By David Loades
‘A paradise… talk, slender, grey eyed, possessing an extreme pallor’, The contemporary view of Henry VIII’s younger sister, Princess Mary Rose as one of the most beautiful princesses in Europe, was an arresting one. Glorious to behold, this Tudor princess with her red hair flowing loose to her waist, was also impossible for Henry to control.
She married first the King of France, a match of great importance to Henry’s diplomatic plans. He was dead within three months, ‘danced to death’ by his young bring according to the court gossip of the period. She then secretly married her long time admirer, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, one of the more notorious lovers of the Tudor period. After some uncomfortable arguments with her brother, she was publically wedded to Brandon in 1515, at Greenwich Palace. Henry remained deeply attached to his sister, and may have named his great warship after her. He continued to support her, in spite of her later opposition to his wishes.
I have read several of David Loades’ books and was quite looking forward to his work on Mary Tudor and I have to admit that I was not disappointed. In his latest book Loades explores the life of Mary Tudor, younger sister of Henry VIII, wife of a French King and reportedly one of the most beautiful women in all of Christendom.
Loades starts off his book looking at the little that is known about Mary’s younger years. There is obviously quite a lot recorded about the life of Henry VIII and even his older brother Arthur but there seems to be little written about Mary. This could possibly be because she was a girl and a younger sister and her role, as history records, was that of a bargaining tool for international relations. Loades does talk about how Mary was brought up in the same household as her other siblings (minus Arthur who was removed and groomed as the next King). I did however find it interesting that Loades speculates that Mary may not have been particularly close to her mother and that Elizabeth of York, Mary’s mother, may not have spent a great deal of time with her children. I have watched a fascinating documentary with David Starkey in which he speaks about how Elizabeth of York spent a great deal of time personally educating and being with her children and it was probably even her that taught Henry VIII to write as both mother and son have very similar styles of handwriting. Since Mary was raised in the same household as Henry it can be assumed that she would have seen quite a deal of her mother then. I am not sure exactly why Loades writes that Mary was not close to her mother and this is a question that I found extremely intriguing.
One interesting fact that I never knew about Mary Tudor and learnt through reading this book was that Mary was engaged at a young age to Charles, Prince of Castile – the future Charles V Holy Roman Emperor. I never knew this about Mary and can only wonder what would have happened if international relations had held out and Mary did become the Princess of Castile. However this was not to be and a French alliance was worked out and Mary became betrothed to King Louis XII, a man thirty four years her senior!
Loades writes that before Mary departed for France she and her brother talked and Henry VIII agreed that when Louis died Mary could take a husband of her own choosing. I always thought this was a romantic story but it appears as there is some truth behind this as after Mary remarried she wrote several letters to her brother reminding him of his promise.
Loades talks about Mary’s time in France and her life as Queen of France, married to an aging man. He then moves on to speak about Louis’ death and the difficult situation it thrust Mary into. She was a Dowager Queen, possibly pregnant and now opened up once again to the international marriage market. But more than just his she was stuck in France at the mercy of the new French King, Francis I. From events that Loades writes about and the fear that Mary must have felt I can understand why she married Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Not just for the probable love she felt for him but also to save herself from a new and possibly disastrous marriage.
Yet marrying again without the King’s permission was treason and Mary and Charles had to face the consequences. They were forced to return Mary’s dowry to the King and her jewels and pay a sum of approximately £2000 a year over twelve years. Although it seems that soon all anger was swept aside and very little of the fine was actually repaid.
Once Mary married Charles Brandon Loades spends much of the rest of his book looking at the life and rise of the Duke of Suffolk. Personally I found this utterly fascinating as I just adore Charles Brandon and find him one of the most intriguing and interesting personalities of Tudor history. Yet I can see that it may be slightly frustrating for people who wish to learn more about Mary Tudor as she is spoken only briefly over the rest of the book and generally in relation to her husband or children.
Loades mentions that towards Mary’s latter life she suffered from illness and withdrew herself from court happenings, only appearing from time to time at different occasions. He also writes of Mary’s unhappiness over her brother’s urgent need for an annulment from his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Mary and the Queen had been friends for many years, apparently even before Catherine became Queen of England so I can understand how Mary would be upset at her dear friend being thrust aside for another woman – especially since it was so contrary to the Catholic religion at the time.
Loades only briefly writes about Mary’s death and suggests that it may have been from angina. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed as he had mentioned that Mary had been ill and I would have liked to learn more about her final days and the reason behind her passing. Perhaps there was not enough information or facts to accurately suggest what Mary died of but I still feel as though he did skim over this last event in Mary’s life with little detail.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Loades’ book on Mary Tudor. As I said I learnt several new facts about this interesting woman that I had not known before and find her even more intriguing! However Loades did spend a great portion of his book talking about Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and Mary’s second husband. Again I personally found this fascinating as I feel Charles Brandon is one of the most intriguing characters in Tudor history, yet others may find this a little distracting from the life of Mary Tudor. Overall a great and interesting read and I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in Tudor history or more so the life of Mary Tudor.