Book Corner: The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson

Four generations of Brandon men lived and served six English kings, the most famous being Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, best friend and brother-in-law to King Henry VIII. Yet his family had a long history tied closely to the kings of the Wars of the Roses back to Henry VI. Charles Brandon’s father, Sir William Brandon, supported Henry Tudor’s claim on the throne and became his standard bearer, dying at the Battle of Bosworth. Charles’s uncle, Sir Thomas Brandon, was Henry VII’s Master of the Horse, one of the three highest positions within the court. Charles’s grandfather had ties with Henry VI, Edward IV and Richard III. These men held important offices, made great sacrifices, walked the fine line between being loyal courtiers and traitors, and even gave their lives, all in the name of loyalty to the king they served. No more shall the Brandon name be an obscure reference in archives. It is time for them to emerge from the shadows of history.

I have been looking forward to reading The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings by Sarah Bryson ever since I heard that Sarah was working on it. I loved her first book, La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters, and was hoping this one would be as good. I was wrong!

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is even better. In telling the story of Henry VIII’s best friend, Charles Brandon, and Charles’ forebears, Sarah Bryson writes with a passion that draws the reader in from the very first pages. Sarah Bryson starts the story at the beginning, with the first known head of the Brandon family, Sir William Brandon, born in around 1425. The Brandons rose to prominence during the unsettled times of the Wars of the Roses, their fortunes turning with the tug-of-war between York and Lancaster. Sir William Brandon’s son – also William – was killed at the Battle of Bosworth while protecting the future king, Henry VII. It was this William whose son, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, took the family to its greatest heights, going so far to marry Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France and King Henry VIII’s beloved baby sister.

While the rest of the family had a no-less dramatic story, it is Charles Brandon’s which catches the attention. Brandon pursued a thriving career at court, as one of Henry VIII’s closest friends and jousting partners, while at the same time he chased after wealth and land through several scandalous marriages and betrothals. His marriage to Mary Tudor, however, was the icing on the cake; it brought him a beautiful bride, a love story that would last the ages, and the title of Duke of Suffolk as the brother-in-law to the king. It also brought him more trouble than even he could have imagined; whilst Brandon did not lose his head, he got heavily in debt trying to placate the king for his presumption in marrying the king’s sister.

Charles Brandon’s life was also tinged with family scandal, with one daughter being publicly shamed for her extramarital affair, and tragedy; two of his sons died during the duke’s lifetime, with two mores, his sons by Katherine Willoughby, dying within half an hour of each other before either reached their majority. It was Charles Brandon’s granddaughter by Mary Tudor, the tragic Lady Jane Grey, who became Queen of England for Nine Days. The Brandon story is one of the highs and lows of ambition and family; the veritable wheel of fortune that was so popular in medieval culture.

Lacking experience in military action, Henry Tudor appointed the veteran Earl of Oxford to command his troops and to lead the vanguard. Sir Gilbert Talbot took the right wing and was ordered to defend the archers and keep an eye on the battle line, while John Savage was to lead the left wing. Henry Tudor was positioned to the rear of the troops with several French mercenaries whom he had brought with him from France. Standing close to Henry was Sir William Brandon II.

Brandon had been appointed Henry’s standard-bearer. It is unclear exactly why Brandon was chosen to carry one of Henry Tudor’s standards; perhaps it was due to his unfaltering loyalty to the man he hoped would become king, or perhaps it was down to his physical toughness. We have no description of what Sir William Brandon II looked like, but his son Charles grew up to be tall, handsome, well built and extremely suited to physical pastimes such as hunting and jousting – all qualities that he may have inherited from his father.

Facing them, on King Richard’s side was John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, with Sir Robert Brackenbury leading the Yorkist vanguard. Next came a force commanded by Richard III and comprised of his bodyguard and others. In the rear was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry went up, arrows flew and the roar of Richard III’s artillery filled the air. Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s, the two being old foes. Both sides paused to reorientate themselves. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge, Henry’s French troops attacked Norfolk’s vanguard. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble. Many were killed, including the duke. Others fled while some defected to fight on Henry Tudor’s side.

Northumberland and his men did not move into the fight, and it is believed that at some point the earl decided to leave the battle without throwing any of his men into the fray. Amid this chaos, some of Richard III’s supporters begged him to flee, but he declared that he would live or die as a king. Oxford’s men had pushed forward, leaving a gap, and Richard III now saw an opportunity to get to Henry Tudor directly. He charged with his men, aiming to strike Henry down.

