Mary Tudor - Romantic Rebel

These two posts are borne out of one history geek's frustration with Hollywood, in particular, the producers of Showtime's original series, The Tudors. For those who haven't watched The Tudors, the writers decided to combine Henry's two sisters into one, named Margaret Tudor, who in the series marries the King of Portugal and then later kills him.

Needless to say this is not historically accurate, or even really good drama. Henry had two younger sisters, Mary and Margaret and their subsequent marriages and descendents are an important part of Tudor history and shouldn't be ignored.

The lovely lady in the two portraits on the left is Princess Mary Tudor, the youngest surviving daughter of Henry VII and his Queen Elizabeth of York. Mary was born on March 18, 1496, and grew up to be considered one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe. She was exuberant and energetic like her brother Henry. Like him, she loved dancing and parties, and spectacle. She also had a huge amount of freedom, her father had died when she was fourteen, and for 5 years , she was virtually unchaperoned at court, taking part in every event.

In the series, The Tudors, Henry betrothes his little daughter Mary to Catherine of Aragon's nephew, Charles, the future the Holy Roman Emperor. However, it was actually his sister Mary who was to be married to Charles until negotiations broke down between England and Spain. Since Charles was 4 years younger than her, Mary was probably pleased at getting out of that marriage.

Unfortunately, Henry was not done using his sister as a royal pawn. Instead, he betrothed her to King Louis XII of France, who was over 3o years older than Mary. Described as feeble and pock-marked, he'd already buried two wives. Mary had no choice in the matter but to obey her brother and her King and agree to the marriage. However, she apparently got Henry to agree that if she survived her husband, her second marriage would be to a man of her own choice. Henry agreed, probably thinking that it would never come to that, and if it did, he would still have control over her marital prospects.

In the meantime, Mary had fallen in love with the King's friend, Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk. The dukedom of Suffolk had been given to Brandon's grandfather for services to the crown during the Battle of Bosworth. Brandon was handsome, and popular. After his father's death on Bosworth field, Brandon was taken into the royal household as a companion to the young Prince of Wales, Arthur, and then later as a playmate for Henry, Duke of York.

He had a checkered marital past. He'd been betrothed to Anne Browne. Although there was no formal ceremony, they consummated the relationship, and Anne gave birth to a daughter. Although the contract was binding, that didn't stop him from marrying her Aunt. Eventually that marriage was annulled and Suffolk wed Anne. They had another daugher and she died two years later.

Although Brandon was a Duke, marriage to him would still have been considered marrying beneath her. Royal Princesses didn't marry mere Dukes unless they were Royal Dukes. The idea of a princess of England marrying a commoner who could bring nothing to the marriage was unthinkable. Princesses were commodities like grain or sugar to be bartered to the highest bidder, pieces on a chess board.

Good princess that she was, Mary went off to France, hopeful that her marriage to Louis would be a merciful short one, not even being Queen of France was a substitute for not being able to marry the man she truly loved. In Mary's retinue were two young girls who play a part in Tudor history, Anne Boleyn and her older sister Mary, who stayed behind with the Princess with her other retinue had been dismissed.

Mary was married to the King first by proxy, the Duc of Longueville filling in for Louis XII. When she arrived in Paris, she was married to the King for real in the fall of 1514. Three months later, Louis XII was dead, on New Year's Day no less. Now the Queen Dowager (Francois I was now the titular heir), Mary was moved to the Palace of Cluny for 6 weeks while they waited to see if she was with a child, who would replace Francois in the succession if it were a boy and lived.

While Mary waited, she made her escape plan just in case. She knew that her brother would probably send Charles Brandon to escort her home. She'd also heard that Henry had plans to marry her off now to a Spanish prince this time. Mary was not having it, she'd married once to please her brother, the second time would be for her. Luckily for Mary, she had an ally in Francois, who confronted Brandon when he arrived about his feelings for Mary.

Francois wasn't doing this out of any altruistic reason or soley because he was moved by the love affair between Mary and Charles. He had ulterior motives. Helping Mary marry Brandon meant that Henry could no longer use her as a political pawn. Francois knew that Brandon was there to bargain for Mary's return, specifically the return of her jewels, plate and dower rights. Brandon was in a bind though, he had promised Henry before he left that he would keep his relations with Mary solely on a formal basis. Henry had no reason not to trust him. Brandon was his creation, ambitious in his own right, and dependent on Henry for everything. Why would Brandon turn around and bite the hand that fed him?

