Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk and Princess Mary Tudor

Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, was Henry VIII’s closest friend. Brandon’s father was Henry VII’s standard-bearer at the Battle of Bosworth Field and died defending the future king. Henry VII repaid his loyalty by educating young Charles with his own children, and from the beginning Charles and the future Henry VIII were devoted friends. But their friendship was sorely tested when Brandon secretly married Henry’s favourite sister, the beautiful Princess Mary Tudor. At this page, you can learn more about their romantic story and its aftermath.

Charles Brandon had an inauspicious beginning and his rise to wealth and prominence was due largely to two things: his father’s death at Bosworth Field and his own personal magnetism. Upon his death in 1545, Brandon was perhaps the only person in England who had successfully retained Henry VIII’s affection for over forty turbulent years.

The marriage portrait of Charles Brandon and Princess Mary Tudor

The marriage portrait of Charles Brandon and Princess Mary Tudor

His father was William Brandon, Henry Tudor’s standard bearer at Bosworth Field in 1485. He was reportedly killed there by Richard III himself. Around 1480 or so, William had married the daughter and heiress of Sir Henry Bruyn of South Ockendon in Essex. But unlike his respectable, middle-class forebears who had led exemplary and cautious lives, William had a tasste for politics. When the Duke of Gloucester seized the throne in 1483 and declared himself Richard III, William and his younger brother Thomas decided to make a stand. They joined the duke of Buckingham’s rebellion; it failed and the brothers fled to Brittany where they joined other Lancastrian exiles who supported Henry Tudor, the earl of Richmond.

When William fled England, his wife was already pregnant. Charles Brandon was born sometime in late 1483 or early 1484. His mother died in childbirth and, upon his grandfather’s death in 1491, the orphaned boy went to the royal court. This was the custom of the time but since Brandon was not heir to an important title or great wealth, his case was decided more on sentiment. He had a claim on Henry Tudor’s affections since his father had died in his service. That demonstration of loyalty at Bosworth meant a great deal to the first Tudor king. Since Charles was just two years older than Henry’s first son, Prince Arthur, it is probable that they were playmates.

When Arthur married the Spanish princess Katharine of Aragon in 1502, his court moved to Ludlow Castle in the Welsh Marches, the traditional seat of the Prince of Wales. Charles did not accompany the royal couple but remained in London as companion to Arthur’s younger brother, Henry duke of York.

Though seven years older than Henry, Charles shared his most prominent characteristics – natural athleticism, robust physical health (unlike the delicate Arthur), and a devotion to all sports (wrestling, hunting, tilting and jousting, etc.) During these adolescent years, the two boys laid the foundation for a lifelong friendship. Arthur died just months after his wedding and, in 1509, the duke of York succeeded to the throne. This marked the real beginning of Charles Brandon’s rise to prominence and privilege.

But before 1509, young Charles had undergone an embarrassing marital situation which revealed his ambition and callousness. In 1505, he had become engaged to Anne Browne, a young woman of impressive lineage; her father was Anthony Browne, Governor of Calais, and her mother was Lucy Neville, niece of the ‘Kingmaker.’ Charles and Anne were betrothed per verba de praesenti, a binding contract under canon law. In such cases, there was no ceremony or witnesses; as one can imagine, this led to several unpleasant cases of men and (more rarely) women repudiating their betrothed if they lacked proper respect for church law. Charles apparently did. He and Anne slept together, as evidenced by the birth of a daughter in 1506, but he did not marry her. Instead, he married her aunt, a very wealthy widow named Margaret Neville Mortimer. The marriage was never taken seriously due to its mercenary nature and, more importantly, legal action begun by Anne’s angry family. Eventually, the Mortimer marriage was annulled due to the previous contract and Charles married Anne in a well-attended public ceremony. They had another daughter in 1510; Anne Browne died just two years later.

