Were Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon really a love match?

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As those of you who like nothing more than checking out my ‘book review’ section will know, I’ve recently digested Sarah-Beth Watkin’s new offering on Mary ‘the French Queen’ Tudor and her controversial husband, Charles Brandon.  It got me thinking about a question I’ve been pondering on and off since Henry ‘Clark Kent’ Cavil first caught the world’s eye in the great drama/questionable history series ‘the Tudors’: were the couple truly a love match?

For some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that the fact the marriage was so controversial, somewhat distorts discussion on this subject.  It should never have taken place at all: therefore,the argument goes, it must have been a union of passion.  To add to the mix, Charles made up in sex appeal what he lacked in status and Mary was the royal beauty of her generation; is it any wonder they fell head over heels for each other?

But I’m not convinced.  Charles of course was not faithful to Mary.  While by the standards of the day this can hardly be counted against him it still has to raise questions for those who want to view their relationship through rose tinted glasses.

And when they married, Mary was a desperate woman.  She had hated being married to the decrepit and aged French King and knew full well that her brother would break his promise to let her wed who she chose second time around.  Did she rush to marry Charles the second he arrived in France to collect her because he was her long cherished desire?  Or was he simply her nearest get out of jail free card?

Charles, similarly, had motives other then those of the heart that must be considered.  He was a classic late-medieval ‘man on the make’ who had treated women appallingly in the past for his own financial betterment.  Mary may not have brought him much in terms of cash – but marriage to the King’s sister would advance him hugely and give his children by her a claim to the throne.  The fact she was affable and attractive might just have been a bonus.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical.  There almost certainly were feelings involved on both sides.  But the observations that their life together was never particularly happy and that Charles remarried with indecent haste after Mary’s death should give us pause before concluding that their rushed marriage was a crime of nothing but passion.

The couple certainly needed each other.  But head, rather than heart, was probably what determined their actions.

Book review: The Tudor Brandons by Sarah-Beth Watkins

The Tudor Brandons: Mary and Charles - Henry VIII's Nearest & Dearest by [Watkins, Sarah-Beth]

Ever since becoming a super-cool Tudor fan (which as you can imagine was some time ago) I’ve had quite a few questions about the King’s friend Charles Brandon and his royal bride Mary Tudor.  Where does Charles suddenly spring from?  What was Mary’s early life like?  How well did they know each other before their elicit marriage?  Why on earth was Mary called ‘Margaret’ in the TV series, ‘The Tudors’?

‘The Tudor Brandons’ by Sarah-Beth Watkins answers many of the above.  A light and readable publication, this new book charts the recent history of the Brandons and details Mary’s upbringing and time in France before allowing the reader to share in their intertwined story as the ‘nearest and dearest’ of Henry VIII.

Sticking faithfully to the extensive source material available, the author creates an opportunity to explore the character of Henry VIII’s favourite sister, with the mutual affection between the royal siblings being both evident and charming.  The contrast between her search for happiness and her husband’s quest for wealth and power – typical of a late-medieval ‘man on the make’ – sheds insight into their relationship.

And of course, the story of Mary and Charles is one that cannot end with them; this book also recounts how their descendants were to have a significant impact on the politics of the future.

Stylistically, this book is likely to divide opinion.  Purists will love that the sources are laid bare without much interference from the author’s interpretation; romantics will miss the lack of speculation around thoughts and inner feelings that are ultimately forever lost to us.

While pleasing to a true geek like me,  the frequency with which the primary sources are extensively quoted significantly slows down the pace of the story telling (perhaps an appendix featuring all of Mary’s letters might have been better).  But this is a minor criticism compared to the overall readability and accessibility of the book.

‘The Tudor Brandons’ is the first book by Sarah-Beth Watkins that I have ever read; I very much doubt it will be the last.  For any Tudor fan fascinated by these two characters, who for too long have been footnotes in the stories of others, this book is an essential read.

The Tudor Brandons, by Sarah Beth Watkins is published by Chronos Books and is available on Amazon from £9.98  

Which of his wives, was Henry VIII actually in love with?

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This week we’re going to have a post about the Henry VIII era every day.  If I haven’t said it before, let me say it again – we are super cool people!

Want to kick it off with some #QuickFireThoughts on which of his wives Henry VIII was actually in love with.  It’s one of those fairly meaningless questions which can’t be proved wrong or right either way – but hopefully you’re getting the gist of this blog by now.

Of course, ‘love’ is a subjective term at the best of times.  It’s not 100% clear what it means to us today, let alone how we decipher it against the backdrop of the Tudor marriage market and different expectations about fidelity on the part of the husband.  But ultimately love is timeless.  What we’re looking for in this post, are indications of Henry’s passion and commitment to his respective spouse; feelings driven more from the heart than a logical pragmatism and a passion that was deeper than physical.

Let’s go.

