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The Secret Marriage of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon: An Act of Treason Against Henry VIII

Mary Tudor married Charles Brandon in secret before their public marriage on Mary 13, 1515.

Mary Tudor married Charles Brandon in secret before their public marriage on Mary 13, 1515.

On March 3, 1515 Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII, secretly married her love, Charles Brandon. Despite the king agreeing that Mary could marry a man of her choosing after the death of the King of France, Mary’s first husband, to marry in secret like this was a treasonous act. The couple almost lost their heads for their actions, especially Charles Brandon. The one thing that saved the two was Cardinal Wolsey, who suggested that Henry VIII act mercifully.

The First Marriage of Mary Tudor, Queen of France

Mary Tudor was the younger sister of Henry VIII, and the only sibling left to be married. It was 1514, just after the Battle of Flodden Field and King Henry VIII was in charge. He decided that his sister would marry the old King of France, Louis XII. At just 18-years-old, Mary did not want to marry someone who was 52-years-old and coming to the end of his life. She wanted someone young, good looking and a man she could love.

Henry VIII needed the French alliance and would not listen to his sister’s wishes. However, he did agree to one thing. She could marry a man of her choosing after this marriage. Of course, the King of England never expected the marriage to only last three months, and he wanted to know the man before the marriage happened.

On January 1, 1515, Louis XII died. Mary was kept in France for the time-being to see if she was pregnant with the heir to the throne. When it was clear she was not, she was allowed home to England. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Henry VIII’s close friend, was the man to escort her home.

Charles Brandon promised Henry VIII that he would not propose. He didn't quite break that promise.

Charles Brandon promised Henry VIII that he would not propose. He didn't quite break that promise.

The Promise of Charles Brandon to Henry VIII

Henry VIII knew that his sister and friend loved each other, but he wanted to make sure Mary’s next marriage would be to his advantage. At the same time, he needed someone he could trust to ensure Mary’s safe return to England and that was Charles. To ensure nothing happened, he made Charles promise not to propose to the Dowager Queen of France, which Charles did.

Technically, he never broke the promise, but he did act against his friend. The two married in secret while in France, but they knew they would have to admit their wrongdoing when back in England. Marrying a royal princess without the king’s permission was treason, so Charles had a lot to fear when he returned to England. Mary would not likely be sentenced to death, but getting on the wrong side of her brother was a big mistakes. However, there may have been reasons for Charles to break his promise. The first of those was his new wife.

Mary likely feared that her brother would break his promise. Before her second marriage and before Charles even reached France to bring her home, she wrote to Henry VIII begging him to remember the promise he had made her. She threatened Henry that she would enter a nunnery if he failed to keep his promise. She may have suggested the secret marriage to make Henry agree to it. At this time, Henry VIII had not yet considered divorcing his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. In fact, this was a year before the birth of the only surviving child of their marriage.

A Fan-Made Video of 'The Tudors' Margaret Tudor and Charles Brandon

King Francis I Helps Mary Tudor

King Francis I, the new King of France, was also partially to blame for the secret marriage. Mary reached out to the new king to share her fears after he informed her that Henry was in negotiations with Charles of Castile, the Holy Roman Emperor. Incidentally, Mary was betrothed to Charles in 1507, but the negotiations with her father, Henry VII, broke down.

She told Francis that Charles was her one true love. It was perfect for the French King. With Mary married to the Duke of Suffolk, Henry VIII could no longer use her as a political pawn. He also knew that Charles Brandon was on his way to France to secure Mary’s release and return to England, and that included her plates, jewels and dower rights. Now Francis just needed to use all this information to his advantage.

As soon as Charles reached France, Francis invited him to a private audience. It was there that Francis shared everything Mary Tudor had told him, and he questioned whether this Duke of Suffolk wanted to marry the Dowager Queen of France. Of course, Charles had promised not to propose to his love. He knew it would be treason.

Francis promised Charles that everything would be fine. He would write to Henry VIII and explain everything. While he did that, Charles wrote to Cardinal Wolsey to share the details of the conversation they had just had. After that, he went to see Mary where he was faced with an ultimatum. Mary wanted to marry him then, or he would never get the chance. Despite knowing that it would be treason, Charles was ambitious. With Henry VIII not yet having an heir, he believed that he and Mary could create a royal line. His children or grandchildren could become Kings and Queens of England.

