The roots of dislike: Anne Boleyn, Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor Brandon

Henry VIII’s sister, Mary Tudor Brandon known at the Tudor court as the French Queen, never accepted Anne Boleyn as Henry’s wife and queen. In April 1532 Mary publicly referred to Anne Boleyn using “opprobrious language … against Madame Anne”[1] and the Venetian ambassador speculated that this incident sparked a fight between the servants of Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk.

Joanna Denny stated in her book, that Mary Tudor Brandon was jealous because Henry VIII gave Anne Boleyn the precedence over his own sister. Denny wrote:

“Her vanity, and the remembered disapproval shown by Anne when she had scandalously married Brandon, turned Mary into Anne’s enemy.”[2]

Historian Eric Ives looked for the cause of enmity between Anne Boleyn and Mary Tudor Brandon in Anne’s disapproval of Mary’s marriage to Charles Brandon in 1515:

Mary Tudor Brandon

“Although we have no details, there was certainly talk among Mary’s attendants at Brandon’s undue familiarity, and one might guess that somewhere here is the root of the dislike Mary Tudor had in later life for Anne Boleyn; the pert contempt of a 14-year-old product of the Habsburg nursery, well aware of Brandon’s earlier and foolish behaviour with Margaret of Austria, might be hard to forgive and forget.” [3]

Is it possible that Anne Boleyn disapproved Mary Tudor Brandon’s scandalous behavior in France, and Mary disliked Anne on that account?

If Anne Boleyn indeed was a part of Mary Tudor’s royal entourage in France, then she certainly witnessed what happened after Mary’s husband, King Louis XII’s death. When the ageing king died, Mary Tudor became ‘la reine blanche’, as it was customary to call royal widows. The custom dictated that a royal widow, ‘the white queen’, resided in seclusion for 40 days to make sure if she was pregnant with the heir to the throne.

Fortunately for Mary, she was not pregnant with the late king’s child. When Charles Brandon, Henry VIII’s trusted friend and servant came to France to take Mary back to England, they secretly married, causing a scandal at the French court. The controversy was caused by the speed of events – Mary was still in mourning and the custom dictated that a royal widow should wait at least one year before the remarriage. Additionally, Mary married beneath her station. She could have married whomever she chose, but Charles Brandon, as the English subject, should have obtained Henry VIII’s permission. However, that is not all – Charles Brandon was not free to remarry. According to Joanna Denny:

“Given the scandals attached to his name, not to mention at least two wives at home, this was tantamount to a great insult. Margaret Mortimer was still fighting the annulment of their marriage in a ten-year battle at the Vatican and meanwhile Brandon’s betrothal to his child ward, Elizabeth Grey, was another impediment. It could be said he already had two wives, without adding the third.” [4]

Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk

If Anne Boleyn was Mary Tudor’s servant, she witnessed all this, but sadly, we do not know what she felt about her royal mistress’ remarriage. I assume, however, that the roots of Mary Tudor Brandon’s dislike of Anne Boleyn laid elsewhere. Back in 1531, the Imperial ambassador reported, that Anne Boleyn:

“because she wants to revenge herself on the duke of Suffolk, for having once brought a charge against her honour, accused, him of criminal intercourse with his own daughter. No one knows yet what will come out of all this. [5]

Anne’s relationship with the Duke of Suffolk was not an easy one and apparently, the Duke brought some information about Anne Boleyn’s romantic link with the unnamed gentleman of the court to the King’s attention back in 1530. Eustace Chapuys reported in May 1530, that

“It is now a long time since the duke of Suffolk has been at Court. Some say that he has been exiled for some time owing to his having denounced to the King a criminal connection of the Lady with a gentleman of the Court who had already once been dismissed from Court on such suspicion.” [6]

Anne Boleyn had every reason to be angry at the Duke of Suffolk, but accusing him of having an incestuous relationship with his own daughter was one step too far. Eric Ives wrote:

“It is small wonder that Anne exploited Suffolk’s colourful private life to hit back with the allegation that he had an incestuous relationship with his son’s fiance´e, and the accusation was the sweeter since the girl was the daughter of one of Katherine of Aragon’s  Spanish attendants.” (p. 141)

According to Ives, Anne accused Suffolk of having an incestuous relationship with his son’s fiancée, but that is not correct. Both Spanish Calendar of State Papers and Letters and Papers cited by Ives are clear that Anne accused Suffolk of an incestuous relationship with his own daughter – there is even a report in original French language:

“La dite dame aussi pour le mesme respect, et pour se venger de ce que le due de sufforcq lauoit autres fois voulu charger de son honneur, luy a fait mectre sus quil se mesloit et copuloit avec sa propre fille” (Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1, note 302.)

I assume that Anne’s accusation triggered Mary Tudor Brandon’s dislike towards her and this is the reason why she never accepted Anne as Henry VIII’s wife and queen.

