A Woman In Love
Since the whole world seems to be gearing up to celebrate all things romantic, I thought today I’d tell you a romantic – well, romantic-ish – tale of the knights of old…
In 1512, Henry VIII was still young, excited and delighted with his first queen, Catherine of Aragon. They were trying for a baby, but not overly concerned at the time it was taking to get around to it. They spent much of their time doing fun stuff, like jousts and tournaments, pageants and strange devices.
At one particular jousting festival, the Royal Pageant Master had had a bit of a Laurence Llewellyn Bowen moment and created a ‘fountain’ out of russet satin, covered with fretted gold with eight gargoyles spouting water, while a glamorous knight stood in the centre, fully-armed and looking butch. Behind him came a retinue of coursers, raring for the fight, and ladies, looking for love.
The butch knight in the middle of the satin fountain was Sir Charles Brandon, the burliest of the king’s retinue and Henry’s best mate. He was handsome, charming, a war hero from Flodden and, some might say ‘a bit of a goer.’ At 28 he’d already deserted one wife, married another, divorced her, re-married the first one, had somehow got himself betrothed to someone else entirely and now had his eye on Margaret of Savoy.
Through all this, though, he was still on the lookout and, whilst skilfully jousting away in the Greenwich tilt yards, he kept exchanging little meaningful glances with Henry’s sister, Mary, widely acknowledged to be the most beautiful princess of her day, smitten with the handsome young knight – and inconveniently betrothed to the elderly, gouty Louis XII of France. Henry had used his sister as a bargaining chip with the vain old man in a political deal that involved a million crowns in hard cash.
Mary, as you can imagine, wasn’t wild about the deal, especially since she’d almost certainly seen Louis. She told Henry she’d do her duty, but her next husband was to be her choice, okay? It was fairly clear to all who her choice would be.
The marriage went ahead – by proxy, since the king was too infirm to do much more than sit on a throne back in France. The Duc de Longueville spoke the vows for Louis – and then ‘consummated’ the marriage for him too, by lying down on a bed with her and touching her body with his naked leg. Oooh err….
As arranged, political marriages go, it wasn’t such a bad deal for Mary. She got a brand new outfit, loads of jewels sent over from France, celebrations in her honour – and it was quite clear that Louis wasn’t going to outlive the year.
It may well have been the excitement that did for him. By all accounts he did his best to service his young queen when she finally arrived in France (a little green around the gills from a choppy Channel crossing) – the old stager claimed that on the ‘proper’ wedding night he’d ‘crossed the river’ three times with his bride.
Sir Charles Brandon probably wasn’t the most diplomatic person Henry could have sent on a diplomatic mission to check everything was going okay, but apparently both Mary and Brandon behaved themselves, to the king’s relief.
Louis died three months after the marriage, and Henry started looking around for a new husband for his sister. Mary was livid. She coughed rather less than discreetly and told him in no uncertain terms that if she wasn’t allowed to choose her next husband she’d become a nun, so there.
Henry, in another one of his not-so-brilliant moments, chose the dashing Charles Brandon to go and fetch her back from France. Mary told him straight – marry me now, or never.
Brandon, who, to be honest, could probably have taken or left this stunningly beautiful, madly-in-love-with-him princess who just happened to be next in line to the throne and richer than Croesus, somehow allowed himself to be cajoled into marrying Louis XII’s widow secretly in Cluny. Strange, that…
The king, of course, went berserk when he found out about it, though it’s impossible he didn’t see it coming. He insisted they paid back her dowry and marriage portion and beg him for forgiveness lots, which they did.
Mary blamed herself, and Brandon was happy to let her take the blame. Henry, for his part, though, found his heart just wasn’t into being angry. He couldn’t stay cross with his best pal and his favourite sister for long and as soon as he’d got his cash back and they’d grovelled enough, he allowed them to marry properly at Greenwich Palace.
And to give them their romantic dues, they stayed happily married – until Mary’s death, when, I’m afraid to say, Brandon found himself someone else very quickly indeed.
It’s entirely possible you won’t have heard of these two Tudor lovers. But I’m willing to bet you’ve come across their granddaughter.
Lady Jane Grey.