This fascinating book studies the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion. Charles rose from being Henry's childhood friend to becoming the Duke of Suffolk; a consummate courtier and diplomat. Mary was always royalty.
At first married to the King of France, Mary quickly wed Charles after Louis XII's death in 1515, against her brother's wishes. Their actions could have been construed as treason yet Henry chose to spare their lives. They returned to court and despite their ongoing disagreements throughout the years, especially over the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn, the Tudor Brandons remained Henry's most loyal subjects and perhaps more importantly, his beloved family.
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Watkins, author of Lady Katherine Knollys, The Unacknowledged Daughter of Henry VIII, provides a short, readable biography of Charles and Mary in The Tudor Brandons. At the centre of the couple’s story is their elopement in 1515. Mary was the widow of King Louis XII of France and she married Charles Brandon to avoid being compelled to make another dynastic marriage. There would not be another instance of an English princess marrying a subject until Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise married John Campbell, Lord Lorne in 1871. Watkins provides a thoughtful analysis of the circumstances surrounding the controversial royal wedding including reasons why Henry VIII was inclined to forgive the match and the implicit challenge to his authority.
The Tudor Brandons also includes Brandon’s family history (he descended from a long line of opportunists who were often on the wrong side of the law) and Mary’s continued role in Anglo-French relations including her presence at the Field of the Cloth of Gold summit between Henry VIII and Francis I. Mary also exerted a cultural influence at court, shaping trends in fashion and country house gardens in addition to popularizing picnic suppers for the elite. Charles and Mary’s granddaughter Lady Jane Grey, the nine days queen, became a significant figure in later Tudor history and the family remains a part of popular culture today ~ Carolyn Harris, www.theroyalhistorian.com
Synopsis: "The Tudor Brandons: Mary And Charles - Henry VIII's Nearest & Dearest" by Sarah-Beth Watkins is an inherently fascinating study of the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion. Charles rose from being Henry's childhood friend to becoming the Duke of Suffolk; a consummate courtier and diplomat. Mary was always royalty. At first married to the King of France, Mary quickly wed Charles after Louis XII's death in 1515, against her brother's wishes. Their actions could have been construed as treason yet Henry chose to spare their lives. They returned to court and despite their on-going disagreements throughout the years, especially over the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn, the Tudor Brandons remained Henry's most loyal subjects and perhaps more importantly, his beloved family.
Critique: Impressively detailed research combined with a remarkable storytelling talent on the part of author Sarah-Beth Watkins, "The Tudor Brandons: Mary And Charles - Henry Viii'S Nearest & Dearest" is a consistently compelling and exceptionally informative read from beginning to end. While unreservedly recommended for community, college, and university library British History collections in general, and Henry VIII supplemental studies reading lists in particular, it should be noted for the personal lists of students and non-specialist general readers with an interest in the subject that "The Tudor Brandons" is also available in a Kindle edition ($6.15).
~ Bethany's Bookshelf, Midwest Book Reviews
The Tudor Brandons is a fascinating look into the life and times of Mary Tudor, the sister of Henry VIII and Charles Brandon his life long friend and companion, who married Mary Tudor in 1515. Mary had agreed to marry Louis, King France in 1514 on the condition that her brother Henry would allow her to marry according to her own choice if the older King died. Her marriage to the king lasted 82 days. After his death, perhaps in an attempt to ensure her safety and return to England, before becoming a pawn of the new French King, Mary persuaded Charles Brandon to marry her, even though Henry had not given them consent to marry. Although, many were not pleased with this decision, the marriage doesn't seem to have damaged the couple, politically, or socially in the long term.
The book charts both the rise of Charles and the complex life of Mary as both a political pawn, and as a woman who tried to do her duty by her brother the king. She was also a woman who tried hard to have some control over her circumstances and build a life of her own choosing. I particularly like that this book paints a well balanced picture of both figures. It examines their ups and downs, financial struggles, family hardships and the role they played within Henry's court, as well as their actions and interactions with leading figures of the time. It was also interesting to read about their descendants and the roles they played after the death of Mary and Charles.
This work seems to show that Charles, while not always fair to the women in his life, was a man who managed to climb the social ladder,acquiring the title of Duke of Suffolk, along the way. Throughout his life he remained favored by the King, which surely was no small feat. It also shows just how precarious the situation of women could be. Having a fortune or a title didn't necessarily mean they would escape a bad marriage or other issues of the time such as illness, death of children or debt. Even Mary and Charles, with their elevated positions seemed to be plagued by financial troubles during their lifetimes.
Overall the book provides an intriguing glimpse into a part of history that so many find remarkable. Anyone interested in the Tudors and Henry VIII's court will no doubt find this a terrific book.
~ Susan Miller
After her success with ‘Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII’, she’s followed it up with ‘The Tudor Brandons’ – a fascinating story of the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion. The author’s deep love of history shines bright as she researches the turbulent times but with a deft touch she manages to encourage the reader’s imagination to follow her into the colourful and dangerous world of the Tudors. A highly readable history in a storyteller's style ~ Suzanne Ruthven, author of the Hugo Braithwaite series of crime novels.
When I was first asked to review this book, I have to admit that the question “what more can there possibly be to know about Charles Brandon for anyone who has read a fair bit about Henry VIII and his relationship to this man.
