Secret Marriage: Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon


When Mary Tudor arrived in France she experience a French court that was reasonably well ordered and steadily developing as the trend-setter in French material culture. Louis most definitely spoiled his new, young bride and Mary appears to have done her duty as an English Princess and made the King of France, her husband, very happy. As he said himself, “I can sufficiently praise and express my delight in her.

Nearly three months into their marriage, on 1 January 1515, King Louis XII of France died – he was 52 years old. He had been afflicted with gout for some time and just before his death had suffered a severe case of it.

After the King’s death, Mary was required to stay in France for awhile to ensure she was not carrying the late King’s heir. She was isolated from men for six weeks at Palais de Cluny until it was determined she was not with child.

Charles Brandon, newly titled Duke of Suffolk, was sent to France to escort marry back to England on the order of King Henry VIII. Charles was Mary’s true love – she secretly wished to marry him instead of Louis but had to abide by the order of her brother, the King. Henry was aware that his sister did not want to marry the elderly French King. She had informed Henry that she would gladly marry Louis if he agreed to allow Mary to marry whomever she wanted if she were to outlive her elderly husband. Henry undoubtedly agreed, but whether he meant it was a whole other story. He most likely just agreed to get his sister to leave for France and fulfill his own agenda.

Unfortunately, it seems that Henry never really meant what he said, as you’ll see from the below letters.

In our first letter, written a month and a half after the death of her husband, we see Mary discussing the new French king, Francis I, and his desire to arrange a new marriage for her. The new French King asked her if she had ever made a promise of marriage and she confessed that she wished to wed Charles, Duke of Suffolk. Francis seems to have encouraged the marriage. The French King’s motives are unknown.

According to Jean Perréal, Mary Tudor Brandon Florence, Uffizi, Cabinet of Drawings and Prints, inv. 3911 F.

Mary Queen-Dowager of France to Henry VIII
[Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies]
Paris, February 15, 1515

Pleaseth it your grace, the French king, on Tuesday night last past, came to visit me, and had with me many diverse discoursing, among the which he demanded me whether I had ever made any promise of marriage in any place, assuring me upon his honour, and upon the word of a prince, that in case I would be plain with him in that affair, that he would do for me therein to the best of his power, whether it were in his realm or out of the same. Whereunto I answered, that I would disclose unto him the secret of my heart in humility, as unto the prince of the world after your grace in whom I had most trust, and so declared unto him the good mind which for divers considerations I bear to my lord of Suffolk, asking him not only to grant me his favour and consent thereunto, but also that he would of his own hand write unto your grace, and to pray you to bear your like favour unto me, and to be content with the same; the which he granted me to do, and so hath done, according as shall appear unto your grace by his said letters. And, sir, I most humbly beseech you to take this answer which I have made unto the French king in good part, the which I did only to be discharged of the extreme pain and annoyance I was in, by reason of such suit as the French king made unto me not according with mine honour, the which he hath clearly left off. Also, sir, I feared greatly lest, in case that I had kept the matter from his knowledge, that he might have not well entreated my said lord of Suffolk, and the rather for to have returned to his former malfantasy and suits. Wherefore, sir, since it hath pleased the said king to desire and pray you of your favour and consent, I most humbly and heartily beseech you that it may like your grace to bear your favour and consent to the same, and to advertise the said king by your writing of your own hand of your pleasure, and in that he hath acted after mine opinion in his letter of request, it shall be to your great honour….to content with all your counsel and with all the other nobles of the realm, and agree thereto for your grace and for all the world; and therefore I eftsoon require you, for all the love that it liked your grace to bear me, that you do not refuse but grant me your favour and consent in form before rehearsed, the which if you shall deny me, I am well assured to lead as desolate a life as ever had creature, the which I know well shall be mine end. Always praying your grace to have compassion of me, my most loving and sovereign lord and brother, whereunto I have entreated you, beseeching God always to preserve your most royal estate.

I most humbly beseech your grace to consider, in case that you make difficulty to condescend to the promises as I wish, the French king will take new courage to renew his suits to me; assuring you that I had rather to be out of the world than it so should happen; and how he shall entreat my lord of Suffolk, God knoweth, with many other inconvenience, which might ensue of the same, the which I pray our Lord that I may never have life to see.

by your loving sister and true servant,

Mary Queen of France


In the next letter it appears that Mary heard from her brother and was aware that he was not happy with her and Charles.

Mary Queen-Dowager of France to Henry VIII
[Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies]

Pleaseth it your grace, to my greatest discomfort, sorrow, and disconsolation, but lately I have been advertised of the great and high displeasure which your highness beareth unto me and my lord of Suffolk for the marriage between us. Sir, I will not in any wise deny but that I have offended your grace, for the which I do put myself most humbly in your clemency and mercy. Nevertheless, to the intent that your highness should not think that I had simply, carnally, or of any sensual appetite done the same, I having no regard to fall in your grace’s displeasure, I assure your grace that I had never done against your ordinance and consent, but by the reason of the great despair wherein I was put by the two friars…which hath certified me in case I come to England your counsel would never consent to the marriage between the said lord and me, with many other sayings concerning the same promise, so that I verily thought that the said friars would never have offered to have made me like overture unless they might have had charge from some of your council, the which put me in such consternation, fear and doubt of the obtaining of the thing which I desired most in this world, that I rather chose to put me in your mercy accomplishing the marriage than to put me in the order of your council knowing them to be otherwise minded. Whereupon, sir, I put my lord of Suffolk in choice whether he would accomplish the marriage within four days, or else that he should never have enjoyed me; whereby I know well that I constrained him to break such promises as he made your grace, as well for fear of losing of me as also that I ascertained him that by their consent I would never come into England. And now that our grace knoweth the both offences, of the which I have been the only occasion. I most humbly and as your most sorrowful sister require you to have compassion upon us both and to pardon our offences, and that it will please your grace to write to me and to my lord of Suffolk some comfortable words, for it should be greatest comfort for us both.

