20 March 2018

La Reine Blanche, Mary Tudor a Life in Letters, by Sarah Bryson

 Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

Author Sarah Bryson has returned to primary sources, state papers and letters, to unearth the truth about this intelligent and passionate woman. This is the story of Mary Tudor, told through her own words

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

At just eighteen years of age Mary Tudor, younger sister of King Henry VIII, was married to the aging French King Louis XII. Less than three months later, on the evening of 1 January 1515, Louis XII was dead and Mary a widow. The now Dowager Queen of France would not stay in a state of widowhood for long. A mere two months after her first husband died Mary took her life into her own hands and dared to marry a man of her own choosing. This man was Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

But who was this Charles Brandon and how did he, a newly made Duke and far beneath the station of the dowager queen, become her second husband? First it is important to look back at Brandon’s youth to understand his rise at court and how he came to be in the position to marry a member of the royal family.

Brandon was born to William Brandon and Elizabeth Bruyn sometime during 1484, in France, while his parents were in exile with Henry Tudor. William Brandon accompanied Henry Tudor and his army back to England where Henry laid claim to the English throne. On August 22 1485 the Battle of Bosworth at Bosworth Field took place between the forces of Henry Tudor and Richard III. William Brandon was Henry Tudor’s standard bearer and was killed by Richard III. Brandon was only around one year of age when his father died.

The date of Charles Brandon’s return to England is unknown. However he spent his early years under the care of his grandfather, also called William Brandon, and then his uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon. Thomas was a member of Henry VII’s court and the king’s Master of the Horse. It was under Thomas’ care that Brandon began to learn the ways of court.

During his youth Brandon and Henry Tudor, the future Henry VIII, became friends. Brandon was six years older than the Prince and it was through Brandon that Henry could live his youthful experiences of jousting, flirting with women and other fun activities at court.

At around the age of twenty six Brandon married his first wife Anne Browne at Stepney church. After the birth of their first daughter Brandon left Mary to marry Margaret Neville, Dame Mortimer. Dame Mortimer was many years older than Brandon and on 7 February 1507 Brandon had licence of Dame Margaret's lands and began to sell them off in quick succession, profiting over £1000. After seeking to have his marriage to Dame Mortimer annulled Brandon returned to Anne Browne and married her in a public ceremony at St Michael Cornhill. The couple had a second daughter before Anne died in 1511.

In 1513 Charles Brandon was contracted to marry Elizabeth Grey, Viscountess Lisle, daughter of John Grey 2nd Viscount Lisle, who had died in 1504. On May 15 Brandon was created Viscount Lisle and received a number of grants to signify his new position. Also in 1513 Charles Brandon flirted with Margaret of Austria, Duchess of Savoy causing a huge scandal by stealing a ring from her finger! Rumours spread that Brandon and the Duchess would marry and while Henry VIII may have at first supported the prospect of the marriage, ultimately he had to deny any involvement and publicly reject the prospect of a marriage.

On 23 April 1513 Brandon was elected to the Order of the Garter. He continued to go from strength to strength and on Candlemas Day, 2 February 1514, Charles Brandon, Viscount Lisle was formally invested as the Duke of Suffolk. The ceremony took place at Lambeth and was conducted by the King.

A mere thirteen months after this, Brandon was married in secret to Mary Tudor. Toward the end of 1514 the eighteen year old Mary married the fifty two year old Louis XII, King of France. The marriage was one of the terms of a peace treaty England and France. However, before Mary left for France, at Dover, Mary made her brother promise that, should Louis XII die before her, she could remarry a man of her own choosing.

Mary’s marriage lasted less than three months and on 1 January Louis XII died. With his sister now a widow in France, she was a valuable pawn in the political game that could be married off by Francis I, now king of France. Henry VIII sent Brandon to France to bring Mary, and as much of her dowry as possible, back home to England.

Before Brandon left for France Henry VIII made the Duke promise not to marry his sister in France, but to wait until they both returned to England. This promise suggests that Henry knew that Brandon had feelings for the young dowager queen. If Henry VIII had any intention to keep this promise remains questionable, neither does it suggest that he remembered his earlier promise to his sister.

