Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brandon, Charles

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BRANDON, CHARLES, Duke of Suffolk (d. 1545), was the son and heir of William Brandon, who was Henry VII's standard-bearer at Bosworth Field, and was on that account singled out by Richard III, and killed by him in personal encounter. This William, who with his brother Thomas had come with Henry out of Brittany, does not appear to have been a knight, though called Sir William by Hall the chronicler, and thus some confusion has arisen between him and his father, Sir William Brandon, who survived him.

It is quite uncertain when Charles Brandon was born, except that (unless he was a posthumous child) it must of course have been before the battle of Bosworth. It is not likely, however, to have been many years earlier. No mention of him has been found before the accession of Henry VIII, with whom he appears to have been a favourite from the first. In personal qualities, indeed, he was not unlike his sovereign; tall, sturdy, and valiant, with rather a tendency to corpulence, and also with a strong animal nature, not very much restrained at any time by considerations of morality, delicacy, or gratitude. In 1509, the first year of Henry's reign, he was squire of the royal body, and was appointed chamberlain of the principality of North Wales (Calendar of Henry VIII, i. 695). On 6 Feb. 1510 he was made marshal of the king's bench, in the room of his uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon [q. v.], recently deceased (ib. 859). On 23 Nov. 1511 the office of marshal of the royal household was granted to him and Sir John Carewe in survivorship (ib. 1989). On 29 March 1512 he was appointed keeper of the royal manor and park of Wanstead, and on 2 May following ranger of the New Forest (ib. 3103, 3176). By this time he was no longer esquire, but knight of the royal body. On 3 Dec. the same year he received a grant of the wardship of Elizabeth, daughter and sole heiress of John Grey, viscount Lisle (ib. 3561), of which he very soon took advantage in a rather questionable way, by making a contract of marriage with her; and next year, on 15 May, he was created Viscount Lisle, with succession to the heirs male of himself and Elizabeth Grey, viscountess Lisle, his wife, as she is called in the patent (ib. 4072). But in point of fact she was not his wife, for when she came of age she refused to marry him, and the patent was cancelled.

Other grants he continued to receive in abundance; stewardships of various lands in Warwickshire or in Wales, either temporarily or permanently in the hands of the crown (ib. 3841, 3880, 3920-1). But his first conspicuous actions were in the year 1513, when, under the title of Lord Lisle, he was appointed marshal of the army that went over to invade France. He took a prominent part in the operations against Terouenne, and at the siege of Tournay he first of all obtained possession of one of the city gates (ib. 4459). While before Terouenne he sent a message to Margaret of Savoy, the regent of the Netherlands, through her agent in the camp Philippe de Brégilles, who, in communicating it, said he was aware that Brandon was a second king, and he advised her to write to him a kind letter, 'for it is he,' wrote Brégilles, 'who does and undoes' (ib. 4405). Early in the following year (1514) the king determined to send him to Margaret to arrange about a new campaign (ib. 4736, 4831). On 1 Feb. he was created Duke of Suffolk, and, adorned with that new title, he went over to the Low Countries. On 4 March Henry VIII wrote to Margaret's father, the emperor Maximilian, that a report had reached England that Suffolk was to marry his daughter, at which the king affected to be extremely displeased. Henry pretended that the rumour had been got up to create differences between them. In point of fact Henry was not only fully cognisant of Suffolk's aspirations, but had already pleaded his favourite's cause with Margaret personally at Tournay; and this notwithstanding the engagement he was still under to Lady Lisle. Some curious flirtation scenes had actually taken place between them at Lille, of which Margaret seems afterwards to have drawn up a report in her own hand (ib. 4850-1).

In October following, immediately after the marriage of Louis XII to Henry VIII's sister Mary, Suffolk was sent over to France to witness the new queen's coronation at St. Denis, and to take part in the jousts to be held at Paris in honour of the event. This at least seemed to be the principal object of his mission, and as regards the tourney he certainly acquitted himself well, overthrowing his opponent, horse and man. But another object was to make some arrangements for a personal interview between the English and French kings in the following spring (ib. 5560), and also to convey a still more secret proposal for expelling Ferdinand of Arragon from Navarre (ib. 5637); both which projects were nipped in the bud by the death of Louis XII on 1 Jan. following.

When the news of this event reached England, it was determined at once to send an embassy to the young king, Francis I, who had just succeeded to the throne; and Suffolk, who had not long returned from France, was appointed the principal ambassador. They had a formal audience of the king at Noyon on 2 Feb., after which Francis sent for the duke to see him in private, and to his consternation said to him, 'My lord of Suffolk, there is a bruit in this my realm that you are come to marry with the queen, your master's sister.' Suffolk in vain attempted to deny the charge, for Francis had extracted the confession from Mary herself by what dishonourable overtures we need not inquire and Francis, to put him at his ease, promised to write to Henry in his favour. The truth was that Henry himself secretly favoured the project, and only wished for some such letter from Francis to make it more acceptable to the old nobility, who regarded Suffolk as an upstart. Wolsey, too, then at the commencement of his career as a statesman, was doing his best to smooth down all obstacles. But the precipitancy of the two lovers nearly forfeited all their advantages. Mary was by no means satisfied that, although Henry favoured her wishes to some extent, he might not be induced by his council to break faith with her and sacrifice her to political considerations again. Suffolk's discretion was not able to subdue his own ardour and hers as well, and they were secretly married at Paris.

