QAB Guest Article: “Six Terrific Tudors”, by Sarah Bryson

This beautiful miniature is  possibly Susan Horenbout, sister of Henry VIII's court painter Lucas Horenbout. Artist: Lucas Hoernbout
This beautiful miniature is possibly Susan Horenbout, sister of Henry VIII’s court painter Lucas Horenbout.
Artist: Lucas Horenbout


Six Terrific Tudors

Sarah Bryson


The Tudor period was a fascinating time in English history. Starting with Henry Tudor, who claimed the English throne from Richard III, to his second son and heir Henry VIII, through to Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey, Mary I and ending with Gloriana, Elizabeth I, the Tudors made their mark upon the formation of England as we know it today. When asked to choose six Tudor people who I found most interesting I have to admit I found the task quite difficult! With so many compelling people it took me some time to narrow the list down but below are the six people from the Tudor period that I find the most fascinating.

Mary Boleyn
(Born: c.1500 at Blickling Hall, Died: July 1543 Rochford Hall).

This portrait is thought to be Mary Boleyn Stafford Artist: Unknown
This portrait is thought by many to be Mary Boleyn Stafford, but Sarah Bryson points out that this is disputed by historians Josephine Wilkinson and Alison Weir. 
Artist: Unknown

Mary Boleyn has always been a source of utter fascination for me. She is nearly always overshadowed by her more famous sister Anne Boleyn and yet she led quite a remarkable life. Venturing to France at just fourteen years of age as part of the entourage of Mary Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII, she is rumoured to have caught the attention of the French king Francis I. Returning to England, she married and then attracted the attention of King Henry VIII, becoming his mistress for approximately three years (and conceiving two children during this time period). When her husband died, Mary served her sister faithfully until she dared to defy the ‘rules’. Mary did the unthinkable, she married for love. She was the sister in law of a king and yet she chose to marry a man who was just a simple soldier. She and her husband were banished from court for their actions and yet Mary did not regret her marriage. As she stated in a letter to Thomas Cromwell “I had rather beg my bread with him than to be the greatest queen in Christendom”. Mary survived the tragic executions of her sister and brother and died in relative obscurity in 1543. Of all the Boleyns, it was Mary who found love and peace in her final years.

Charles Brandon
(Born: 1484, Died: 22 August 1545).

Possibly Charles Brandon Artist: Lucas Horenbout
Possibly Charles Brandon
Artist: Lucas Horenbout

I have always found Charles Brandon to be the most fascinating man in Tudor history. He came from relative obscurity, his father dying defending Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. He became close friends with Henry VIII when the king was just a prince and he managed to become the king’s best friend, working his way up to the status of Duke of Suffolk. Brandon seemed to be able to defy all the odds and not only keep his head but also retain his close friendship with Henry VIII. He married Henry’s younger sister Mary without the king’s permission, an act which was considered treason, and yet he did not lose his life. Instead, the marriage was made official and all Brandon faced was a fine. He almost seriously injured the king in a jousting accident, yet Henry laughed it off. He dared to speak against Henry’s affection towards Anne Boleyn and all Brandon faced was a short banishment from court.

Brandon became one of the most important men in England, the Duke of Suffolk, best friend to the king and it seemed as though he could do no wrong. Was his status simply because he was best friend to the king or was it something more? I see Charles Brandon as a man who knew how to read Henry VIII. He knew the man so well that he knew when to flatter the king, knew when to push, knew when to say yes to him and knew when he could say no. Brandon was an incredibly smart man who in an ever-changing England was able to successfully read and negotiate the situations around him. Not only did he retain his friendship with the king until his death, but he was also honoured by Henry VIII by being buried at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.

Anne Boleyn
(Born: c.1501, Died 19 May 1536).

Possibly Anne Boleyn Artist: Lucas Horenbout
This miniature is thought by many to be Anne Boleyn, but Sarah Bryson believes this is actually Mary Boleyn-Stafford. You can learn more at The Anne Boleyn Files. 
Artist: Lucas Horenbout

I have always been captivated by Anne Boleyn. I remember hearing about her when I was a young woman, being told about a Queen of England who lost her head and wondering why that happened. Anne Boleyn’s life is fascinating – the daughter of an up-and-coming courtier, she rose to become the love interest of King Henry VIII, one of the most powerful and enigmatic men in history. She would not settle for being a mistress, as her older sister had been, and defied the odds by becoming queen. Yet in three short years, it would all crumble around her and she would face the executioner on trumped up charges of incest, adultery and plotting the king’s death.