As he advanced, Richard III’s lance pierced through Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon II, and broke in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high [the Tudor standard] and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe.’ What was racing through Sir William’s mind in those last few moments as Richard III and his men came thundering towards him? He had given up his property, his land, his wealth, everything he had to support Henry Tudor. He had bid his wife and infant son farewell to follow Henry to England in the hopes of a better life, not just for himself or his family but for England. It was his sworn duty to protect Henry Tudor with his life, and as Richard III’s lance pierced his armour and threw him from his horse, he gave up his life to save the man he believed to be the rightful king of England. Sir William Brandon II had been loyal to his last breath.

In The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings, Sarah Bryson puts flesh on the bones of history; she brings the family, their actions, hopes and dreams, back to life. Concentrating on the human side of their story, Sarah Bryson expertly recreates the world in which the Brandon men and their families lived, from the violence, suspicion and betrayal that personified the Wars of the Roses, to the glamour, intrigue and fear of the court of Henry VIII. Neither does she shy away from the more questionable actions of the family, such as Charles Brandon’s dislike of Anne Boleyn and complicity in her downfall. Sarah Bryson examines the evidence and arguments with a neutral, if passionate, eye, giving us a wonderful portrait of Charles Brandon as a fallible human being whose ambition sometimes gets in the way of his own success. However, and above all, Charles Brandon knew where his loyalty – and his prospects – lie; with the king. He did everything to ensure that his relationship with Henry VIII, and therefore his family’s security, remained paramount in his career.

I was surprised to see that the Brandon story overlaps a little with my own research on the Warennes. Two hundred years after the demise of John de Warenne, the 7th and last Earl of Warenne and Surrey, it seems that some of the Warenne lands, notably Bromfield and Yale in Wales, found themselves in the hands of Charles Brandon – a little serendipity there.

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is a beautifully written non-fiction biography of a family that most people have heard of, but of which few know the particulars. Meticulously researched, with substantial notes and an excellent bibliography, it tells the story of the Brandon family and their rise to heights that none of them could have predicted in their wildest dreams. It is a story of war and conflict, love and feuds, with family ambition tempered by family tragedy. It is, above all, a story of service to the crown.

Sarah Bryson is a wonderful writer of non-fiction, whose love of the Brandons’ story comes through on every page, drawing the reader in; engaging, entertaining and enlightening you on every page. It is, in short, a thoroughly enjoyable investigation into the rise of one of the greatest families of the Tudor court, from the origins in later medieval England and the discord of the Wars of the Roses; from humble Suffolk landowners, to the great Duke of Suffolk who owned most of Lincolnshire. The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is definitely worth reading!

To buy the book:

The Brandon Men: In the Shadow of Kings is available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon

About the author:

Sarah Bryson is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours. She currently works with children with disabilities. She is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Tudor, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She has run a website dedicated to Tudor history for many years and has written for various websites including ‘On the Tudor Trail’ and “QueenAnneBoleyn’. She has been studying primary sources to tell the story of Mary Tudor for a decade. She is the author of books on Mary Boleyn, Charles Brandon and La Reine Blanche. She lives in Australia. –This text refers to the hardcover edition.

My books

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available from Pen & Sword,  Amazon and from Book Depository worldwide.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon and Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

©2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Tudor Society in Lincolnshire

Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s 6thh queen

In 1485 England was a small kingdom, the whole country consisted of a population of less than 3 million people, with 60,000 living in the capital, London.1 The Wars of the Roses was very much a recent trauma in the national memory. The country was a predominantly rural society, with local loyalties to local landowners – such as the Percies in Northumberland – taking precedence over national considerations. Noticeable regional differences varied in speech, diet, cloth, farming methods, the shape of church towers, and even the veneration of the saints. In Tudor Lincolnshire the Fens were yet to be drained, few roads were well-maintained and even they could be treacherous in heavy rains. Lincoln itself had been effected by the decline in the wool trade, and with a shrinking population, its size and prosperity were also decreasing.

A distinction was also rising among the aristocracy of the county and that of the royal court. In the regions, the minor nobility served the king as sheriffs, escheators and justices of the peace, or representing their county in parliament. The greater aristocracy, however, were looking for positions and influence at court; for themselves and their families. The Tudor court was a micro-world in itself. It set the standards in manners for the whole country. Service to the monarch was the primary concern. Most courtiers were related to each other, marriages were negotiated between the prominent families and service to the queen was the highest position a lady could aspire to.

