Saturday, February 27, 2016

Mary Tudor's Double Engagement

By Lizzy Drake

There is nothing like a bit of gossip, especially if it's about a wedding and it's even better if it's Tudor. It's one of those points in history where every book gives a different date. Was Mary Tudor engaged to Charles of Castile or Louis XII of France? The answer of course, is both, but for a point of time she may have been engaged to Charles and Louis at the same time. Mary had been betrothed to Charles of Castile for years (from 1507) before it was abruptly and rather secretively dropped and substituted for a match with the ageing French monarch. The couple were meant to marry in May 1514, but instead of her younger betrothed, she ended up wedding Louis in October 1514. Mary, who reputedly begged to be allowed to marry her first match was highly romanticized by television and historical fiction as having great willful fits in a vain attempt to not be forced to marry Louis. But the question remains – during Henry's secret arrangement for his sister to wed Louis, was Mary still engaged to Charles?

Wiki even gives two different months when her engagement to Charles is ended (my guess here is two different historians have edited it and forgot to check over the whole document – it happens). Some historians cite as early as October for her engagement's end to Charles, but it must not have been official at this point as he writes to her as a groom-to-be, asking about her health and giving full attention to their supposed future together as husband and wife. Is Charles simply ignoring the fact that the engagement has ended or has he simply not been told?

The key for understanding Mary's role (let's face it, she wasn't very active in her choices) is understanding her brother and monarch, Henry's, political allegiances. For while Mary is engaged to Charles, England is at war with France and supporting Ferdinand of Spain, Margaret of Austria (Savoy) and the alliance to the Catholic faith, League of Cambrai. In December 1513, Wolsey is sending out letters to most of Europe's leaders, begging for a peace treaty to be drawn up with France, which Ferdinand does (much to Henry's annoyance) and tells the French king that Henry cannot be trusted, all this as Ferdinand had been using Henry's money to fund his grudge against France and had more than once double-crossed Henry.

Henry is the one truly deciding who his sister will marry and who will become the best political match as a future brother-in-law. He'd already lost one sister to Scotland who had become a political enemy, though now that her husband had fallen (King James was slain at Flodden), she was the country's Regent as the young new king grew into his shoes. Henry needed to make a better match for his sister Mary. Charles of Castile, as nephew to Catherine of Aragon who was still communicating and showing allegiance to her Spanish roots, was part of Ferdinand's plans and could lead Henry's sister to be another pawn for Spain. Now that Ferdinand has once again gone behind Henry's back with France, Henry may have decided it would do to have some of his own blood keeping him informed, and in October 1514, Mary Tudor was married to Louis XII, a man very much her senior and very different from the caring younger man Charles she was first engaged to.

We don't know exactly at what point Mary was informed of her new groom, but as the tension between Ferdinand and Henry grew, one can only assume that Charles was not informed until Ferdinand was. As a revenge plot against Ferdinand as much as a political ploy from Henry, it would have been beneficial to keep everyone save Louis of France (and I imagine Wolsey, who probably put the idea into Henry's head in the first place) in the dark for as long as possible before Ferdinand could undo Henry's work.

Charles eventually did marry – to Isabella of Portugal many years later (1526) which shows how difficult royal matches could be to make. Mary, whose health was never great (there are many apothecary bills for Mary when she was in Henry's court and only lived to the age of 30) only suffered to be Louis's wife for a year before he died from, what was assumed at the time, marital exertions with his young Queen. Mary returned to England and decided to take fate into her own hands by marrying for love, one of the King's favorites, Charles Brandon.


British History Online – December 1513 letters

Wikipedia (to illustrate conflicting dates given by historians)

deLisle, Leanda; Tudor, The Family Story; Vintage Press, London 2014

Doran, Susan; The Tudor Chronicles 1485-1603; Metro Books, New York

Tremlett, Giles; Catherine of Aragon, Henry's Spanish Queen; Faber and Faber, London 2010


Lizzy Drake is the author of the Tudor era Elspet Stafford Mysteries. She is currently working on book 2 of the series which involves an early Tudor 'magician' at Framlingham Castle. She has been studying Tudors for over 15 years and has a MA in Medieval Archaeology from the University of York.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice post! But I was a bit confused by the names used. I've never heard Charles V referred to as Charles of Castile - I think he'd have been extremely surprised to have ben so addressed. He was either Charles of Ghent or Charles Holy Roman Emperor, and when he first arrived in Castile in 1517 he couldn't even speak Castilian/Spanish. Charles' maternal grandmother, Isabel of Castile died when he was very young and the throne then passed to Juana, Charles mother. Eventually, Castile became one among the very many kingdoms, principalities, duchies etc that Charles ruled.
    Ferdinand was never Ferdinand of Spain - he was Ferdinand of Aragon.
    And as to Charles and his future marriage, it is said he was very happy with his Portuguese wife. A tad unfortunate that they were cousins and that this propensity to marry cousins would continue in the coming generations...

  3. Hi Anna, it's one of the ways he is referenced in the letters recorded on British History Online, which makes me think it's old school. Of course, he wasn't yet Holy Roman Emperor and the Castile link also helps link him with Catherine in the reader's mind. I'm sorry you found it confusing - I'll keep more to modern historian references in future blogs x

    1. Interesting. But as I said, he would never have responded to that title :) I find it ironic that in the fullness of time, Charles V's son would marry Henry VIIIs daughter

  4. Good thing he's not reading it lol!

  5. Who would want to be the daughter of a King in those days! Ugggg. Sent away at a young age, to marry an old man you've never met, and have to spy for your family as husband and brother fight. Yuck.


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