HENRY VIII’S CHILDREN: Part 4 – The Many Illegitimate Sons

Ahead of the release of Henry VIII’s Children: Legitimate and Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Tudor King on 30 May (Pen & Sword Currently have a 30% off special throughout May), I am doing a 15-part series on some of the smaller, lesser-known details that are covered in the book. These details played out in the background of the defining moments of the lives of each of Henry’s children. Here is a tiny snippet of each of the men who claimed (or were later claimed) to be the sons of Henry VIII. Many men claimed to be illegitimate sons of Henry VIII, for assorted reasons. As with claims made by others through the centuries, the information is impossible to verify, just assertions made by bold men in return for favour or protection.


John Perrot

Perrot was born in the second week of November 1528, likely at Haroldston manor in Pembrokeshire, Wales.24 Perrot’s mother was Mary Berkeley of Thornbury, Gloucestershire, daughter of Thomas Berkeley and Susan FitzAlan. Mary Berkeley lived as a ward with her uncle Maurice Baron Berkeley, alongside another ward Thomas Perrot, son of Sir Thomas Perrot and Lady Katherine Poyntz. Fellow wards Thomas and Mary married at a noticeably young age and lived in Pembrokeshire, with their daughters Jane and Elizabeth when baby John was born in 1528. Assertions have been made that Mary Berkeley was a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, yet there is no evidence to prove this. The Berkeley/FitzAlan families were prestigious and well-connected families in England and Ireland, while the Perrot men fought at the Battle of Flodden and were wealthy Welsh landowners. John Perrot would go on to live at court and in noble circles in Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth I’s reigns, spend time in control of parts of Wales and Ireland under Queen Elizabeth’s and lead a dramatic royal life.

Thomas Stuckeley

Despite the rumours of the king and the Boleyn sisters, many others were put forward as possible lovers of the king, one such lady being Jane Pollard. By 1525, Jane had married Sir Hugh Stukeley and was almost thirty years of age. Sir Hugh and Lady Jane had ten children, five sons and five daughters, however, with sketchy details, the birth order of the children is hard to judge. Their marriage went ahead around 1512, with their youngest son born in 1529. Thomas Stuckeley was roughly the middle child of this surprisingly healthy large family, with all ten children living until adulthood. Jane Pollard herself was one of eleven children and had married well into a high-ranking family. Hugh Stukeley’s father Sir Thomas was the eldest of seven, had been Knight of the Body to King Henry in 1516, and had inherited the vast glamourous estate of Affeton in Devonshire. Sir Hugh and Lady Jane certainly had the family connections to move in royal circles, and Affeton was a home fine enough to host the king and many nobles, including the respected and beloved Courtenays.

Her son Thomas Stuckeley worked for Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk under Henry VIII, and then went on to lie, cheat and swindle his way through Edward VI, King Henri of France, Mary I, Elizabeth I, Holy Roman Emperor Philip, and Pope Gregory, before disappearing alongside King Sebastian of Portugal during a battle in Morroco.

Richard Edwardes

Edwardes was born in North Petherton, Somerset in 1525, to William Edwardes and his wife Agnes Blewitt. The legends say King Henry visited hunting grounds and met Agnes, who cannot have been more than fifteen in 1525, and fathered her child. The trouble with the theory is that King Henry did not travel on progress anywhere near Somerset in the 1523-1525 window in which Agnes gave birth. Agnes was not a lady at the royal court. A tale that King Henry paid Agnes a stipend for her baby’s education is similarly nothing but theory.

Agnes’ son Richard Edwardes grew up in North Petherton before attending Oxford in 1540, studying under George Etheridge, becoming a fellow in 1544 and joining Christ Church College Oxford in 1546.  But Edwardes’ talents lay in composing, poetry, and writing plays, and joined the Chapel Royal in 1557. A life at court writing now-famous and Shakespeare-inspiring plays, and composing music for Queen Elizabeth I saw Edwardes happy and successful, only for him to die right before receiving a substantial gift from the queen now rumoured to be his sister.

Henry Lee

One of the more unusual claims was yet another son named Henry, this child born in 1533-1534. This child was born at a time when King Henry was married to Anne Boleyn and their daughter Princess Elizabeth had just been born. Baby Henry’s father, Sir Anthony Lee was an attendant to Thomas Cromwell, who married Lady Margaret Wyatt, daughter of Cromwell’s dear friend Sir Henry Wyatt. The pair likely met as Margaret Wyatt was close to Thomas Cromwell, and she spent time with him and his wife before her marriage, and again in later years when her husband was in prison. But Margaret Wyatt, Margaret Lee after marrying in 1532, was a lady-in-waiting for Anne Boleyn, albeit a quiet woman. Margaret would have spent much time at court, well within King Henry’s sights.

Henry Lee lived a reasonably quiet life among his educated circle of family and friends as he worked in parliament, and rose to become Queen Elizabeth’s Champion in 1570, at the age of fifty-seven. Henry remained close to the queen for another twenty years before doing the one thing almost no one (except his grandfather Henry Wyatt) did in a Tudor court – retire happy in old age.

Up next – Etheldreda Malte