At first glance you would think there was very little interaction between the nobility of Lincolnshire and the Tudor court. However, as we delve deeper we can see that, not only was there movement between the court and the county, it was not only one-sided, but fluid and travelling in both directions. When looking at this over the Tudor period – of over a hundred years of history – we notice the subtle changes in the interactions between the county and royal court, not only based on the progress of the time, but also the personalities involved and their personal experiences.

For some ladies, marrying into a member of the Lincoln aristocracy was a way of getting away from the glare of the court. For Elizabeth (Bessie) Blount, lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon, a former mistress of Henry VIII and the mother of his illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy, Earl of Richmond, it was the chance at a normal life. Born in 1500, Bessie Blount married Gilbert Tailboys in 1519, following her affair with Henry VIII and just months after the birth of the king’s son. The marriage was probably arranged by Henry as a ‘reward’ for Bessie. The couple settled on Gilbert’s family estates at Kyme in Lincolnshire. And despite being far from court, Bessie was not forgotten by the king. She continued to receive Henry’s favour, with various grants between 1522 and 1539 and New Years’ gifts throughout her life; in 1532 Henry sent her a gilt goblet with a cover weighing over 35 ounces.2

Effigy of Elizabeth Blount

Bessie and Gilbert had three children together, Elizabeth, George and Robert, before his death in 1530. Gilbert Tailboys had settled part of his Lincolnshire estates on Elizabeth, giving her an annual income of £200 a year for life. Following his death, Bessie appears to have been happy to stay in Lincolnshire instead of returning to her Shropshire roots, or an unwelcoming royal court. In 1535 she married again, to the soldier Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye, who was 12 years her junior. Although de Clinton had his family seat in Kent, they settled on Bessie’s Lincolnshire estates. They had three daughters together, Bridget, Katherine and Margaret, before Bessie died sometime before June 1541 (when Clinton remarried). While Elizabeth appears to have stayed away from court, Clinton’s marriage to the king’s former mistress brought him royal favour; he attended on the king at Calais and Boulogne in 1532 and acted as cup-bearer at the coronation of Anne Boleyn in 1533. Following the Lincolnshire Uprising of 1536, one of several rebellions which formed the Pilgrimage of Grace, Clinton was rewarded for staying loyal to the king – most Lincolnshire gentlemen had joined the rebellion – with the dissolved monastery of Sempringham.

Lincolnshire aristocratic families were often very closely related. Elizabeth and Edward’s daughter, Bridget, married Sir Robert Dymoke II, son of Sir Edward Dymoke and his wife Anne, who was the daughter of George Tailboys and the sister of Elizabeth’s first husband, Gilbert. The Dymoke family held Scrivelsby in Lincolnshire, through which tenure they were king’s champions; Sir Edward was champion at the coronations of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. Sir Edward’s sister, Margaret, was born in Scrivelsby around 1500 and served several of Henry’s queens. After first marrying Richard Vernon of Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, she then married Sir William Coffin, Anne Boleyn’s Master of Horse. Margaret had been one of Queen Katherine of Aragon’s gentlewomen at the Field of Cloth of Gold and would also serve Henry VIII’s two subsequent queens.

Margaret, however, was not a favourite of Henry’s second queen, Anne Boleyn. She was one of the women who attended the disgraced queen in the Tower of London. Anne was recorded as complaining to her jailer, Sir William Kingston, “I think much unkindness in the king to put such about me as I never loved.”3 Margaret Dymoke, Lady Coffin slept on a pallet bed in the Queen’s bedchamber during her time in the Tower. In her desperation the queen confided in Margaret, unaware that she was acting as a spy for the state. Master Kingston reported to Thomas Cromwell that “I have everything told me by Mistress Coffin that she thinks meet for me to know.” 4 There is also a possibility that Margaret was not only a spy for Kingston, but also for the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, who wrote “The lady who had charge of her [Anne] has sent to tell me in great secrecy that the concubine, before and after receiving the sacrament, affirmed to her, on the damnations of her soul, that she had never been unfaithful to the king.”5

Anne Boleyn in the Tower by Edouard Cibot

Following Anne’s execution, Margaret joined the household of Queen Jane Seymour. Lady Coffin was in high favour in Jane Seymour’s establishment and acted as intermediary for several families who had hopes of placing a daughter in the royal household. Margaret remained with the queen until the end, and was among the mourners who attended the late queen’s body as it lay in state, keeping vigil and attending masses for her soul. Margaret was in the funeral procession that accompanied Jane’s body to her final resting place in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. She rode in the third carriage and bore Princess Mary’s train at the requiem mass; Mary was chief mourner and rode on a horse trapped with black velvet.6

