Tuesday, 13 May 2014

13 May 1515 - Marriage of Mary Queen of France and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

Above: the marriage of Mary Tudor, former queen of France, and Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, took place on 13 May 1515.

On this day in history, 13 May 1515, the marriage between Mary Tudor, formerly queen consort of France, to Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk and close friend of Henry VIII, took place. Their marriage was a love match and it caused considerable controversy, for Mary's first marriage to the French king, Louis XII, had only recently ended through his death, and Brandon was not royal. Nor had Mary asked her brother, Henry VIII, for permission to marry.

Mary was the youngest surviving daughter of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, and Elizabeth of York. She was born on 18 March 1496 at Richmond Palace in Surrey, reportedly her father's favourite residence. The humanist scholar described the youthful Tudor princess as extremely "beautiful". Her charm and beauty was famous in Europe. The Venetian ambassador was to describe her at the time of her marriage, when she was eighteen, as being 'tall, slender, grey-eyed', in short, 'a Paradise'. A French observer further commented that Mary was 'one of the most beautiful young women in the world'. She had long, red-golden hair and blue eyes. She closely resembled her elder brother, Henry, in looks, and like him she had a fiery temper and could be stubborn and determined, as her pursuit of Brandon demonstrated.

Above: Mary Tudor, the French queen consort.

Although, as a child, Mary had been betrothed to Charles, the future Holy Roman Emperor, and had been groomed for a glorious future as archduchess of Burgundy and princess of Castile, her brother Henry VIII decided to marry her off to his ally, the French king, Louis XII, who was aged in his fifties and had been married twice previously, when relations with the Habsburgs fell into disrepute. In the autumn of 1514, the eighteen-year old Princess Mary was betrothed to a man aged approximately 34 years older than her. Although this might seem shocking to modern sensibilities, it was completely usual for the time, especially for royalty. Mary's later husband, Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, married Katherine Willoughby when Katherine was aged only fourteen and he was aged forty-nine, and Henry VIII, aged forty-nine, married the sixteen-year old Katherine Howard in 1540.

Traditionally, especially in popular culture, Mary has been depicted as a petulant teenager who adamantly refused to marry the elderly French king. When Henry VIII informed her that she had no choice, she allegedly made a bargain with him in which he agreed that, were the French king to die, Mary would be able to marry whomever she liked. However, as historian David Loades states, there is no record of Mary's feelings about her French bridegroom and no such record of any bargain. 

Above: Anne Boleyn was briefly attendant to Queen Mary Tudor in 1514, and some nineteen years later, was to become her sister-in-law.

On 9 October, having arrived in France, Mary's marriage to King Louis was celebrated with elaborate ceremony at pomp. On 5 November, Mary was crowned at St. Denis. Unhappiness surfaced, however, when the new French queen's English entourage was by and large dismissed. She was, however, left with one notable attendant - a young English girl (possibly aged as young as six, but more probably twelve or thirteen) named Anne Boleyn, who would nineteen years later, for a very brief spell, become Mary's sister-in-law, but no-one could have foreseen that in 1514. Mary soon felt isolated and vulnerable, and the teenage queen, alone in a foreign land, soon began writing despairing letters to her brother, the King of England. Mary's unhappiness was not to last long, however, for on 1 January 1515, after barely three months of marriage, the ailing and exhausted Louis died, allegedly of being danced to death by his energetic queen.

Above: Louis XII of France, first husband of Mary Tudor.

Following Louis XII's death, Mary's name was soon being linked to that of the duke of Savoy and the duke of Lorraine, for her royal blood, youth and beauty made her an excellent prospect. Whether Mary had been in love with Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, before she had sailed to France, or whether it was an infatuation that developed when Brandon led a delegation of honour to France after the queen's coronation, is impossible to say. It seems, however, that both had strong feelings of passion for one another, and according to Loades, in February 1515 the eighteen-year old dowager queen 'virtually forced him to marry her secretly'. Henry VIII was furious, for not only had Mary not asked for his permission to remarry, but Brandon had married a princess of the blood without royal permission, and which constituted an act of treason. The couple were forced to pay a hefty fine in order to attain royal forgiveness.

On this day, 13 May 1515, three months after their secret union, Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor wed publicly at Greenwich Palace, having arrived safely back in England. Thus, barely six months after being crowned Queen of France, the youngest Tudor princess became Duchess of Suffolk. While Charles was to play an important role at court, thereafter Mary visited court only intermittently. She bore Charles four children: Henry (who died young), Frances Brandon (the mother of Lady Jane Grey), Eleanor Brandon and a second Henry Brandon. 

The nature of the Suffolks' marriage is impossible to pinpoint, but romantic tradition and the available historical evidence indicates that it was, at least initially, a love match. On 25 June 1533, Mary died aged thirty-seven, and it is possible that she died estranged from Henry VIII, for she had vocally disapproved of his second marriage to Anne Boleyn, her former maid of honour. Part of this dislike and resentment of Anne may have been because of Mary's closeness with Katherine of Aragon. 

As David Loades concludes, Mary Tudor's main importance lies in her 'claim to the English throne that she transmitted via her elder daughter, Frances, to Jane and Katherine Grey, Frances's daughters from her marriage to Henry Grey, seventh marquess of Dorset'. When Charles and Mary wed in 1515, two headstrong young lovers, it is almost certain that they could never then have envisaged that, forty years later, their granddaughter, Lady Jane Grey, would become queen of England - albeit for only thirteen days.

Above: Lady Jane Grey, queen of England, and granddaughter of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor.

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