This fascinating book studies the life and times of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Henry VIII's dearest sister and his closest companion.
Watkins provides a thoughtful analysis of the circumstances surrounding the controversial royal wedding including reasons why Henry VIII was inclined to forgive the match and the implicit challenge to his authority.
The Royal Historian
Charles rose from being Henry's childhood friend to becoming the Duke of Suffolk; a consummate courtier and diplomat. Mary was always royalty.
At first married to the King of France, Mary quickly wed Charles after Louis XII's death in 1515, against her brother's wishes. Their actions could have been construed as treason yet Henry chose to spare their lives. They returned to court and despite their ongoing disagreements throughout the years, especially over the king's marriage to Anne Boleyn, the Tudor Brandons remained Henry's most loyal subjects and perhaps more importantly, his beloved family.
Anyone who has watched controversial Showtime Television Series ‘The Tudors’ will be well aware of name Charles Brandon, a brooding lothario who snagged the sister of a King. And King Henry VIII at that. We are introduced to the couple as they get together, marry without the king’s consent, suffer banishment from court, grow apart and eventually their respective deaths. But that is fiction. What Sarah-Beth Watkins succeds in accomplishing in her book The Tudor Brandons is replace the fiction with fact, exploring the real life story of the Suffolks, bringing them to life with far greater accuracy than the television series. Although things have changed in recent years, the Tudor book industry is still dominated by the larger than life figure of Henry VIII and his six wives, and so any book focusing on the lives of those in his circle rather than the king himself is always welcome in my house. The book opens with a poem from the Suffolk Garland, a novel way of opening the story and setting the context for the book. We are instantaneously made aware that this is the story of the Brandons, and not their king or various sisters-in-law.
Impressively detailed research combined with a remarkable storytelling talent on the part of author Sarah-Beth Watkins, "The Tudor Brandons: Mary And Charles - Henry Viii'S Nearest & Dearest" is a consistently compelling and exceptionally informative read from beginning to end. Midwest Book Reviews
Before Watkins delves into their relationship however, she covers the ancestry of Charles Brandon with commendable detail, particularly as he was not descended from the great nobles of the realm and therefore information is not easily accessible. Most books which mention Brandon generally only make passing references to his lowly birth and occasionally a mention of his father who fought at Bosworth for Henry Tudor. It is here that Watkins truly distinguishes her work, covering the Brandon family story from 1443 to Bosworth. Their beginnings are not as lowly as it sometimes suggested, for it is recounted that Brandon’s grandfather William was a merchant closely aligned with the Dukes of Norfolk, perhaps ironic considering Charles Brandon’s later dealings with a duke of Norfolk in the 1520s and 30s. I enjoyed learning nuggets of trivia such as Brandon’s grandfather’s indictment for assault, theft and threatening behaviour, although he did fight for the Yorkists at the Battles of Towton and Tewkesbury. By 1483 William Brandon had transferred his loyalties to Tudor and was recorded as hiding from Richard III in Colchester, with his son, and Charles’ father, on the run. It seems that criminal behaviour run in the family, for Brandon’s father, also called William, was arrested for rape in 1478 and only just escaped hanging. It would have been an ignominious early ending to a family that would become renowned half a century later.
The rest of the Brandon story is covered, with Watkins exploring the French marriage of Princess Mary, her widowhood and her return to court with Brandon. We learn about their involvement in the rise of Anne Boleyn and what became of Brandon after his wife’s early death. It is the early years however that make this book worth its while, although the fact that Watkins doesn’t get bogged down on the minutiae of King Henry VIII’s reign, well covered elsewhere, is particularly helpful. This is, after all, the story of the Brandons and the author never strays far from her subject. Sizable extracts from surviving letters provide the reader with the sources to make their own deductions, always a bonus in historical non-fiction in my eyes.
Sarah-Beth Watkins has been a freelance writer for over 20 years, writing for magazines and websites on a wide range of topics. She has written over 300 articles for the web and also tutors creative writing and journalism courses.
Growing up in Richmond, Surrey, Sarah-Beth began soaking up history from an early age. Her history books are Ireland's Suffragettes, Lady Katherine Knollys: The Unacknowledged Daughter of King Henry VIII, Margaret Tudor, Catherine of Braganza, Anne of Cleves and The Tudor Brandons.
She is also the author of Telling Life's Tales, The Writer's Internet, The Lifestyle Writer and Life Coaching for Writers, available through Compass Books. She lives in County Wexford, Ireland.
All in all, Watkins book is a worthwhile addition to any Tudor library, its light and readable without shirking on detail and provides a brilliant introduction to the lives of the Suffolks during those momentous earlier years of Henry VIII’s tumultuous reign. Nathen Amin, best-selling author
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