Suffolk, Charles Brandon, 1st duke of

Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk

Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (c. 1484 – 22 August 1545), was the son of Sir William Brandon and Elizabeth Bruyn. Through his third wife Mary Tudor he was brother-in-law to Henry VIII. His father was the standard-bearer of King Henry VII and was slain by Richard III in person on Bosworth Field. Charles Brandon died of unknown causes at Guildford.

Political career

Charles Brandon was brought up at the court of Henry VII. He is described by Dugdale as "a person comely of stature, high of courage and conformity of disposition to King Henry VIII, "with whom he became a great favourite". Brandon held a succession of offices in the royal household, becoming Master of the Horse in 1513, and received many valuable grants of land. On 15 May 1513, he was created Viscount Lisle, having entered into a marriage contract with his ward, Elizabeth Grey, suo jure Viscountess Lisle, who, however, refused to marry him when she came of age.

He distinguished himself at the sieges of Thérouanne and Tournai in the French campaign of 1513. One of the agents of Margaret of Savoy, governor of the Netherlands, writing from before Thérouanne, reminded her that Lord Lisle was a "second king" and advised her to write him a kind letter.

At this time, Henry VIII was secretly urging Margaret to marry Lisle, whom he created Duke of Suffolk, although he was careful to disclaim (on 4 March 1514) any complicity in the project to her father, Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor.

After his marriage to Mary, Suffolk lived for some years in retirement, but he was present at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. In 1523 he was sent to Calais to command the English troops there. He invaded France in company with Count de Buren, who was at the head of the Flemish troops, and laid waste the north of France, but disbanded his troops at the approach of winter.

Unlike his wife, Suffolk was entirely in favour of Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and in spite of his obligations to Wolsey he did not scruple to attack him when his fall was imminent. The Cardinal, who was acquainted with Suffolk's private history, reminded him of his ingratitude: "If I, simple Cardinal, had not been, you should have had at this present no head upon your shoulders wherein you should have had a tongue to make any such report in despite of us."

After Wolsey's disgrace, Suffolk's influence increased daily. He was sent with Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, to demand the Great Seal from Wolsey; the same noblemen conveyed the news of Anne Boleyn's marriage to King Henry, after his divorce from Queen Catherine, and Suffolk acted as High Steward at the new Queen's coronation. He was one of the commissioners appointed by Henry to dismiss Catherine's household, a task he found distasteful.

He supported Henry's ecclesiastical policy, receiving a large share of the lands after the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1544, he was for the second time in command of an English army for the invasion of France. He died at Guildford, Surrey, on 24 August in the following year. At Henry VIII's expense he was buried at Windsor in St George's Chapel.

Marriage to Mary Tudor

Suffolk took part in the jousts which celebrated the marriage of Mary Tudor, Henry's sister, with Louis XII of France. He was accredited to negotiate various matters with Louis, and on Louis' death was sent to congratulate the new King, Francis I.

Love between Suffolk and the young Dowager Queen Mary had existed before her marriage, and Francis roundly charged him with an intention to marry her. Francis, perhaps in the hope of Queen Claude's death, had himself been one of her suitors in the first week of her widowhood, and Mary asserted that she had given him her confidence to avoid his importunities.

Francis and Henry both professed a friendly attitude towards the marriage of the lovers, but Suffolk had many political enemies, and Mary feared that she might again be sacrificed to political considerations. The truth was that Henry was anxious to obtain from Francis the gold plate and jewels which had been given or promised to the Queen by Louis in addition to the reimbursement of the expenses of her marriage with the King; and he practically made his acquiescence in Suffolk's suit dependent on his obtaining them. The pair cut short the difficulties by a private marriage, which Suffolk announced to Thomas Wolsey, who had been their fast friend, on 5 March 1515.

Suffolk was saved from Henry's anger only by Wolsey, and the pair eventually agreed to pay to Henry £24,000 in yearly instalments of £1000, and the whole of Mary's dowry from Louis of £200,000, together with her plate and jewels. They were openly married at Greenwich Hall on 13 May. The Duke had been twice married already, to Margaret Neville (the widow of John Mortimer) and to Anne Browne, to whom he had been betrothed before his marriage with Margaret Mortimer. Anne Browne died in 1511, but Margaret Mortimer, from whom he had obtained a divorce on the ground of consanguinity, was still living. He secured in 1528 a bull from Pope Clement VII assuring the legitimacy of his marriage with Mary Tudor and of the daughters of Anne Browne, one of whom, Anne, was sent to the court of Margaret of Savoy.

After the death of Mary Tudor on 24 June 1533 he married in 1534 his ward Catherine Willoughby (1520–1580), suo jure Baroness Willoughby de Eresby, then a girl of fifteen. By Catherine Willoughby he had two sons who showed great promise, Henry (1535–1551) and Charles (c. 1537 – 1551), Dukes of Suffolk. They died of the sweating sickness within an hour of one another.

Wives and children

He contracted to marry Elizabeth Grey, 5th Baroness Lisle (1505–1519). The contract was annulled. No issue.

First marriage

Before February 1506, he married Margaret Mortimer (née Neville).

The marriage was annulled in 1507. No issue.

Second marriage

About 1508, he married Anne Browne (d. 1511) daughter of Sir Anthony Browne, Standard Bearer of England 1485 and Eleanor Oughtred.Issue

  1. Anne Brandon (d. 1557) - she married firstly Edward Grey, Lord Powys, and, after the dissolution of this union, Randal Harworth
  2. Mary Brandon (1510 – c. 1542) - she married Thomas Stanley, Lord Monteagle

Third marriage

In May 1515, he married Mary Tudor, Queen Dowager of France (18 March 149625 June 1533).Issue

  1. Henry Brandon, 1st Earl of Lincoln (11 March 15168 March 1534)
  2. Lady Frances Brandon (16 July 151720 November 1559) - she married Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset and was the mother of Lady Jane Grey
  3. Lady Eleanor Brandon (1519 – 27 September 1547) - she married Henry Clifford, 2nd Earl of Cumberland

Fourth marriage

On 7 September 1534, he married Catherine Willoughby (c. 1519 – 1580)Issue

  1. Henry Brandon, 2nd Duke of Suffolk (18 September 1535 – July 1551); sweating sickness
  2. Charles Brandon, 3rd Duke of Suffolk (1537 – July 1551); sweating sickness

Fictional portrayals

Further reading

  • The life and career of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, c.1484-1545 by S J. Gunn
  • Catherine Willoughby by Evelyn Read (primarily on his wife, Catherine)
  • Sisters to the King by Maria Perry (primarily on his wife, Mary Tudor)


  • Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, C.1484-1545 by [S.J. Gunn] ISBN 0-631-15781-6
  • The Project Gutenberg EBook of Henry VIII., by A. F. Pollard


His paternal grandparents were a senior Sir William Brandon of Wangford, Suffolk (d. 1491), who served as Marshal of Marshalsea prison, and Elizabeth Wingfield (d. 28 April 1497). His maternal grandparents were Sir Henry Bruyn and Elizabeth Darcy.


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