Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was the last real connection Henry had to his youth – and the loss hit Henry hard. I’m talking real youth: Brandon became part of Henry’s household when Henry was six (this was the age at which Tudor boys began their education with Latin and Greek, religion, and arithmetic – and of course riding and “manly arts”). He was seen as an appropriate comrade for the young prince because his father, Sir William Brandon, had been Henry VII’s standard-bearer at Bosworth where he was slain by Richard III himself.
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 shortly afterwards Henry sent him 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 fall in love with Brandon (Brandon was a ladies’ man after all) and marry him to create a really 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…including Henry’s sister Mary. It was actually her idea – she had always had a crush on Brandon and wanted to avoid a second political marriage (it’s a great story, if you want to read about it here). Once Henry got over his anger, he and Charles became even closer (despite the temporarily rocky road when Mary sided with Catherine of Aragon rather than Anne Boleyn during the “King’s Great Matter” days…). 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.
(One quick note, that I can’t resist: Charles Brandon is another Tudor figure stuck with an incorrect date of death on his tombstone….talk about a typo! Admittedly, the earliest surviving written reference to the old English adage “measure twice, cut once” was 1560 – but it is believed to have originated in medieval times!)
RIP Charles. RIP Henry.
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