‘No, I won't marry that feeble, pocky old man.’ Mary Tudor stormed at her brother. For all that twenty-three-year-old Henry was the elder and had for five years been King of England, Mary was determined not to submit to his entreaties.
‘Now, sweetheart.’ Henry bent down from his great height and coaxed, ‘You know nothing about him. Louis, the French King may be no young stripling, but they say he's very rich. He'll be kind and loving, I doubt not. You will learn to be fond of him in time.’
‘I will not,’ Mary insisted. Louis was old and sickly; fifty-two to her eighteen. The thought of marrying such an old man appalled her. Henry was all sweet reasonableness now, but Mary knew that would soon change if she continued to defy him. Since becoming king, Henry had rapidly grown used to having his own way; he had not sacrificed himself on the marriage market. Instead, a few months after their father’s death, he had speedily married Catherine of Aragon, their brother Arthur’s pretty young widow, ignoring their late father’s advice. It had been a marriage made, at least, in part, for love.
Mary didn’t see why she should not also marry where she would, as rumour had it their sister Margaret was determined to do. Now nearly twenty-four, Margaret had set her heart on marrying the young and handsome Archibald Douglas, Earl of
Angus. Just fourteen, Margaret had married their father’s choice of King James IV of Scotland eleven years earlier, carrying with her the forlorn hope that this marriage alliance would bring to an end the interminable wars between England and Scotland. Forlorn hope it had proved. For Margaret had been widowed just the previous year when King James had been killed fighting Henry’s army at the battle of Flodden. Mary had no doubt that Henry’s present wish to use her for a similar, unnatural alliance, this time with France, would prove equally fruitless. Had he not been long allied with the Emperor Maximilian and King Ferdinand, the father of Queen Catherine? And although they had had a falling out after Henry had discovered Ferdinand had made a secret truce with the French, Henry would revert to the long-standing Hapsburg alliance in a second, rendering vain her sacrifice in marriage to old King Louis.
His naming of Louis as ‘The French King’ rather than the ‘King of France’ was further proof of how unnatural such an alliance would be. Henry considered himself the rightful King of France. He longed for his own Crecy and Agincourt. Only the previous year, he had led his army against the French and had captured Therouanne and Tournai.
Mary felt she had sacrificed enough for her brother’s ambitions. He had caused her to be spurned by young Prince Charles of Castile, the Emperor’s grandson and Catherine’s nephew, to whom her father had betrothed her six years earlier. Now he wanted to replace this match with one far more distasteful to her.
But between her brother’s alliance-swapping Mary had fallen in love, just like her sister. Mary knew that if she wished to copy her sister’s example she must hold out against her brother’s demands. It wouldn’t be easy. But when she thought of the unheroic figure of Louis XII, the old French invalid whom everyone laughed at, her determination to defy Henry grew stronger.
You know where my heart lies, Henry,’ she reminded him now. ‘Where it's lain these many months, whilst you've been toying with Castile and its prince.’ Mary's gaze narrowed accusingly. ‘Where's the magnificent dowry jewel they sent our father, but perched in your hat, brother?’
Henry allowed a scowl break through before he gathered in the reins of his temper and tried more sweet reason. ‘As you say, King Louis is old and sickly and has been for a good long while; any marriage couldn’t be for long. Think of the honours and riches that would be yours and you could be free in a year or less. What's a year when you're only eighteen?’
‘No, Henry, I'll not be persuaded.’ Mary smoothed her gown and tried some sweet reason of her own. ‘Surely I could be permitted to please myself, as you did.’
Henry’s scowl escaped again and he shouted at her. ‘This is foolish talk. I'm a man, Mary and a king. You’re only a princess and princesses must dispose themselves where duty, not the heart, lies.’ Henry’s gaze turned longingly towards the window, for the day was fair. Mary, too, wanted to be out in the warm sunshine instead of cooped up indoors arguing with her brother. She hoped Henry’s love of pleasure and hunting would persuade him to give over trying to browbeat her. But this hope was a vain one. Even as she thought it, Henry dragged his gaze from the window and stared so consideringly at her that Mary realised he was about to try another tactic.
