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.


13 Comments to “A Woman In Love”

  1. Capability Bowes says:

    "It's entirely possible you won't have heard of these two Tudor lovers"

    We take it that "The Tudors" isn't part of the Phant's regular telly viewing?

    mmmmm Henry Cavill, yum, have him stripped, washed and brought to my tent.
    http://www.imdb.com/media/rm2258078464/nm0147147

  2. Kat says:

    Yes indeed, The Tudors pretty much covered all aspects of Mary and Charles fascination with each other, in somewhat graphic detail in parts!
    Though I think the director slightly used creative license as in The Tudors Mary actually smothered her ageing King Louis husband pretty much immediately after their sham of a wedding.

  3. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    Tut – that will teach me to keep my tricorn stuck in a book when the rest of the world is watching telly…

  4. Kat says:

    Im on a bit of a Tudor book trip at the moment. Has the GP read the fantastic books by C J Sansom? About a sleuthing Tudor barrister Matthew Shardlake? A real must if you like a bit of London history and intrigue (and one of the books plays a part in Deptford) One of the best book series i have ever read.
    And im currently reading Wolf Hall which is a great book from Cromwell's viewpoint.

  5. TGP says:

    I must read more fiction, especially local stuff – I went on quite a voyage of local fiction a year or so ago, but since then, non-fic seems to have been the order of the day. The dustier the better…

  6. Capability Bowes says:

    "I think the director slightly used creative license"

    I think the directors have used LOTS of creative licence. Bucketloads. Skip loads.

    I very much doubt that Tudor life was this clean. Or that everyone was so beautiful. Or that everyone had such great teeth and hair. It makes fascinating viewing. I watch and play "How many different historical errors can you spot". Its usually the Costume Department who drop the most clangers. But mainly I watch in the hope that Henry Cavill will appear naked.

  7. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    I'm afraid that I'm the sort of Phantom that gets really wound up at historical inaccuracy – anacrhonisms and modern values shoehorned into period stuff. Which is why I avoided the Tudors (probably my favourite historical period and the one I'd get most angry at!)

    And yet I have a soft spot for the worst offender of all – Merlin, which I watch of a Satruday evening with a frisson of guilty glee. Go figure.

  8. Capability Bowes says:

    Oh so do I. But "The Tudors" is so deliciously awful, its unmissable. Think "Coronation Street" with codpieces.

  9. Anonymous says:

    GP, ever produced a Greenwich reading list? I'm sure I wouldn't be the only reader who would relish a few Greenwich novels (historical or otherwise) to get their teeth into.

  10. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    Yes, indeedy, though I'm only half way through it – it takes forever to catalogue all the books that have Greenwich in them. Every so often I add one or two in a fit of efficiency – though it's sadly still very under-complete…

    Find The Phantom Bookshelf in a list of Phantom pages in the right hand column of the blog, a little below my picture, contact details and links.

  11. The Greenwich Phantom says:

    I should perhaps mention that the fiction section's at the bottom. One of these days I'm going to have a groovy interactive blog that you can just ping to – but for now, the scrollbar is your friend.

  12. Anonymous says:

    right under my nose all this time! many thanks

  13. Lucia says:

    Fascinating!