By late 1512, Charles had recovered from his grief enough to contemplate yet another union. This was perhaps even more mercenary since his betrothed was an eight-year-old orphan. It was common practice for the Crown to assume guardianship of an orphaned minor child who had inherited property. The Crown then sold the guardianship to the highest bidder, often the child’s own relatives who wanted to receive the property revenues until the child came of age and decide whom they would marry. Charles had been given the wardship of Elizabeth Grey, the heiress to Lord Lisle of Sparsholt in Berkshire. This, along with various offices, grants & pensions, was a mark of Henry’s continued favor. In early 1513, Charles announced his engagement to the girl and, on 15 May 1513, the king created him Viscount Lisle, in right of his betrothed wife. Charles Brandon finally had a noble title and even more property.

That same year, the new Lord Lisle accompanied the king to France and also helped entertain the Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian and his twice-widowed, 33-year-old daughter, Margaret, Regent of the Netherlands. For Henry, the meeting was also a diplomatic necessity since, in 1508, his father had entered into a formal contract of marriage between his youngest daughter, Mary, and Maximilian’s son, Charles of Castile. But over the next few years, little mention had been made of the contract. Henry used the visit to broach the subject; the end result was an agreement that Princess Mary and Charles would wed in 1514, after Charles had reached his 14th birthday.

Meanwhile, Lord Lisle made a fool of himself by flirting with Margaret. There is little chance she truly favored him, and certainly none that she planned to marry him, but they flirted, Henry translating for his friend. Once again, Charles Brandon was demonstrating his heavy-handed flair for the ladies. In the end, he greatly offended Margaret by encouraging gossip about their meeting. In particular, it stressed her attraction to him and a possible marriage. As a Hapsburg princess, she was not amused and Henry VIII was forced to make a public apology. But he was not angry with his friend; on 1 February 1514, he created Charles the duke of Suffolk, the title once held by the Yorkist de la Poles. He also received the majority of their confiscated estates. This elevation was remarkable; it meant that Suffolk was one of only three dukes in the kingdom. The other two were Thomas Howard, duke of Norfolk (reinstated to the title after his victory at Flodden in 1513), and Edward Stafford, duke of Buckingham and descendant of Edward III. Of course, many were surprised that a yeoman’s son was now one of their greatest peers but Brandon’s friendship with Henry explained matters. In Europe, it was said that Cardinal Wolsey and Brandon truly ruled England through influence upon Henry VIII.

In 1514 as well, the usual tangle of European diplomacy had made Henry distrustful of the Hapsburgs. Also, the deadline for Charles of Castile’s marriage to Princess Mary had come and passed with only dismissive explanations from the emperor. So when Louis XII of France offered a peace treaty to England, Henry was eager to accept it. Louis considerably sweetened the offer by offering to wed the Princess Mary. For Henry, this was a diplomatic coup. For his sister, of course, it was considerably different.

Mary Tudor, born 18 March 1495, was the baby of the Tudor family and widely considered the most beautiful princess of her time. She shared her brother Henry’s exuberance for spectacle and was the star of his court. Like him, she loved dancing, masques, and parties; they were also close emotionally. So when Henry told her that she would marry the widowed King of France, a man in his fifties with gout and a pock-marked face, she poured out her heart. Certainly she would do her duty as a Princess, she told Henry, but when the marriage was over, she wanted to choose her next spouse – and choose him for love alone. Itt was an extraordinary demand for any woman of that time but Henry VIII loved his sister and he agreed. Why? Partly because he loved her but also because he wanted her to leave for France peacefully and willingly; and also, perhaps more troubling, because she had confessed her secret love to him. It was none other than his best friend, Charles Brandon.

Mary had enjoyed unprecedented freedom at Henry VIII’s court. Just fourteen when her father died, she had spent the next five years virtually unchaperoned in his hectic court, her brother openly encouraging her participation in every event. In 1514, she was nineteen years old, very beautiful, and very willful. She had developed an attachment to Charles Brandon; she had known him all her life. It may have begun as a child’s awe of a robust, attractive man, successful in all sports (so important at the Tudor court) and very charming. But it had changed into something more and, by 1514, most of the king’s inner circle knew of her affection. There was no scandal, however. Mary believed her brother’s promise and married the aged Louis XII at Greenwich Palace on 13 August 1514. The Duc de Longueville acted as the king’s proxy in every respect; he even lay down on a bed with Mary and touched her body with his naked leg, thus ‘consummating’ the marriage.

