Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Mary Rose, "the French Queen"

Mary Tudor (died 25 June 1533)


Mary Tudor was the younger sister of Henry VIII, the fifth child born to Henry VII and his wife, Elizabeth of York.

Mary Tudor, detail
from a portrait made during her
brief reign in France
Born on 18 March 1496, Mary Tudor was married off--much against her wishes--to a fifty-two-year-old Louis XII of France.

She was eighteen--married on 9 October 1514, crowned on 15 November, and widowed on 1 January 1515, less than three months after her marriage. She may have lost her king (a loss she surely did not mourn), but she gained the title by which she would be known for the rest of her life, "the French queen."

While still in France, Mary chose her second husband for herself. Fearful of whatever political match her brother, Henry VIII, might have arranged for her, she married Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, on 3 March 1515. All things considered, he was an interesting choice, husband-wise.

At this point, Brandon's marital adventures had gone far beyond those of his new brother-in-law, Henry VIII, who was still married to his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. In 1515, Mary Tudor, now the widow of the French king, was Brandon's third--or fourth-- wife, depending on how you did the counting.

About 1505, Brandon had engaged himself to Anne Browne by a binding contract of sponsalia per verba de praesenti--a valid marriage under canon law by which both parties "in the present" mutually agree. In the case of Brandon and Anne Browne, their exchange of promises must also have been followed by consummation, because she became pregnant and gave birth to a daughter in 1506. 

But then Brandon changed his mind; he had his "marriage" with Anne "declared void" in 1507 and married her aunt, Margaret Neville, the widow--the wealthy widow--of Sir John Mortimer. When that marriage was declared "null and void" by angry family members, Brandon returned to Anne Brown, and they had a second daughter, born in 1510.

After Anne Browne died in 1511, Brandon was not too heartbroken to consider another marriage. In 1512, Brandon had been granted the wardship of Elizabeth Grey, the eight-year-old daughter of the recently deceased John Grey, viscount Lisle. In 1513, Brandon decided he would marry the child, and the two were betrothed; on 15 May 1513, Henry VII created Brandon Viscount Lisle, in right of his betrothed wife.

But this didn't prevent Brandon from marrying Mary Tudor when he had his chance in 1515. At the time he married, he was still "betrothed" to Elizabeth Grey (eventually he had to give up his wardship and titles). Not only that, his second "wife," Margaret Neville Mortimer, was still alive (she would marry again, too, but not until c. 1521). Brandon's divorce from Margaret wouldn't be confirmed as valid until 1528, when Pope Clement VII issued a papal bull, thereby insuring the legitimacy of his two daughters by Anne Brown.

Still with me? We might as well finish up Brandon's marital (mis)adventures: less than three months after Mary Tudor's death, Brandon would marry yet again. His fourth or fifth wife (again, her position depends on how you count Brandon's marriages) was Katherine Willoughby, just fourteen when she married the forty-nine-year-old Brandon--she was his ward, a bride destined for his son. Oops. Katherine Willoughby Brandon survived her marriage to Brandon and went on to choose a husband for herself the second time around.

Well, that was a bit of a detour. And, by the way, don't you just love "traditional marriage"?

Although "the French queen" had chosen a husband for herself when she was a young widow, she died when she was just thirty-seven years old, leaving three surviving children: Frances Brandon, Eleanor Brandon, and Henry Brandon. The boy died less than a year after his mother.

Frances Brandon, Mary Tudor's elder daughter, was the mother of Lady Jane Grey, whom we've met before. All three of Frances Brandon's daughters--Jane, Catherine, and Mary--came to grief over their claims to the throne.

Mary Tudor, detail
from a portrait with Charles Brandon
Mary Tudor's younger daughter, Eleanor Brandon, was eighth in line to the throne by the terms of Henry VIII's Third Succession Act of 1544. Eleanor died in 1547, leaving her daughter, Margaret Clifford, in the line of succession. Margaret Clifford also suffered because of her inheritance--in 1579, she was accused of sorcery and plotting against Queen Elizabeth I and was imprisoned. Although Eleanor's physician was executed, she was spared, though she was banished from court and increasingly mpoverished. She died in 1596. 

None of Mary Tudor's descendants succeeded Elizabeth I when she died in 1603. The crown went to James of Scotland.

Although the noted historian David Loades published a biography of Mary Tudor, Mary Rose, in 2012, she plays a relatively small role in a book that offers very little information about her that has not appeared in biographies of Henry VIII or Charles Brandon. Much better is Jennifer Kewley Draskau's The Tudor Rose: Princess Mary, Henry VIII's Sister

But you might prefer Maria Perry's The Sisters of Henry VIII: The Tumultuous Lives of Margaret of Scotland and Mary of France--it's very reasonably priced and you get two for the price of one!