was planning to release him and that he might therefore have been poisoned to forestall any acts of vengeance against those who had plotted against him.

The case against him seems to have been thin; but Perrot was undoubtedly his own worst enemy. (Or second worst, at any rate, after Burghley.) He certainly had spoken ill of Elizabeth, and did not deny at his trial that he had said:

Stick not so much upon Her Majesty’s letter, she may command what she will, but we will do what we list… Ah, silly woman, now she shall not curb me, she shall not rule me now… God’s wounds, this it is to serve a base bastard pissing kitchen woman, if I had served any prince in Christendom I have not been so dealt withal

Rather charmingly, he claimed he had been quoted out of context. But, on hearing rumours of a Spanish invasion, he had also publicly declared of his queen:

Lo, now she is ready to piss herself for fear of the Spaniards:  I am again one of her white boys.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great deal of evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, to suggest that Perrot, was Henry VIII’s son. What there is, principally, is hearsay, and much of that from the late Elizabethan and early Jacobean courtier Robert Naunton, who wrote of Perrot

on his return to the town after his trial, he said, with oaths and with fury, to the Lieutenant, Sir Owen Hopton, “What! will the Queen suffer her brother to be offered up as a sacrifice to the envy of my flattering adversaries?”  Which being made known to the Queen, and somewhat enforced, she refused to sign it, and swore he should not die, for he was an honest and faithful man.  And surely, though not altogether to set our rest and faith upon tradition and old reports, as that Sir Thomas Perrot, his father, was a gentleman of the Privy Chamber, and in the Court married to a lady of great honour, which are presumptions in some implications; but, if we go a little further and compare his pictures, his qualities, gesture, and voice, with that of the King, which memory retains yet amongst us, they will plead strongly that he was a surreptitious child of the blood royal.

Naunton was married to Perrot’s grand-daughter, so one might argue that he was in a position to know the truth of such matters. On the other hand, of course, he might have considered there to be some personal advantage in implying that his wife had royal blood.

At any rate, I think Naunton’s explanation for Perrot’s fall – that he was ‘a person that loved to stand too much alone, and on his own legs’ – is a generous, but true, assessment of a difficult but fascinating man. But I do wonder if Walsingham’s assessment, that ‘He might have lived in better season in the time of King Henry VIII… [whereas now he] must be content to conform himself as other men do’ doesn’t also discretely nod towards the issue of his paternity, which might also account for some of his self-destructive behaviour.

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32 thoughts on “Henry VIII and his bastard children

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  1. I am currently reading a very interesting book by Elizabeth Norton about Bessie Blount. It brings up the possibility that her eldest daughter Elizabeth Tailboys was also the child of Henry VIII. She has some convincing evidence too.

  2. My Great Grandfather x 15 was Richard Edwardes. He should not be an “Edwardes”. Just because you are not married to someone doesn’t mean you are not in the bloodline. The whole crock of the illegitamate thing is crazy!
    I feel this all needs to be changed in history. King Henry V111 was our grandfathers father, which would make King Henry my Grandfather. I need to tell Elizabeth about this, she needs to correct it.
    The genealogy tree is screwed up.
    The king had many children, He Impregnated Agnes Beupine Blewitt when she was 14 ( Richards mother). Another man named William T. Edwardes raised Richard.
    But tragically Richard died young. William was 25, Agnes was 14 when they married. Say Child Mol-esters here. okay?

    Richard Edwardes
    Richard Edwardes (also Edwards, 25 March 1525 – 31 October 1566) was an English poet, playwright, and composer; he was made a Gentleman of the Chapel Royal, and was master of the singing boys. He was known for his comedies and interludes. He was also rumored to be an illegitimate son of Henry VIII.
    My family
    Teresa and Tammy Harness
    1. Vicky Yvonne Anderson
    2. Inez Pauline Defer
    3. Pauline Witherspoon Epperson
    4. Mary Amanda Averilla “Mollie” Sims
    5. Sarah Catherine Wayne
    6. Lucinda Lydia Chamlee
    7. Jane Dorcas Roberts
    8. Cordelia Edwards
    9. John Edwards
    10. John Lillburn Edwards
    11. Robert Edwards
    12. William Edwards
    13. John Edwards
    14. Richard Edwardes
    15. Agnes Beupine Blewitt and King Henry V111 (William Edwardes raised Richard as his own.)

  3. “Absalom and Achitophel” (KJV Ahithophel) is a satirical poem attacking the Whig party; however, there are numerous references to well-known political characters (Charles II; Lord Ashley, Earl of Shaftesbury; and James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, only vaguely camouflaged as Biblical personages), who fathered several famous illegitimate children. I remember agreeing with the professor’s interpretation of the allegory–the conflict between fatherhood and kingship.

    Was there such a literary piece about King Henry? Henry seemed to be driven to have a male heir.

