“Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor – Forbidden Love”, by Sarah Bryson

Today is a very exciting day at Queenanneboleyn.com! In celebration of the release of Sarah Bryson’s fantastic new biography, Charles Brandon, The King’s Man, it is “Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk Day” here at the website. To start things off, enjoy this wonderful article Sarah is sharing with us today highlighting one of 16th century England’s most enduring love stories, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, Queen of France.


Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk Marriage Portrait (1516) (Artist Unknown)
Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk Marriage Portrait (1516)
(Artist Unknown)


Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor – Forbidden Love

by Sarah Bryson

Theirs was perhaps one of the greatest love matches of all history. She was an English Princess, one of the most beautiful women in all of Europe and a former Queen of France. He was an English Duke raised from humble beginnings and owing much of what he had to his friendship with a King. Yet despite the odds stacked against them and the huge difference in their social standing love still found a way. This is the story of the love and marriage between Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France.

Their story has hazy beginnings. It is unknown exactly when Charles Brandon’s eye first turned to Mary. She was the younger sister of King Henry VIII, only eighteen years of age and reported to be one of the most beautiful Princesses in all of Christendom. In turn, Brandon was almost thirty, tall, broad shouldered, athletic and very handsome. Both would have known one another through their time at court and it is not unreasonable to imagine Brandon’s eye upon the beautiful young Princess just as it is possible that Mary would have been taken with the handsome, athletic Brandon.

However, any interest between the pair was to be put to a halt when on the 13th August 1514 Mary was married via proxy to King Louis XII. The Duke of Longueville, who had been captured in the 1513 campaign of France, acted as proxy for the French King.

Mary Tudor, Queen of France
Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Things would move swiftly for Mary after her proxy wedding. On 2nd October 1514 Mary left Dover for France. Before she left Henry VIII walked his sister down to the waterside and it was here that allegedly Mary made her brother promise that if she should outlive King Louis XII then she would be able to choose her second husband for herself. At this time Mary would most likely have been aware that the often ill and aging fifty-two year old Louis may not have had long to live. It is interesting to note that Mary made her brother agree to this arrangement. Did Mary already have her eye upon Brandon? Was there some connection between the pair before her French marriage? It should be noted that after Louis death the next year Brandon was sent to fetch Mary back to the English court and before he left Henry VIII made Brandon promise not to marry Mary. Was Henry VIII already aware of a romantic interest between Brandon and Mary? While this is mere speculation the stories do lead one to believe that there may have been some romantic interest between Brandon and Mary even before she went to France.

On the 9th October 1514, Mary was formally married to Louis XII at nine o’clock in the morning in the great hall of the Hotel de la Gruthose. Mary wore a French gown made of gold brocade and trimmed with ermine. She was covered in beautiful jewels and was given away by the Duke of Norfolk and the Marquis of Dorset. Louis XII wore gold and ermine to match his bride. Then on the 5th of November Mary was crowned Queen of France in Paris. The whole court attended, including Brandon and those of his entourage. Afterward another great feast was held for the new Queen.

Less than three months after their marriage, on January 1st 1515 King Louis XII died. He had been sick for several weeks previously and his death came as no surprise although it was reported that when Mary was told she fainted. Mary was sent to Cluny where she wore white, the French colour of mourning. She was to stay in seclusion for forty days so that it could be worked out or not if she was pregnant. If she was indeed pregnant and gave birth to a son he would be the next King of France. However, no one really believed this and Francis, husband of Louis XII’s daughter Claude was quickly accepted as the next King.

King Louis VII
King Louis VII

Once the news of the French King’s death reached England Brandon was sent to France to return the Dowager Queen and hopefully to retrieve as much as Mary’s coin, plate, and jewels as possible. It is reported that before Brandon left Henry VIII made him swear not to act foolishly and marry the young Mary until after the pair had returned to England. If there is any truth in this remains unknown. It could have been that Henry VIII did intend to fulfil the promise he made to his sister and knowing of her affection for Brandon would allow her to marry him but not until they returned home. It could also be that Henry VIII agreed to the marriage at face value but when Mary returned home he would not allow Brandon to marry his sister and would seek a far more diplomatic marriage for her elsewhere.

