July 14 – The sons of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, die of sweating sickness

On this day in Tudor history, 14th July 1551, in the reign of King Edward VI, the sons of Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and the late Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, died at Buckden.

Fifteen-year-old Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk, and his fourteen-year-old brother, Charles, 3rd Duke of Suffolk, had been taken ill in a sweating sickness epidemic that hit Cambridge.

Let me tell you what happened on that sad day in 1551…


On this day in Tudor history, 14th July 1551, in the reign of King Edward VI, fifteen-year-old Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk, and his fourteen-year-old brother, Charles, 3rd Duke of Suffolk, died of sweating sickness at Buckden, in Huntingdonshire. They were the sons of the late Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, and his fourth wife Catherine Willoughby, Baroness Willoughby de Eresby and Duchess of Suffolk.

Sweating sickness, or the English Sweat, was a horrible disease which decimated towns and took thousands of lives in its five main epidemics in England in 1485, 1508, 1517, 1528 and 1551. It was a disease which killed quickly. Chronicler Edward Hall wrote of how it could kill within 2-3 hours, commenting “some merry at dinner and dead at supper”. I’ll give you a link to my video on sweating sickness.

Henry and Charles Brandon had been studying at St John’s College, Cambridge, when sweating sickness broke out in the town. Fearing for their lives, their mother, who had been staying in Kingston, a village just outside Cambridge, had the boys moved to the home of the Bishop of Lincoln in Buckden, Huntingdonshire.

While the boys were being moved to Buckden, the Duchess became ill. By the time she had recovered enough to travel to Buckden, Henry had died and Charles, who had succeeded his brother as Duke of Suffolk, was dying. Both boys died on the same day. The Duchess must have been heartbroken.

The boys were buried privately at Buckden and then a special requiem mass, known as “A Month’s Mind”, was celebrated on 22nd September 1551. John Strype writes that “it was performed with two standards, two banners, great and large, ten bannerols, with divers coats of arms; two helmets, two swords, two targets crowned, two coats of arms; two crests, and ten dozen of escutcheons crowned; with lamentation that so noble a stock was extinct in them.”

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One thought on “July 14 – The sons of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, die of sweating sickness”
  1. The sweat certainly was a particularly nasty and fatal disease that once infected, it could kill within hours, ‘hence merry at dinner and dead at supper’, these two young sons of Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk and his fourth and final wife Lady Catherine Willoughby were barely in their teens when they were struck down and tragically for the duchess, who lost her husband just six years earlier they too succumbed to it, I love the portrait of the boys done as toddlers by Hans Holbein the younger, they were so beautiful as all children are with their wide innocent eyes and soft golden hair with a hint of red in it, they took their colouring from their mother the feisty Duchess as their father was dark and quite somber looking in his portrait, yet his gloomy visage hid his true character for he was King Henry V111’s loyal friend and companion for many years, and King Henry liked to surround himself with cheerful and learned companions like himself, that Brandon kept his masters friendship till death is testament to the deep love the king felt for this man and his family, forgiving him for daring to marry his sister years before without permission, that Princess Mary was his favourite sister is well known, they were close in age and shared the nursery and it was a case of his best friend marrying his own kin, so it was a case of happiness all round, but Brandon and Mary were fined heavily they could not get off that lightly but it brought Charles into the royal family, he was now brother in law to the king, which made him very powerful, however the Suffolk’s bitterly resented Anne Boleyn and Anne knew it, but still the king was loyal to his old friend and jousting companion, his friend who accompanied him on the hunt and at tennis and other courtly pastimes, it is safe to say Henry must have mourned him bitterly on his death, but he at least was spared the grief of his sons deaths, when the sweat returned for the second time his widow Catherine was extremely worried about her young sons who were studying at Cambridge, she arranged to have them travel to the Bishop of Lincoln’s palace at nearby Buckden but fatally the sweat had caught up with them at the university, she to had fallen ill and whilst battling the disease she must have agonised over her boys, maybe their situation was kept from her till she recovered, as in grief she may have wished herself dead and so willed herself to die, she recovered only to be told her sons had passed away and no one can ever know how a parent who has lost a child can feel, unless they have lost a child themselves, to lose two on the same day must be absolutely heartbreaking, she spoke of her deep loss in a letter to William Cecil how she was surely being punished by god, and of her utter wretchedness, now she had lost both husband and sons and yet she was to find joy again when she married Richard Bertie a wealthy landowner and had two children by him, Susan and Peregrine, he had been a member of her household and must have given her comfort in the dark days of her sons deaths, Henry and Charles were both buried in Buckden Palace and a mass held for them in September, by all accounts it was a very grand and splendid affair, the deaths of these two young individuals were considered a real tragedy at the time and there must have been many tears at the ceremony, Catherine Willoughby is one of my favourite Tudor personalities brave and intelligent with a quick wit it was said she was even considered by Henry V111 as a seventh wife, tragic for her good friend Catherine Parr, as Jean Plaidy notes in her forward of her book ‘The Sixth Wife’, had one of Katherines ladies not found the warrant for her arrest, Henry could well have gone down in history as the husband of seven queens not six, yet would his choice have fallen on Catherine? Her second husband Richard Bertie was an evangelical and she was noted for her outspoken views on the reformation, although her mother had been a Spaniard and ardent Catholic, Maria de Salinas, a good friend of Katherine from Aragon, but Catherine had studied the new religion and became keen, when Mary Tudor became queen they fled to Lithuania to avoid prosecution, she did lead quite a dangerous life when Elizabeth became queen they returned to England to her family home in Grimsthorpe in Lincolnshire, there is an engraving of the Bertie family fleeing persecution which depicts both Catherine and Richard their baby daughter and wet nurse and their wandering’s are recounted in ‘Fox’s Book Of Martyrs’, her third son and Richards heir was born in exile and he was named Peregrine after the perigrination’s they endured, they still lived at court and so divided their time between Lincolnshire and the court of Queen Elizabeth, her children grew up and made good marriages, her daughter Susan looks remarkably like her mother with the same heart shaped face and pointed chin, and wide set eyes, no doubt her and her brother brought their parents much happiness, but Catherine must have gone to her grave still mourning the two sons she had lost as only a bereaved parent can.

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