Mary enjoyed herself at her wedding festivities and its attendant celebrations. It would have been impossible to feel otherwise. She had a splendid trousseau, marvelous jewels sent over from France, and all the honors due to the queen of France. All contemporary accounts remark on her great beauty, particularly her clear complexion and long red-gold hair, the Tudor trademark. Her husband was eager to see her, telling the English ambassador that he had many gifts for his bride and expected a kiss for each one.

Mary eventually traveled from Dover to Boulogne on 2 October, after waiting weeks for stormy weather to end. She actually left in the midst of more storms since Henry VIII had grown bored waiting for them to end. Upon her departure, she kissed her brother and reminded him of his promise about her future. Henry, eager to leave, committed her to God and her husband and left. There were fourteen ships in Mary’s retinue but the weather was so terrible that only four reached port on time; the rest docked at various ports on the French coast. Poor Mary, suffering from seasickness and constant rain, was carried ashore by one of her gentlemen, Sir Christopher Garnish. She journeyed from Montreuil to Abbeville and contemporary chroniclers recorded her outfit; they were much impressed with her beauty and charm. She wore cloth of gold on crimson with tight sleeves in the English style and a hat of crimson silk which she wore cocked over one eye. Her husband met her at a carefully arranged ‘accident’ outside Abbeville and, on 9 October, they married in that city.

The marriage lasted for eighty-two days. On 31 December 1514, Louis died quite abruptly. Despite his ill health, he had been notably active during his marriage. This may have contributed to his demise; he boasted that on their wedding night, he had ‘crossed the river’ three times. Before his death, he was visited by the duke of Suffolk on a diplomatic trip and Charles wrote to Henry that his sister was discreet and dignified. This undoubtedly relieved both men; they had perhaps wondered how Mary would greet her true love. Mary, however, was aware of her position as Queen of France and, during her brief marriage, conducted herself with aplomb.

The King of France’s death changed her world considerably. Now a queen dowager in a foreign country she had barely begun to settle in, she was suddenly pushed into strict seclusion for 40 days. This was French custom; after all, the widowed queen might be pregnant and the child’s paternity must be certain. Mary was not pregnant but she was sent to the Hotel de Cluny for her period of mourning, without even the comfort of her English attendants. The new king, Francois, had appointed several Frenchwomen to attend her and dismissed her women. May was undoubtedly terrified. She was closed off from the world, shut behind heavy black drapes, and once more a pawn for her brother. Would Henry arrange another marriage or would he keep his promise? Frantic, Mary wrote to him from Cluny in early January 1515, just two weeks after her husband’s death; she begged him to contact Francois and have her sent home to England and reminded him: “Sir, I beseech your grace that you will keep all the promises that you promised me when I took my leave of you by the waterside. Sir, your grace knoweth well that I did marry for your pleasure at this time and now I trust you will suffer me to marry as me liketh for to do… wherefore I beseech your grace for to be a good lord and brother unto me.” If Henry did not keep his promise, Mary said she would enter a nunnery and “never no man shall know joy of me.”

Mary also had to deal with visits from the new French king, Francois I. He was twenty-one and knew the English-French alliance was breaking down. He did not want Mary wed by Henry to some Hapsburg prince. He suggested two of his own kinsmen as husbands and then hinted that Henry was trying to marry her to Charles of Castile again. Alone and in a fragile state, Mary was terribly frightened; Francois’s words touched on her greatest fears. She eventually confessed her love for Suffolk to Francois. Surprisingly, she found him sympathetic and kind. He promised to help secure her future happiness, a promise which Mary found generous and Francois found opportunistic. For, by this time, he knew the duke of Suffolk was on his way to France to bargain for Mary’s return, specifically the return of her jewels, plate, and dower rights. With the dowager queen’s confession, Francois had a powerful bargaining tool and peace of mind – if Mary wed her English duke, she was no longer Henry’s political pawn.