It is also interesting to note that just before Brandon arrived in Paris to meet with Mary two friars met with the Dowager Queen to turn her mind against Brandon. They informed Mary that the English council would never let her marry Brandon and worse that Brandon and Thomas Wolsey performed witchcraft to turn Henry VIII’s mind towards their will. They even went so far as to suggest that Brandon’s witchcraft caused a disease in William Compton’s leg, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool’s. Later when he heard this news Brandon immediately informed Wolsey. He proposed that someone must have been coaching the friars and made illusions that this person was the Duke of Norfolk, Brandon’s rival. Once again this was a case of Norfolk’s and Brandon’s clear dislike for one another. While publically for the sake of the King they appeared to get along clearly underneath there was a constant simmering rivalry between the two. However, it is poignant that if it was Norfolk that sent the friars to meet with Mary the Duke of Norfolk must have been aware of some feelings from Brandon towards Mary or visa versa. Clearly at this stage, their feelings towards one another were becoming well known to those at court.

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Brandon finally arrived in Paris on the 31st of January 1515. Brandon met with Mary the same day and he reported that Mary was eager to return home so that she may see her brother. However, despite her eagerness to leave the new King Francis I was reluctant to let Mary go.

Mary was only eighteen years of age, young, beautiful and available to marry again. While in France she was left vulnerable as Francis I could use her as a bargaining tool. He could have her married to another French nobleman to continue the alliance with England or even have her married to another member of nobility from another country to form an alliance. There was also speculation that Francis I was worried that if Mary returned to England Henry VIII would once more seek a treaty with the Holy Roman Empire and betroth Mary to Prince Charles with whom she had previously been betrothed.

With such uncertainty, stress and fear surrounding her Mary Tudor decided to take matters into her own hands. The young Dowager Queen proposed marriage to Brandon, of which the Duke accepted. Whether this was a spontaneous decision or was thought about for several days remains unknown. However, matters were finally decided Mary and Brandon married in secret, without Henry VIII’s permission. Although the exact date of their wedding remains unknown it has been suggested that the couple married sometime between the 15th and 20th of February before approximately ten witnesses. The newlyweds then naturally consummated their marriage to make it legally binding.

Despite having just committed high treason Brandon would not shy away from what he had done and accepted full responsibility for his actions. He wrote to Henry VIII stating that when he met with Mary he found that her mind was made up and that she did not want anyone else but him. Francis I fully supported this marriage as it allowed Mary to return home without any fear or concern that she would be used in negotiations against him.

On the 5th of March 1515, about a month after he had secretly married Mary, Brandon wrote to Thomas Wolsey.

“Begs Wolsey to help him now as he has done always. When he came to Paris he heard many things which put him and the Queen in great fear. “And the Queen would never let me [be] in rest till I had granted her to be married; and so, to be plain with you, I have married her. Fears lest the King should know it and be displeased with him; had rather be dead than that he should be miscontent. Entreats Wolsey not to let him be undone, which he fears he shall be without his help.

Naturally Wolsey passed on the letter to Henry VIII and the King was greatly displeased. Not simply because Brandon had committed treason by marrying the King’s sister but also because he had broken his promise and a man’s word was of great importance. Wolsey wrote back to Brandon stating that …

“The King would not believe it, but took the same grievously and displeasantly, not merely for Suffolk’s presumption, but for breaking his promise made to the King at Eltham in Wolsey’s presence, and would not believe he would have broken his promise had he been torn with wild horses.”

Thomas Cardinal Wolsey
Thomas Cardinal Wolsey

Knowing that he had gotten himself into a most grievous situation, Brandon threw himself at Wolsey’s mercy seeking any advice that the man could give. Mary too wrote to her brother seeking to remind him that she had agreed to marry the sickly and aging Louis XII and that he had promised her that for her second marriage she could take a man of her choosing. She also sought her brother’s forgiveness and promised to give him the plate, coin, and jewels of her dowry.