Mary Tudor took the blame for the marriage to Charles Brandon.

Mary Tudor took the blame for the marriage to Charles Brandon.

Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon Return to England

Before they returned to England, the news that Mary and Charles had married in secret spread across Paris. There was then the rumors that Mary believed she was already pregnant. Charles had no choice but to confess his treasonous act. He wrote to Cardinal Wolsey again to explain everything. Hopefully that would save his life when he stepped back onto the English shore. There was one more thing: he wanted a public wedding. Being married in secret made it much easier for the marriage to be invalidated. After all, that is exactly what had happened to Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville less than 40 years earlier.

Henry VIII was outraged. He wanted to lock them both in the Tower and have Charles’ head on a stick. It was Cardinal Wolsey that helped to calm the king down and suggested that the two pay a fine. And they certainly did! They had to return all of Mary’s plates and jewels, along with gifts from Louis XII as a dowry. They then had to pay 4000psd annually until the dowry of 24,000psd was repaid.

It wasn’t just about money, either. The two would have to beg the king for his forgiveness. Both blamed Mary for the marriage. Mary knew the way to her brother’s heart by sending her the Mirror of Naples, a French crown jewel that Louis had given her. She also wrote to him twice to play to their close sibling bond that they had always shared.

Henry VIII eventually forgave his sister and best friend for their secret marriage on March 3, 1515. They were not sentenced to jail but they were banned from court for a short period of time. They were also told that they would have to have a public wedding, which Charles was more than happy to agree to. His marriage to Mary Tudor would be seen as valid. It was very soon after that Mary found out that she was pregnant and she had a baby boy. The two named the boy Henry after Henry VIII.

As Charles had thought, the two did eventually have a queen. That queen would only survive on the throne for nine days and was their granddaughter, Lady Jane Grey. Jane was executed in 1554, and it led to the family line losing their rights to the English throne.

Test Your Knowledge

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. Which French King did Mary Tudor marry?
    • Francis I
    • Louis XII
    • Louis XI
  2. Who was Mary Tudor first betrothed to?
    • Charles of Castile
    • Francis I of France
    • Charles Brandon
    • James IV of Scotland
    • Louis XI of France
  3. What did Charles Brandon specifically promise Henry VIII?
    • To not marry Mary Tudor
    • To not to propose to Mary Tudor
    • To return his sister to England safely
  4. When did Mary and Charles marry in public?
    • March 3, 1515
    • January 1, 1515
    • May 13, 1515
    • February 12, 1554
    • February 18, 1516
  5. How much did they have to pay annually as a fine?
    • 2,000psd
    • 4,000psd
    • 6,000psd
    • 8,000psd
    • 10,000psd

Answer Key

  1. Louis XII
  2. Charles of Castile
  3. To not to propose to Mary Tudor
  4. May 13, 1515
  5. 4,000psd


GreenPrince on March 04, 2014:

Yet another interesting love and adventurous story from the Tudors.

KN on March 04, 2014:

Superb hub. simply amazing research!! Loving every word of it!

Amie Butchko from Warwick, NY on March 03, 2014:

Your not spoiling it for me at all! I love knowing the real history of this so interesting time period!

Alexandria Ingham (author) from Canada on March 03, 2014:

Sorry, I did keep thinking that I was going to spoil some of the show for you, especially when I put in the video. I love Henry Cavill (who plays Charles Brandon). It was watching that that I realized I knew very little about Charles Brandon and researched him long before The Tudors finished, so I found out what happened to him. Remember, though, The Tudors is a fictional show and there are some storylines that don't quite happen in history :) Glad to hear you're enjoying it though.

Alexandria Ingham (author) from Canada on March 03, 2014:

Especially back then! Like you, I don't think I would have been that brave (or was it really stupidity?) I much prefer the times we live in now where we can do things for love without too many consequences. I gave up a full-time, stable job for love, ended up moving 400 miles away, but landed on my feet after about six months. It's gotten me to where I am now, and I couldn't be happier.

CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on March 03, 2014:

It always amazes me how much people are prepared to sacrifice for love, or in Charles Brandon's case ambition. I'm not sure I would be that brave! Interesting hub!

Amie Butchko from Warwick, NY on March 03, 2014:

Great and interesting hub! I am enthralled with this story because of the show, The Tudors. I just love Charles Brandon on that show. I am glad he gets to live!

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