Charles had been sent to France by Henry, specifically promising to keep his relations with the widow on a formal basis. Henry had no reason to distrust him. Charles was his creation, dependent on him for everything, and also ambitious. Why would he bite the hand that so generously fed him? So Suffolk departed on his most important mission ever; it was well-known that the matter would be complicated. The French would not want to surrender any property to Mary and she would naturally want her rightful share. Beyond that, perhaps Henry meant to keep his promise. After all, he knew his sister’s feelings – and now he sent her true love to bring her home. But rattled by Francois’s suggestions of a Hapsburg marriage, Mary was set on a course which nearly ruined her and Suffolk.

Suffolk arrived on 27 January; five days later, he met Francois at Senlis. Francois summoned Suffolk to a private audience and bluntly dropped his bombshell – the duke had come to marry the Dowager Queen, had he not? Poor Suffolk was taken aback and protested vehemently. Francois went on to share Mary’s confession and reassure the duke. He was their friend, Francois said, and he would write to the English king and explain all. Suffolk took no chances; he dashed off his own account of the interview to Wolsey and then went to see Mary. It was a most emotional reunion. She accused him of taking her to England only to have her married off again against her will. He protested but she would have none of it. She issued an ultimatum – either marry me now or never marry me at all. There would be no better time, she said, for he had jealous enemies on the Privy Council who would prevent it in England. She had her brother’s explicit promise that she could follow her heart and Henry knew her greatest desire. What was the risk for him, anyway? She was a princess and queen, very beautiful, and imperious. Why would any man deny her? Suffolk was understandably torn between his obedience to Henry and his desire for Mary.

But he was always ambitious and rarely foolish. He knew that Mary would be a great prize; after all, he harbored no overt dynastic ambitions but six years of marriage had produced no living child for Henry VIII. Perhaps Suffolk and Mary would create a new royal line. And she was a royal princess and queen, just twenty years old and madly in love with him. Suffolk was swayed by tears and ambition and, sometime in February 1515, they married secretly at the Cluny chapel.

The consequences were rapid and hardly comforting. Francois demanded Suffolk’s acquiescence in several disputes over Mary’s dowry as payment for their ‘secret.’ Meanwhile, Wolsey and Henry wanted the duke to be firm and reject all the French king’s demands. Furthermore, news of the wedding was circulating throughout Paris and Mary suspected she might be pregnant. Suffolk knew he could no longer delay confession and wrote to Wolsey, now Archbishop of York. He wanted to arrange a more public wedding ceremony since he knew their secret wedding could easily be invalidated; certainly he knew that better than most. And he feared that the king’s council was urging an annulment. Many didn’t consider Suffolk a fit match for a princess and others wanted to promote pro-Hapsburg policy of which Mary’s remarriage could play a part.

But most important was Henry’s reaction. How would he consider the betrayal of his best friend and favorite sister?

Henry’s reaction was not favorable. Brandon had written to Wolsey for support and he received a prompt reply but it hardly comforted him; the king could not believe his most trusted friend had betrayed him but, if it were true, the newlyweds had to pay a stiff penalty – literally. They must pay back Mary’s marriage portion in annual installments of 4000 pds, leaving her just 6000 pds to live on. She must return all the plate and jewels she had taken to France as her dowry as well as the many gifts King Louis had given her.

Beyond that, they must hasten to beg the king for forgiveness. Suffolk and Mary did just that, both blaming her for the hasty marriage. Suffolk wrote: “Sir, for the passion of God, let it not be in your heart against me, and rather than you should hold me in mistrust, strike off my head and let me not live.” Mary knew her brother well so, along with her letter, she sent him the most sumptuous jewel Louis had given her – a diamond called the Mirror of Naples wwhich formed part of the French crown jewels. She assured her brother that she had not acted out of ‘sensual appetite’; instead, she had been subject to ‘consternation, fear and doubt’ which made her force Suffolk’s hand. Henry did not reply. Francois eventually allowed her to keep some of Louis’s gifts and, on 16 April, they set out for the French coast. Mary wrote to Henry again at Calais, telling him that she was now under his jurisdiction since Calais was an English possession and that she would not sail for England until he gave permission. She reminded him of ‘the great and tender love’ they had always shared and promised to remain in Calais if that is what he wished.