There were several ladies associated with the Tudor court, who married into Lincolnshire society. The most famous must surely be one of Henry VIII’s own queens. Henry’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr was the daughter of Sir Thomas Parr and his wife, Maud Green Parr, a lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon. When Sir Thomas died while Katherine was still a child, Maud took it on herself to arrange her daughter’s future. After a failed proposal to marry Katherine to the son of Lord Dacre, In 1529 Maud turned to another of her late husband’s relatives and arranged for Katherine to marry Edward Burgh the eldest son of Sir Thomas Burgh, Baron Burgh of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. Sir Thomas’s father, Sir Edward, had been declared a lunatic and Sir Thomas, himself, was renowned for his violent outbursts and wild rages (possibly due to an inherited mental instability in the family) and had a tyrannical control over his family. The first two years of the marriage, spent at Sir Thomas’s new Hall at Gainsborough (now known as the Old Hall), was an unhappy time for Katherine. She wrote, regularly, to her mother of her unhappiness and it seems the situation was only resolved following a visit by Maud Parr, who persuaded Sir Thomas to allow Edward and Katherine to move to their own, smaller, house at Kirton-in-Lindsey, a few miles outside of Gainsborough.

We do not know whether Edward was a sickly individual, or whether or not he succumbed to a sudden illness, but their happiness was short-lived, as he died in the spring of 1533, after only 4 years of marriage. Having no children, Katherine was left with little from the marriage, and, with her mother having died the previous year, she was virtually alone in the world; possibly as a remedy to her isolation, Katherine married her second husband, Lord Latimer, in the same year as she lost her first. There is no record that Katherine served any of henry VIII’s queens. Her first appearance at court seems to be in 1542, when she became a lady-in-waiting in Mary Tudor’s household, before she caught the King’s eye. She does not seem to have forgotten her time with the Burgh family, however, and when she became queen Katherine paid a pension from her own purse to her former sister-in-law, Elizabeth Owen, widow of her husband’s younger brother, Thomas. Poor Elizabeth had been accused of adultery by her domineering father-in-law, Sir Thomas, and her children were declared illegitimate by Act of Parliament in 1542.

Lord Burgh’s third surviving son, William, born in the early 1520s, would eventually succeed his father to the barony. He married Katherine Fiennes de Clinton, daughter of Edward Fiennes de Clinton – the future Earl of Lincoln – and Bessie Blount, demonstrating the interlinking relationships between the various great Lincolnshire families.

Where Katherine Parr was linked to Lincolnshire before joining the royal court, others saw Lincolnshire as a place of retirement. Maria de Salinas was a lady-in-waiting and close friend to Katherine of Aragon; indeed, it seems that she came to England with the Spanish princess in 1501 for the marriage to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Katherine and Maria were very close and by 1514 Caroz de Villagarut, ambassador of Katherine’s father, Ferdinand of Aragon, was complaining of Maria’s influence over the queen after she tried to persuade Katherine not to cooperate with the ambassador and encouraged the Queen to favour her English subjects.7 In June 1516 Maria married the largest landowner in Lincolnshire, William Willoughby, 11th Baron Willoughby de Eresby. The King and Queen paid for the wedding, which took place at Greenwich, and gave them a wedding gift of Grimsthorpe Castle, in Lincolnshire. The Queen even provided Maria with a dowry of 1100 marks.

Grimsthorpe Castle, Lincolnshire

Maria remained at court for some years after her wedding, and attended Katherine at the Field of Cloth of Gold in 1520. Henry VIII was godfather to Maria and William’s oldest son, Henry, who died in infancy. Another son, Francis, also died young and their daughter Katherine, born in 1519, would be the only surviving child of the marriage. Lord Willoughby died in 1526, and for several years afterwards Maria was embroiled in a legal dispute with her brother-in-law, Sir Christopher Willoughby, over the inheritance of the Willoughby lands. It seems William had settled some lands on Maria which were entailed to Sir Christopher. The dispute went to the Star Chamber and caused Sir Thomas More, the king’s chancellor and a prominent lawyer, to make an initial redistribution of some of the disputed lands.

