It’s time again for Real Life Romance, in which we discuss some of history’s most interesting couples. If you want relationship drama, look no further than the Tudors, and for drama with a more or less happy ending, behold Mary Tudor (not to be confused with Queen Mary I) and Charles Brandon, who risked everything to marry for love.
Charles Brandon was an orphan. Because his father died in service to the throne, he was brought up at the court of Henry VII, and he was good friends with Henry VIII from childhood on. Charles had a complicated marital history. He became engaged to Anne Browne, and she became pregnant during the engagement, but then he married her extremely rich aunt. This caused such a scandal that the marriage was annulled and he married Anne Browne after all. They had two children before she died.
When she died, he became engaged to his eight-year-old ward. This was not quite as gross as it sounds – it was common at the time for people to become engaged as children with the expectation that they would not marry until adulthood. In light of the extremely financially and politically advantageous betrothal, Charles ended up with a title and more property. His friendship with King Henry XIII eventually landed him the title “Duke of Suffolk.”
Meanwhile, Mary Tudor was busy growing up popular and beautiful. As a child, Mary was close to her brother, who would become King Henry VIII. She ran pretty wild at court, where she was known as being willful and gorgeous. She fell madly in love with Charles Brandon, but Henry arranged a marriage between her and King Louis XII of France. Given that Mary was eighteen at the time and King Louis XII was fifty-two, Mary was less than thrilled. She told Henry that she would cooperate with the marriage if, after Louis died, she could be allowed to marry for love.
Mary was married by proxy with the Duc de Longueville standing in for the French King. She sailed to France and three months later King Louis XII was dead (presumably of gout, which he had suffered from for some time, although salacious rumor had it that he died from too much sex). Mary had to go into seclusion as per French tradition for forty days. During this time, Mary started to worry that her brother would back out on his promise. At this point, the story launches into full soap opera mode.
Henry sent Charles to France to bring Mary back to England, but Henry made Charles promise to act in a professional capacity only, not as a lover. Mary panicked and assumed that Henry was going to forbid the marriage between her and Charles. She insisted that they marry right that minute, in France, which they did. That whole engagement between Charles and his ward was annulled, probably to his ward’s vast relief.
Charles wrote to Thomas Wolsey, who was the Archbishop of York at the time, and asked him to break the news to Henry. Henry was not amused – in fact he was furious. After much mediation from Wolsey the new couple was able to purchase clemency from Henry by giving Henry Mary’s dowry, jewels, and travel expenses. They returned to England and had a second, lavish wedding with the blessing of the king. Mary was always referred to thereafter as “The French Queen.”
The couple seems to have been happy together, though alas not for very long. They had four children together, one of whom became the mother of Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen. Mary died of illness in 1533. Charles, who was low on money, quickly married his son’s fourteen-year-old fiancée. Despite the age difference, Charles and his new wife, Catherine (who grew up to be considerably kickass), got along well. He died at the age of sixty, in 1545.
“Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Princess Mary Tudor” by Marilee Hanson for Englishhistory.net
“Princess Mary Tudor” by Claire Ridgeway, for The Anne Boleyn Files
“A Tudor Romance: Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon” for History in a Hour