So daring and presumptuous an act on the part of an upstart nobleman was not easily forgiven. Many of the king's council would have put Suffolk to death; the king himself was extremely displeased. But there was a way of mitigating the king's displeasure to some extent, and the king was satisfied in the end with the gift of Mary's plate and jewels and a bond of 24,000l. to repay by yearly instalments the expenses the king had incurred for her marriage with Louis. Suffolk and his wife the French queen as she was continually called lived for a time in comparative retirement as persons under a cloud; but after a while they were seen more frequently at court, and Suffolk rose again into favour. But the most marvellous thing is that he should have escaped so easily when other circumstances are taken into account, to which little or no allusion seems to have been made at the time, even by his enemies. Either the facts were unknown, or, what is more probable, they were not severely censured by the spirit of the times. Whatever be the explanation, it is certain that Suffolk when he married Mary had already had two wives, and that the first was still alive. Some years later he applied to Clement VII for a bull to remove all objections to the validity of his marriage with Mary, and from the statements in this document it appears that his early history was as follows: As a young man during the reign of Henry VII he had made a contract of marriage with a certain Ann Brown; but before marrying her he obtained a dispensation and married a widow named Margaret Mortymer, alias Brandon, who lived in the diocese of London. Some time afterwards he separated from her, and obtained from a church court a declaration of the invalidity of the marriage, on the grounds, first, that he and his wife were in the second and third degrees of affinity; secondly, that his wife and his first betrothed were within the prohibited degrees of consanguinity; and thirdly, that he was first cousin once removed of his wife's former husband. These grounds being held sufficient to annul the marriage, he actually married the lady to whom he had been betrothed, Ann Brown, and had by her a daughter, whom, after his marriage with Mary, he for some time placed under the care of his other love, Margaret of Savoy. Years afterwards the bull of Clement was required to defeat any attempt on the part of Margaret Mortymer to call in question either of his succeeding marriages. When all this is considered, together with the fact that he had the same entanglements even at the time he proposed to make Lady Lisle his wife, we can understand pretty well what a feeble bond matrimony was then considered to be. Suffolk's father had been a grossly licentious man (Paston Letters, iii. 235). So were most of Henry VIII's courtiers, and so, we need not say, was Henry himself. The laxity of Suffolk's morality was certainly no bar to his progress in the king's favour. He went with Henry in 1520 to the Field of the Cloth of Gold. He was one of the peers who sat in the year following as judges upon the Duke of Buckingham. In 1522, when Charles V visited England, he received both the king and the emperor at his house in Southwark, and they dined and hunted with him. In 1523 he commanded the army which invaded France. From Calais he passed through Picardy, took Ancre and Bray, and crossed the Somme, meeting with little resistance. His progress created serious alarm at Paris; but the end of the campaign was disgraceful. As winter came on, the troops suffered severely. Suffolk, though brave and valiant, was no general, and he actually, without waiting for orders, allowed them to disband and return home.

On the arrival of Cardinal Campeggio in England in 1528, Suffolk's house in the suburbs (probably the house in Southwark already mentioned) was assigned him as a temporary lodging. Suffolk undoubtedly was heartily devoted to the object for which Campeggio came, or was supposed to come the king's divorce from Catherine of Arragon. Nor did he scruple to insinuate that it was another cardinal, his old benefactor Wolsey, who was the real obstacle to the gratification of the king's wishes. With an ingratitude which shrank from no degree of baseness he had been carefully nourishing the suspicions entertained by the king of his old minister upon this subject, and being sent to France in embassy while the divorce cause was before the legates, he actually inquired of the French king whether he could not give evidence to the same effect. So also, being present when Campeggio adjourned the legatine court in England from July to October, and probably when everyone was convinced even at that date that it would not sit again, Suffolk, according to the graphic account in Hall, 'gave a great clap on the table with his hand, and said: " By the mass, now I see that the old said saw is true, that there was never legate nor cardinal that did good in England!"' But Hall does not give us the conclusion of the story, which is supplied by Cavendish. 'Sir,' said Wolsey to the duke in answer, 'of all men in this realm ye have least cause to dispraise or be offended with cardinals; for 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, who intend you no manner of displeasure.' And after some allusions, of which Suffolk well understood the meaning, he concluded: 'Wherefore, my lord, hold your peace and frame your tongue like a man of honour and wisdom, and speak not so quickly and so reproachfully by your friends; for ye know best what friendship ye have received at my hands, the which I yet never revealed to no person alive before now, neither to my glory ne to your dishonour.'