  4. I don’t believe that the king had disrespect for any woman, in fact he adored woman and I do believe he loved everyone of his wives but the desire to father a son was so much stronger . His father instilled this in him as a young boy . Brainwashed him to an extent . Henry Fitzroy was only recognised by the king because he was male . To lose so many sons was the heartbreak for Henry . The cross he had to carry .
    It was also a black mark on his masculinity. Easier to blame a wife than accept the truth .

  5. I think King Henry would have acknowledged Elizabeth Tallboys if she was male but King Henry didn’t think much of women also no one would have supported a woman for long look what happened to Lady Jane Grey,it is possible that she was King Henrys but usually if he was finished with a mistress he married them off

  6. I am not so sure that Katherine Carey is the kings daughter according to Anne Boleyn King Henry had impotence problems, I am not sure if that effects fertility or not and Mary Boleyn had a bit of a reputation it is possible the children weren’t King Henry’s or William Carey s

  7. English history has always fascinated me. I am 3/4 British with no clue about my ancestry. Only dreams of who I might be related to.
    In regards to the supposed illegitimate daughter of Henry, who should have taken the throne instead of Elizabeth; given his record, I don’t believe he ever would have recognized her. He didn’t really seem to have a lot of respect for women. Except maybe Jane Seymore. But who knows how long that would have lasted if she hadn’t died.
    It would seem he had some illness in his blood and Mary & Elizabeth were fortunate to live through. For the most part it always seemed to me that although they survived, they were a little weak.
    King Henry seems by far to be the most popular King in English history. Which other Monarchies are as interesting?

  8. I would be very interested if you were to bring out a book on the illegitmate children of Henry VIII

  9. King Henry VIII had a secret daughter who should have taken the throne before Elizabeth I, new research has revealed.

    Elizabeth Tailboys was the Tudor monarch’s illegitimate lovechild who would have changed the course of English history had the King acknowledged her as his at the time.

    By rights she should have taken the throne on the death of Queen Mary in 1558, making her the true Elizabeth I and not Elizabeth, the daughter of Anne Boleyn.

  10. I have always intrigued with Tudor history and was delighted to find when doing my Husbands Family tree that Sir John Perrot was his 7th great grandfather.

  11. Interestingly, Princess Diana is a descendent of Katherine Carey. So if she is indeed a daughter of Henry VIII (as is likely) William would be the first descendent of Henry VIII on the throne since Elizabeth!

  12. Hi! I’m an Anglophile from Louisiana (USA) and appreciate your article for its information as well as its readability.

  13. In Spain (Castile) & Portugal illegitimate children succeeded, too, when the main line was without heirs, while both a King of Scots & a Prince of Wales in medieval times married an illegitimate daughter of an English King. It’s possible Fitzroy would have succeeded.

  14. Hi Mathew. I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog. I’ve just finished reading Alison Weir’s 2011 Bio on Mary Boylen where she poses that Mary’s daughter Katherine Carey could well be an illegitimate child of Henry’s. I’ve not taken much notice of the rumours of Katherine and Henry Carey’s father being Henry VIII, but Alison Weir outlines a very detailed argument. I’ve also recently been enjoying “Elizabeth I and the Culture of Writing”. I’m sure there is much research yet to be done on Henry Fitzroy yet. Had a great lute lesson today and am re-inspired for the year. Now to find some lute playing in London when I’m there in July! See you on Twitter.

  15. Great post, looking forward to the others. btw, surely a clue to Henry Fitzroy’s paternity lies not just in the given name but also the surname: “Fitz” meaning “son (of)” and “roy” meaning king. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitzroy_(disambiguation)

    As for his death, it makes me wonder… I mean, I know infant and youth mortality was higher in those times, but I wonder how the mortality rate of children of Henry VIII (specifically) and royalty in general compare to average mortality rates of the times. Were royal offspring dying at a higher rate? Were they being bumped off for political reasons?

    1. Hi Giuseppe, thanks very much for taking the time to comment – and for your kind words too!
      Yes, you’re quite right. I was thinking of the Fitzroy part of his name, rather than the forename. My apologies for not making that clear.
      I think, looking at the Tudor bloodline, there may well have been some kind of genetic weaknesses/flaws. After all, Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur, Henry Fitzroy and Edward VI all died exceptionally young, and, as we all know, Henry’s first wife Katherine suffered numerous miscarriages and stillbirths. Mary I, meanwhile, was never able to produce an heir and Elizabeth, despite the salacious gossip, never tried. (As you may know, there were rumours at the time that she was incapable of doing so.)
      They were, as a family, either remarkably unlucky, or there were other problems inherent in their inheritance.

      1. I Do believe their was some kind of genetic problem with the males in this family .

  16. Interesting! you addressed what was my first thought when I saw the opening question–both Elizabeth and Mary were considered illegitimate at different points. Such a complex genealogy!

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