In addition to this just before Brandon’s arrival in France two English Friars met with Mary. They were sent to turn Mary’s mind against Brandon, adding that the English Privy Council would never consent to her marrying Brandon. They added that Brandon and Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s right hand man, had performed witchcraft to turn Henry VIII’s mind towards their will – namely Brandon’s marriage to Mary. What this meeting highlights is that, in addition to Mary’s promise extracted from her brother, and Henry VIII’s words to Brandon, is that both Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor had feelings for one another and that their minds, even before her wedding to Louis XII, were turned towards marriage.

Brandon did bring Mary home to England, however he did not keep his promise. By the beginning of March 1515 Brandon and Mary were married and in doing so Brandon had committed treason by marrying the King’s sister without permission. The pair threw themselves at the mercy of Henry VIII and decided to lay the blame for the secret wedding upon Mary – after all how could the king punish his most beloved sister? Henry however, had to appear furious at the news of the wedding. It had been undertaken without his permission and he could not be seen as being taken for a fool. He demanded all of Mary’s dowry, her jewels and plate as well as fining the couple £24 000. However six years after their marriage the couple had only repaid £1324, which makes one wonder just how angry Henry VIII was about them marrying.

The newly married couple return to Dover on the 2 of May and are married again on the 13 May at Greenwich in front of the king and queen. Brandon and Mary went on to have four children, a son named Henry after the King, born on 11 March 1516 between ten and eleven o’clock at night. A daughter named Frances born on the 16 July between two and three o’clock in the morning. Another daughter named Eleanor born sometime between 1518 – 1521 and a second son named Henry born in 1522.

After Brandon and Mary’s return to England the Duke continued to serve his king, despite not always agreeing with his decisions. In late 1526 Henry VIII’s eye famously fell upon Anne Boleyn. Daughter of Thomas Boleyn, Anne was educated in the European Courts and being highly intelligent she more than a match for Henry VIII. Dissatisfied with his marriage to Katherine of Aragon and desperate for a son and heir, Henry sought to take Anne as his second wife. Personally Brandon strongly disliked Anne Boleyn, the two never seeing eye to eye. Brandon silently sympathised with Katherine of Aragon and resented Anne Boleyn’s rising position that resulted in his own influence with the king slipping. In addition, his wife Mary was a loyal friend of Katherine and deeply resented Anne Boleyn’s influence and displacement of Katherine whom she believed to be the only rightful queen. Despite his personal sympathies, Brandon remained loyal to his king and supported Henry VIII throughout the resolving of The King’s Great Matter and the subsequent annulment of the royal marriage.

On January 25 Henry and Anne married and on Sunday 1 June 1533 Anne Boleyn was crowned queen at Westminster Abbey. Charles Brandon’s role was to walk before the future queen carrying her crown and then during the coronation he stood close to the queen holding a white staff of office. Brandon then acted as Lord High Steward and Constable at Anne Boleyn’s Coronation feast, which was held at Westminster Hall. He wore a doublet covered in pearls and rode a charger covered in crimson velvet up and down the hall.

Less than a month later on the 25 June Mary Tudor died. It was a great loss for Brandon, not only was he no longer brother-in-law to the king, but he lost Mary’s French pension. In desperate need of money, on the 7 September 1533 Brandon married Katherine Willoughby. At the time Brandon was forty-nine and Katherine fourteen! Despite it not being uncommon for a man to marry a woman much younger than himself, this extreme age gap brought about several mutterings of disapproval at the time.

In 1539 Charles Brandon was appointed The Lord Grand Master/Lord Steward of the Household. Brandon was responsible for the household of the court below stairs, including such things as the running of the kitchens, the provision of fuel for the household, drinks and other domestic responsibilities as well as overseeing the maintenance of the grounds and gardens of the household. Brandon was also responsible for felonies or offences committed by the king’s servants. Brandon was also the head of the Board of Green Cloth.

During the last ten years of his life Brandon was very active in military matters. On 1 October 1536 The Pilgrimage of Grace began. The Pilgrimage was a protest against the suppression of the monasteries, complaints against various taxes being imposed or rumours of taxes and importantly complaints against those people who were working for the king, including Thomas Cromwell. Over the coming weeks it was reported that the rebels had gathered 40,000 men to support their cause. On the 9 October the rebels dispatched their petition of grievances to the king. Charles Brandon was chosen by Henry VIII to keep an eye on the rebels. Brandon arrived in Huntingdon on 9 October at 6am, then on the 15 October Henry VIII wrote to Brandon again detailing that he should instruct the rebels to surrender their weapons and give all the information they can about how the rebellion started. If they would surrender. they would be dismissed without any further problems. By early 1537 the Pilgrimage was finally subdued and the rebels dispersed.

