In a previous post, we discussed Maria de Salinas, who was the best friend to Catherine of Aragon. (For more on this, please see this post: http://www.historynaked.com/maria-de-salinas-best-friend-queen/ )
Henry had a lifelong friend as well who was a witness to his ascension as well as his decline. It can be argued, that Charles Brandon is the only person who successfully retained Henry’s affection for life. A feat none of his wives can claim.
Charles Brandon was born in a solidly middle class family. His father, William Brandon, was a knight and his mother was Elizabeth Bruyn, an heiress. William was the standard bearer for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, and was killed, allegedly by Richard III himself. Young Charles was only one or two years old at this time. He was raised by his grandfather, and after his death and his mother’s death, Charles traveled to court. Because of his father’s service to the Tudor’s, Charles was educated with the royal children. Charles was two years older than Henry’s first son, Arthur, and they were companions. When Arthur married Catherine of Aragon in 1502 and moved to Ludlow Castle, Charles stayed behind in the household of Arthur’s brother, Henry, Duke of York. The two became very close companions. Although Charles was seven years older than Henry, the two of them shared a love of athletics, hunting and jousting.
In 1505, Charles became engaged to Anne Browne, the daughter of the Governor of Calais and a relative of the powerful Neville family. At this time a betrothal per verba de praesenti was binding under canon law. Anne certainly thought she was betrothed as she and Charles had a daughter in 1506. However, Charles didn’t think much of their contract as he married Anne’s aunt, Margaret Neville Mortimer, a very wealthy widow. This second marriage was annulled through legal action on behalf of Anne’s family. The two were very publically married later, and the two had another daughter in 1510. Anne died two years later, leaving Charles a bachelor at court.
In this time, Arthur had died as well as Henry VII, making Charles’ good friend Henry the next king. Henry looked with favor on his old friend, and soon Charles was gaining in influence and wealth. He is described by Dugdale as “a person comely of stature, high of courage and conformity of disposition to King Henry VIII.” Charles’ marriage shenanigans were far from over, and he was betrothed to his ward Elizabeth Grey and became Viscount Lisle in right of his future wife. Elizabeth, however, refused to marry him when she came of age. Apparently, she had heard about his reputation with the ladies. Henry was trying to convince Margaret of Savoy, who was the governor or the Netherlands, to marry Charles. Charles’ certainly helped this along by flirting shamelessly with Margaret. That did not come off either, and Henry had to make a public apology. This did not stop Henry making Charles the Duke of Suffolk.
This left him single in 1515, when Henry needed him for a delicate matter. In 1514, Henry’s sister had gone to marry King Louis of France. Mary Tudor was 19, willful and considered the most beautiful woman of the age. Louis was 50 and pockmarked. Mary would do her duty as a princess, but extracted a promise from Henry that she could choose her next husband. Henry probably agreed thinking she’d never hold him to it, and shipped her off to France. Three months into her marriage, King Louis died. French custom dictated the Dowager Queen be sent into seclusion for 40 days to ensure she was not pregnant with the dead king’s heir. Mary was sent to the Hotel de Cluny with no familiar English attendants, and was shut off from the world behind heavy draperies. Mary wrote frantically to Henry to remember his promise, “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.”
In the shifting sands of European alliances, Mary was a pawn. The new king, Francois, knew his alliance with England was breaking and was afraid Henry would marry Mary off to one of the Hapsburgs. He met with her and in her frightened state, she confessed she had loved Charles since she was a girl. Francois saw a way out of his difficulty. Charles had been sent to France to bring Mary home at the end of her mourning. He met with her and Francois at Senlis on January 27, 1515. Between Francois and Mary, they convinced him Henry meant for him to marry his sister and that everything would be alright. Mary gave him an ultimatum saying marry me now or not at all. Despite his trepidation, Charles married Mary sometime in February 1515. Francois on the other hand demanded preferential treatment in disputes over Mary’s dowry.
Henry was incensed. He had lost his best pawn, money and been betrayed by his best friend. Surprisingly, the two lived. Instead of losing their heads, the young couple were required to pay back Mary’s marriage portion in installments of 4000 pounds. All plate and jewels she had been given in France were forfeit as well. The new Duke and Duchess of Suffolk were poor, but happily together. The two had three children- Henry, Frances and Eleanor. Things seemed to be looking up for the young couple. Then a new cloud came on to the horizon. A cloud called Anne Boleyn.
Please see part 2, here: http://www.historynaked.com/charles-brandon-part-ii-weathering-kings-love-life/
Sources available on request