This must have been a hard fight for a newly-widowed Maria, and the dispute threatened the stability of Lincolnshire itself, given the extensive lands involved. However, Maria attracted a powerful ally in Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and brother-in-law of the King, who called on the assistance of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Henry’s first minister at the time, in the hope of resolving the situation. Suffolk had managed to obtain the wardship of Katherine Willoughby in 1529, intending her to marry his eldest son and heir Henry, Earl of Lincoln, and so had a vested interest in a favourable settlement for Maria. This interest became even greater following the death of Mary Tudor, Suffolk’s wife and Henry VIII’s sister, in September 1533, when only three months later the fifty-year-old Duke of Suffolk married fourteen-year-old Katherine, himself. Although Suffolk pursued the legal case with more vigour after the wedding, a final settlement was not reached until the reign of Elizabeth I. Suffolk eventually became the greatest landowner in Lincolnshire and, despite the age difference, the marriage does appear to have been successful. Katherine served at court, in the household of Henry VIII’s 6th and last queen, Katherine Parr. She was widowed in 1545 and lost her two sons – and heirs – by the Duke, Henry and Charles, to the sweating sickness, within hours of each other in 1551.

As duchess of Suffolk, Katherine was a stalwart of the Protestant learning and used her position to introduce Protestant clergy to Lincolnshire, even inviting Hugh Latimer to preach at Grimsthorpe Castle. It was she and Sir William Cecil who persuaded Katherine Parr to publish her book, The Lamentacion of a Sinner in 1547, demonstrating her continuing links with the court despite her first husband’s death.

Following the death of her sons by Suffolk, Katherine no longer had a financial interest in the Suffolk estates, which went to the heirs of Mary Tudor, Henry VIII’s sister. However, Katherine still had her own Willoughby estates to look after and it was in order to safeguard these that Katherine married her gentleman usher, Richard Bertie. The couple had a difficult time navigating the religious tensions of the age and even went into exile on the Continent during the reign of the Catholic Queen, Mary I. Following their return to England, on Elizabeth’s accession, Katherine resumed her position in Tudor society; her relations with the court, however, were strained by her tendency towards Puritan learning. She used her position in Lincolnshire and extensive patronage to help disseminate the Puritan teachings. The records of Katherine’s Lincolnshire household show that she employed Miles Coverdale – a prominent critic of the Elizabethan church – as tutor to her two children by Bertie; Susan and Peregrine.8 Unfortunately, Katherine died after a long illness, on 19th September 1580 and was buried in her native Lincolnshire, in Spilsby Church.

Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk by Hans Holbein the Younger

Katherine’s mother, Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby, had died in 1539 and had stayed loyal to her mistress, Katherine of Aragon, throughout her married life and widowhood. Indeed, when Katherine was reported to be dying at Kimbolton Castle, Maria applied for a license to visit her ailing mistress, but was refused by Sir Thomas Cromwell, the King’s chief minister at the time. Despite this setback, Maria set out from London to visit Katherine at the beginning of January 1536 and contrived to get herself admitted by Sir Edmund Bedingfield by claiming a fall from her horse meant she could travel no further. According to Sarah Morris and Nathalie Grueninger, Katherine and Maria spent hours talking in their native Castilian; the former queen died in Maria’s arms on 7th January 1536. Katherine of Aragon was buried in Peterborough Cathedral on 29th January, with Maria and her daughter, Katherine, attending the funeral.9

The composition of the Tudor court changed under Elizabeth I. The new queen valued loyalty and most positions went to members of her extended family; the Howards and Careys among them. Throughout the forty-five years of Elizabeth’s reign, only twenty-eight women were appointed to salaried positions in the privy Chamber. Positions in the Bedchamber, Privy Chamber and Presence Chamber were highly sought after and mainly given to ladies from the same families, who were assigned positions based on their social status. The senior positions were those of the Chief and Second Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber, these were followed by the Ladies of the Bedchamber, the Ladies of the Privy Chamber and the Ladies of the Presence Chamber, in descending order. Unmarried young ladies were given positions as maids of honour and were supervised by the Mother of the Maids.

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, a great granddaughter of Elizabeth Woodville, had entered Princess Elizabeth’s household in 1539, possibly as a maid of honour but ostensibly to be raised alongside her cousin. She was only nine or ten years old at the time. Elizabeth Fitzgerald had been born in Ireland in about 1528 and was the second daughter of Gerald Fitzgerald, 9th Earl of Kildare. Her mother was Lady Elizabeth Grey, daughter of Sir Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset and only surviving son of Elizabeth Woodville, Edward IV’s queen. Elizabeth Fitzgerald must have been quite a beauty as Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, wrote a sonnet, From Tuscan cam my ladies worthi race in praise of her as his Fair Geraldine; Bewty of kind, her vertues from above; Happy ys he that may obtaine her love.10