In the early 1540’s relations between England and Scotland were breaking down. There had been many ‘hit and run’ attacks conducted by the English into Scottish towns just across the border where English forces had burned villages and stolen livestock. The king needed someone he could trust to guard the English Scottish borders and once more he turned to Brandon.

Brandon was appointed as Royal Lieutenant of the North and sent to the Scottish borders in January 1543, staying there and overseeing the defences until March 1544. His duties did not just include protecting the border from Scottish invasion, piracy or insurrection by the local Scots, he was also entrusted with overseeing trials and administering punishments accordingly, as well as following the directions given to him by the king and the Privy Council. A tentative peace treaty with Scotland was signed at Greenwich on 1 July 1543, ratified on 25th August 1543, but rejected by the Scottish parliament in the December of that year.

Soon after Henry VIII turned his attention to war against France. This would be Henry VIII’s final hurrah against his old enemy and he sought to align with the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in an attempt to capture P.aris. A peace treaty between The Holy Roman Emperor and England had been signed in February 1543, but at the time Scotland was causing difficulties and the king’s attention had been turned to his northern borders. Now that Scotland was no longer an issue Henry VIII returned his sights to invading France

Brandon was called to action and at the age of fifty nine/sixty he went to war once more. While Henry VIII’s initial plan was to take Paris, he abandoned this plan and decided it was more strategic to take Boulogne because by occupying it, the town could be held for ransom. Brandon was appointed lieutenant & Captain General of the army and tasked with the taking of Boulogne; and it would seem that he was excited about what lay ahead as he made jokes with the other members of the Council about the forthcoming war. Meanwhile the Duke of Norfolk was ordered to besiege Montreuil.

By the end of June 1544 Brandon and his men were in France and shortly afterward they began the great siege against Boulogne. Brandon was firmly in control of his men and the campaign working with his council to ensure that not only his men but also the horses that had been brought across had enough food and water for the campaign. Brandon saw that no mercy was shown to the town of Boulogne. Over a period of six weeks he ordered approximately 100,000 gun stones fired into the town. In addition to this bombardement, tunnels were dug under the city walls in order to weaken the outer ring of defences of the city.

Even when the king arrived on the battlefront, albeit at a safe distance, the organisation and operation of the siege was left to Brandon. Boulogne finally surrendered on 14 September 1544 at 10am. Brandon was granted the honour of riding into Boulogne signalling the surrender of the city. Brandon’s friend and one time brother-in-law, King Henry VIII of England, could not have granted him a higher honour as it should have been the king who first entered the city.

Satisfied with this victory the king returned home, but not before ordering Brandon to provide aid to the Duke of Norfolk at Montreuil. However, before Brandon could provide this aid, on 18 September Francis I and Charles V signed the Treaty of Crépy-en-Lannois leaving England alone against the French. Poor weather and lack of supplies saw Brandon, Norfolk and their men retreat to Calais. Peace between France and England would not be concluded until 7th June 1546 with the signing of the Peace of Ardres.

Less than a year later, on 22 August 1545 at 4 o’clock in the afternoon Charles Brandon died at Guildford. Although wishing to be buried in the college church of Tattershall in Lincolnshire without any pomp or display.

The king was struck with grief at the loss of his longest and most loyal friend. Upon hearing the news of Brandon’s death Henry VIII declared that Brandon had been one of his best friends. He went on to say that Brandon had always been loyal and generous and that he had never taken unfair advantage of a friend or enemy and was truly fair towards all his political enemies. On the 9 September Brandon was buried at St George’s Chapel in Windsor near the south door of the choir at the king’s expense. This was the final gesture of friendship and honour that Henry VIII could bestow.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk had a successful court and military career and died one of the Henry VIII’s most beloved and dearest friends. He had married the king’s sister, Mary, without permission and thus had become brother-in-law to the king of England. He was a loyal, dedicated friend and courtier and one of the 16th century’s most intriguing men.

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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