‘Do this for me, this once,’ Henry pleaded, ‘and when Louis dies, as he will, and that no doubt right soon, you may choose your own husband afterwards. On this you have my word.’
Mary stared broodingly at him. Much as she adored this handsome giant of a brother, she had learned to be wary of Henry's promises and this one had a too-ready air about it. But he had given his word on it, she mused. His offer weakened her resolve. Given Henry’s determination to have his own way in all things this might be her best chance to attain her desire and marry Charles Brandon. But the repugnant necessity of first marrying the sickly Louis invaded her mind and would not be ignored.
Mary’s thoughts turned this way and that while the silence lengthened. How could she bear to let the old French king fondle her, couple with her, when all her senses craved only the touch of Charles Brandon? Yet, it was true that Louis was sickly, liable to die ere long, as Henry claimed. Perhaps his poor health would allow him nothing more intimate than a formal bedding with her for the sake of convention. If she could trust her brother's promise she might soon be able to go to Charles freely. Upset, confused, wishing to be left in peace to consider what she should do, Mary was startled from her reverie by Henry's angry voice.
‘What more do you want, Madam? Most girls do not need to be cajoled into marriage. They're told whom they are to marry and they marry them.’
Henry's handsome face was flushed with a right royal temper and Mary knew he had taken her silence for wilfulness. Now, he towered threateningly over her and for the first time, Mary felt something of that fear that her brother’s rages so easily engendered in others.
‘I've been too indulgent towards you, Madam, too easy-going. You'll come to your duty, sister, or perchance, I might have to find a teacher, one not as kindly as I.’
Mary, with her own goodly share of royal temper, now forgot Henry's promise, his kingly majesty and her own doubts and flung back defiantly at him, ‘Perhaps you should do that, brother, for I'll not wed him else.’ Turning on her heel, Mary fled from the chamber, her steps echoing up the passageway, mingling with the sobs she could no longer hold back.
Thomas Wolsey, the king's almoner, stepped from behind the curtained doorway. ‘That was not well done, Your Grace,’ he chided. ‘Your sister may be a sweet and loving girl, but she has a certain spirit. She should be gentled into agreement, for love of you and for the sake of the French alliance. Chivvying and harrying is not the way with her.’
The king scowled. But Wolsey, aware that his young king valued honest counsel, was emboldened to continue. ‘With the help of Princess Mary’s friend, Mistress Popincourt, and our obliging French hostage, the Duc de Longueville, we've advanced the match this far; perhaps we should encourage them further. Mistress Popincourt is mighty friendly with your sister. Let her use her soft words at every opportunity. 'Tis my belief, Your Grace, that between her and de Longueville, they'll sway your sister to the match if we make it worth their while. De Longueville is kin to His Majesty, King Louis. He will, I'm sure, be doubly rewarded for providing the old King with such a lovely young bride. He will also get his freedom if he helps to persuade your sister to the match.’
‘What of Jane Popincourt?’ Henry asked. ‘What reward for her?’
Wolsey gave a sly smile. ‘From what I understand, Your Grace, she has had her reward from de Longueville - a tarnished reputation. They have conducted their liaison with little discretion. For her, the gleam of gold will be carrot enough, but no further payment should be necessary. She will, I doubt not, expect to accompany your sister to France, but that is something I would counsel against, Sire. We do not wish your sister's good name to be joined with such a wanton's at the French court.’
‘No, indeed. But Mary will expect the girl to accompany her. They've been friends since childhood. If we are to get her agreement to the match it would be wise not to upset her on this matter.’
