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Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales: Charles I's Elder Brother

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales circa 1613.

Henry Frederick, Prince of Wales circa 1613.

Henry Frederick, Stuart Heir

King James VI of Scotland and Anne of Denmark's first child Henry Frederick Stuart was born on the 19th February 1594 at Stirling Castle in Scotland. He was named in honour of his grandfathers, the infamous Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary, Queen of Scots and King Frederick II of Denmark.

Henry was related to Queen Elizabeth I of England through Margaret Tudor, Henry VIII's sister who had married James IV of Scotland. In 1603 this connection led to the thrones of England and Ireland passing to James VI who ruled in England and Ireland as James I.

King James invented a tax to cover the cost of the spectacular baptism and entertainment celebrating his son and heir. All was not as perfect as it seemed. Rumours abounded that Henry's father was not the king but Ludovic Stuart, the Duke of Lennox.

Another whisper was that King James was Lennox's lover. Whatever the truth, he retained James' favour and he was a star of the baptism tournament, dressed in Turkish garb.

Henry Stuart's mother Anne of Denmark was denied the role of hands on mother by James.

Henry Stuart's mother Anne of Denmark was denied the role of hands on mother by James.

The Royal Children

Anne of Denmark was stunned to learn from her husband shortly after Henry's birth that she would not be permitted to govern his upbringing. James appointed staunch protestant John Erskine, Earl of Mar and his former nurse Annabel(l) Erskine, nee Murray, Countess of Mar and John's mother, to Henry's separate household staff. Until 1603 and the family's move to London Anne saw Henry infrequently, James was with him more often.

Henry's health was a great deal more robust than his younger brother Charles' (1600-1649) who suffered from rickets caused by a deficiency of vitamin D which affected his movement and development. Only one of their siblings Elizabeth, later the Queen of Bohemia survived to adulthood. Margaret, Robert, Mary and Sophia died in infancy.

Charles as Duke of York and Albany in 1611. Within a year of this portrait he became the heir to the throne. Henry was dead.

Charles as Duke of York and Albany in 1611. Within a year of this portrait he became the heir to the throne. Henry was dead.

James, Henry and Charles Stuart

Henry studied military tactics and history, was a natural leader and was athletic, intelligent, and bold. An opposite of Charles. He particularly enjoyed hunting and hawking but he was not allowed to swim because it was considered too dangerous.

Henry secured supporters at court who were keen to ensure that when a change of ruler occurred they enjoyed a powerful position. King James believed that his eldest son was a threat. As a result, James was a remote father who much preferred being a kingly figure to an intimate father and role model.

Charles hero-worshipped Henry and he tried hard to emulate him despite his body's maladies. Henry delighted in teasing "Baby" Charles. Believing himself to be more important than his scrap of a sibling, Henry was reckless with Charles' feelings.

For example, when 15 years old Henry plonked a bishop’s hat on 9 years old Charles’ head and grandly announced that when he was king he would make Charles the Archbishop of Canterbury just so his rickets-affected legs would be permanently hidden beneath flowing robes. Charles was devastated. He stamped on the hat defiantly before being led out of the room, tears streaming down his face.

A Fascinating Stuart History Anecdote

Elizabeth I of England died on the 24th March 1603. James VI of Scotland was proclaimed James I of England and Ireland and the king, Queen Anne and Henry relocated to London which James saw as a mightier seat of power. Charles remained in Scotland until late summer 1604.

In his 1876 book on Charles I, Jacob Abbott related the following intriguing tale:

While King James was preparing to leave Scotland to take possession of the English throne an old Highland laird came to bid him farewell. He gave the king many parting counsels and good wishes and then...he went directly to Charles, who was then about two years old, and bowed before him and kissed his hand... King James undertook to correct his supposed mistake by telling him that that was his second son, and that the other boy was the heir to the crown. "No," said the old laird, "I am not mistaken. I know to whom I am speaking. This child, now in his nurse's arms, will be greater than his brother. This is the one who is to convey his father's name and titles to succeeding generations."

The laird's words were probably dismissed and yet they were accurate.

Henry, Prince of Wales' residence: Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire.

Henry, Prince of Wales' residence: Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire.

Medieval Medicine Used on Prince Henry

Henry was created the Prince of Wales and Earl of Chester in 1610 and in 1611 he was awarded Woodstock Palace in Oxfordshire as his residence. He did not have long to enjoy his new home although he did add a banqueting hall.

Henry died on the evening of the 6th November 1612 at St. James' Palace in London, most probably from typhoid fever but his physicians' expert opinion was that he'd eaten too many grapes and overexerted himself whilst exercising.

In accordance with medieval medicinal practices, his doctors bled him, purged him, shaved his head when he became delirious, used cupping glasses and remarkably alive (soon dead) cockerel was sliced and tied to his feet. Their treatments sped him towards his death.

James I/VI and Charles forever maintained that Henry had been poisoned despite a post-mortem not finding any signs of poison. Some later historians have argued that Henry suffered from porphyria, the disease that famously tormented George III of the House of Hanover (1738-1820).

Charles I at his January 1649 trial for treason.

Charles I at his January 1649 trial for treason.

Grief at the Prince of Wales' Death

The public mourned the loss of their popular Prince of Wales and privately the king and queen were devastated. James I/VI never recovered from it and Queen Anne could not bear anyone to mention Henry's death.

Her health grew gradually worse and she died on the 2nd March 1619. Charles, now heir apparent to the throne felt the loss keenly and fell ill for a time, alarming royals, courtiers and the public.

Henry's body lay in state at St. James Palace for one month prior to his funeral with 2000 people in the congregation at Westminster Abbey on 7th December. The king could not compose himself enough to attend the two hours long funeral service so Charles was the event's chief mourner.

Within the month Henry’s entire household was disbanded. This came as a surprise because it was expected that the staff would be transferred to Charles. He became the Prince of Wales in 1616 and succeeded his father on the 27th March 1625.

After three civil wars King Charles I was deposed, put on trial and executed. There wasn't a monarchy in England between 1649 and 1660. It's tempting to wonder whether Henry would have secured a different history for the Stuart dynasty if he'd lived and ruled.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle