This day in history, 3rd March 1515, is one of the dates given in the contemporary sources for the secret marriage of Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France, and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.

Mary, the younger sister of King Henry VIII, had been widowed on 1st January 1515 when her first husband, King Louis XII of France, died after less than three months of marriage. When the marriage match had been negotiated between the 18-year-old Mary and the 52-year-old Louis, Mary had made her brother, the king, promise that if she survived Louis then she would be able to marry a man of her choosing. Mary wrote to her brother reminding him of how she had fulfilled her side of their bargain by marrying the old king and now it was his turn to keep his promise: “I beseech your grace that you will keep all the promises that you promised me when I take my leave of you by the waterside” and stating that she wished to marry where “my mind is”. Her mind was set on Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, her brother’s good friend and the man who her brother had sent to bring Mary back home to England.

As Erin Sadlack points out in her book on Mary’s letters, Mary actually blackmailed Henry VIII. Mary said if the king broke his promise, then she would enter a convent. If she took the veil, Henry VIII would lose control over her dower and any financial benefits from her remarrying and he wouldn’t want that to happen. However, Henry did not expect Mary to remarry secretly and without permission. Suffolk had promised Henry that the couple would not do that.

When Suffolk wrote to Cardinal Wolsey of their secret marriage, he excused his actions by making out that Mary was a damsel in distress who needed rescuing by him and that he had to marry her:

“When he came to Paris he heard many things which put him and the Queen in great fear. And the Queen would never let me [be] in rest till I had granted her to be married; and so, to be plain with you, I have married her.”

But when did this marriage take place?

Well, we don’t know for sure. A French chronicle in the Portefeuilles de Fontanieu in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France records the secret marriage taking place on 3rd March 1515, and Louise of Savoy, mother of the new French king, Francis I, records it as taking place on “le samedy, dernier jours de mars 1515”, i.e. Saturday, 31st March 1515. However, in his letter to Wolsey in which he confesses their secret marriage, Suffolk wrote “I have married her harettylle and has lyen wyet her, in soo moche [as] I fyer me lyes that sche by wyet child”. He is saying that he and Mary have consummated the marriage and that he fears that she is pregnant, so it is important for them to have a more public marriage. The letter is dated 5th March 1515 and it would be strange for Suffolk to be concerned about Mary being pregnant just two days after their marriage, so it appears that they must have married earlier than 3rd March.

If we rewind slightly, we have a record of a meeting between Francis I and Suffolk on Thursday 1 February in which the French king accused Suffolk of coming to France “to marry the Queen, your master’s sister.” Suffolk denied it, saying that it would be a “great folly” for him to come to France to marry the dowager queen without Francis’s knowledge or the permission of Henry VIII. He assured Francis that it was not his or his king’s intention. However, Francis caught him in a lie for the French king had already spoken to Mary and that she “had broken her mind unto him” and told him of the couple’s plan. Francis had said to Mary “that he would help her and d[o what was possi]ble in him to help her to obtain [her heart’s desi]re.” Suffolk then thanked the king “for the great goodness he intended to show to himself and the Queen”. Suffolk recorded this meeting in a letter to Wolsey on 3rd February 1515, written ten leagues from Paris, so we know that Mary and Suffolk were planning to marry at this point, but had not yet married. As Mary Croom Brown points out, Suffolk must have been overjoyed that the French king had pledged his support. Croom Brown writes of how Suffolk reached Paris on 4th February and that Mary sent for him. He was greeted by an emotional Mary who begged him to marry her before their return to England.

Although Francis I offered his support for the marriage, he didn’t expect the couple to marry secretly while he was trying to help them, but it appears that they did. In the “Chronicle Louis XII”, Robert III de La Marck, Seigneur of Fleuranges and Marshal of France, records Francis I’s fury at Suffolk:

“I am advertised of this thing: I did not think you had been so base, and if I chose to do my duty, I should, this very hour, have your head taken off your shoulders; for you have failed of your faith; and, trusting to your faith, I have not had watch kept over you. You have secretly, without my knowledge married Queen Mary.”

Oh dear!

The Hôtel de Cluny c. Claire Ridgway
Robert de la Marck does not date Francis I’s reaction to the news of the couple’s secret marriage, this section of his chronicle simply says “Mars 1515”, March 1515, in the margin. Suffolk’s biographer, Steven Gunn, dates the secret marriage to mid-February, Mary Croom Brown in her biography of Mary dates it to “about the second week of February”, and Mary Anne Everett Wood and Agnes Strickland date it to taking place in Lent, which started on 21st February, citing the French chronicle that states 3rd March 1515.

What we can conclude, is that the couple married secretly sometime after 3rd February and at least a couple of weeks before Suffolk’s letter to Wolsey on 5th March, so mid-February makes sense. This secret marriage would have taken place at the chapel at the Hotel de Cluny in Paris, where Mary was staying at this time. The secret marriage was then followed by the more public marriage that Suffolk wanted, which is recorded as having taken place on 31st March 1515.

The couple returned to England on 2nd May 1515 and were married again on 13th May at Greenwich in the presence of Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon. Mary and Suffolk went on to have four children: Henry born in 1516, Frances born in 1517, Eleanor between 1518 and 1521, and a second Henry in 1522 (the first Henry having died by this time). Their marriage came to an end on 25 June 1533 when Mary died.

Notes and Sources

Pictures: Portrait of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor by Jan Mabuse, the collection of the Earl of Yarborough; Photo of Le musée de Cluny, or the Musée national du Moyen Âge, which was known as the Hôtel de Cluny or Palais de Cluny, copyright Claire Ridgway.

  • Gunn, Steven (2015) Charles Brandon: Henry VIII’s Closest Friend, Amberley Publishing.
  • Everett Wood (Green), Mary (1846) Letters of royal and illustrious ladies of Great Britain, from the commencement of the twelfth century to the close of the reign of Queen Mary, H. Colburn, p. 187-188.
  • Everett Wood (Green), Mary (1857) Lives of the Princesses of England, from the Norman Conquest, Volume V, Longman, Brown, Green , Longman, & Roberts, p. 89-91.
  • Croom Brown, Mary (1911) Mary Tudor, Queen of France, Methuen, Chapter 8.
  • Journal de Louise de Savoye, p. 397.
  • Sadlack, Erin (2011) The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in sixteenth century Europe, AIAA.
  • Strickland, Agnes (1868) Lives of the Tudor Princesses, Longmans, Green, & Co.
  • Chronicle Louis XII, Du Puy MS. No. 107. Robert de la Marck, BNF, p. 239-40.
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 2, 106, 222, Suffolk to Wolsey.

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35 thoughts on “3 March 1515 – A secret marriage for Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon?”
  1. This secret marriage happened at a good time in Henry’s reign. He was livid and fined them heavily but eventually forgave them. If this had happened a couple of decades or more later they may have both ended up in the Tower or worse. Personally I think it was a good match, perhaps not politically but for the two of them.

  2. Mary was certainly a Tudor, strong willed and determined once her mind was made up, to marry her true love, it was something her brother did many years later, she was young and very much in love and could not wait to be married to Charles Brandon, with all the impatience of youth they did exactly that much to the French kings fury, ex queens of France had to get the next sovereigns permission and he had been willing to help them, no wonder he was furious when he learnt they had married already, across the stormy waters of the channel, Henry V111 also was trying hard to contain his anger, Brandon was a close friend of his but he had dared to marry his sister, a princess of the blood Royal without his permission, centuries before after the death of King John his widow Isabella did exactly the same thing, without the permission of parliament as being queen dowager she had to get, she went ahead and married her ex fiancé’s son Hugh de Lusignan, who was in fact intended for her daughter the princess Joan, when he saw the mother he preferred her instead of her daughter, understandably as Isabella was known to be a very beautiful woman and her daughter must have appeared rather gauche beside her, her descendant Mary Tudor was also considered a beauty the beauty of the family maybe, and her portraits bear this out, she had auburn colouring and a sweet countenance and was called ‘a paradise’ by one Frenchman, certainly good looks run in the family as both Elizabeth of York and Henry V11 were considered very attractive especially Elizabeth who with her golden beauty and docile nature was very epitome of what a good queen should be, in fairytales queens are always beautiful as well as good, beauty within as the saying goes, Mary was one of only four children to have survived along with her older siblings Arthur Margaret and Henry, Arthur she possibly did not see much of but she must have shared the Royal nursery with Henry and possibly saw her elder sister a bit at court before she was sent of to Scotland, Mary is said to have been Henry V111’s favourite sister and he named his warship Mary Rose after her, but this was just a myth, certainly they were close in age and shared many characteristics, she became very close to her sister in law Katherine and they enjoyed a close friendship which endured upto her death, she must have wept with her over the loss of her babies and she sided with her over the divorce many years later, openly disapproving of Anne Boleyn along with her husband which angered Henry V111 a great deal, the way she blackmailed her brother into agreeing to let her marry her choice of husband when Louis died by saying she would have entered a convent was a crafty move on her party and shows her spirited nature, but he must have been somewhat bemused by it, did Henry really think his lovely feisty sister would enter a convent and devote her life to prayer after knowing the wild gaiety of the court, however Mary got his promise and she reluctantly went to France and married her King, to be queen of powerful France was an honour and had her bridegroom been young and handsome no doubt she would not have found it the ordeal it was, however Louis being old and rather ugly must have repulsed her, she enjoyed herself dressing in the French gowns and flirting with her husband’s heir Francois, he finding her incredibly attractive must have prayed nightly that she didn’t become pregnant as his dreams of ruling France were then gone for ever, a daughter would not matter but a son would, however Mary did not have a child, quite possibly she tried to avoid this as then she would have been bound to France forever, her prayers answered her old husband died and in secret eloped with Charles Brandon, it is a love story that closely resembles her brother’s with Anne Boleyn, they were both very much in love and determined to marry the person of their choice, with Brandon she had two daughters and was the grandmother of the ill fated Lady Jane Grey, she died at her family home quietly and at peace, unlike her adventurous life, she was not on good terms with her brother and after her death her widowed husband married again and had more children but he must have cherished sweet memories of her all his life.

    1. Hello Christine and thanks a lot for so many explanations.
      It is a real pleasure to read ur accurate views on these royal characters
      I still am not sure of what u mean on one point : being french, I’have never been told about any permission widowed queens of France would have had to get from their dead husband’s successor . Maybe a matter of dowry, I don’t know.?… Would u be kind enough to give ur sources on the matter or, if possible, some furtherdetails?
      As far as Francis I is concerned, I’d rather believed he was relieved when knowing that Louis XII’s last widow was to marry again (meaning she was not pregnant by the dead king, a fact that would confirm himself as the rightful king)
      When Charles Brandon reached french coasts, the french king would be aware of what it meant and he did’n’t act against the fact (if I’m well informed).
      Never heard of him being furious either …

      1. Hi Bruno good to hear from you, I meant an English queen had to get the permission of parliament and the King before she could marry again, hence the parallels between Mary and Isabella.

        1. Yes I’m back – some time after “brexit” 😉
          Nice to hear of u again indeed.
          All u suggest about Mary Tudor is very interesting .
          I guess she was that “juicy fruit” (not only for an aging king) u perfectly depict.
          Juste enough to suggest she was a “temptress” for Francis I (as was not the case, it seems)
          Just a common mistake (even for french people rather hard to be accurate coz genealogies are rather complex) Isabella actually married her past fiancé Hugh X of Lusignan, “Le Brun” (brown) .
          The latter’s father, Hugh IX, had married twice : his first bride “seems” to have been Agathe of Preuilly”Vendôme”, from which marriage he sired the foresaid Hugh X.
          Then he married again with Matilda of Angoulême, Isabella’s first cousin .
          (Both names are often confused for obvious reasons)
          But his own son (+1249, ie about 30 years after his father) married the widowed queen he had been longing for …
          She was to get further offspring by him .
          Seemingly she wanted to firm control of her inheritance in Poitou when marrying again .
          Of course, as a queen dowager, it raised much complications, no doubt.
          Jeopardizing her dowry, her pension .
          All the more that she was mother of five living children from King John.
          One of them being heir to the throne, the king’s council had to be cautious.
          Only to grant young english king’s interests
          Henry III later reconcilied with his mother and half-siblings, though

        2. Hi Bruno, I actually thought Isabella did marry her ex fiancée but then one historian on here did say she married his son, you are right there were so many Hugh’s all named after their father going back several generations, which can account for the confusion, getting back to Francois, yes he must have been mightily relieved that Mary was not pregnant, it is said that poor old Louis he died through over exertion in the bedchamber.

      2. Hello Bruno, nice to hear from you after so long, you are right about Francis not being furious. Although he is rumoured to have made certain overtures to Mary and that she wasn’t receptive but he most likely only wanted to make sure she wasn’t pregnant and it does not come from a reliable source. He greeted Suffolk who was the official envoy, although two friars, one called Wingfield had been sent to put Mary off him by saying he had been involved in sorcery, which of course is also nonsense. He was given full access to both King Francis and to Mary and he was greeted and treated cordially. Francis also gave his promise to support the Dukes cause but he didn’t just agree that they would marry. He certainly wasn’t too pleased and he did tell Suffolk that he could have him executed but he was saying what he should as his duty as a fellow monarch to Henry Viii. However, that was his official duty, but he felt sympathy for Suffolk and he felt relieved and they gained his temporary protection, until he and Mary could move out of his jurisdiction and negotiate a way home. One source, I am not absolutely certain as I am reporting from memory had his mother, an incredible and sophisticated and powerful women, Louise of Savoy, finding out about the secret meetings with Mary and Charles and was horrified, but that the marriage was her idea and she may have been a witness. Of course Francis was about to or already married to Claude the daughter of Louis Xii and his first wife, Anne of Britany. Louise of Savoy would certainly want everything to go smoothly for her son so getting Mary out of the way and back home and married to her Duke, rather than a rival in the form of Charles of Castile, the future Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, would suit her purpose. I would think Francis would also be delighted when it was put in those terms. Mary, of course, only wanted to marry the man she loved and hold her brother to his promise. She had blackmailed Henry with such a promise, but she was his favourite sister and a minx.

        1. Sorry, but for some reason, I just noticed ur answer.
          Francis I was already married _the wedding took place just after queen Anne’s death.
          It was only then that Louis XII decided to marry again.
          When seeing this english rose, Francis certainly was attracted to her.
          But if I am not mistaken, nothing to back up a ambiguous relationship between both Mary and Francis.
          Louise of Savoy was that terrible character u’re mentioning.
          Sure from the beginning that her son was a “Caesar”, was to be king.
          Her son was known to be much milder . I doubt he would have Brandon executed.
          Moreover he was a foreign subject.
          All that happened was against Henry VIII’s will (and Francis I certainly would not have missed such an occasion of making his english “rival” a fool)
          Having promised his sister she could marry her choice when widowed, Henry was tied by his own word (blackmailed, u tell!).
          Guess it was much to Francis I’s pleasure in fact.

        2. Hi, Bruno, lovely to have a French prospective on this. Louise was one to stir I think and I believe you are right, Francis was just saying I can, but he wouldn’t. He would certainly wait for Henry to make up his mind and as he kept quiet, only sending word via Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Francis had to wait and see. He probably enjoyed seeing them all uncomfortable, but as a King, well, they do have to bluster a bit. In England we had a law, the latest made under the infant Henry vi, by his Regency Council to prevent Dowager Queens from marrying, in order to prevent Catherine de Valois from marrying, Edmund Beaufort, although it didn’t stop her from taking no notice to marry Owen Tudor, soon afterwards. This was because Lord Protector Humphrey of Gloucester wanted to ensure Katherine did not have a conflict of interest while her son was not yet of age. That law ensured all Queens remained unmarried without permission, if the King died and extended to other members of the royal family. Even though it was Mary’s legal right as a widow to remarry, she was too valuable as a pawn in the international marriage market and so Henry was really hoping to marry her off again once her mourning period was over. It was his promise that she now used against him, very shrewdly ensuring she got her own way and married Charles Brandon. The thing was for Brandon it was risky because Henry could look on this as treason, if he decided that his friend wanted a stake in the succession. Not that I believe he did, but it was a big risk and as a knight he was particularly upset as he had broken a sacred oath. That offended Henry more than the marriage and he couldn’t believe it at first, until he saw the letter confessing everything. The distance and the fact that he was the King’s closest friend and this is pre nasty Henry, all helped him and Mary to negotiate a settlement and a pardon. Suffolk was also there on business so he had value. He was to negotiate matters around the French towns Henry had captured a year and a half earlier and money issues. He also had to negotiate for the dowry back.

          Thanks for the information on Francis marriage to Claude, I wasn’t with the time line. Although Francis was always unfaithful to his bride, this was a good marriage to his cousin, bringing him the crown and several children, although poor Claude was only about mid twenties when she died. Francis showed her respect nonetheless and returned to her every evening. She had one of the most learned and sophisticated Courts in Europe and our own Anne and Mary Boleyn were part of her court. Suffolk on his various visits while Mary Tudor was Queen of France, took part in the many jousts and they put him against a huge German who almost unseated him, but whom he defeated and won much praise. No wonder the ladies thought he was a catch.

      3. Hi Bruno,

        I don’t think Francis I could have guessed that Suffolk had come to marry Mary because as far as he was concerned Suffolk had been sent to escort her back to England. I don’t think Suffolk knew he’d come to marry Mary either!

        Francis I’s fury comes from Robert de la Marck. The English version can be read at the bottom of page 90 at and you can see the French version on page 240 at Page 239 is interesting too.

        1. Thanks a lot, Claire for these links (even if, for some technical reason I could not get access to the french one, I made my mind up upon Francis I being infuriated indeed).
          It is still a pleasure to read ur accurate and well informed points about Tudors’ deeds .
          Even deeper pleasure when it mixes french and english history, no doubt.
          But I tend to think that all those persons knew too well why Brandon was sent :
          Mary according to The Venetian ambassador had at once said that the Dauphin could call himself King, for she was not going to have a child (by the dead french king)
          Anyway, as was the custom, etiquette would delay three weeks during when young dowager queen would be watched upon before Francis could assume the title of new king.
          It was well after this time by the 27st of january that Suffolk arrived at Senlis .
          Two days previous, Francis was sacred in Rheims..
          Just a few days afterhis arrival the duke of Suffolk was invited for an audience in the royal bedroom.
          An interview between both men revealed that K Francis I (as he could be called king by now) was well aware of Mary’s and Suffolk’s purposes.
          Suffolk, cautiously enough, assumed it was false bruit .
          Or in any case that he would wait KH’s permission..
          Knowing that KH had chosen Suffolk to bring back his own sister in England…
          Knowing that european sovereigns were always well informed…
          I can’t doubt it was just common knowledge on both sides of the Channel.
          (meaning KH’s promise to his beloved sister)
          However, in february Francis and even his own mother relieved that Mary was not pregnant indeed could show how favourable they were to both Mary and her sweetheart.
          According to Fleuranges himself KF told Suffolk he would intervene for the lovers, saying : “Je connais vos sentiments pour la reine …. et ceux de la reine pour vous; si le roi d’Angleterre mon frère, avec qui je veux entretenir alliance et amitié, les approuve, faites qu’il m’en écrive . Jusque-là, promettez-moi de ne rien entreprendre dont lui et moi ayons lieu d’être mécontents” … And Suffolk promised.
          In one word Mary and Suffolk hastily and secretly married found the art of putting off both the once goodwilling kings of France and England .
          I of course agree that this secret wedding took place about mid-february when reading the correspondence between the different characters involved .
          Polydore Virgile insists that Mary Tudor’s engagement to Suffolk was well known before her wedding to the french king.
          No doubt either that KH knew what he was doing when sending (among others) his future brother-in-law to bring his sister back as soon as january 14, ie on receiving official notice of the death of the French King

        2. I think that Suffolk wanted to marry Mary, and Henry VIII knew that the couple would want to do so, but I think that Suffolk was going to heed his master the king’s advice and not marry Mary until they had returned to England. However, Mary was not willing to wait.

          It’s quite tricky to create a timeline of Suffolk’s time in France but we know some dates and events because of letters, however, some letters are damaged. The following is based on Mary Croom Brown’s dating, and she used primary sources. I’ve double-checked them and her dating seems to be correct.

          Sat 27th Jan – Suffolk arrived at Senlis
          Thurs 1st Feb – Longueville took them to meet Francis I and to enter the town with him. Suffolk then had a state audience with him. Suffolk and his party asked for permission to visit the queen, to condole with her. This also appears to be the same day that Francis called Suffolk back to accuse him of wanting to marry Mary.
          Sat 3rd Feb – Suffolk wrote to Wolsey, the letter states that he was ten leagues from Paris.
          Sunday 4th Feb – Suffolk and his party reached Paris. They planned to visit Mary the next day but Mary wouldn’t wait so they visited her at the Hotel de Cluny. This is when she acted the damsel in distress. She made it clear that she wanted to marry Suffolk before their return to England.
          Monday 5th Feb – Wingfield and West visited Mary.
          Tuesday 6th Feb – Wingfield and West dined with Mary’s ladies while Suffolk visited Mary. It was after this talk that Suffolk decided to write to Henry VIII.

          Mary Everett Green writes that Suffolk “alludes on another occasion to being married in Lent, which in 1515, began on 21st of February”. I looked through Suffolk’s letters and found that he mentions Lent in his 5th March letter, which is damaged: “Me lor, I dowth not bou[t that] thay wyell wreth thys for me ar how y[e] schall thynke byst they schold wreth … For I by sche you to in stroke me in h[all] the hast possebbyll. Me lor, they marre as wyell in Lynt as howth of Lent wyet lyssenes of anne boussope.” But here he could be talking about arranging a more public marriage, it’s hard to know.

          Anyway, I am convinced that dating the marriage to between 31st Jan and 3rd Feb does not make sense.
          Monday 12th Feb – Suffolk was sent for by Francis I for a diplomatic interview.
          Tuesday 13th Feb – Francis I’s state entry into Paris.
          Wednesday 14th Feb – Francis went to see Mary. He asked her if she was planning on marrying again and she confessed her feelings for Suffolk. She asked for his consent and for his help in gaining her brother’s favour.
          Wednesday 21st Feb (beginning of Lent) or Thurs 22nd Feb – Suffolk receives a reply from Wolsey to his 3rd Feb letter.
          3rd March – date given for secret marriage by a French chronicle in the Fontanieu Portefeuille.
          5th March – Suffolk writes of the secret marriage and his concerns re Mary possibly being pregnant.
          31st March – date given for a more public marriage. Recorded by Louise of Savoy.

        3. Sorry, forgot to say that Agnes Strickland states that “the white widowhood of the young Queen-dowager of France expired on February 9 or 10” – is that correct?

        4. Hi sorry I could not answer at the right place to your question.
          I don’t really know for Mary Tudor, but the costum was that the widowed queens of France should wear white (and stay in confinement) for 40 days.
          So yes, Louis XII having died ont 1st of jan, it makes sense that Mary left her widowhood clothes the 9 or 10 of febr

        5. I believe Henry knew well that Mary at the very least had the hots for his friend and that there was an attraction between them. He knew they would desire to marry at some point, but because Suffolk was a Knight of the Garter that had taken a sacred oath and one of the worst thing a knight could do was to break his oath to God or his Lord, it meant great dishonour. This is why he asked Suffolk to make an oath not to propose marriage to Mary in France and he probably trusted his friend more than his sister, whom he was aware of being spoilt and getting her own way. Henry had to promise Mary she was free to marry whom she wished in order to mollify her into the marriage with Louis Xii in the first place. Now that Mary was a widow she was a great asset and any number of available noble and royal men would be pleased to be considered for her hand. Mary was afraid of such a happening because she was well aware of her own value in the political and international marriage market. Francis was also aware of that value and Mary wanted to get away from him as well as he may try to use her also as a bargaining chip. We forget that Mary at the end of the day was a woman in a world were she was only of true value for her ability to have babies and form alliances. Like all females from powerful families she was an expensive piece of property. That might sound crude but it was basically how it was for most high status women, they may not be forced into marriage, but they were more or less taught to do their duty and obey their parents or male protector and marry as was arranged and there was very little they could do about it, unless they took things into their own hands. Mary saw Brandon as a way out and as a widow she had a few more rights over her future but she still could not marry without her brother’s permission. This is were his promise in advance is clever and Mary keeps reminding him about it because she takes it as permission to marry and Suffolk is her choice. Suffolk is sent because he can talk her round to come home in Henry’s mind and the prospect of them being allowed to marry on their return is held open on condition he does his job properly and negotiates for her plate and jewellery and money and then he will be rewarded. Henry hopes the fondness Suffolk has for Mary will win her over and she will be home without any trouble with all this other stuff but he knows how manipulative she is so he makes poor Suffolk swear an oath and believes that he will keep it. He is open to marriage between them, but that is very conditional. However, he chose the one man that she loved almost as if he setting the whole thing up, almost as a test, so he is partly to blame for what happened. He loves Mary and Suffolk and I doubt he really intended either of them any harm, but he has to be seen to be outraged as he cannot lose face and be seen as having no control over his subjects or his own sister. This also gives him the opportunity to get what he wants most, money and jewellery and makes poor Brandon work hard to get a large sum of money as some kind of promised indemnity, £200,000. Suffolk and Mary are fined and promise Henry part of her ongoing dower payments and much more, are allowed home after much grovelling and honour is saved. In return Henry gets an extremely penitent subject and obedient servant and friend and his loving and grateful sister. Henry comes out all the richer and is a benevolent Prince. His ego must have gone up as well. He may not have planned it to play out like this, but I believe Henry was favourable to a marriage between his friend and Mary and he did set them up as a test and was not as displeased as he presented himself, partly because with this marriage, all three outdid King Francis.

          I am also in favour of a date around mid February at the earliest and certainly after 18th but before March 3rd, as this fits with all of the evidence taken together.

      1. Hi Claire, I was just reading your article again as I thought I had missed something because I have been reading the book by Sarah Bryson La Reine Blanche Mary Tudor A Life In Letters and she placed the first marriage based on Suffolks letters back to Wolsey as between 31st January and 3rd February, so I was wondering if the date was mixed up, but I see from the article it is quite a puzzlement. Well, it was pretty secret, although in her book she also says they got married before ten witnesses, in the Chapel at Cluny and the King of France soon had wind so it wasn’t so secret. Certainly nobody could deny it. There was a second marriage on 31st March but well before that Suffolk had written home and come clean and Henry also knew, so they were well and truly up the creek without a paddle. I can see from the article there is a lot of confusion so any date between 3rd February and the middle of March will do. For some reason I thought it was 11th March, but it must have been earlier as his letter on 5th seems pretty conclusive.


        1. Hi BQ,
          I just don’t understand the whole 3rd February idea. I spoke to Sarah Bryson about the sources for the secret marriage before she’d given her manuscript in, as I’d done a recent talk on the marriage for the Tudor Society and had used French sources as well as English sources, but she wouldn’t budge. She reads the 3rd February letter as Brandon saying that he was married, when, in fact, it doesn’t say that at all. Here’s the letter:

          “Writes to inform him of a secret matter, referring him for other things to two letters sent to the King, the one from himself and the other from his fellows. The day the French King gave them audience, he sent for Suffolk to see him in his bedchamber, and told him he had heard that he was come to marry the Queen, his master’s sister. Suffolk hoped his grace would not reckon so great folly in him to come into a strange realm, and marry a Queen of the realm, without knowledge or authority of the French King or the King his master, assuring him that he “had none such [t]hyng, nor it was never intended on the King my master’s behalf nor on mine.” Francis replied it was not so: for to be plain with him, the Queen herself had told him; and he had promised his faith and truth that he would help her to obtain [her wishes] … Perceiving that Suffolk was abashed, he reassured him; “for you shall say that you have found a kind pr[ince and] a loving.” “And because you shall not think no [less], here I give you in your hand my faith and truth, by the word of a King, that I should never fail h … you, but to help and advance this matter between me and you with as good a will as I would for mine own.” Suffolk could do no less than thank his grace for the great goodness he intended to show to himself and the Queen, and said he was like to get into trouble, if it should be known to the King his master. “Let me alone for that,” said Francis. “I and the Queen shall so instance your master, that I trust he will be content. And because[I] would gladly put your heart at rest, I would, [as] I come to Paris, speak with the Queen; and s[he an]d I both will write letters to the King your master, with our own hands, in the best manner that can be devised.” Begs Wolsey to send him his best advice at once. [“And if you shall think good to advertise the King of this letter, do.”” (Letters & Papers, Volume 2, 106, Suffolk to Wolsey, 3 February 1515).

          In the finished book, does Sarah cite any other source as this letter does not support her theory? I really don’t know what she is basing this on and it doesn’t fit with the letters we have from this time or what the French accounts say. Steven Gunn is THE authority on Charles Brandon and he dates it to mid-Feb based on the primary sources and from my reading of the sources I completely agree with him. It would not have been appropriate for Mary to marry during the six weeks of mourning that was expected in France either.

          What citation does she give for the ten witnesses? I know that Mary Anne Everett Green says this, but does not date the marriage to 3rd Feb. As Green says, the only date given in the contemporary French accounts for the secret marriage is 3rd March, and then Louise of Savoy writes of a more public ceremony on 31st March. However, 3rd March does not make sense when combined with Suffolk’s concerns re Mary’s pregnancy.

          Gunn’s mid-Feb dating makes sense when combined with Suffolk’s movements (his visits to Mary, meetings with Francis I etc.), Mary and Suffolk’s letters, the various sources, what we know of what Francis I said to Suffolk, and the tradition of six weeks or mourning and Mary being carefully guarded. 31st Jan to 3rd Feb makes no sense and there is no evidence to back it up.

          I really am at a loss to understand the 3rd Feb dating.

        2. Hi Claire, the time line that Sarah uses just doesn’t make sense when the known chronically accepted order is followed. First of all, it takes Suffolk to 5th March to get round to talk frankly to Wolsey to confess his marriage until 5th March, so why wait over a month, unless to deliberately keep it a secret, which is unlike everything we know from his open relationship with the King and his general honesty. It does fit with other accounts in Richardson, White Queen, Crooms, Gunn or Mumby and even the House of Suffolk or House of Tudor, which all have excellent accounts with letters of the events leading to the marriage of Mary and Suffolk, the following negotiations and the initial discussions around a possible marriage being accepted in February 1515. We know Suffolk was anxious about talk of him wanting to marry Mary because he wrote several letters to both Henry and Wolsey on his early meetings with Mary and Francis. His letters are extremely honest and detailed of his conversations and astonishing as it may be it is the first and following letters of his interview with Francis that Sarah Bryson has of evidence that the couple married by 4th February.

          For the ten witnesses which seems more than expected and contradicts the usual evidence that only a few people knew, that is possibly a maid of honour, (every fiction writer has Mary or Anne Boleyn as a witness but that is romantic speculation as we don’t really know who witnessed it) and possibly the Queen Mother was there and a male groomsman to assist Suffolk who would have his own attendees as his status demanded.

          The evidence for the 10 witnesses is cited as Letters and Papers Vol 2:80 cited in Richardson White Queen and page 143, but also refers to Green in her Letters of Illustrious Ladies of Britain etc, but it does seem to jar with everything else.

          Her dating is based on a few different letters, none of which actually admit to or call the event a marriage, which given the frantic state of mind Suffolk was un after his marriage is a bit odd. The first is the letter of 5th February of Suffolk to Wolsey and Henry giving a full account of his interview with Francis who greeted him, as you have cited above and then he gives him good welcome and is pleased he has come but talks about a rumour he has heard that Charles will marry the King’s sister. Suffolk is alarmed but gives his assurances of his loyalty and he will only treat Mary with honour. The secret matter was not his marriage but his own orders to negotiate for the ex Queens jewellery, various money settlements, so on and future considerations for an alliance. Francis is concerned to keep his own opinions open and make the best of the ongoing situation and get what he can from Mary still being a prize to be bid for. He may not be bothered about Mary and Suffolk getting married but he still wants what he can get. Suffolk was pleased with his visit and his reception. The letter is not talking about him already being married.

          Various correspondence passed between Charles and Cardinal Wolsey, also the King and both Mary and Henry, between 4th February and the middle, not all appear as dated, but all follow a pattern of increasing anxiety and discuss the possibility of a marriage and how it would be perceived. They are not admitting to Mary and Charles being a married couple and the reply from Wolsey on 8th February is a bit too calm and congratulations are offered for his work and discretion and the idea will be raised with Henry who may favour a marriage if the couple are well behaved and return in good order once the Duke has concluded the King’s business. This is not like his reply in March after Suffolk confirmed his marriage without permission and was “in the greatest danger” a man was ever in. I think you are right about Gunn and although I don’t have the book to hand, I know it well enough as I do Crooms and Mumby. I noticed the difference in the dating straight away and it sent alarm bells ringing. I accept we can’t be absolutely certain but mid February followed by a couple of weeks honeymoon sounds more accurate with a possible second service on 31st March, just to make certain. I love Mumby 1913 The Youth of Henry Viii as it gives a full list of the letters in full and the chronological order is very clear. I am at a loss as to why Bryson has made this date linked to the letters before 15th February as none of them say the marriage has taken place but raise it as a future possibility on return to condition that everything is in order. I can see either Mary or Suffolk getting the wrong ideas and taking this as leave to marry and Mary makes several letters about Henry’s promise and her intentions are becoming clear, but it isn’t evidence of a wedding just a few days after Charles came to Paris.

          Here are the letters I think she uses to back up her theory…..

          Suffolk reporting to Henry and Wolsey. 5th February
          Wolsey to Suffolk 8th February Westminster Everette Green 1857 page 81 to 82 and LP Vol 2: 80
          Letters of Charles to Wolsey Vol 2:113, his reply from Wolsey is cited in Mumby p 319 to 321, then Brandon again to Wolsey as Mary has pressed the matter of marriage while weeping and wailing and also playing the dutiful sister and widow to perfection, his letter from Paris dated 8th February, cited LP. Vol 2: 138 and 134. Mary followed with her own version of events, but the letter again does not say they are actually married. This letter is cited as LP 2 : 135 in Mundy as well and in Everette Green and refers to a long visit from King Francis, but does not appear to be dated. She talks about how he asked her about her future plans of marriage and she opened up her heart and desire for Suffolk and then goes on to assure her brother of her love and duty but entreaties are there not to be abandoned and of his promise and her feelings are also expressed. The next thing we know is that the King of France is making positive noises on the part of Mary and Charles and some time after 18th February Cardinal Wolsey wrote another letter of support but warns Suffolk not to do anything rash. By now they were probably married and waiting for the right time to inform the King. Henry also tells Suffolk via Wolsey to get on with the job of obtaining from Francis the ex Queens plate and jewellery and stop wasting time. This is cited as LP vol 2. 205. The next thing 14 days have passed and Suffolk is frantically confessing his hasty marriage because he believed Mary was pregnant and asks the Cardinal to break the news gently to the King as he is too frightened of the possible consequences. This is now 5th March and although he could have been married any time between 5th February and then, the 18th February or thereabouts sounds more likely and there are several others, including 3rd March but no 3rd or 4th February is much too early and the following events and letters would seem more to contradict it rather than confirm it. I think Sarah has misread the talk and allegations of Suffolk wanting to marry Mary as the wedding taking place in his report on 5th February. It just does not fit with everything else. I thought it was a misprint at first, then I read your article, then re-read the chapter and saw it wasn’t fitting. I have looked at Mumby and Croom and Richardson and they all follow the accepted chronological order so I am lost as to how this author came up with her date. Her book is otherwise wonderful, but I can’t endorse her theory on the dating.

        3. Hi BQ,
          I’ll go through in points.

          “The evidence for the 10 witnesses is cited as Letters and Papers Vol 2:80 cited in Richardson White Queen and page 143, but also refers to Green in her Letters of Illustrious Ladies of Britain etc, but it does seem to jar with everything else.” Green does say ten witnesses but does not date this or cite a source. LP ii. 80 – If that’s document 80 which is usually what that means, then it’s a letter from Suffolk to Henry VIII which is damaged and so the date is missing. You can read it at but Suffolk is throwing himself on the king’s mercy and excusing the marriage, painting Mary as a damsel in distress that he just had to help. It mentions ten persons – “and so she and I was ma[rried] … and but ten persons, of the which [neither Sir Richard] Wyngfyld nor Master Dyne (Dean) was not [present] on my faith” but it doesn’t date this marriage at all.

          A February marriage makes complete sense with all the movements, letters, chronology etc. but a mid Feb date not an early Feb date.

          Thank you for all those references, they’re all ones I have in my Mary and Brandon file. What French sources does she cite?

          Thanks so much for all of those details.