It was not. Henry sent permission for them to cross the Channel in early May and met them privately at the manor of Barking outside London. There is no record of that meeting, of course, and one must assume that Wolsey had perhaps exaggerated Henry’s displeasure since he wanted Suffolk’s gratitude. Henry was willing enough to forgive his best friend and favorite sister, after she turned over all her jewels and plate from France and signed a contract to repay the 24000 pds spent on her first marriage in the annual installments of 4000 pds. It was obvious that Henry was not surprised by the marriage; he was mostly angry at Suffolk for breaking his word.

Another Version Of the Marriage Portrait

Another Version Of the Marriage Portrait

Suffolk and Mary were wed again at Greenwich Palace on 13 May with Henry and Katharine of Aragon in attendance. There was feasting and celebration but it was strictly a family affair and foreign ambassadors wondered if they should congratulate the couple. After all, the situation was odd and there were some (mostly on the king’s council) who disapproved of the match. But, for the most part, there were no hard feelings or grudges. Suffolk was a popular man, good-looking and charming, and few – even in Tudor England – could resist such a grand love story. After all, they had risked everything to be together. Before long, the Suffolks were back in the king’s good graces. They are recorded as extending all the great court celebrations of the next few years. Mary’s pregnancy in France had been a false alarm but she did become pregnant a few months later. In fact, she was now pregnant along with her sister-in-law Katharine. Due to the queen’s history of miscarriages and stillbirths, few were hopeful of the outcome; but, on 18 February 1516, she gave birth to her only surviving child, a princess called Mary after her aunt. The new duchess of Suffolk, however, was more fortunate – on 11 March 1516, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy called Henry after the king. Henry and Wolsey stood as the child’s godfathers.

Mary and Henry’s older sister Margaret of Scotland visited that summer, bringing her six-month-old daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas. She had been in Scotland for thirteen years but her visit was pleasant enough. Henry had never tired of lecturing Margaret on morality (she had married the Earl of Angus after James of Scotland’s death at Flodden); this, of course, is laughable when one considers his own matrimonial career. But Margaret’s visit was some ten years before Anne Boleyn entered Henry’s life. In 1516, the king was just seven years into his reign, still handsome and bluff. Still, Margaret had little in common with her siblings after her years away; also, her first husband had been killed by the English at Flodden Field.

Mary Tudor was far closer to her foreign sister-in-law than to Margaret. After all, she and Katharine had spent their formative years together. When, in 1517, Katharine went on a pilgrimage to pray for a son, Mary accompanied her. Both Mary and Brandon understood the queen’s heartfelt desire to bear her husband a prince and successor and were sympathetic supporters. There was a passing cloud in 1516 – Mary’s revenues from France had fallen off and she was behind in payment of her debt – but the cloud passed quickly. In early summer 1517, they were at Richmond Palace again. Mary was once more pregnant and, on 16 July 1517, she went into labor on her way home. A daughter was born, called Frances after the French king; the Suffolks had another daughter, Eleanor, in 1519.

In 1518, Mary and Suffolk were at court again, attending the betrothal of the infant Princess Mary to the infant dauphin of France. And they attended the famous Field of Cloth of Gold at Guines, near Calais in 1520. Mary was widely considered the most beautiful woman there. A French admiral commented, “Madame, you are the rose of Christendom. You should have stayed in France. We would have appreciated you.” Mary was now in her mid-twenties and, when Katharine of Aragon was pregnant or ill, acted as her brother’s hostess.