Wolsey had already given due thought to the question of Jane Popincourt and as a natural diplomat, he had quickly found the obvious solution. ‘What need is there for us to upset her, Your Grace when others can be persuaded to do it for us? Our Ambassador, Worcester, has only to whisper in King Louis' ear about Popincourt's morals and His Majesty would, I'm sure, see to the rest. Princess Mary is young and innocent; he will want her to stay that way. He admires virtuous behaviour in a woman, so we may surmise that he dislikes the opposite. I think, Sire, we can safely leave King Louis to do our refusing for us.’
‘You may be right in what you say, Thomas. It would seem Mistress Popincourt has already led my sister astray, putting romantic notions of love in her head when there should be naught but duty, making her pert and disobedient. I like the idea of Louis banning Mistress Popincourt from accompanying Mary's train. He who makes the rules must also take the blame.’ Henry's amused laugh boomed out. But the laughter was quickly replaced by grim determination, as, with his little eyes narrowed, he vowed, ‘we will try the gentle option first to get Mary's agreement to the match, but if she is still hot against it, we will need to use more ungentle methods.’
Mary raced into her bed-chamber, long, golden hair flying behind her, and threw herself, sobbing, on her bed.
Lady Guildford, her governess, came up to her, tutting at such unseemly behaviour. Mary’s ‘Mother’ Guildford, in whose charge she had been placed since the death of her own mother, was all calm reason. ‘What's to do, my lady? What's to do? Get up, child, you'll crush your gown.’
‘Whatever is the matter, Mary?’
Through her sobs, Mary heard the concerned voice of her friend, Jane Popincourt, but she didn't answer her. Eventually Mary's sobs subsided and she sat up on the bed, her lovely face a mask of misery.
‘Now, madam, will you tell me what ails thee? Have you a pain? I'll send for the physicians.’ Her Mother Guildford bustled to the door, but Mary called her back.
‘Nay, mother. This is a pain which no physician can cure.’ She raised her tear-stained face. ‘My brother wishes to wed me to old King Louis of France.’
‘Surely he's not looking for another wife?’ Lady Guildford asked. ‘He's buried two already. Besides, 'tis well known he's too old and sickly to get himself any sons.
They say he only clings to life to spite, Francis, his son-in-law.’
‘But what riches you would have, Mary,’ Jane cajoled. ‘Think what your trousseau would be for such a marriage. It would make the one for the Castilian match look like a pauper's rags. To be Queen of France - 'tis a magnificent honour for any girl.’ Jane's soft French accent turned the words into a honeyed caress.
Mary was not to be comforted. Sunk in misery, she caught the look of dislike her Mother Guildford cast towards Jane. But Lady Guildford was a stern and pious woman and thought her worldly friend Jane a bad influence. But then she had been a great friend of Mary's equally pious paternal grandmother, Margaret Beaufort. Together, with her father's sanction, they had ruled the court, over-riding Mary's meek and gentle mother, Elizabeth, whose only duty was the getting of sons. She had done her duty in that as in everything else. Indeed, she had done her duty so well that she had died, worn out from child-bearing, but a short while after giving birth yet again. The baby, Catherine, had also died.
Fresh tears filled Mary's eyes as she thought of the gentle countenance of her dead mother. Now, apart from Mary, there was only her brother, Henry and her elder sister, Margaret left out of the brood of babes her mother had borne. Her father and grandmother were also long dead.
The atmosphere at court had changed markedly after her brother Henry had replaced their father as king just before his eighteenth birthday. And although gaiety had not replaced piety – for Henry was devout – there had been so many balls and banquets that it had seemed Henry couldn't run through their father's carefully accumulated wealth quickly enough.
‘If you did marry him, my lady, it could not be for long.’ Practical as well as pious, Lady Guildford repeated Henry’s soothing words. ‘An old and sickly man and a young, lively bride is a sure recipe for an early funeral.’
Although she knew it was sinful, Mary couldn’t help but be cheered a little by this and she asked curiously, ‘Is King Louis very sickly, Mother?’