    1. I will never believe that King Henry Vlll didn’t know. hehehe Sending the fox into the henhouse. Love their story.

  3. Henry had promised his support but he was probably being Henry and he had made this promise to Mary because he wanted her to stop wailing over her arranged marriage. Mary Tudor, his sister sounds like one of those females who liked to turn on the water works in order to get their own way, because they know the men they are with can’t stand to see a woman cry and give in to it. She manipulated her brother into a promise that she could marry whom she wanted, which technically was her right as a widow, then she wailed when the man whom she loves turns up, sent by her brother to take her home, and he tries to coax her into another marriage when they get home. ” Sir never did I see a woman weep so! ” yeap, I bet he hadn’t. Charles had taken an oath not to propose or marry Mary in France without his permission, so he was in a pickle. Henry wanted the pair home, a stake in French wars, her dowry back and a wad of cash from a treaty, not for his mate to marry his bargaining chip himself. Now they had done just the opposite, gotten married, possibly in two ceremonies, put his international politics into danger, flaunted his direct orders, broken a sacred oath and slept together, leaving no room to doubt their marriage had been consummated or allowing for it to be annulled. Suffolk had the tentative support of the new King Francis, although he had pretended to be outraged and threatened to cut of the Dukes head but the Council in England were set against him, urging Henry to do the same. Katherine and Wolsey were both at the King over what to do with his errant little sister and best friend and I bet for all of his show of anger and outrage, Henry was enjoying some role in all of this as he had sent Charles out there, knowing he had affection for Mary in the first place. Only Brandon could cause this much trouble and get away with it.

    Well, he didn’t get away with it entirely, the couple were pardoned and let home but he spent time in exile in the country, he negotiated a deal to pay £24,000, in instalments of £6000 but he never really ever paid it off and they also negotiated with Francis for the return of Mary’s jewellery and a huge diamond for the King, called the Mirror of Naples which had been part of the original deal. Suffolk had to practically steal it. Thomas Wolsey had a big role in the deal and probably put much of it into Henry’s mind. Mary would try to keep on good terms with the Cardinal, as did Suffolk when he needed to, but the latter ultimately became his enemy. Back home in May the King and Queen gave Charles and Mary a big public wedding at Greenwich and both were a constant feature of the Royal family and Court. Henry was fond of both of them and Charles would be his jousting partner, right hand, his commander in times of strife and a faithful servant for the rest of his life. Suffolk has often been dismissed as none too bright a spark and was sometimes looked down on by the older families. However, this none to bright spark still burned brightly in the affection of the King, long after most others had been snuffed out. Maybe that is because he learned to not ally himself too closely with any one faction and to remain on his own side, and thus the Kings if a crisis arose. Suffolk was just as ambitious as everyone else, he just didn’t push it to extremes and he certainly refrained from that most dangerous of practice, putting a female relative in the King’s bed. I have always thought he was shrewder than he is given credit for and he learned several survival skills from this spectacular episode.

    1. It is to Suffolk’s credit that he never fell out of favour with Henry V111, unlike most of his contemporaries, theirs was a friendship that endured decades, Mary possibly being very pretty had been spoiled by a lot of people including her parents since a baby and sulked and threw tantrums when she didn’t get her own way, I can just see the exasperation on Henry’s face when he was trying to explain to her she was to marry the French King.

  4. Hi Claire and BQ. The type of conversation between the two of you is one of my favorite things about this site. You seek the truth of history by using contemporary sources and not just accept other’s accounts. I have an interest in many historical eras and wish all writers were as caring about the truth of their subject.Thank you.

  5. I don’t remember the French sources, or if there are any. I will have to read it again. Thanks for clarification on the ten witnesses and the source. It seems as if Suffolk is actually saying there were less than ten people there. I can’t imagine more than two or three beyond the couple and priest and then there was a later public wedding on 31st March but all you needed was the two of you in any case but of course a Queen needed more to provide proof of a marriage. The last thing Mary would want was Henry declaring her marriage null and void and once they had consummated it, well it was done and dusted. Henry and Francis lost a chief bargaining chip for future alliances but well one could say Henry had an ally at Court who was dependent on him and he could call upon at will. Suffolk was his dear friend and Mary his beloved sister but Henry would need to call on him and others during times of war with France and Scotland, his troubles during his annulment, his marriage to Anne, he called on Suffolk to deal with an increasingly stubborn and entrenched Queen Katherine and he would need support and to depend on that support because others like his friend Thomas More refused to give it. Suffolk as his brother in lawcould be called upon, even when he tried to resist the marriage with Anne, because he depended on the King’s good graces. He was constantly anxious about such things when away from Court in the first few years of marriage, wondering if Norfolk or someone was whispering against him. Henry, however, was not yet the fickle person of his later years and was not that easily influenced. We don’t see this until the early 1530s, as even with Thomas Wolsey he didn’t do what everyone wanted him to until much later, after a lot of pressure. Mary and Suffolk were constant features of his life and Court life and entertainment or business. They had pride of place, dressed in the best finery, went about in style, despite their debts. I tell you now, I wouldn’t mind being in their type of relative poverty. The King would drop in just like a family member now, on unofficial visits, as did Queen Katherine, tgey were at Court for the jousting seasons, which was just about every feast day, they were there for long periods and then came home for long periods because Mary prefered her home in East Anglia where she was with the numerous children, both hers and Suffolks and fhose from an earlier marriage, his wards, his adopted daughter, his illegitimate children also visited, where she was hailed and praised on her many visits to religious houses with honour and where she had peace. Mary could escape to Westhorpe eventually, when she fell ill or out with her brother over Anne Boleyn and sadly there she died, partly estranged from Charles, although he did try to visit her before she passed away in June 1533. Before all that she was content to have married her knight who had rescued her and for the most time they had a happy life. Henry was fond of both and personally I doubt his forgiveness was ever a problem. He was a King and things have to be done a certain way. Charles knew that and I am in agreement with what Claire says in her talk on the Tudor Society’s Page, that it is unlikely that Mary was really this weeping, wailing woman who was weak, but to make her appear so is a chivalrous way to get understanding and for Brandon to show himself as her knight coming to rescue the damsel in distress. She probably did weep but you can see from their letters home that the pair present her much more as someone who needs to be rescued. I can even imagine Mary telling her beleaguered husband what to do and I wouldn’t want to be him if she threw a Tudor hissy fit and the porcelain came flying across the room, but they were married and they stood together and braved it out. Henry couldn’t resist and home they went in May and had another marriage at Greenwich which was attended by the King, Queen and Court and observations were made by various Ambassadors.