Back in England, however, things began to change. In the new year of 1522, Mary first met Anne Boleyn. She knew Anne’s older sister Mary quite well for she had been one of her ladies-in-waiting when Mary Tudor wed Louis XII in France. She had also remained in France until dismissed by Francois. Anne wanted to join Queen Katharine’s household as a lady-in-waiting, a much-sought-after position. It is likely that Mary repaid Mary Boleyn’s service by helping Anne. Certainly she may have liked the girl; Anne had spent time at the French court and was fashionable and high-spirited, much like Mary.

Anne entered Katharine’s service but was sent home in disgrace for three years. In just a matter of months, she had managed to attract the attention of Henry Percy, heir to the powerful Earl of Northmberland. The young couple entered into an understanding but Percy was under the guardianship of Wolsey. The king’s most trusted advisor and Percy’s powerful father were understandably angry at the secret romance. Anne and Percy were brought to heel; there were better matches for him and she had overstepped her bounds. Anne was openly furious, so much that she was banished from court. However, she was allowed back in late 1525, around the time that Henry VIII was first beginning to contemplate his lack of heirs.

Katharine of Aragon had delivered the Princess Mary in 1516, when she was thirty-one years old. Since then, there had been no other surviving children. In 1525, she was forty and it was obvious she would have no further children. Her husband was nervous; his dynasty was just forty years old. It would not survive with just one princess as heir. He knew the problem was not his fault – after all, in 1519, a mistress called Bessie Blount had born a son. In summer 1525, this child, called Henry Fitzroy, was made the duke of Richmond and Somerset. Suffolk was present at the grand ceremony. Katharine was normally a patient, dignified wife but the lavish ceremony, involving all the important nobility, offended her. She argued with Henry, telling him it insulted her and their daughter Mary. Henry was unused to such criticism and responded by dismissing three of her favorite ladies. The Suffolks were not critical of their benefactor since Henry had created his nephew the Earl of Lincoln at the same ceremony. Also, Mary’s repayment of her debt was still in limbo.

She was also in failing health. She had suffered through the sweating sickness in 1518 and never completely recovered. She may also have been exhibiting the first signs of the disease which eventually killed her; most historians believe it was cancer. She was present at several court functions over the next few years (a summer 1526 party for European ambassadors, for example) but came to court with less and less frequency. Her physical condition was deteriorating but she was also uncomfortable with her brother’s course of action.

In 1527, Henry’s infatuation with Anne Boleyn had begun. He was determined to annul his marriage to Katharine, arguing that it had never been legal in the first place. He asserted that Katharine and Arthur had consummated their marriage and, once again, his old friend Suffolk acted in the king’s interest. He dug out some heretofore-lost memories that hinted at consummation. Meanwhile, Wolsey had lost Henry’s trust because of the many delays in the annulment; the king used Suffolk to openly attack his once powerful advisor. At a public hearing on the case, Suffolk banged his fist on the table and shouted “It was never merry in England whilst we had cardinals among us.” Of course, Suffolk would not have dared to attack Wolsey without Henry’s implicit support. It was the downfall of the Cardinal.

In 1531, Henry banished Katharine of Aragon from court. He and Anne were constantly together and he made no secret of his intention to marry her. The Suffolks were not happy about this but what could they do? They depended on Henry for everything. Mary made a cutting remark about Anne sometime in early 1532 and refused to accompany Henry and Anne on a state visit to France. Her husband warned Henry that Anne may have slept with Sir Thomas Wyatt. But that is all they dared. They were concerned about their own family.

By this time, Suffolk’s daughters with Anne Browne were wed to titled men. His eldest daughter with Mary, the lady Frances, was engaged to Henry Grey third Marquess of Dorset, descendent of the famous Elizabeth Woodville; before Edward IV, she had been married to a Grey and had two sons by him. It was from the elder son that Henry Grey was descended. Frances and Henry were the parents of Lady Jane Grey. The celebration of Frances’s wedding to Henry Grey was held at the Suffolk home in London. It was Mary’s last visit to the city. She was increasingly ill and also uncomfortable with her brother. His favor was no longer certain. He had married the pregnant Anne Boleyn in a secret ceremony. Suffolk was put in charge of the new queen’s coronation. Therefore, he was not with his wife when she passed away quietly at their home in Westhorpe on 26 June 1533. She was thirty-eight years old. Her death was not considered important news since most people were concerned with the impending birth of Anne Boleyn’s child, destined to be Elizabeth I. Mary had seen her husband in early May but his duties kept him busy; it was a hurried visit and she simply wasted away in the next few weeks.

