Friday, April 27, 2012

Charles Brandon ~ Loyaulte me Oblige

by Katherine Marcella

On Friday, July 10, 2009, I was fortunate enough to attend a lecture by Dr. Steven Gunn of Oxford University in the great hall at Gainsborough Old Hall in Lincolnshire, a lecture on his special interest, Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk.

The lecture started to great hilarity with a projected picture of Henry Cavill who played the part of Charles in the series The Tudors and Dr. Gunn's wry comment that that was how most people viewed Charles. Unfortunately that is probably still how most people see him: a drop-dead handsome rake and woman chaser, almost as bad as Henry himself had been. Is that a valid assessment? No.

The theme of the lecture was: What were the attributes possessed by most of the men who rose in power at the court of Henry VIII, and in particular, how did Charles Brandon fit into this category.

Henry seemed to favor men who came from a good background with family support and who married well.

Charles certainly fit into this mold. His father, Sir William Brandon, was Henry VII's standard-bearer at the Battle of Bosworth and died protecting Henry during Richard III's final charge, killed by Richard himself. That set the Brandons up well in Tudor estimation. Charles's uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon, was Henry VII's Master of the Horse, a position Charles would later hold. As for a good marriage, after a few marital misadventures in his youth, Charles married Henry's sister Mary Tudor. It's hard to imagine a better marriage.

On a daily basis, Henry liked men who shared interests with him, whose company he enjoyed and who possessed skills he needed.

Again, this describes Charles very well. He was a natural athlete, excelling at many sports. In particular he was a keen jouster -- probably better than Henry himself -- though he was intelligent enough to let Henry win most of the time. He and Henry seemed to have clicked on a personal basis almost from the time they first met when Henry was still a prince and Charles was moved over to his household from Prince Arthur's after the latter's marriage. As for skills possessed, Steven Gunn believes Charles' main ability was military. And he did serve in a high capacity in the military through most of Henry's time on the throne.

Henry also expected the nobility around him to act appropriately to their titles and office. This included maintaining their lands and manors, dressing well and displaying their wealth appropriately, while maintaining friendly relations with as many people as possible.

As a newly-minted Duke in 1514, Charles was in a difficult position. Though Henry tried to give him as much land as possible with the title, Charles worked hard to set up his estates, work that other dukes like Norfolk and Buckingham never had to bother with as they had inherited their estates already set up. Though it seems to have been an almost constant struggle for him, and he was chronically short of cash because of necessary expenditures, Charles managed. He was also managed to maintain cordial relations with most people. In general, Charles was well-liked though some, like Norfolk, were constantly jealous of his close relationship with the king.

I enjoyed Steven Gunn's lecture, though ultimately I decided the criteria for advancement at Henry's court said more about Henry than about Charles. That made me wonder what actually motivated Charles.

I've come to the conclusion that his father's heroic death was the single most important event that governed his life. We don't know Charles's birth date, but he couldn't have been old enough to remember Bosworth. He might not even have been born until after the battle. But he would have heard the story from his earliest days, and it had to have made a strong impression on him. The Tudors valued loyalty above almost all else, and William Brandon's willingness to put himself between Richard III and Henry Tudor was enough to give his family the chance to advance themselves.

Gunn mentions in his book on Charles (Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, c.1484 - 1545, Basil Blackwell, 1988) how much the ideals of chivalry meant to Charles.

I believe that these ideals combined with the circumstances of his father's death instilled in a Charles a life-long belief that his one purpose on earth was to serve and protect the Tudors even at the expense of his own beliefs and advancement. Unlike so many others at court, he stayed out of politics and never tried to influence the king in religious or state matters. Because of this, he (also unlike so many others) managed not only to keep his head but the king's lifelong friendship.

When Charles died in 1545, Henry commanded he be buried in St. George's Chapel at Windsor and paid for the entire funeral himself -- an extraordinary gesture for Henry at that point in his life. Charles still lies there today, as close to the royal tomb as Henry could arrange, testament to their friendship and Charles's well-chosen motto, Loyaulte me Oblige -- Loyalty Binds Me.


  1. Most interesting! This gives a view of Charles Brandon I had never considered, and it makes a great deal of sense to me. Thank you!

  2. I've had a "crush" on him since seeing The Sword and the Rose, which tells the story of his romance with Mary Tudor. Played by Richard Todd and Glynis Johns. Um, yes, I was a romantic teenager at the time. Thanks for this piece, Katherine!

  3. What a great article Katherine...thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Very revealing! :o)

  4. What a fascinating and beautiful article! I do adore Charles Brandon and certainly think he had an amazing quality to stay so close to Henry VIII, and one of his favourites, throughout his life.

  5. very interesting...very jealous of you being able to attend the lecture...especially in Gainsborough! Always a dream of mine to attend any lecture on the subject in England...I am in Texas...quite far away.

    Thanks for the info!