Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton

Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton. (1663 – 1690) was the second illegitimate son of Barbara Villiers and Charles II but he was not recognised as a natural son – Villiers was somewhat loose in her attentions to Charles – until 1672 when he was nine and Charles saw a likeness to himself.

Having been acknowledged as a natural son he was formally engaged to Isabella Bennet, the daughter and heir to Henry Bennet, Earl of Arlington, – she was five at the time – so consummation would have to wait a while but to keep him interested he was created Earl of Euston, after his future father in law’s estate (which must have concerned his in laws) and, subsequently, in 1675, Duke of Grafton.

He and his brother, George, Earl of Northumberland, who I have no interest in, then went to Paris – I imagine on a mini Grand Tour – and following his return, despite his mother’s attempts to break the contract, he married Isabella in 1679…he was 16 she was 12. Evelyn recorded that “the sweetest, hopefulest, most beautiful child, & most virtuous too, was sacrific'd to a boy that had been rudely bred” but hoped that the Duke would “emerge a plaine, usefull, robust officer, & were he polish'd, a tolerable person, for he is exceedingly handsome, by far surpassing any of the King's other naturall issue”. Apparently the marriage was consummated in 1681.

Charles wished for a military career for Henry and in 1678-79 he served aboard the Happy Return in the Mediterranean and in 1680 served under Sir John Berry and saw service in Tangier, Izmir, Alicante and Malaga until leaving his service in December. Meanwhile he had been inaugurated as a Knight of the Garter and in 1681 became a colonel in the 1st Foot Guards and in 1682-3 served as Master of Trinity House (the body responsible for the Pilotage of the Thames). At the beginning of 1683 he succeeded Prince Rupert as Vice-Admiral and in April of the same year he was promoted to Admiral and Commander in Chief of the narrow seas (the coasts and hinterland between southern England and northern France) but was replaced at the end of July by Lord Dartmouth.

Following Charles II’s death in 1685 Henry found favour under James II, acting as Lord High Chamberlain at his coronation and taking a prominent part at the Battle of Sedgemoor – the final action of the Monmouth rebellion following which his half brother, James Crofts, Duke of Monmouth, was executed.

In November 1685 John Talbot, the brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury, gave him “an almost insufferable provocation” which resulted in a duel during which Henry was wounded in his hand but Talbot was killed, for which he was forgiven. Almost immediately afterwards he was involved in a plot with his brother George to incarcerate the latter’s wife in an overseas convent – George had married beneath his station and without royal permission. However after complaints from her family the king intervened and ordered her return.

In 1688 James II once again preferred Dartmouth over Henry as Commander in Chief of the fleet opposing William of Orange and also abolished the position of Vice-Admiral in order “to be rid of the Duke”. Fitzroy violently opposed the promotion of Roman Catholics in the services and James’s policy regarding France and had publicly disagreed with the king. In a fit of pique he visited William and afterwards was involved in a conspiracy, which never came to fruition, by which he was to usurp Dartmouth as Admiral. Despite this he joined James’s army swearing to fight and die for the king but later defected with John Churchill at Axminster.

He was in favour of a Regency but carried the orb at William and Mary’s coronation. Perhaps because of his advocacy of a Regency he was soon out of royal favour and lost all his positions. He entered the navy in 1690 as a private captain and fought at the Battle of Beachy Head, where his actions earned him a letter of commendation from William.

Henry then joined Churchill’s expeditionary force to Ireland and was wounded at the siege of Cork in August. He lingered until the 9th of October when he died aged 27.

His death seems to have been genuinely and widely mourned, the Earl of Nottingham wrote “‘[he was] a very gallant man, and extremely beloved by the seamen, with whom he was very familiar and often joined them in their rough sports, and had he lived, would have deserved to have been Lord Admiral”.

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