The loss of Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk, was a huge blow to Henry. Charles was the last real connection Henry had to his youth – indeed, to a time when he was just the second son, the “spare.”
In Tudor times, boys began their education at six with Latin and Greek, religion, and arithmetic – and of course riding and “manly arts.” As princes, Arthur and Henry would not have been schooled alone, but with boys who had been deemed to be appropriate comrades. Brandon was such a boy: his father, Sir William Brandon, had been Henry VII’s standard-bearer at Bosworth where he was slain by Richard III himself. Bringing Charles to court like this was a fitting reward for Sir William’s sacrifice.
As a prince, Henry looked up to the dashing and good-looking Brandon, seven years his senior. As a king, he advanced him: when Henry acceded in 1509, he gave his friend grants of land and a succession of offices in the royal household. In 1513, Brandon distinguished himself at the sieges of Therouanne and Tournai in the French Campaign and became Viscount Lisle. At this point Henry sent Brandon off to represent England to the Netherlands, governed by Margaret of Savoy, the daughter of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I. Henry’s real hope was that Margaret would marry Brandon (Brandon was a ladies’ man after all) because that would really be a firm alliance. To make this a possibility (since Margaret could never marry a commoner), Henry elevated Brandon to the Dukedom of Suffolk.
The elevation backfired on Henry because while the seduction of Margaret of Savoy never ensued, Brandon was now eligible to marry pretty much anyone…and he married Henry’s sister Mary. It was actually her idea – she had always had a crush on Brandon and when Henry married her off to the much older Louis XIII she extracted a promise that her next husband could be of her own choosing. So Henry should have seen this coming, but when Louis died Henry sent Brandon to bring her back home safely. She returned home very safe….and very married.
Henry was furious that he had lost a huge jewel in the marriage market (which makes it clear that he had no intention of fulfilling his promise to Mary) but Wolsey and Catherine were able to calm him down. Wolsey got Francis to pay the whole of Mary’s dowry from Louis together with her plate and jewels, and the newlyweds agreed to pay Henry some stiff fines that kept them away from court for a while – enough for Henry to miss them and really forgive them.
The two men remained relatively close after that. There was a rocky road for a little while when Mary sided with Catherine of Aragon rather than Anne Boleyn during the “King’s Great Matter” days, but Mary died about a month after Anne’s coronation so there was plenty of time for the two friends to reconcile. Indeed, Brandon became an important conservative pillar. He allied himself with Norfolk (Norfolk really had a thing for rank…) and helped orchestrate Cromwell’s downfall (though not quite as directly as The Tudors series would have us believe). His death really marked a turning point in Henry’s reign, the start of Henry’s slow slide to the end. At the time, Henry was experiencing a last surge of youth and leaving for France to join the siege of Boulogne. While the siege succeeded, he found the activity a bit more strenuous than expected – and then felt betrayed when Charles and Francis signed a treaty that left him out in the cold. Francis actually attacked the following year, and though the English repulsed the attempted invasion, Henry had to watch his beloved Mary Rose sink before him in the Solent. The year after that, March of 1546, Henry was unable to creep to the cross for the first time in his life. Ten months after that, Henry was dead himself.
RIP Charles. RIP Henry.