In 1542 Elizabeth married her first husband, Sir Anthony Browne, but he died in 1548 and their two sons died in infancy. In 1552 she married again, this time to Edward Fiennes de Clinton, 9th Baron Clinton and Saye; the same Baron Clinton who had married Bessie Blount in 1535. Clinton had remarried in 1541, after Bessie’s death, to Ursula, daughter of William, 7th Baron Stourton; Ursula was a niece of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland during the reign of Edward VI. She died in 1551 and Edward married Elizabeth the following year. Sir Edward Fiennes de Clinton had led a very successful military career and in May 1550 he had been appointed a privy councillor and lord high admiral of England. He was made a knight of the garter in April 1551 and, later in the same year, was given the former Howard property of Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire, which he made his principal residence. Clinton was an adept political survivor; after being involved in the plot to put Jane Grey on the throne he was imprisoned for a short while, but managed to win Queen Mary’s trust and was active in her military campaigns. With the accession of Elizabeth I, Clinton was appointed a privy councillor and his wife, Elizabeth Fiennes de Clinton, was appointed Gentlewoman of the Privy Chamber ‘without wages’ (this indicated her high-born status, as salaried members were drawn from the lower ranks of the nobility).

Elizabeth Fitzgerald, painted by Steven van der Meulen

In 1572 Baron Clinton was rewarded for his service with the earldom of Lincoln. Elizabeth had practically been raised with the new queen since she was ten years old and was able to use her influence at court to benefit her family, affecting the restoration of the Fitzgeralds to their blood and lineage, which they had lost when Elizabeth was a child. Suits made to Elizabeth as Countess of Lincoln demonstrate that she was believed to have influence with the queen, who she served until 1585. Edward trusted his wife considerably, and made her executor of his will, bequeathing Semprigham to Elizabeth, and Tattershall to his eldest son, Henry (his son by Ursula). Edward, Earl of Lincoln, died in 1585 and just before his father’s death, his son Henry had written to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, in an attempt to overturn his father’s will, accusing Elizabeth of attempting to deprive him of his inheritance, and of maligning him to the queen. However, Henry’s tactic failed and the will was confirmed in 1587. Elizabeth herself appears to have withdrawn from court following her husband’s death and when she died in March 1589 was laid to rest beside her husband in the Lincoln Chapel of St George’s Chapel Windsor.

The court and society were both in a state of change during Elizabeth’s reign. Local Lincolnshire lords, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were increasingly absentee landlords, preferring to stay in their southern properties closer to the royal court and leaving their estates to run themselves. The Burghs increasingly resided mainly at their residence in Surrey, Sterborough Castle. Lord Thomas de Burgh fell heavily into debt in service of the Queen and was in failing health when his wife, Lady Frances begged Queen Elizabeth that he be relieved of his position as Governor of the Brill in the Netherlands. Sir Robert Sydney is quoted as saying in November 1595 “God send lady… better success than my lady Borow [Burgh], whose desire was absolutely denied and the Queen took it very ill that in such time he could desire to be from this government.”11 When Lord Burgh died in 1597 he asked the Queen, in his will, to protect his wife and family, who were now living in poverty due to his having spent his patrimony in Elizabeth’s service. The Queen, however, devised a a way of avoiding the duty imposed upon her, by requesting that whoever was appointed to Lord Burgh’s now vacant post, as Governor of Brill, should give £500 a year to his widow for her maintenance.

Religious divisions were becoming more pronounced as Queen Elizabeth’s reign advanced, not only between Catholicism and Protestantism, but within Protestantism itself. With the encouragement of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, ministers with Puritan leanings had been appointed to various churches throughout Lincolnshire. Several of the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, would come from the region, including William Brewster and William Bradford. Families with strong ties to service at the Tudor court, such as the Burghs of Gainsborough, were moving south, closer to London and the person of the Queen, while other families were moving north. The Old Hall at Gainsborough was sold to William Hickman, a wealthy merchant who was the grandson of Sir William Locke, Henry VIII’s Royal Mercer, and the son of Lady Rose Hickman.

According to Lady Rose her father, Sir William Locke, a merchant with strong links to Antwerp, had smuggled ‘herectic’ Protestant writings from abroad for Queen Anne Boleyn herself. Lady Rose had long been familiar with the new learning and wrote in 1610: “My mother in the dayes of King Henry the 8th came to some light of the gospel by means of some English books sent privately to her by my father’s factor from beyond the sea: where upon she used to call me with my 2 sisters into her chamber to read to us out of these same good books very privately for feare of troble because these good books were then accepted hereticall…”12