But Suffolk rose upon Wolsey's fall. The old nobility, which had once been jealous both of him and Wolsey as upstarts promoted by the king, had now freer access to the council board, at which Suffolk took a position second only to that of Norfolk. The readers of Shakespeare know how he and Norfolk went together from the king to demand the great seal from Wolsey without any commission in writing. The fact is derived from Cavendish, who tells us that they endeavoured to extort its surrender to them by threats ; but Wolsey's refusal compelled them to go back to the king at Windsor and procure the written warrant that he required. Soon after this (1 Dec. 1529) we find Suffolk signing, along with the other lords, the bill of articles drawn up against Wolsey in parliament, and a few months later he signed with the other lords a letter to the pope, to warn him of the dangers of delaying to accede to Henry VIII's wishes for a divorce.

In 1532 Suffolk was one of the noblemen who accompanied Henry VIII to Calais to the new meeting between him and Francis I. This was designed to show the world the entire cordiality of the two kings, who became in turn each other's guests at Calais and Boulogne, and at the latter place, on 25 Oct., the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk were elected and received into the order of St. Michael at a chapter called by Francis for the purpose. In the beginning of April 1533 he was sent with the Duke of Norfolk to Queen Catherine, to tell her that the king had now married Anne Boleyn, and that she must not pretend to the name of queen any longer. Not long afterwards he was appointed high steward for the day at the coronation of Anne Boleyn. On 24 June, little more than three weeks later, his wife, 'the French queen,' died ; and after the fashion of the times he immediately repaired his loss by marrying, early in September, Katharine, daughter of the widowed Lady Willoughby, an heiress, whose wardship had been granted to him four years before (Calendar of Henry VIII, iv. 5336 (12), vi. 1069). That same month he was present at the christening of the Princess Elizabeth at Greenwich. At the close of the year he was sent, along with the Earl of Sussex and some others, to Buckden, where the divorced Queen Catherine was staying, to execute a commission which, it is somewhat to his credit to say, he himself regarded with dislike. They were to dismiss the greater part of Catherine's household, imprison those of her servants who refused to be sworn to her anew as 'Princess of Wales' and no longer queen, and make her remove to a less healthy situation Somersham, in the Isle of Ely. He and the others did their best, or rather their worst, to fulfil their instructions ; but they did not give the king satisfaction. They deprived Catherine of almost all her servants, but though they remained six days they did not succeed in removing her. Suffolk himself, as he declared to his mother-in-law, devoutly wished before setting out that some accident might happen to him to excuse him from carrying out the king's instructions (ib. vi. 1541-3, 1508,1571).

In 1534 he was one of the commissioners appointed to take the oaths of the people in accordance with the new Act of Succession, binding them to accept the issue of Anne Boleyn as their future sovereigns (ib. vii. 392). Later in the year he was appointed warden and chief justice of all the royal forests on the south side of the Trent (ib. 1498 (37) ). But his next conspicuous employment was in the latter part of the year 1536, when he was sent against the rebels of Lincolnshire and afterwards of Yorkshire, whom, however, he did not subdue by force of arms, but rather by a message of pardon from the king, who promised at that time to hear their grievances, though he shamefully broke faith with them afterwards. Within the next two or three years took place the suppression of the greater monasteries, and Suffolk got a large share of the abbey lands. It is curious that he obtained livery of his wife's inheritance only in the thirty-second year of Henry VIII, seven years after he had married her ; but the grant seems to apply mainly to reversionary interests on her mother's death.

For some years after the rebellion he took no important part in public affairs. He was present at the christening of the young prince, afterwards Edward VI, and at the burning of the Welsh image called Darvell Gadarn, in Smithfield. He was a spectator of the great muster in London in 1539, and was one of the judges who tried the accomplices of Catherine Howard in 1541. On 10 Feb. 1542 he and others conveyed that unhappy queen by water from Sion House to the Tower of London prior to her execution. That same year he was appointed warden of the marches against Scotland (Undated Commission on the Patent Rolls, 34 Hen. VIII). In 1544, the king being then in alliance with the emperor against France, Suffolk was again put in command of an invading army. He made his will on 20 June before crossing the sea. He was then great master or steward of the king's household, an office he had filled for some years previously. He crossed, and on 19 July sat down before Boulogne, on the east side of the town. After several skirmishes he obtained possession of a fortress called the Old Man, and afterwards of the lower town, called Basse Boulogne. The king afterwards came in person and encamped on the north side of the town, which, being terribly battered, after a time surrendered, and the Duke of Suffolk rode into it in triumph.

Early next year (1545) he sat at Baynard's Castle in London on a commission for a 'benevolence' to meet the expenses of the king's wars in France and Scotland. On St. George's day he stood as second godfather to the infant Henry Wriothesley, afterwards Earl of Southampton, the father of Shakespeare's friend; but he was now near his end. On 24 Aug. he died at Guildford. In his will he had desired to be buried at Tattershall in Lincolnshire; but the king caused him to be buried at Windsor at his own charge.

[Besides the Calendar above mentioned the original authorities are Hall and Wriothesley's Chronicles, Cavendish's Life of Wolsey, and Dugdale's Peerage and the documentary authorities there referred to.]

J. G.