Francois reassured him that he was their ally, he would take care of everything, including writing to Henry to explain everything. Suffolk wasn't stupid, he made sure to quickly write his own account of his interview with the King for Wolsey, and then went to see Mary. When Brandon admitted that he wanted to marry Mary, that was all she needed to know. She asked him to marry her, if he said no, she planned to enter a convent rather than be married off a second time to a man she didn't love. Even though he knew how pissed off Henry was going to be when he heard the news, Charles gave in and married Mary at the Palais de Cluny. Mary Tudor did the unthinkable for a royal princess, she married the man that she wanted, defying one of the most powerful Kings in Europe.

After the wedding, Francois demanded that Suffolk give his agreement in several disputes over Mary's dowery in exchange for keeping their secret. In the meantime, Wolsey and Henry were demanding that Brandon do the opposite, to stay firm and reject all the French King's demands. Suffolk was now in between a rock and a hard place. Rumors were swirling around Paris about the marriage and Mary was sure that she was now pregnant. Suffolk had no choice now but to write to Wolsey confessing what they had done, putting the most positive spin on it as possible. He wanted to arrange a public ceremony, knowing that it was possible that their secret marriage could be invalidated.

When Henry found out, pissed was not the word. Not only did he demand that Suffolk and Mary repay the treasury the money that was spent for her dowery to France, which amounted to 24,000 pounds, a huge sum at the time, payable in installments of 4,000 pounds a year. She also had to return all the plate and jewels that she took to France as part of her dowery and all the gifts that Louis XII had given her. Both Mary and Suffolk wrote to the King begging his forgiveness, blaming Mary for their impetuous decision.

After a time, Henry's anger subsided, Mary was his favorite sister (he named the famous ship Mary Rose after her, as well as his only legitimate child at the time, the princess Mary.), and Brandon was his dearest friend. They were married publicly in May of 1514 with only Henry and the Queen in attendance. Afterwards, there was feasting and celebrations but it was strictly a family affair. It helped that they named their first son after Henry and their daughter Frances after the French King.

Frances grew up to marry the Marquess of Dorset, their daughter Lady Jane Grey was the 9 Day Queen. Mary was always referred to as the Dowager Queen of France and not the Duchess of Suffolk, a reminder that she had married below her rank. It hardly mattered, Mary was relatively happy with her choice of husband. Suffolk and Mary attended all the major court celebrations, including the famous Field of Cloth of Gold near Calais in 1520, where Mary was considered the most beautiful woman there. Whenever the Queen was ill, Mary acted as her brother's hostess.

Good friends with her sister-in-law, Catherine of Aragon, Mary supported her against the King during his "great matter" and rejected her former maid of honor Anne Boleyn. Meanwhile her husband was persuaded to remember that Catherine and Prince Arthur, Henry's older brother, had consummated their marriage. Suffolk had been a childhood companion of the Prince as well as the King, being nearer to Arthur's age then Henry's.

She died at the relatively early age of 38 in the spring of 1534. Her husband was not with her as he was arranging Anne Boleyn's coronation as Queen. While her brother ordered requiem masses for her, he showed no other signs of mourning. Her husband, Suffolk, didn't even attend her funeral, although it was considered to be a marvelous affair. She is buried at the church of St. Mary, in Bury St. Edmonds in Suffolk.

Her husband, meanwhile, wasted no time remarrying, this time to his own son's betrothed, Catherine Willoughby, an heiress, who was 14 at the time of their marriage, Suffolk was almost 50. The reason, Brandon needed money badly. His son, the Earl of Lincoln died of tuberculosis at the age of 18 shortly afterward. He and Catherine had two sons, the dissolution of the monasteries gave them much land. He died at the age of 60, almost 18 months before the death of his great friend, Henry VIII.

Mary Tudor should be remembered as the Princess who defied her King and brother to marry the man that she loved, and whose descendant Lady Jane Grey for 9 days was Queen of England.

Sources: Wikipedia

English History. net:

For more information:

Mary, Queen of France - by Jean Plaidy (historical fiction but extremely well written)

Maria Perry - The Sisters of Henry VIII

Tomorrow: Princess Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland


Unknown said…
I read a book on Margaret Tudor a few years ago. She had quite an interesting life. Your post was great to read.
Thanks Georgie. I wish the producers of The Tudors had realized that instead of their made up Margaret Tudor.
Sherry said…
What a lovely post. Thanks so much for informing me and others of the truth. I have linked this post to my blog and hope some of my readers will stop by for an enlightening read.
Thanks, Sherry and thanks for the link. I have a feeling very few people know that Henry VIII had sisters. I've always thought that they represented another side to him that you don't really see sometimes because most books and movies are focused on the Anne Boleyn story.
Jenn said…
I love these posts...but I'm a bit confused about the reference to Mary being Henry VIII's only legitimate child.