Mary Tudor Brandon and her daughter Frances did not appear at Anne Boleyn’s coronation on June 1 1533. Historian Eric Ives wrote that Henry’s sister was near to death and her daughter hardly out of childhood” [7] and that was the reason behind their notable absence at Anne’s coronation. Frances Brandon, however, was 16 years old in 1533, so she was not “hardly out of childhood” according to the standards of the times she lived in – she married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset that same year.

Given that Mary Tudor Brandon died in the end of June 1533, merely a month after Anne’s coronation, we might assume that she was unwell and she simply could not attend the coronation. It is, however, reasonable to assume, that Mary Tudor Brandon did not want to attend the coronation of a woman who accused her husband of having an incestuous relationship with his daughter!

In 1536 Anne Boleyn herself was accused of having an incestuous relationship with her brother, George Boleyn. Given that Charles Brandon was Henry VIII’s close friend, and Anne accused him of having an incestuous relationship with his daughter, I dare say that Anne’s reckless accusation led Henry VIII to accuse her of incest with her brother.

[1] Cal. St. Pap. Venice, Vol. 4, note 761.

[2] Joanna Denny, Anne Boleyn: A new life of England’s tragic Queen, p. 153.

[3] Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 28.

[4] Joanna Denny, Anne Boleyn: A new life of England’s tragic Queen, p. 35.

[5]  Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 2, note 765.

[6]  Calendar of State Papers, Spain, Volume 4 Part 1, note 302.

[7]    Eric Ives, The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, p. 177.


  1. J.B.
    Dec 7, 2012

    What a great article! You are always discovering something new and interesting. I think that Anne’s behaviour led to her own destruction, unfortunately. Accusing Henry’s best friend of incest?! What was she thinking?

  2. HistoryGirl
    Dec 8, 2012

    I came across this statement in primary sources and couldn’t understand why many historians omit this information! Anne was indeed reckless… By the way – I’m reading your book, it’s great so far!

    • Sylwia
      Dec 9, 2012

      Thank you J.B and HistoryGirl for your comments. HistoryGirl – I’m happy to hear you like my book :-)

      It’s interesting why Anne Boleyn decided to accuse Charles Brandon of such thing as incest – it was a serious allegation. I wonder why did Eric Ives wrote that Anne’s allegations concerned Katherine Willoughby, who was Brandon’s son fiancée (in 1533 Brandon married Katherine himself). Both English and French source leave no room for mistake – ‘propre fille’ doesn’t mean ‘daughter-in-law’ but ‘own daughter’.

      • BanditQueen
        May 26, 2013

        I agree with you Silvia, the sources indicate that Anne spread rumours that Charles Brandon had committed incest with his own daughter. It doe not say which one but I have always assumed they meant Lady Frances Brandon. She was married in 1533,but there is no indication that she was in any manner assaulted by her father and had a good relationship with him that was normal father and daughter. I do not know why Eric Ives says it is Katherine Willoughby either, perhaps it was a printing error or just a mistake, but it would not be incest if he had an affair with her; not smart but not incest.

        I do not believe the accusations that Anne made. I think she was mad that Suffolk had withdrawn the support that he showed to her family at first in order to bring down Wolsey. When his wife was slighted, Brandon was deeply offended as she was high born and Anne Boleyn was an upstart being put above a royal princess and his own daughters who were also royal or half royal at least. Anne had a hot temper and took it out on anyone who got in her way. She tried to get rid of Suffolk who hated her and kept Henry away from her at times. I also believe that he was defending his wife and that he used the rumours of her having had lovers: Thomas Wyatt for one to attempt to move Henry’s heart away from Anne as he also saw her as a rival for the King’s time and affection.

        It is obvious that Henry did not believe this attack by Anne as it was a very serious sin and even a crime in Tudor England. The slightest possible truth in such a rumour could have destroyed Charles Brandon’s career, and even caused his fall and put his life in danger. What was Anne thinking making such a serious criminal allegation?

        I think that Anne hoped to get rid of a serious rival with these stories; she under-estimated his closeness to the King and his power, and that was to be her undoing for Suffolk played a part in her trial and was to be one of those who helped to bring her down.

        Lesson to be learnt: if you want to marry the King do not offend his best friend and brother in law!

        • Sylwia
          Sep 23, 2013

          I agree! I don’t believe Anne’s accusations were true; there’s no evidence that Suffolk mistreated any of his children. He and Anne were not friends; both were throwing mud at each other, competing for Henry VIII’s favour. I guess that Anne hoped that Henry would get rid of Suffolk and she would benefit from that. Henry, however, loved Suffolk – they were probably as close as brothers – and couldn’t just forget about him.

          I believe that Henry VIII accused Anne of incest because Suffolk might have given him the idea. It’s just a speculation though.

