Authors: David Loades
Tags: #History, #General
Queen of France,
the extraordinary life of
Henry VIII’s sister
First published 2012
The Hill, Stroud
Gloucestershire, GL5 4EP
Copyright © David Loades, 2012
The right of David Loades to be identified as the Author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
ISBN 978-1-4456-0622-4 (PRINT)
ISBN 978-1-4456-1040-5 (e-BOOK)
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without the permission in writing from the Publishers.
British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data.
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Royal princesses are always interesting, and those who lived in the days of strong personal monarchy especially so. Mary Tudor was Henry VIII’s younger, and favourite, sister; the fifth child and third daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. Little is known of her childhood and upbringing, except that it was heavily influenced by her paternal grandmother, Margaret, Countess of Derby. Her father seems to have shown little interest in her, except to deploy her, along with her sister Margaret, on the international marriage market, but that was the common experience of kings’ daughters. At the age of thirteen she was betrothed to the eight-year-old Charles of Ghent, and seems to have enjoyed the prospect of being Princess of Castile. She grew up to be beautiful, intelligent and emotional, but not at all intellectual, and her usefulness to her brother was abruptly terminated early in 1515 by her impulsive marriage to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, Henry’s closest friend. This was a direct result of having been wedded against her will to the elderly Louis XII of France by the terms of the Anglo-French treaty of 1514, and was the subject of fascinated speculation at the time – and since. Thereafter she continued to be known as ‘The French Queen’ as well as by her proper title as Duchess of Suffolk, but her political role was at an end, so she became an ornament around the court, and a great lady on the Duke’s estates.
Her life has attracted a certain amount of attention, including a French biography published in 1749, and a more studious attempt by Mary Croom Brown in 1911; however, most of the interest has been fictional, or popular like Maria Perry’s recent
Sisters of the King
. The best scholarly study published within the last half century is W. C. Richardson’s
Mary Tudor: The White Queen
, which appeared in 1970. A lot of research has appeared since 1970, including a study of her letters published in 2011, and this, although directed only partly at Mary, is nevertheless relevant to her context, so a further biography is therefore justified. She lived in interesting times, and her support for Catherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, cast a shadow over relations with her brother in the last years of her life. He nevertheless remained fond of her, and of her rather dim-witted husband, and continued to include them in his social round. For that reason alone she is worth another study, because very few crossed Henry and retained his regard. It was a unique achievement which has been too little thought about.
A lifetime of working on the Tudors, and recently an investigation into Mary’s arch-enemies the Boleyns, lie behind this work, and obligations too numerous to list have been incurred. However, mention should be made of the Oxford University History Faculty, which has given me a base, and access both to graduate seminars and to the Bodleian Library, for all of which I am profoundly grateful. I am also grateful to Jonathan Reeve of Amberley Publishing, who accepted it as a worthy project, and to my wife Judith, who provides unfailing support.
Mary has always been of more interest to the purveyors of fiction than to historians. This was as true of the author of the Suffolk Garland as it was of Jean de Prechac in the seventeenth century, Marguerite de Lussan in the eighteenth, or Russell Garnier in the twentieth. Her story was always good for romantic reconstructions, and the real woman has been largely lost sight of among these stories and legends. Typically Mabel Cleland, writing in
The American Girl
in the winter of 1932/33, called her piece ‘The Laughing Princess’, a name which Mary would scarcely have applied to herself.
In fact the historiography of the French Queen is a thing of shreds and patches, with a heavy concentration on the circumstances of her two marriages, to Louis XII of France in November 1514, and to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, in March 1515. Before that she was betrothed to Charles of Ghent, the future Emperor Charles V, and she consequently plays an important, though largely passive, role in the diplomatic history of the period 1508–15. It is in such a guise that she appears in all the standard histories of the period, most notably in J. J. Scarisbrick’s biography of Henry VIII (1968), where an attempt is made to assess her importance. She also features largely in S. J. Gunn’s study of Charles Brandon (1988), which not only examines the details of her two marriages using some new material, but also considers her role as Duchess of Suffolk, both at court and on his extensive estates.
Her support for Catherine of Aragon he considers to have been very influential in determining the Duke’s political role between 1529 and 1533. She is considered briefly in Mary Anne Green’s
Lives of the Princesses of England
(1855), and rather more fully in Agnes Strickland’s
Lives of the Tudor Princesses
(1868), both of them based largely on Hall’s
The first modern biography, making extensive use of the calendars of state papers, published in the late nineteenth century, is that by Mary Croom Brown, which appeared in 1911. This quotes lavishly from the Venetian despatches, and contains complete accounts of all the ceremonies in which Mary was involved. It is full and accurate in its descriptions of the costumes and jewellery which were deployed, and on the pageants which accompanied her entry into Paris after her wedding in November 1514. The woman encased in all this ritual appears from time to time, but Brown regarded her as a largely ornamental creature, asserting herself only occasionally. Her determination over her union with Brandon is treated as being largely emotional in its inspiration, and an attempt to escape the attentions of Francis I.
Much more satisfactory to the critical historian is the study by W. C. Richardson,
Mary Tudor: The White Queen
(1970), which makes a serious attempt to assess the importance of the King’s sister in the politics of the period. This means a heavy concentration on the period before 1520, and considerable reliance on contextual analysis. The first-hand personal evidence relating to Mary herself being notably scanty, Richardson makes extensive use of contemporary views on the role of women, and on their education and training, applying these to his subject in general terms. His discussion of her character and career is one of the best so far produced, but a lot of research has been conducted since 1970, most notably by Stephen Gunn (1988) and by Michael Jones and Malcolm Underwood in their study of Lady Margaret Beaufort (1992).
