24 April 2016

Guest Post by Sarah Bryson: Charles Brandon, The Myth, The Man


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Much has been written about Charles Brandon over the centuries and yet strangely so little has been compiled into one singular book about his life. We most often learn about Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk through biographies about his third wife, Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, younger sister of Henry VIII or his fourth wife Katherine Willoughby Duchess of Suffolk. We can also gain information about the Duke from reading through biographies and sources related to the great King himself.

Charles was often at the King’s side, participating in jousting tournaments with him, sharing intimate conversations, hunting, hawking, attending council meetings or travelling overseas with the King or leading Henry VIII’s wars in France. From these sources we see glimpses of Charles participating in courtly life as well as the more intimate moments where the Duke relaxes his more public persona and allows the real man to shine through. Yet throughout all these mentions it is strange to see that so little has been compiled about his life.

Several years ago I found myself curious as to exactly who this Charles Brandon was. As mentioned he was often at court, always close to the King, trusted with important political and military missions and even married to Henry VIII’s sister. Yet, who was he? Who was the real Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk?

With my curiosity snagged I knew I had to find out more. I began my research at the library yet frustratingly there was little written about Brandon except in relation to those around him. This was not enough for me and I turned to original documents that I discovered online such as Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII. These documents written during Brandon’s life gave me a deeper insight into Brandon’s political and military career and the slightest, most tantalizing, glimpse into the man’s personal life – however I wanted, needed more! 

Much to my delight I was able to come across a number of personal letters written by Brandon himself; letters to fellow courtiers and even to King Henry VIII. It was through examining these letters that I was able to gain a deeper understanding of who Charles Brandon was, the man beneath the courtly facade.

Brandon would often overstep the boundaries of what was considered acceptable for the age. He married a woman almost twice his age only to take her money and have the marriage annulled before returning to his first wife with whom he had two daughters. He flirted with a European Duchess to the astonishment of all those around, except King Henry VIII who tried to convince the Duchess to marry Brandon! He then went on to marry Henry VIII’s younger sister Mary without the King’s permission… an act which was considered treason at the time! He spoke out against the King’s marriage to his second wife Anne Boleyn and yet Charles Brandon survived all of these bold behaviours. 

Not only did he survive but he went on to have a successful court and military career and died one of the King’s most beloved and dearest friends. Why? Because of the great and lasting friendship that he had formed with the King when they were younger and because of Brandon’s ability to read the King, to inflate his ego and to know what to say and when to say it. No matter his personal thoughts and beliefs Brandon was always loyal to the King and Henry VIII came to rely heavily upon this loyalty.

Charles Brandon was a man with thoughts, feelings, desires and fears. He lived, he breathed and he died a well-respected and deeply admired member of Henry VIII’s court. Through my book “Charles Brandon: The King’s Man” I have been able to peel back the layers to find out the real Charles Brandon and it is my hope that through reading my book people are able to gain a deeper, richer understanding of this fascinating man.  

Sarah Bryson

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About the Author

Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She is the author of Mary Boleyn in a Nutshell and Charles Brandon: The King’s Man.  Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment, and wishes to return to England one day. Find out more at Sarah's website sarah-bryson.com and follow her on Twitter @SarahBryson44.

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