Were Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon really a love match?


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