Then in an attempt to win Henry VIII over Mary had the magnificent mirror of Naples, a huge pearl, smuggled out of France as a gift for her brother. Mary’s letters to her brother are interesting as while she seeks his forgiveness she also reminds him repeatedly of his promise to allow her to marry a man of her choosing. Mary’s letters indicate that the young woman was headstrong and clearly felt that her brother had at least in some way had already given permission for this marriage. Again when the evidence is examined Henry VIII must have been aware, at least at some level, that Brandon held a strong interest in Mary and that she too reciprocated these feelings. However at this point, it suited the King to deny this knowledge as he wished to benefit as much as possible from Brandon’s treason.

On the 22nd of April Brandon once again threw himself at the King’s mercy. This time, he wrote to Henry stating that:

“All the Council, except my Lord of York [Thomas Wolsey], are determined to have Suffolk put to death or imprisoned. This is hard; for none of them ever were in trouble but he was glad to help them to the best of his power, and now in this little trouble they are ready to destroy him. “But God forgive them, whatsoever comes of me, for I am determined; for your grace is he that is my sovereign lord and master and he that has brought me up of nought, and I am your subject and servant and he that has offended your grace in breaking my promise that I made your grace touching the Queen your sister.” Will undergo what punishment Henry pleases. Knows the King is of such nature that it will not lie in their powers to destroy him through malice.”

Brandon’s letter is emotional and dramatic. He throws himself at Henry’s mercy acknowledging that he was and is nothing without all that Henry had done for him. He also recognises that he has committed a great sin by breaking his promise to Henry not to marry Mary. In breaking his promise Brandon had betrayed the code of honour for a man, one of the most important beliefs for Henry VIII. Most important of all Brandon places Henry VIII, his King and master above all others. By marrying the sister to a great King Brandon put himself into a very precarious position, not just because he had committed treason but because such actions could be perceived as trying to set himself up as the next King. At this time Henry VIII had no living male heir and if Brandon could produce a son with Mary then their child would be next in line for the throne. Brandon was in a dangerous position but by professing his loyalty to Henry he places himself in a position of weakness and shows that he had no intention of ever betraying Henry or the trust the King held in him.

King Henry VIII, by Hans Holbein the Younger
King Henry VIII, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Despite committing treason Henry VIII relented and Brandon and Mary were married in a more public wedding in France on the 31st of March. The couple returned home a fortnight later and landed in Dover on the 2nd of May. They were met by Henry VIII and the King warmly greeted the couple and accepted his younger sister’s explanation that it was her that was responsible for the marriage and not Brandon. Perhaps the King’s great show of anger was simply to save safe and deep down he was content that his little sister was marrying his best friend.

Having gained the King’s acceptance of their marriage Brandon and Mary were formally married for a third time at Greenwich on the 13th of May in front of Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon.

In return for the King’s blessing Brandon and Mary were ordered to not only return Mary’s full dowry, as well as all her plate and jewels but to also pay £24 000 (£11,610,480.00) in yearly instalments of £1000 (£483,770.00). Brandon was also required to give up the wardship of Lady Lisle, with whom he had previously been contracted to marry. While this was a staggering sum that would have certainly seen Brandon close to poverty, records show that by 1521, six years after their marriage the couple had only replied £1324 (£640,511.48). Clearly the King was more interested in making a show rather than actually enforcing the regular repayments.

After their marriage, Brandon and Mary retired from court for a time. They would become one of the most prominent couple’s at court and often travelled and spent time with one another. As a testament to their love the couple had four children together, two sons and two daughters, tragically only their daughters would survive to adulthood. Despite the great difference in their social standing Brandon and Mary’s story is a true love story. The pair defied the odds, risking the fury of two great King’s, and married simply because they loved one another. They shared a love that would last eighteen years and only ended with Mary’s early death at the age of just thirty-seven.


Harris, B 1989, “Power, Profit, and Passion: Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, and the Arranged Marriage in Early Tudor England”, Feminist Studies, Vol. 15, No. 1, pp. 59-88.

Hutchinson R 2006, The Last Days of Henry VIII, Phoenix, London.

 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J S Brewer, James Gairdner and R H Brodie, His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1862-1932.

 Loades, D 2012, Mary Rose, Amberley, Gloucestershire.

 Perry, M 2002, Sisters to the King, Andre Deutsh, London.

Sadlack, E 2001, The French Queen’s

Letters, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.



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. 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. Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and a Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing, and Tudor costume enactment, and wishes to return to England one day.


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