Lady Guildford nodded. ‘He’s been sickly these many years. They say he retires to his bed at six of the clock every evening. Even the king's cocks and hens tarry later than His Christian Majesty.’
‘My brother seems very keen on this marriage,’ Mary confided. ‘Surely, if he loved me, he could have found a more suitable match for me?’
‘Would that someone would arrange such a match for me,’ Jane commented. ‘You'd not find me weeping and thinking on the age of the groom.’
‘You'll be lucky to find anyone to marry you, madam,’ Lady Guildford told her tartly. ‘Your indiscretions with the Duc de Longueville are all over the court.’
Jane gave a careless shrug. ‘What care I? Mary will take me to the French court with her and find me a rich husband.’
‘There’s many a noble lady ahead of you in the queue for a rich husband,’ Lady Guildford waspishly reminded her. ‘Why should you think you would be permitted to go to the French court?’ Suspiciously, she demanded, ‘Unless you and de Longueville have been plotting while you indulged your lusts?’
‘I don't know what you can mean,’ Jane retorted.
‘Do you not? Can it be that you and de Longueville have decided that the best way for him to achieve his desire to return to France is by persuading the king to marry Mary into that country?’
Mary saw that her Mother Guildford’s shot had hit home. De Longueville had been one of the French nobles captured by her brother’s forces the previous year at Therouanne .In his eagerness to return home had he persuaded her friend Jane to betray her? Mary remained silent while she listened to the continuing exchange.
‘A marriage alliance with France would be an ideal way for a prisoner such as de Longueville to return home,’ Lady Guildford continued thoughtfully. ‘Maybe taking his mistress with him into the bargain?’
Mary found her voice and demanded, ‘Jane, can this be true?’ Mary looked reproachfully at the girl as she saw confirmation on Jane’s face.
‘For all your plotting, madam, I doubt you’ll get your way. Do you think King Henry will want his little sister’s name sullied by association with yours?’ Lady Guildford upbraided the unrepentant Jane. ‘And from what I hear of King Louis, he's turned very pious in his old age - he wouldn't countenance any immorality at his court. Or loose women either.’
Jane shot a look of venom at Lady Guildford, before she flounced from the room. Lady Guildford snorted after the departed Jane before she took a hairbrush and, after bidding Mary to come and sit on a stool set before the glass, she removed her hood and began to smooth the brush through Mary's disordered hair. Waist-length, and golden, it was one of her greatest beauties.
‘You know, my lady,’ Mother Guildford remarked, ‘perhaps there is something in what that wanton says about this French marriage.’
‘Not you, too, Mother,’ Mary protested. ‘Tis enough that my brother should harry me, without you start-’
‘Hush, child. There are worse fates in this life than marriage to an old man.’ As Lady Guildford smoothed the brush through Mary’s hair, she told her, ‘King Louis divorced his first wife for her ugliness. He couldn't abide her near him. His second, Queen Anne, he was supposed to be fond of, though she was on the plain side too. Do you not think that a young beauty like yourself would fare better than either? He would be ready to fall at your feet if it would please you, I vow, having first decked you in costly rubies and diamonds’
Despite her fears, Mary smiled to hear the devout Lady Guildford speak so. ‘It is not like you to talk in so worldly a manner, Mother.’
‘I can be as worldly as necessary when it is for the good of my little maid. I have taken the place of your mother and grandam, and must think of your best interests, as they would.’
‘And would it be in my best interests, think you, to marry a man so old, with creaky joints and gouty limbs? What of love? What of romance?’
‘Foolish notions for a princess, as I’m sure your brother told you. Both your mother and grandam married for duty, though I’m not saying love didn’t come. You should put such thoughts out of your head for I know none of high rank who were permitted to marry for love.’
