So in our first post, we discussed how Charles Brandon was the only person who prevailed in the king’s affection through his whole life. (Please see that post here: : ) There was a rift that opened between them when Charles married Henry’s favorite sister, Mary, but that seemed to be on the mend. The couple had both begged Henry for forgiveness, putting the blame for the impetuous marriage on Mary. Charles wrote to Henry, “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.” This, plus the diamond called the Mirror of Naples, put them well on the path to Henry’s good graces. The two were popular as Mary was lovely and Charles was good looking and it was a grand love story. Then things began to change.
The king had had his share of mistresses, but this one was different. Anne Boleyn seemed to have staying power. Anne and her sister Mary, also Henry’s mistress, had been maids of honor to Mary in France. Anne caught Henry’s eye in 1527, and was determined to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and take Anne as his wife. Both Mary and Charles were horrified as both were strong supporters of Catherine. However, they played along as they were dependent on Henry’s good will to survive. Mary did go so far as to refuse to accompany the two on a state visit to France and Charles warned Henry of rumors Anne had been “unchaste” with her neighbor, Sir Thomas Wyatt. But that was as far as they could go without endangering their own family. However, if was enough to earn them Anne’s displeasure. Mary stayed away from court, only coming to court for her daughter, Frances’, marriage to Henry Grey. Her health was rapidly failing. Despite this, Charles could not go to her as he was put in charge of the the new Queen Anne’s coronation. The two of them were in hot water with Anne, and he had to put his best foot forward. He was not present when Mary died on June 26, 1533 at Westhope.
Despite his grief, Charles remarried quickly to his son’s betrothed. Catherine Willoughby was a baroness as well as the heiress to a fortune. The fact he was nearly fifty and she was fourteen, the same age as his son, did not seem to matter. His son, Henry, could easily find a new bride. However, this was not to be as Henry died soon after his father’s wedding. With his new bride, Charles had two sons, Henry, for the third time, and Charles. The two poor children died with an hour of each other of the sweating sickness in July 1551. However, this sad event was far in the future.
In the meantime, Charles was chosen by the king for the dubious task of convincing Catherine of Aragon to accept the annulment of her marriage, the English Church’s break from Rome and the title of Dowager Princess. That was a tall order and Catherine did not make it easy on her former partisan. He was to move her to Somersham near Cambridge, which was apparently a manner known for its unpleasant atmosphere. Catherine informed Charles he would have to “bind her with ropes” to move her. Charles most certainly did not do that and left after making no headway. Charles was present for the tumultuous events of the 1530s and witnessed the fall of Anne Boleyn. He lead forces in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and kept Henry’s kingdom from being torn in two. The pinnacle of his honors was being made godfather to the newborn Prince Edward.
He and Catherine watched Henry’s marriage foibles from court, but had a seemingly happy marriage themselves. Charles died suddenly on August 22, 1545 at Guildford, Surrey. He was 61 years old, which is a great age for someone in that time period. However, no evidence of illness or cause of death is recorded. The king was grief stricken and ordered a massive funeral for his friend. Charles Brandon was buried at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor near the sour door of the choir at the king’s expense. The epitaph read “Here lies Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who married King Henry VIII’s sister, and died in his reign, August 1545, and was buried at the king’s own charge.” Even in death, Henry could not let Charles forget he owed everything to him.
Sources available on request