I can certainly see the argument for Elizabeth, but Henry married Jane Seymour after the death of Catherine of Aragon, which would legally have made him a widower (if one rejects the Act of Supremacy).

So by extension, isn't Edward legitimate well?
At the time the Mary Rose was named, Mary was Henry's only legitimate child. Sorry that I didn't clarify that better in the post.
Unknown said…
That is a wonderful blurb to read about King Henry's sister Mary Tudor, Queen of France. However I must clarify something that in the beginning it says that both Mary and Margaret were his younger sisters. Nevertheless, I noticed a small mistake. Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland was in fact two years Henry VIII's senior. Anyway, the post was interesting to read and it is nice to see others express such interest in the Tudors. They may not have continued their line through Elizabeth (though it was continued through Lady Mary Boleyn), they are clearly not forgotten.
Anonymous said…
While I enjoyed this post, there are some inaccuracies in it. Margaret Tudor was not Henry's younger sister - she was older.

Also Brandon did NOT inherit the Dukedom from his grandfather, who was also NOT at the battle of Bosworth - it was his father, who died in that battle. Brandon himself was created 1. Duke of Suffolk by Henry VIII - probably simply because he was a favorite of Henry's. He had been a mere Sir before that. And Duke was the highest ranking nobility title right after the royal family. At the time of Mary's and Brandon's marriage there were only three Dukes in the kingdom.

Also, Henry was probably not pissed because of the fact they had married (his favorite sister and best friend after all), but because they had done so in secret and lost Mary's dowry because of this. Parliament was calling for Brandon to be imprisoned or executed - what they had done was treason after all - but Henry did no such thing. Instead they were fined to pay back her dowry - not exactly a horrible punishment and the acts of a livid sovereign, is it? He could have had the marriage annuled and Brandon's head cut off if he had been seriously angered!

Henry and his sister were also reportedly close, she did have her doubts apparently, if he would keep his promise for her to choose her second husband, but I think that he gave this promise in the first place is very telling. It was extraordinary for the time.

I think it also a little dangerous to view this story through the eyes of the 21st century. It was normal back then to not marry for love. Princesses were very important for keeping allies and good political relations with other countries - they could be the only thing to prevent a war. Likewise a King could not marry for love either. There were bigger issues at stake in royal marriages than the happiness of a single person, wether they be a Princess or a King.
To marry for love and not for social security or political reasons, is a very modern idea. Back then marriage was a matter of expediency, nothing more or less.
allyls2010 said…
I'm so glad that somebody told the story of Henry's two sisters properly instead of bastardizing it like they did on "The Tudors."
One thing though. Mary I was actually betrothed to Charles I of Spain. After Henry VIII broke his sister's betrothal with Charles, after Louis died, and after the field of the Cloth of Gold, Charles' grandfather Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor died, and Charles, who was only 20, was elected as his successor, Charles V. Henry VIII passed up an alliance with France (which was supposed to be cemented by a marriage between Mary, Henry's daughter, and Francis' son the dauphin, also called Francis) for the more beneficial alliance with Spain, the Empire, and Austria. This alliance was supposed to be cemented by a marriage between Princess Mary and the new Emperor. The two were betrothed in 1522 when Mary was 6 and Charles was 22. However, Charles wanted an heir and wasn't willing to wait for Mary to grow up enough to produce one, so he broke off the betrothal and married the very beautiful and very rich Portuguese Infanta Isabella, who was only three years younger than him. So, "The Tudors" actually did portray the younger Mary's record of broken betrothals pretty well.
josabby474 said…
It was in Mary Tudor's blood to marry for love after her first husband died. Afterall, two og her great grandmothers- Jaquetta of Luxembourg and Katherine Valois did so without Royal consent and had to pay fines to the crown as well. Owen Tudor, Richard Woodville, and Charles Brandon were all considered lowly, but they are all ancestors of the current members of the royal family through Elizabeth Bowes Lyon and Pricess Diana (bother are descended from Mary Tudor and, I believe Mary Boelyn). The women who married for love did the royal line a solid and infused some new DNA into that seriously inbred line. Since the current royal family is descended the Tutor sisters, I have trouble understanding why they get the shaft so much in fiction and non fiction accounts of history, especially since they were anything but boring.

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