Mary, about to remind her of the love-match that had formed the basis of her own Tudor dynasty, remained silent as she recollected how that love-match had ending. The marriage between Catherine, Henry V’s young French widow and her own paternal great grandsire, Owen Tudor, the Welsh gentleman of her guard, had been a secret one, ending in tragedy with Owen eventually clapped into prison and Catherine forced to retire to a convent where she had died at an early age. Such was not the future Mary wanted for herself and Charles Brandon. So, although she brooded, Mary said nothing when her Mother Guildford told her she would submit to her duty, as many before her had submitted and that her brother, for all his gay charm, would see to it that she did so.
Mary knew it was useless to speak to her Mother Guildford of love and passion. Like Henry, it was clear she thought the match an excellent one. But Lady Guildford was old. Piety was her passion. And neither she nor Henry would have to endure King Louis' shameful fumblings. Beneath her lowered lids, Mary's blue eyes darkened. But as Lady Guildford continued to pull the silver-backed brush through her silken hair, Mary's mind quietened. And as thoughts of the future were so distasteful, she cast her mind backwards, to the carefree days of her childhood at Eltham which she and Henry had shared; their sister, Margaret, long married and in Scotland and Arthur, Prince of Wales, in his own establishment. Henry, as second son, had been destined for the church until Arthur's early death altered his prospects. Mary had always found it impossible to imagine her tall, adored, handsome brother a man of the cloth. He exuded too much of the love of life and its many pleasures for that. Henry had basked in her adoration and loved her the more for it, far more than he had ever loved their elder sister, Margaret, who, once betrothal to King James of Scotland, had delighted in queening it over them.
Mary wished she could remember more of her mother; but she had died shortly before Mary’s seventh birthday and all she had was an impression of soft arms and a gentle voice crooning lullabies. Her father, a thin, solemn man with a careworn face, she could remember more clearly. He had arranged the ‘great match’ for her with the young Prince of Castile. She could still remember the betrothal ceremony held at Greenwich with the great throng of nobles and clerics. Her betrothed, or more probably his grandsire, had sent her the brilliant jewel in the form of the letter ‘K’ for Karolus, made of diamonds and pearls, which Henry now wore in his hat. She had been proud of the jewel and had loved to show it off. It had an inscription on it, which, with childish notions of love, she had taken to her heart - 'Maria had chosen the good part, which should not be taken from her.'
But it had been taken from her. The marriage had been due to be finalised this year, despite her lately wayward-leaning heart. Her father had paid her dowry of 50,000 crowns, but had cautiously demanded a pawn for the money. Mary could still remember his delight when his demand had been met and a magnificent cluster of diamonds worth twice the dowry sum had been sent. But then her father had died. And although he had left her her dowry, in the form of the diamond cluster, when he had become king Henry had taken a great fancy to the jewel and refused to part with it. Mary had been left with nothing, not even her Castilian Prince who had repudiated her after many months of wrangling and recriminations.
And now her brother proposed another, even grander, match for her. But Mary's taste for grand marriages had turned to ashes. She had only to look at those of Katherine and her sister, Margaret, to know they often brought misery and humiliation in their wake. Had not Katherine, Henry’s queen, suffered near-destitution for seven years after the death of her first husband, Arthur? Her misery only alleviated when Henry became king and married her. Owing to her faithless husband’s ‘fatal weakness for women’ Margaret’s marital humiliations had been without number. Such memories strengthened Mary’s resolve to marry Charles Brandon. She wanted only to live in peace with her beloved. She must find Charles and persuade him to declare himself. Surely Henry, who could be sentimental, would relent when he realised how great was the love of his sister and his bosom friend.
Before, caution had made Charles reluctant to claim Mary’s hand, but the time for caution was past. Unless he wanted to lose her to old Louis, he must speak out. She must find the words to persuade him to it. The alternative didn’t bear thinking about.
Causes Geraldine Evans Supports
St John's Ambulance
Royal British Legion
Unicef, Deaf Children