A fair bit, it turns out.
Not least was I ignorant about Charles Brandon´s illustrious grandfather and father, I had no idea, for example that Henry Tudor´s standard bearer at the Battle of Bosworth, the man killed by Richard III himself, was in fact Charles Brandon´s father. But he was.
Truth be told, I would have liked to read more about the two older Brandon´s, but with any luck there will in time be books about them as well.
Another thing that I didn´t know that in spite of chivalric values, Charles Brandon was a bit of an…. a-hole.
But short re-cap. Charles Brandon basically grew up with Henry VIII, raising to fame but not as much fortune as he most likely would have wanted after the ascension of Henry VIII in 1509. Mary was Henry´s younger sister, for a short while queen of France through her marriage to the more than 30 year older and sickly king Louis XII. Lucky for her, probably, the marriage didn´t last long and her loving brother sent his best friend and trusted companion Charles Brandon to escort her back from France, which he did, but not before he and Mary was married.
There was a problem here, you didn´t just marry the king´s sister and French queen dowager on a whim, and you most certainly didn´t do it without the king´s consent.
The happy couple was however forgiven, and the book The Tudor Brandons for the most part deals with the years Mary and Charles spent together, through ups and downs and fallings out with the most royal of brothers/brothers-in-law.
Sarah-Beth Watkins give a good and well researched account of the couple´s life through births and deaths of their children, through triumphant moments like their participation in the Field of Cloth of Gold and troublesome times such as the brewing war with France only a few years after the grand display itself.
It also makes perfectly clear, in the event someone thought so, that Charles Brandon had a much more important part to play than just being a side-kick to the king, and how he on a number of occasions got firmly on the nerves of Cardinal Wolsey by putting his nose in diplomatic affairs where it didn´t belong, as well as his role in the sentencing of both Thomas More and Anne Boleyn
It also gives insight to the dealings with belated papal dispensations, annulments and legitimacy of the Brandon children at the very some time Henry was working his way through his great matter, at which point Mary herself didn´t have many years left to live and we get to follow Charles through his fourth and last marriage after Mary.
For the reader who has taken a particular interest in the reign of Henry VIII, much of the book will be familiar, but now from the angle of people close to him, with their joys and grievances. It´s a book very much worth reading, and I highly recommend it. ~ Camilla Johansson, Under the Tudor Rosen
Anyone who has watched controversial Showtime Television Series ‘The Tudors’ will be well aware of name Charles Brandon, a brooding lothario who snagged the sister of a King. And King Henry VIII at that. We are introduced to the couple as they get together, marry without the king’s consent, suffer banishment from court, grow apart and eventually their respective deaths. But that is fiction. What Sarah-Beth Watkins succeds in accomplishing in her new book The Tudor Brandons is replace the fiction with fact, exploring the real life story of the Suffolks, bringing them to life with far greater accuracy than the television series.
Although things have changed in recent years, the Tudor book industry is still dominated by the larger than life figure of Henry VIII and his six wives, and so any book focusing on the lives of those in his circle rather than the king himself is always welcome in my house. The book opens with a poem from the Suffolk Garland, a novel way of opening the story and setting the context for the book. We are instantaneously made aware that this is the story of the Brandons, and not their king or various sisters-in-law.
Before Watkins delves into their relationship however, she covers the ancestry of Charles Brandon with commendable detail, particularly as he was not descended from the great nobles of the realm and therefore information is not easily accessible. Most books which mention Brandon generally only make passing references to his lowly birth and occasionally a mention of his father who fought at Bosworth for Henry Tudor. It is here that Watkins truly distinguishes her work, covering the Brandon family story from 1443 to Bosworth. Their beginnings are not as lowly as it sometimes suggested, for it is recounted that Brandon’s grandfather William was a merchant closely aligned with the Dukes of Norfolk, perhaps ironic considering Charles Brandon’s later dealings with a duke of Norfolk in the 1520s and 30s. I enjoyed learning nuggets of trivia such as Brandon’s grandfather’s indictment for assault, theft and threatening behaviour, although he did fight for the Yorkists at the Battles of Towton and Tewkesbury. By 1483 William Brandon had transferred his loyalties to Tudor and was recorded as hiding from Richard III in Colchester, with his son, and Charles’ father, on the run. It seems that criminal behaviour run in the family, for Brandon’s father, also called William, was arrested for rape in 1478 and only just escaped hanging. It would have been an ignominious early ending to a family that would become renowned half a century later.
The rest of the Brandon story is covered, with Watkins exploring the French marriage of Princess Mary, her widowhood and her return to court with Brandon. We learn about their involvement in the rise of Anne Boleyn and what became of Brandon after his wife’s early death. It is the early years however that make this book worth its while, although the fact that Watkins doesn’t get bogged down on the minutiae of King Henry VIII’s reign, well covered elsewhere, is particularly helpful. This is, after all, the story of the Brandons and the author never strays far from her subject. Sizable extracts from surviving letters provide the reader with the sources to make their own deductions, always a bonus in historical non-fiction in my eyes.
All in all, Watkins book is a worthwhile addition to any Tudor library, its light and readable without shirking on detail and provides a brilliant introduction to the lives of the Suffolks during those momentous earlier years of Henry VIII’s tumultuous reign. ~ Nathan Amin, The Henry Tudor Society