By your loving and most humble sister,


believed to be Princess Mary Tudor by unknown artist

It’s possible that this letter was sent from Calais, a stop on their way back to England. In the letter she mentions that it was all her idea and that Charles had not provoked the matter. Mary had set her mind to marrying Charles and so she did. When Henry VIII sent his friend to France to escort marry back he made Charles promise he would not marry his sister (also mentioned in the above letter)- Henry knew how much Mary liked Charles and must have recalled the promise he had made his sister.

Mary Queen-Dowager of France to Henry VIII
[Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies]

My most dear and entirely beloved brother,

In most humble manner, I recommend me to your grace.

Dearest brother, I doubt not but that you have in  your good remembrance that whereas for the good of peace and for the furtherance of your affairs you moved me to marry with my lord and late husband, king Louis of France, whose soul God pardon. Though I understood that he was very aged and sickly, yet for advancement of the said peace and for the furtherance of your causes. I was contented to conform myself to your said motion, so that if I should fortune to survive the said late king I might have affixed and clearly determined myself to marry with him; and the same [I] assure you hath proceeded only of mine own mind, without any request or labour of my said lord Suffolk, or of any other person. And to be plain with your grace, I have so bound myself unto him that for no cause earthly I will or may vary or change from the same. Wherefore my good and most kind brother, I now beseech your grace to take this matter in good part, and to give unto me and to my said lord of Suffolk your good will herein. Ascertaining you, that upon the trust and comfort which I have, for that you have always honourably regarded your promise, I am now come out of the realm of France, and have put myself within your jurisdiction in this your town of Calais, where I intend to remain till such time as I shall have answer from you of your good and loving mind herein; which I would not have done but upon the faithful trust that I have in your said promise. Humbly beseeching your grace, for the great and tender love which ever hath been and shall be between you and me, to bear your gracious mind and show yourself to be agreeable thereunto, and to certify me by your most loving letters of the same till which time I will make mine abode here, and no farther enter your realm. And to the intent it may please you the rather to condescend to this my most hearty desire, I am contended and expressly promise and bind me to you, by these presents, to give you all the whole dote which delivered with me, and also all such plate of gold and jewels as I shall have of my said late husband’s. Over and besides this I shall, rather than fail, give  you as much yearly part of my dower, to as great a sum as shall stand with your will and pleasure; and of all the premises I promise, upon knowledge of your good mind, to make unto you sufficient bonds. Trusting, verily, that in fulfilling of your said promise to me made, you will show your brotherly love, affection, and good mind to me in this behalf, which to hear of I abide with most desire; and not to be miscontented with my said lord of Suffolk, whom of mine inward good mind and affection to him I have in manner enforced to be agreeable to the same, without any request by him made; as knoweth our Lord, whom I beseech to have your grace in his merciful governance.

Master of the Brandon Portrait (fl. circa 1510-1540) - Christie's
Master of the Brandon Portrait (fl. circa 1510-1540) – Christie’s

The Duke of Suffolk to Henry VIII
[Calendar, Henry VIII, Vol. II, Preface XXXI.]
Montrruil, April 22, 1515

Most gracious Sovereign Lord, – So it is that I am informed divers (many) ways that all your whole council, my Lord of York excepted, with many other, are clearly determined to “tympe” your grace that I may either be put to death or put in prison, and so to be destroyed. Alas, Sir, I may say that I have a hard fortune, seeing that there was never none of them in trouble but I was glad to help them to my power, and that your grace knows best. And now that I am in this none little trouble and sorrow, now they are ready to help to destroy me. But, Sir, I can no more but God forgive them whatsoever comes to me; for I am determined. For, Sir, your grace is he that is my sovereign lord and master, and he that hath brought me up out of nought; and I am your subject and servant, and he that hath offended your grace in breaking my promise that I made your grace touching the queen your sister; for the which I, with most humble heart, will yield myself into your grace’s hands to do with my poor body your gracious pleasure, not fearing the malice of them; for I  know your grace of such nature that it cannot lie in their powers to cause you to destroy me for their malice. But what punishment I have I shall thank God and your grace of it, and think that I have well deserved it both to God and your grace; as knows our Lord who send your grace your most honourable heart’s desire with long life, and me most sorrowful wretch your gracious favour, what sorrow soever I endure therefore.

At Mottryll, the 22nd day of April, by your most humble subject and servant,

Charles Suffolke

Mary’s Signature: mary-tudor-signature


Mumby, Frank Arthur; “The Youth of Henry VIII – A Narrative in Contemporary Letters

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