    Thanks Michael for your kind words. I have a bee in my bonnet if something seems off. I agree with the evidence when taken together, for a mid February marriage, as Steven Gunn, who is the authority on Charles Brandon pins it down to that date. He did his University thesis on Suffolk and then wrote his first real and truly authoritative biography on Suffolk and his households and life and lordship. It truly is a masterpiece. His was the biography I went out of my way to purchase two decades ago and I am pleased it has been reprinted. Erin Sadlack work on Mary and her Letters is well worth recommending, but is expensive. I would also recommend David Loades Mary Rose Tudor and Mary Brown Coombs, which is available as a reprint on Amazon for Kindle. The House of Tudor is also excellent and you can get it in Kindle. Alison Plowden wrote Lady Jane Grey and the House of Tudor which also explores the interplay between the Brandons, Henry and his children and grandchildren in the next reigns. It is out in a reasonable priced paperback.

    I enjoyed your talk Claire on the Tudor Society, but I don’t think I will be looking through the French Chronicle, it would take me a lifetime. I have made a note of the other links.

    Thanks. I will have a look if Sarah has noted the Chronicle. I think she cited an Ambassador, although that might have been Mumby. The other odd thing was in her own article on the other site Sarah had a later date after 20th February, so she has obviously changed her mind. Oh, well, more history. Sigh.

    1. The French sources are tricky because 1) They’re in French, and 16th century French too! 2) They’re hard to track down on the BNF website 3) They haven’t been transcribed so you also have to get your head around the handwriting, but I have enjoyed the challenge of reading them over the years, both when I was researching the George Boleyn bio and also Mary Tudor.

      Those are all excellent recommendations BQ. The works of Mary Anne Everett (Green) are on, as are those of Agnes Strickland and Mary Croom Brown as they are all out of copyright. Yes, Gunn is excellent and so is Sadlack, but out of print I think and therefore rather expensive. I too was ecstatic when Gunn’s work was republished.

      1. Thanks again, Claire, for your recommendation and the links. I paid £40.00 to get Gunn in 2001/2_as it was reading material on a course I was doing and there was a six weeks waiting list at our lovely library by which time my essay had to be in. Our book box had one copy which we had to share between 35 people, so yes, that wasn’t good and I decided it was worth it and love the book. I have looked again and I am afraid Sarah only used one French source, The Journal of Louise of Savoy, to refer to the second marriage on 31st March, which was public.

        1. Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and pay for these things, particularly when you have a deadline. Some books and sources are crazy prices. I remember saving up for The Inventory of Henry VIII and also Maria Hayward’ s book on dress at his court. I have found some wonderful bargains though by shopping around on Ebay and AbeBooks.

          Thanks for checking that. Yes, that’s the source for the 31st March date.

          The BNF Paris website has a lot of documents on it, photos of them, but it can be hard to navigate and a lot haven’t been copied. I’ve just had a quote from them for 90 euros for a copy – oh dear! Perhaps I need to go to Paris and view it!

        2. I was lucky to get an original Croom when another library had a sale and it is good that the other works are online. These public domain collection archives really do a great public service. We have one of the best public collections in England and Wales here and many are now online. I loved to vanish every Saturday morning (much to my dad’s disappointment as he usually had to drag me away at 1.30 to make sure we got to Anfield on time.) to our collection and the Liberian was most helpful and seeing some old texts on the divorce and on the Rota was great. My teachers were impressed, my school friends were not, but who cares, I was enjoying myself. I get my two passions in life, football and history from my dad and my DNA and I really miss him. My mum liked other stuff and went to town every Saturday, although she was a policy typist which is very legally involved so I get my legal brain from her. It’s no wonder I changed course three times at University and then my accident there forced me to go part time so I had the opportunity to do an independent course which involved elements from history, law, social sciences and health. My options read for interesting viewing. I even did two terms of anatomy and physiology and microbiological studies as part of my health elements in second year. It took me nine years to get my degree and afterwards I was addicted to study and have done short courses ever since. I haven’t been able to commit to much since Steve was ill, but I am going back for a term on Medical Meditation and Health in April. I am thinking over the Medieval course online as well.

          Anyway, I am off topic as usual, but it really is an interesting subject and the access to sources is so much better and wider now. The nearest we got to in school was the odd quotation in a book and Miss Pink reading three love letters from Henry Viii to Anne Boleyn (the little duckies was one). Library staff were helpful and Miss Rimmer would always write the required request if I wanted access. Nobody ever said no. You would be surprised what I got copies off and the projects we did were very exciting. I love lives illustrated in letters, it is the human side of a person and the real inner self. Henry didn’t like writing letters, but his letters to Anne are so warm and passionate, it is a different man to the one who was so cold and cruel to his once beloved wife, in May 1536.

        3. I also spend time in old book shops and Steve has put out missing person reports when I vanish into the back and fail to emerge. I have got a few great items from Alibris or Abe over the years. I will visit the BNF website, to look at the photos. Thanks.

  6. Often wish Tim/Claire could come up with some kind of icon (as with Facebook) so that we readers can register our interest in/gratitude for, a comment which we find particularly good.
    I think this a lot – don’t won’t to comment myself, just register ‘approval’. Anyone else get that feeling?

  7. I think 3rd March is the likeliest date of the wedding, after taking into account the mourning period which Mary as a widowed queen of France had to observe, she was impatient and appears impulsive to but she had to act within the right degrees of protocol, the ten so called witnesses are a mystery but down the years the sources could have been lost or unknowingly destroyed, Mary Everett Green was writing in the Victorian era and she could have had access to these sources which sadly are now lost to us, I should imagine these witnesses were some ladies of her household who were sworn to secrecy yet she must have had more French attendants than English, although we know the Boleyn sisters were in her service, Anne at least was, would they have been more loyal to her than her previous ladies in waiting who had returned home? However the fact that Brandon showed concern over his Mary’s pregnancy must mean that they had consummated their betrothal a lot earlier in their eyes they were already married I guess, the ceremony would be just a mere formality, Suffolk out of the two appears a much more cautious person, I think he would have been content to wait but I can see Mary begging and pleading with him to marry her, whatever date they did marry in secret the formal celebration was on March 31st, or maybe Green mistook the 3rd for the 31st? It’s easy done.

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