1st Duke of Grafton (1675-1690)
Born 1663 Died 1690

Born on the 28th September 1663, Henry is usually claimed to be the natural son of Charles II and his mistress Barbara Villiers, Duchess of Cleveland, and so surnamed Fitzroy. The circumstances of Henry's birth are however questionable; his mother had been openly conducting an affair with Henry Jermyn at the time of his conception and Charles initally refused to acknowledge him as his son. It was only when Ms Villiers threw one of her famous tantrums, shouting "God damn me, but you shall own it!", that Charles relented and let his mistress have her way, acknowledging paternity of the young Henry.

In order to help provide for his acknowledged son the king found for him a wealthy heiress in the form of Isabella Bennet, only child of Henry Bennet, 1st Earl of Arlington, the former secretary of state. The pair were duly married on the 1st August 1672, at which the time the bridegroom was nine years old and the bride merely five; a perfectly valid arrangement at the time, but regarded as voidable by either party before their reached the age of consent (Fourteen in Henry's case and twelve for Isabella.) Which explains why they took the trouble to get married again on the 6th November 1679 once Isabella had reached the necessary age.

Shortly after the first of these two marriages on the 16th August 1672 Henry was created the Earl of Euston, Viscount Ipswich and Baron Sudbury, the designation of the senior of these titles being decided by Euston Hall, the country seat of his wife's family, which of course Henry expected to inherit in due course. After Henry's mother was made Duchess of Cleveland in 1670, he was similarly elevated to the highest rank, being created the Duke of Grafton on the 11th September 1675, to which honours were added the Order of the Garter, bestowed upon him in 1680. He was also was set up with Crown estates and awarded an hereditary pension payable from customs and excise duties.

The diarist John Evelyn described Henry as being "exceedingly handsome, by far surpassing any of the King's other natural issue" although he also complained that he was "rudely bred" whilst adding that he might well be "a tolerable person" were he "polished". Evelyn would have blamed Henry's mother whom he regarded as "the curse of our nation", a quite commonly held opinion at the time, but not one shared naturally enough by Henry. Indeed he fought two duels to defend his mother's honour (such as it was), and at the second of these even killed his opponent, a younger brother of the Earl of Derby1. Although convicted of manslaughter Henry escaped any obvious punishment.2

Such aggresive instincts were put to better use in Henry's military career. In the army he rose to the rank of Brigadier-General and served as the colonel of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards (later the Grenadier Guards) between 1681 and 1688 and again from 1688 to 1689, but appears to have been happier fighting at sea, and achieved the rank of vice-admiral in the Royal Navy. He appears to have taken part in the siege of Luxemburg in 1684 as well as in naval actions against the Barbary states, and also found time to act as the Governor of the Isle of Wight from 1684.

With the death of Charles II in 1685, the crown passed into the hands of 'uncle' James. Henry was initially supportive of James II's rule; he served as Lord High Constable at his coronation and later had command of the loyalist forces in Somerset against the Duke of Monmouth.3 However his Protestant faith eventually proved stronger than any feelings of family loyalty, and in 1688 he followed John Churchill (later the Duke of Marlborough) in deserting James and supported the claims of William of Orange to the throne. He thereafter devoted his energies to defending William's hold on his new kingdoms. He was in command of the seventy gun vessel Grafton at the battle of Beachy Head in 1690, and was killed in action later that same year during the assault on Cork on the 9th October 1690, aged only twenty-seven. His body was returned to England and he was buried in the family tomb at Euston Hall in Suffolk, on the 27th October 1690.

His marriage to Isabella Bennet produced only the one child, a son named Charles Fitzroy born 25th October 1683, who duly succeeded as the 2nd Duke of Grafton.


NOTES

1 Most accounts state that he killed the brother of the Earl of Shrewsbury which is all very well except that the Earl of Shrewsbury at the time didn't have a brother. The House of Stanley however names Henry's 'victim' as Robert Thomas Stanley, a younger brother of the 8th Earl of Derby killed on the 19th February 1686.
2 One suspects that he took the benefit of clergy.
3 Another of Charles II's bastards who, of course, may or may not have been Henry's half-brother.

SOURCES

  • Brian Masters The Dukes: The Origins, Ennoblement and History of 26 Families (Blond and Briggs, 1975)
  • E.S. Turner Amazing Grace: The Great Days of Dukes (Sutton Publishing, 2003)
  • Peter Draper, The House of Stanley
    http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/hs1864/index.htm
  • Grenadier Guards
    http://www.regiments.org/regiments/uk/guards/f-1GG.htm

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