Most historians believe that there is no truth behind the charges against Anne and I must agree. Yet it is more than becoming Queen of England that I find interesting about Anne Boleyn. I find her to be a very strong, determined woman. She knew what she wanted and went after it with both hands and a strong heart. She had a passionate faith which she wished to share with those around her. She gave to charities and seemed to genuinely care for the causes of her friends. Some see her as a husband stealer, others as the woman that brought the Reformation to England, yet I see her as a woman before her time. I can only wonder just what Anne Boleyn would have done with herself had she been born in today’s society… I believe the possibilities are endless.

Henry VIII
(Born: 28 June 1491 at Greenwich Palace, Died: 28 January 1547 at Whitehall Palace, London.)

King Henry VIII Artist: Lucas Horenbout
King Henry VIII
Artist: Lucas Horenbout

It is impossible to read about the Tudor period without coming across Henry VIII. Love him or hate him, Henry is a compelling figure, a larger than life man who had a profound impact on the transformation of England during his reign. One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking of Henry VIII is his break with Rome. Seeking an annulment of his first marriage, Henry broke away from Rome developing the Church of England, which in some form still survives today. This was a massive step, one which undid hundreds of years of Catholic tradition within England.
Another major impact that Henry had on England was the development of Parliament. Instead of simply being an institution which could pass laws to create more taxes, Parliament theoretically became a voice for the people and through Parliament a range of new legislation and laws were passed. In his determination to use Parliament to get what he wanted, Henry VIII inadvertently laid the foundation for the idea of the Parliament that we know and use today.

Henry VIII also began the building of a bigger and better naval base which was furthered during his daughter Elizabeth I’s reign. Henry VIII was a larger than life figure, one easily recognised in Holbein’s famous painting of a man standing with his legs spread, with broad shoulders staring straight out of the portrait. Whatever your personal thoughts are on Henry he certainly had an impact upon the development of England, and for this I find him to be utterly fascinating. Every time I pick up a book on Tudor history I find I learn something new about Henry VIII.

Hans Holbein the Younger
(Born: 1497/78, Died: 1543).

Hans Holbein the Younger Artist: Lucas Horenbout
Hans Holbein the Younger
Artist: Lucas Horenbout

Hans Holbein the Younger is responsible for the most well-known and easily recognisable image of Henry VIII. Ask people to recall an image of Henry VIII and they will draw upon Holbein’s famous portrait of the King standing tall, legs spread, prominent codpiece, staring straight out at you.

Holbein was a German painter who came to England in 1526 with a letter from the famous scholar Erasmus. He sought work amongst the German community, as well as with Sir Thomas More. Holbein officially started working for Henry VIII in 1535, being paid the sum of £30 a year. While not a great deal is known about Holbein’s life he is responsible for many Tudor portraits which still survive today, including portraits of Anne of Cleves (Henry VIII’s fourth wife), Jane Seymour, Edward VI as a baby, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, and of course the famous portrait of Henry VIII. His work is remarkable and it is thanks to Holbein that we are able to put faces to some very important Tudor people.

Lucas Horenbout
(Born: 1490/95, Died: 1544).

Catalina de Aragon Artist: Lucas Horenbout
Catalina de Aragon
Artist: Lucas Horenbout

Lucas Horenbout might not be as well-known as his fellow painter Holbein, yet his work is just as remarkable. A Flemish-born painter, Horenbout came to England in the 1520s with his father and sister, and sought work at the king’s court. In 1531, Horenbout was appointed as the king’s painter and this title was officially conferred upon him for life on 22nd June 1534.

Horenbout is most famous for his stunning miniatures and it is believed that it was he who brought the art of miniature to England. He painted many stunning miniatures, including Henry VIII’s first wife Katherine of Aragon, his third wife Jane Seymour, his son Henry Fitzroy by his mistress Bessie Blount, and his daughter Mary. Horenbout also painted seven miniatures of Henry VIII.

What makes Horenbout’s work so remarkable is that each painting is only around 4cm/1.5inch in diameter and yet the detail within each portrait is absolutely breathtaking. I am absolutely fascinated by these tiny portraits and find myself staring at them examining every tiny detail. Horenbout truly was a master of his craft and we in today’s times are fortunate to be able to still see his amazing work.


Sarah Bryson
Sarah Bryson

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.

Sarah is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website,, and a Facebook page about Tudor history. She lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment, and wishes to return to England one day.

Editor’s Note: Sarah’s short biography is provided courtesy of MadeGlobal Publishing.


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Beth von Staats

is the owner and administrator of Blogger of "The Tudor Thomases", Beth specializes in writing magazine articles, online historical articles, short stories, and flash fiction.

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