Her brother ordered requiem masses to be sung at Westminster Abbey but showed no other sign of mourning. He was, after all, in the midst of the Reformation. Charles Brandon did not attend the funeral but it was a marvelous affair. The coffin lay in state for a month at Westhorpe and was interred at the church of Bury St Edmunds on 22 July. The abbey church and her monument were destroyed during the dissolution of the monasteries. Her coffin was saved, however, and moved to a nearby church called St Mary. In 1784, it was moved yet again within that church. The movers ghoulishly opened the coffin; they found a good set of teeth and two feet of hair which was still red-gold. Souvenir hunters cut off pieces of the hair.

Mary’s death was perhaps most mourned in Suffolk county where she had been a popular and respected figure. Her husband replaced her quickly enough – and, as was typical of Brandon, with aplomb. He decided to marry his son’s betrothed. The girl was called Catherine Willoughby and she as a baroness in her own right, heiress to 15000 ducats a year. She was also just fourteen-years-old, the same age as his youngest child. Brandon himself was almost fifty. But he needed money badly and she was very rich; he married her quite rapidly. The exact date is unknown. His and Mary’s son, the eighteen-year-old Henry Brandon, Earl of Lincoln, would be betrothed elsewhere easily enough. But that was not to be. After his father’s wedding, the young earl died, probably of the Tudor scourge, tuberculosis. Brandon was not particularly grieved; six months after his death, he and Catherine had a son and named him Henry Brandon. This usage of a dead child’s name was common practice in England.

Suffolk remained in Henry’s favor. The king gave his old friend the unpleasant task of persuading Katharine of Aragon to accept the break with Rome and the new title Princess Dowager. He was also to move her to Somersham near Cambridge, a manor known for its dank and unhealthy atmosphere. Katharine would not be bullied; she told Suffolk that he would have to bind her in ropes if he wanted to move her anywhere. After a week of such talks, Suffolk left, having accomplished precious little.

He never saw Katharine again. He did attend all the momentous events of the 1530s – he sat at the trials of Thomas More and Anne Boleyn, he was even present at the scaffold when she was beheaded. He also helped lead forces to end the Pilgrimage of Grace, one of the most serious problems of Henry’s reign. Meanwhile, his wife gave birth to a second son called Charles and his daughter Frances, after two still-births, gave birth to a healthy baby girl, named Jane Grey, probably after Queen Jane Seymour. The exact date of birth is not known, but it was probably October and eclipsed by the birth – finally! – of Henry’s son, Prince Edward. Suffolk acted as godfather to the new prince.

The last years of his life were quite happy. He and Catherine Willoughby were affectionate, they had two healthy sons, and the dissolution of the monasteries allowed the king to grant him more lands and pensions. He and his wife entertained the king and his new wife Catherine Howard; and, of course, Suffolk was one the men who arrested and extracted a confession from that queen. He died quite suddenly on 22 August 1545, his last official business being plans for an invasion of France. But he was sixty years old, a good age at the time, and – once the news was known – it was not suurprising.

Suffolk requested a quiet funeral but the king would have none of it – he ordered a lavish ceremony at St George’s Chapel in Windsor. Henry planned and paid for the service. It was undoubtedly an emotional occasion for him; after all, Charles Brandon had been his companion for virtually his entire life. In fact, Suffolk was one of the few men who could still remember the Bluff King Hal of legend. Henry was now overweight, bald, and suffering from a variety of physical ailments. He would only outlive his friend by about eighteen months. In that time, he had good cause to regret the death of his one true friend.

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