Gainsborough Old Hall, home to the Burghs and then the Hickmans

The Hickman family had become known for their Puritan leanings; Puritans were those who wanted the ‘purer’ church as envisaged in the reign of Edward VI, rather than the compromise established by Elizabeth I. In 1593, in order to curb the activities of such religious dissidents, Elizabeth I’s government had approved the ‘Act Against Puritans’, whereby it became illegal to become a Puritan or encourage others to that tendency.  As a result, official appointments at court, for those known to have Puritan connections, suddenly dried up. Lady Rose’s son Walter, deeply entrenched in court circles and an old hand at brokering appointments for friends and family (usually with a financial incentive) discovered the implications of the new stance in 1594. The Cecil Papers show that Walter was refused when he applied for the position of Receiver of the Court of Wards for his brother William, despite offering an inducement of £1,000.13 The increasing hostility towards Puritans, and the possibility of escalating religious persecution, may well have persuaded William to move his family north; away from the prying eyes of the authorities and into Lincolnshire, a county with strong Puritan leanings thanks to the efforts of Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk.

In the early years of the Tudor dynasty, the counties of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire were still greatly associated with the old Yorkist dynasty. Henry VII made a progress through the counties only a year after his accession, keeping Easter 1486 at Lincoln and making a great show of regal pomp. His son, Henry VIII, also saw the need to show himself to his northern subjects. Following the defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace and its forebear, the Lincolnshire Rising, Henry made a great progress through Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. He spent several days at Gainsborough Old Hall in August 1541, holding meetings of the Privy Council there on the 14th, 15th and 16th of August.  At Lincoln Henry and his young queen, Katherine Howard, made a great show of royal majesty; “The King and Queen came riding into their tent, which was pitched at the furthest end of the liberty of Lincoln, and there shifted their apparel, from green and crimson velvet respectively, to cloth of gold and silver…”14

Henry VIII’s children, however, did not venture north. Although Elizabeth I had intended to visit York at various points in her reign, she stayed within the Home Counties, venturing no further north than East Anglia. This may well have contributed to the changing nature of Tudor Society in Lincolnshire, where the influence from court circles appears to have waned as the years progressed.  Lincolnshire towns, such as Gainsborough and Boston, provided such families with the opportunities of, to some extent, religious freedom while also allowing them to continue with their merchant activities, due to navigable rivers that would take goods to the East coast ports and on to the Continent. Whereas those who saw the government as a hindrance to their personal liberties ventured away further from the centre of power; those who saw their futures in the person of the monarch, and whose duties at the Tudor Court were taking up more and more of their time, saw the need to move closer to London and the centre of power,



1 Neville Williams, The Life and Times of Henry VII; 2 Beverley A Murphy, Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son; 3 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII, Volume 10, note 797; 4 Ibid; 5 Ibid; 6 Letters and Papers Volume 12, Part 2, note 1600; 7 Retha M. Warnicke,; 8 Susan Wabuda,; 9 Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger, In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII; 10 H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964); 11 Quoted by Sue Allan in A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall; 12 Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman; 13 Quoted by Sue Allan in A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall; 14 Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII, 1541


Courtesy of Wikipedia except Grimsthorpe Castle and Gainsborough Old Hall, which are ©Sharon Bennett Connolly


John Leland Leland’s Itinerary in England and Wales 1535-43 edited by L Toulmin Smith (1906-10); Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII 1509-47 edited by JS Brewer, James Gairdner and RH Brodie, HMSO London 1862-1932; Privy Purse Expenses of King Henry VIII from November MDXIX to December MDXXXII edited by Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas 1827; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman edited by Maria Dowling and Joy Shakespeare; Bulletin of the Institute of Historical Research, 1980 & 1982;; A Guide to Gainsborough Old Hall by Sue Allan; The Life and Times of Henry VII by Neville Williams; Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son by Beverley A Murphy; In the Footsteps of the Six Wives of Henry VIII by Sarah Morris and Natalie Grueninger; H. Howard [earl of Surrey], Poems, ed. E. Jones (1964); The Earlier Tudors by J.D. Mackie; Religion and politics in mid-Tudor England through the eyes of an English Protestant Woman: the Recollections of Rose Hickman;; Elizabeth’s Women by Tracy Borman; England Under the Tudors by Arthur D Innes; Henry VIII: King and Court by Alison Weir; In Bed with the Tudors by Amy Licence; Ladies-in-Waiting: Women who Served at the Tudor Court by Victoria Sylvia Evans; The Six Wives and Many Mistresses of Henry VIII: The Women’s Stories by Amy Licence.


My Books

Signed, dedicated copies of all my books are available, please get in touch by completing the contact me form.