  • Katherine of Aragon – He was certainly enthusiastic about marrying her and treated her (in public) fairly well to start with.  But there were probably other motives.  He was keen for the alliance with Spain (of which her father was effectively King) and wanted to appear like a man rather than a boy.  A prestigious wife helped with that.  Alison Weir argues that Henry’s ‘love’ for Catherine was never really passion.  I think she is probably right.  As I’ve argued in another post, Henry was probably unfaithful to Katherine within a year of their marriage.
  • Anne Boleyn – Surely this is a no-brainer?  I guess you could argue it was infatuation rather than love but I think that’s splitting hairs.  I also don’t think the violent reversal in his feeling suggests it was never love to start with and that, in part, may have been fuelled by feelings of betrayal.  Yep, with Anne it was love; heart and soul.   Until it became hate.
  • Jane Seymour – Hmm…tricky one.  She was in the right place at the right time and being the polar opposite of Anne certainly helped.  And who knows what would have happened had she lived.  But we have to go on what we have – and remember that no love is without questionable motives.  She was the Queen that he always mourned and remembered.  As Roxette might say, “it must have been love.”
  • Anne of Cleaves – Actually I have an unusual but credible theory on this.  There is newly discovered evidence that – ah sorry, can’t keep this up!  No.  Just, no!
  • Catherine Howard – Perhaps the trickiest one of all.  But I’m going for no.  I think it was lust.  He was hurt by her betrayal but I’m not sure the feelings ran deep.  But I am prepared to be out-argued on this one…
  • Katherine Parr – He admired her.  Respected her.  Cared for her.  But it’s difficult to see that a flame was burning.  During her time, he still lauded the memory of Jane – but then she had given Henry his only son.  It’s a toss up, but I’m going to land on ‘no.’

And now…over to you geeks.  Have I underestimated his feelings for Catherine Howard?  Were his feelings for his first wife genuine love that faded with time?  Were his lasting affections for Jane entirely rooted to the fact that she had delivered a son?  I want to know what you think!

If people read exciting Royal history, we would leave Harry and his girlfriends alone

Image: Surtsicna – This file was derived fromPrince Harry Trooping the Colour.JPG:, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A few friends have asked what I make of the statement from Kensington Palace a week or so ago – the one asking for a bit of privacy for Prince Harry and his new girlfriend.  I’m a fanatical Royal watcher and (by day) a PR guy, so I guess it makes sense that people would inquire.

Some think it’s a bit rich; the Royals are public property.  They get the money, the status and the security.  As a result they have to put up with living in the media gaze.

Others think it was poorly executed from a PR perspective.  Why release a story this strong the morning after Trump has so controversially cleaned up in the USA and make it inevitable it would receive less attention?  Shouldn’t their press people know better?

Both the views above, are just plain wrong.

Of course the Royals are – to an extent – public property.  They are effectively all part of the UK constitution (not to mention those of the 15 other countries in the Queen’s realm) and it’s very much a family affair.  They enjoy a life of extreme privilege.  In return they carry out duties on behalf of the country, have their destinies more or less determined from birth and have to live with the fact that their lives are chronicled and captured fairly indiscriminately.  The Cambridges clearly accept this.  That’s why we get a picture of Prince George and Princess Charlotte every six months or so.

But to say that a young(ish) man of Royal blood, who is not even directly in line to the throne cannot form friendships and relationships without those people becoming victim to media harassment is clearly a nonsense – especially when the relationship is being conducted relatively discreetly.

I’m never really one to blame the media.  They only give us what we want.  It is our desire for the rumours, the gossip – the juice – that fuels it.  Appealing directly to us (which is in effect what Kensington Palace did) with the statement was entirely justified.  As to whether it was a ‘mistake’ to release it during a busy news day – hardly!  It’s exactly what I would have done.  You want it to be noticed, but you don’t want 24/7 media pouring over it all day.  It wouldn’t even surprise me if the press office brought it forward when they realised Trump was going to triumph.

You might wonder why I’m posting this on a blog about Royal history.  Well, to start with, this site is about the Royal houses that have shaped England, Britain and the UK – so that includes the present day house of Windsor.  But there’s a deeper reason I decided to put ‘pen to paper.’

It occurs to me that our human desire for gossip, speculation, slander and scandal is never going to be satisfied.  However, it concerns me that we’re happy to see living human beings torn to shreds in the process.  If only people realised that you can get all this and more by studying the annals of history.  Is not Henry VIII’s well documented courtship of Anne Boleyn far more tantalising than following the development of a relationship between two people who are both free to marry?  Couldn’t we have more fun debating the paternity of John Beaufort than worrying about what diet a current young Royal is on?  The tales of tension between Hanoverian Kings and their heirs are surely more interesting than guessing at how well the Queen gets on with Prince Charles.

We will never change human nature.  But channeling our thirst for gossip into interrogating the past at least makes us less likely to cause pain to other human being.

In defence of Henry VI

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Been thinking lately about good King Henry.  No not that one.  Nor that one.  Not even that one.