  3. maricelrosales
    Dec 15, 2012

    one of a great story for so long time ago,it is not just the ordinary

  4. Gareth Russell
    Mar 5, 2013

    Hi Sylwia,

    Great post; I enjoyed it very much. It wasn’t actually technically incest that she accused him of. Chapuys uses the word “daughter,” but he meant daughter-in-law. His son, Henry Brandon, who had been made Earl of Lincoln by the King when he was a toddler due to his royal ancestry, was betrothed to Katherine Willoughby, a daughter of one of Katherine of Aragon’s friends. Young Willoughby had been living in the Brandon household as a ward. When young Brandon died, Suffolk went on to marry Katherine Willoughby himself. Anne and the Boleyn faction then accused Suffolk of having been sexually interested in his daughter, which Katherine Willoughby was since 16th century English did not have the phrase “daughter-in-law.”

    S.J. Gunn, who wrote a biography of Suffolk, which is very good, discusses the Willoughby-Brandon allegation in depth. I think he wrote that Anne merged the personal and political in a malicious way to attack Brandon. I think his overall conclusion was that both of them had been making things up about each other and that both had taken relatively innocent relationships (Anne’s friendship with a man and Suffolk’s with his daughter-in-law) and twisted them to attack their courtly enemies. Since Suffolk went on to marry Willoughby, some of Anne’s friends very nastily suggested that he had poisoned his own son in order to get at Katherine Willoughby – which seems absurd.

    It seems to have been a deeply unpleasant environment, in which everyone was constantly oiling the rumour mill against one another.

    Hope you’re well and had a good weekend!

    • Sylwia
      Sep 23, 2013

      I do believe that Chapuys meant Suffolk’s daughter because he wrote ‘sa propre’ – ‘his own’ – before ‘fille’ (‘daughter’).

      I haven’t read S.J. Gunn’s biography of Suffolk, it’s out of print, I guess. It’s true, Anne and Suffolk were never on good terms. They both competed for Henry VIII’s favour and they probably had different interests in mind.

      Thanks for your comment!

    • HistoryGirl
      Oct 20, 2013

      “16th century English did not have the phrase “daughter-in-law.”? This is irrelevant since the original account is written in French and it clearly states that ‘his own daughter’ was involved.

  5. BanditQueen
    May 10, 2013

    Hi Recently reviewed this book online as had just finished the Kindle Version and really enjoyed it. It is not one of the modern Anne the Protestant or feminist saint. Nor is it poor Anne the innocent throw away wife or Anne the hated whore who broke up the marriage of Catherine and Henry and then failed to deliver.

    The author looks for the truth behind the rumours and the hype around Anne and shows that there is something in them. All of them had some basis and some origin. The pro Anne mob will not like this book as it does revive some of the myths such as the sixth finger but it does so looking at the source of the myth and why the Catholic Nicholas Sanders made such a remark or did he? Actually even he points to her having a sixth nail and not a sixth finger. The book is good for those who have still got some open mind and want to find the real person behind the myths. Anne had very many enemies and those that caused rumours about her had power and had known Henry for a long time. They had reason to attempt to push Anne out of Henry’s life: he was changing in their eyes and she was taking him away from them.

    As pointed out the Brandons were at the heart of the opposition of Anne as they were loyal to Henry and to Catherine of Aragon. Mary and Catherine were very close and as the sister of the King she had a very important ceremonial place at banquets and so on. This place was taken at one banquet by Anne and Charles was angry. Mary and her daughters, who were heirs to the throne felt pushed out and they were rightly angry and took it out on Anne. Well they could hardly take it out on the King who was really responsible for promoting Anne in the first place. This led to discontent in the Brandon household and when Suffolk complained Anne is meant to have made remarks about him having unnatural relations with his daughter, a crime punishable by death. It was of course unfounded and if Anne did say this, it is not a surprise that Charles and Mary reacted to it.

    Mary was known to speak her mind and she used a lot of poor language to describe Anne which naturally upset the poor woman who was going to marry the King. Anne reacted by causing her supporters at court to challenge Suffolk and it all erupted with a fight and murder in the sanctuary of Westminster of one of Suffolk’s closest retainers. Brandon then decided he was against the marriage and tried to get rid of Anne. He led a new anti Anne faction at court and he went to Henry to tell him that Anne had lovers and was sent from court for doing so. It is no wonder that he decided that he would be her enemy for the next few years.

    Anne it seemed may have made some important enemies that she could not defeat and it is a certainty that is what contributed to her downfall. Her failure to provide Henry with a son was only part of it; as the above article shows: her enemies waited in the wings and struck when they were able. The Brandons were not people to fight with or cross and had Henry listened to them before his marriage they may have succeeded in preventing her from becoming Queen. They may not have been the only root of hatred and many of the rumours and attacks on Anne but they were certainly the most powerful, and ones that went back a long way.

    A great article. Cheers

    • Sylwia
      Sep 23, 2013

      What a wonderful comment, thank you! Did you review my book on Amazon?

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    Oct 10, 2013

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