Defenders of the Norman Crown: The Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey tells the fascinating story of the Warenne dynasty, of the successes and failures of one of the most powerful families in England, from its origins in Normandy, through the Conquest, Magna Carta, the wars and marriages that led to its ultimate demise in the reign of Edward III. Defenders of the Norman Crown: Rise and Fall of the Warenne Earls of Surrey is now available from Pen & Sword BooksAmazon in the UK and US, and Book Depository.

1 family. 8 earls. 300 years of English history!

Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Ladies of Magna Carta: Women of Influence in Thirteenth Century England looks into the relationships of the various noble families of the 13th century, and how they were affected by the Barons’ Wars, Magna Carta and its aftermath; the bonds that were formed and those that were broken. It is now available in paperback and hardback from Pen & Sword, and from Book Depository worldwide.

Heroines of the Medieval World tells the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich. Available now from Amberley Publishing and Amazon, and Book Depository.

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon,  Amberley Publishing, and Book Depository.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter and Instagram.

© 2021 Sharon Bennett Connolly

Guest Post by Tony Riches – Charles Brandon’s Marriage to Catherine Willoughby

Today it is my pleasure to welcome author Tony Riches to the blog, with an article about the protagonist of his most recent novel, Charles Brandon.

Charles Brandon’s Marriage to Catherine Willoughby

 Charles Brandon, Tudor knight and best friend of King Henry VIII, is best known for secretly marrying Mary Tudor, the king’s sister – without Henry’s permission! Less well known is his last marriage, to Lady Catherine Willoughby.

Thumbnail of Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Catherine was the only surviving daughter of Baron William Willoughby of Eresby, by his second wife Maria De Salinas, who was a Spanish Maid of Honour who came to England with Catherine of Aragon. Maria seems to have been the unfortunate queen’s closest companion and it is thought she named her daughter after Queen Catherine.

Records of the time suggest that Catherine Willoughby was an attractive, well-educated girl, who became a baroness in her own right after her father died in 1526. Charles Brandon would have been well aware that she was also the heiress to a substantial income of fifteen-thousand ducats a year.

It was little surprise to anyone when Brandon persuaded King Henry to let him buy the wardship of young Catherine Willoughby in 1528, (even though it seems he was, as usual, heavily in debt). Brandon’s plan was to secure her as a wife for his son, the eleven-year-old Henry, Earl of Lincoln (named after the king), once he came of age.

Catherine moved in to Brandon’s manor house at Westhorpe in the Suffolk countryside. She seems to have been happy to have Brandon’s daughters, Frances and Eleanor, as well as young Henry, for company, with Charles and Mary acting as her foster parents.

Mary Tudor was a friend and neighbour of Catherine’s mother, Maria, who probably saw this arrangement as likely to provide the most secure future for her daughter. Mary had been suffering from a long illness and died at Westhorpe (possibly of Tuberculosis) on the 25 June 1533.

Brandon, who was then aged forty-eight, decided it would be best if he married young Catherine (then aged fourteen) himself, and did so barely two months after Mary’s death. We must take care, of course, not to judge Charles Brandon by modern standards, although I’m sure Brandon enjoyed a few knowing winks from King Henry and his courtiers.

Importantly, it seems Catherine was happy to become Duchess of Suffolk, particularly when Brandon’s son, Henry, died the following year. Brandon’s marriage to Catherine secured him the rights to her lands in many parts of Lincolnshire, and by 1538 he became the greatest landowner in the county.

You can find out more about Charles Brandon and Catherine Willoughby in my new novel, Brandon – Tudor Knight, and I recommend a wonderful book by Evelyn Read, Catherine, Duchess of Suffolk, which became one of my main sources. After Brandon’s death, there was talk that the king might marry Catherine himself – but what actually became of her is proof that the truth really is stranger than fiction.

Tony Riches


About the author:

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony was a finalist in the 2017 Amazon Storyteller Awards with his book on Henry VII and is listed in the 2018 Top 200 list of the Most Influential Authors.

For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website and his popular blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches


Out Now!

Tracing the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest is available from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing and Book Depository. It is scheduled for release in the US on 1 March 2019 and is available for pre-order from Amazon US.


Also by Sharon Bennett Connolly:

Telling the stories of some of the most incredible women from Medieval history, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK, in the US from Amazon US  and worldwide from Book Depository. It will be released in paperback in the UK from 15 March 2019 and is available for pre-order on Amazon.


You can be the first to read new articles by clicking the ‘Follow’ button, liking our Facebook page or joining me on Twitter.


©2018 Sharon Bennett Connolly and Tony Riches