I speak not of Henry VIII, who transformed England perhaps more than any other ruler.  Nor do I dwell on his father, who founded the infamous Tudor dynasty.  I do not even mean the fifth Harry, who took England to its 100 year war zenith at the battle of Agincourt.

Instead, I’ve been pondering the reign of Henry VI – the man whose reign was seen as so disastrous that it led to the Wars of the Roses and ultimately, the downfall of Lancaster and the rise of York.  He was weak.  Easily led.  He had no desire for glory in war.  He lacked ruthlessness.  He was far too trusting; particularly when it came to unscrupulous advisers.

All this is accurate.  He had none of the qualities necessary for successful medieval Kingship.

But something bothers me about how history judges him.  No sympathy has emerged and few rarely speak up for his good qualities.  He was a man of genuine religious conviction.  He was compassionate.  He invested in education.  He forgave people that wronged him.  He was not promiscuous.  He took care of his maternal half-brothers.  He was a lover of peace.

None of this, I agree, would have endeared him to contemporaries.  But shouldn’t the 21st century observer be pouring praise on these virtues?  After all, the behaviour of Catherine Howard made her a totally unsuitable Tudor Queen; but the modern reader has sympathy with her, recognising that she was essentially an abused teenage girl, forced into marriage with an obese man in his 50s.  Why isn’t Henry VI given the same generosity?

It has come to my attention of late that the Wars of the Roses are still being fought – albeit by history fans on Twitter.  Great!  But it surprises me that so many side with Edward IV at the expense of poor Henry.

Don’t get me wrong – as I’ve said above, I understand why contemporaries would have seen Edward as the better King.  But shouldn’t we judge differently?  Shouldn’t we be quick to acknowledge that virtuous, faithful, peaceful Henry is a better offering than adulterous, gluttonous and war ready Edward – even if we have to sadly acknowledge that the latter probably makes you a better ruler of 15th century England?

But we don’t.  Part of me can’t shake the feeling that this has all been distorted by the fact that so many history fans have a crush on Max Irons…

Anyway, for this blogger at least, Henry VI deserves a reprieve.  He may have been one of the most unsuited heads to ever wear a crown – but he’s one of the finest characters in the annals of history.

Okay Yorkists (and other geeks) – do your worst.  Tell me where I’m going wrong!  I want to hear what you think!

How the ‘White Queen’ got Margaret Beaufort so, so wrong…

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As I trawled through my Google analytics the other day, I noticed that my post on the ‘Three things the White Queen Got Wrong’ was one of the highest read so far.  In fact, with the exception of anything about Prince Harry, the Wars of the Roses is easily the most popular topic.  Clearly the hit BBC series had something to do with that.

And for the most part, I’m a fan.  I’m relatively relaxed about the fact that historical fiction needs to take twists and turns that cause it to differ from the facts.  Obviously I wish that people would channel their new found interest into checking out an actual history book, but the fact that they don’t isn’t the fault of fiction writers or TV producers.

But it’s the Margaret Beaufort stuff that still bothers me.  I know, I know – I’ve blogged about this before.  However, the more I get into engaging with the historical community on Twitter (which I love by the way) the more I realise that some stuff still needs to be said.

For me, it isn’t the fact that the White Queen series has got facts about Margaret’s life wrong.  These things happen and actually the Philippa Gregory book of ‘The Red Queen’ is chronologically very accurate (and btw, an excellent read).  It’s the fact that her portrayal on the series – and how she is presented in other formats – has totally skewed perceptions of her.  This has now reached such an extent that back in 2013, the BBC history website (which many might understandably view as a respectable source) actually listed Margaret as a potential killer of the Princes in the Tower – almost as if the case against her was as strong of that against Richard III.

Anyway, I’m getting toward the end of my rant.  What I want to do quickly, is just list three things I believe about Margaret which the White Queen TV series entirely failed to capture:

  • She had a sense of humour – Okay, so she didn’t exactly leave behind a collection of published jokes in her (for the time) quite extensive collection of books, but that doesn’t mean she was all work and no fun.  There is evidence of her sharing jokes with servants and making humorous remarks in correspondence.  Her household was remembered as a happy place to be.
  • She was a pragmatist – I really did not like the Lancastrian fanatic that was presented in the White Queen.  Yes, she knew where her deep loyalties lay but she was as happy as most people of the era to play the game.  When she needed to be loyal to the Yorkist Edward IV (who she was actually genetically more closely related to than she was Lancaster’s Henry VI) then loyal she was.
  • She was quite a good wife – Margaret’s second husband, Sir Henry Stafford, was presented in the series as a loyal and long suffering spouse to the cold and aggressive Margaret.  Despite being only fifteen when she married the thirty-something year old, there is much evidence that their wedding was warm and happy.  Its childlessness is probably better explained by the damage caused by the birth of Henry VII (when Margaret was just 13) rather than any sexual frigidity on her part.

Rant over for now.  But one day, I would love to see a novel and TV series that present the warmer, practical and realistic Margaret that I have been privileged to get to know through study.