Very recently has also appeared a new and original study, based largely on Mary’s surviving letters,
The French Queen’s Letters: Mary Tudor Brandon and the Politics of Marriage in Sixteenth-Century Europe
, by Erin Sadlack. In so far as this is a biography rather than a literary study, it argues that Mary was a shrewd and manipulative operator, well versed in the political functions and limitations of her position. While not questioning the importance of her emotional reactions, Dr Sadlack presents a well-read and thoughtful young woman, who took risks and assessed the consequences. It was not her fault that her French revenues were cut off by the war of 1522–25, and her attempts to recover her income thereafter were sensible and pragmatic. However, the emphasis is very much on the written word, and on the influence of the courtly cult of chivalry rather than upon the historical context of her life.
So the time has probably come for another look at Mary Tudor, and at her relations with the men in her life – not only her husbands but also her brother. Unavoidably Henry VIII features largely in the investigation which follows.
In April 1483 Henry of Richmond was in exile at the court of Francis II, Duke of Brittany. He had been there since 1471, when, as a fourteen-year-old escorted by his uncle Jasper, he had fled from the advancing armies of King Edward IV. He had been born in 1457, and was the only son of Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond, and of Margaret Beaufort, the daughter of John, Duke of Somerset, who had died in 1444. John having been a grandson of John of Gaunt, the third son of King Edward III, Henry had a remote claim to the Crown of England.
He was in fact the last male heir of the Lancastrian line, and Edward IV made periodic attempts to have him extradited, using all sorts of blandishments without success. In exile he had gathered round him a small ‘court’ of Lancastrian diehards, but as Edward had two healthy young sons to succeed him, Henry’s prospects of ever ascending the throne seemed remote. This also was the view of his mother, married since 1472 to her fourth husband, Thomas Lord Stanley, who was doing her best to protect his interests in England. Margaret’s marriage had given her a link to the powerful Woodville clan, and consequently a place within the Yorkist establishment. These contacts she used in an attempt to reconcile her son with the King, and in the summer of 1482 she seemed to have succeeded. In an agreement which was drawn up in the King’s presence on 3 June, the estates of Margaret’s mother, the Duchess of Somerset (who had died in May), were so disposed as to give Henry an inheritance worth 600 marks a year, provided that he returned from exile and submitted to the King’s grace.
More was expected, and a marriage between Henry and Elizabeth, Edward’s eldest daughter, was discussed. They were within the prohibited degrees of affinity and that would require a dispensation, but such things could be arranged. The King also appears to have been considering restoring the exile to his earldom of Richmond. However, all this was conditional upon Henry returning to England, and that he was reluctant to do, in spite of his mother’s assurances. Although Edward now appeared to be conciliatory, there was too long a history of mutual suspicion and distrust to be overcome quickly.
Then on 9 April 1483 Edward IV died. At first this did not seem likely to make much difference, because his young son was proclaimed as Edward V, and preparations for his coronation were pressed ahead. However, on 6 July the young king’s uncle, Richard of Gloucester, who had been Lord Protector, was crowned instead as King Richard III on the pretext that Edward V was illegitimate.
Edward and his brother Richard disappeared into the Tower of London, and the Queen Dowager took sanctuary at Westminster. Richard’s coup had been ruthless and not without bloodshed, but Margaret’s first reaction seems to have been to accept it, and she played a prominent part in the coronation celebrations. She seems at first to have been disposed to seek a deal with Richard similar to that which she had made with Edward IV. However, Lord Stanley’s Woodville connections made him suspect to the new king, and Queen Elizabeth herself remained in sanctuary, so Margaret took a calculated and highly dangerous risk. Abandoning Richard, she threw in her lot with those conspirators who were fomenting rebellion against him. Negotiations for a Tudor–Plantagenet wedding were resumed with Elizabeth, using Margaret’s physician Lewis Caerleon as an intermediary, while communications were maintained with Henry in Brittany. Several of Margaret’s servants were involved in the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion in the autumn of 1483, and Buckingham wrote to Henry in September, inviting his participation in the revolt. He started by claiming to act in the name of Edward V, but apparently convinced that Edward was dead, then switched his allegiance of Henry of Richmond, a move undoubtedly motivated by the latter’s mother.
When the rebellion collapsed and Buckingham was executed, Lady Stanley therefore stood in considerable danger, and although she escaped attainder in the parliament of 1484, her estates were confiscated. With them went Henry’s inheritance, and any prospect of reconciliation with Richard’s government. However, there were compensations. In the first place, the Yorkist party had been split down the middle by Richard’s actions, and several prominent members of the Woodville affinity, including the Marquis of Dorset, joined Henry in Brittany, implicitly recognising his title to the throne. Secondly, in the cathedral at Rennes on Christmas Day 1483, Henry solemnly swore to marry the younger Elizabeth, when he had regained his kingdom. This was the result of a renewed agreement between the two dowagers, and was to be of the highest significance for the future.
Richard recognised the threat, and renewed his brother’s attempts to secure Henry’s person. Taking advantage of the illness of Duke Francis II, he almost succeeded, and drove the fugitives over the border into France, where the Regency Council of Charles VIII considered his appeal for support. More positively, Richard patched up his relations with Elizabeth, and persuaded her to withdraw her consent to her daughter’s marriage, a success which his own fate in 1485 rendered nugatory.