Mary Tudor, Reluctant Queen

To say Mary Tudor, King Henry VIII’s younger sister, was reluctant to become Queen of France, is an understatement. When her brother told her she was to marry King Louis XII, she was furious.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

So, who was Mary Tudor? Why was she upset about marrying the King of France?

Early Life: Favoured Daughter

Mary Tudor, Reluctant Queen of France

Mary grew up in Eltham Palace with her brothers and sisters, They attended court only on the major festivals such as Christmas and Easter. Mary was a beautiful child who grew into a beautiful woman. Her classic English peaches and cream colouring, long strawberry-blond hair and big blue eyes made men swoon. As her father’s favourite, she grew up well-educated, headstrong, and spoiled. 

In 1507, to seal the Imperial-English alliance, she and to Charles, Duke of Burgundy and Prince of Castile betrothed, although they never met. 30 July 1514, on her brother’s orders, Princess Mary renounced her six-year betrothal to him. 

Basic Facts:

Birth: b. March 18, 1496, Richmond Palace

Father: Henry VII Tudor, King of England 1457-1509

Mother: Elizabeth, of York 1466-1503


  1. Arthur, Prince of Wales, 1486-1502
  2. Henry VIII Tudor, King of England,1491-1547
  3. Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland, 1489-
  4. Elizabeth  1492-1495,
  5. Edmund  1499-1500
  6. Katherine 1503-1503

Marriage 1: Louise d’Orléans, King of France


  1. Claude, 1499-1524
  2. Renée. 1510-1573

Marriage 2: Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk 1515-1533


  1. Henry  1516-1522
  2. Frances 1517-1559
  3. Eleanor 1519-1547
  4. Henry 1523-1534

Death: 25 June 1533 

Mary Tudor: Reluctant Queen of France 

To consolidate his alliance with France, Henry required Mary to marry its ailing 52-year-old King Louis. Two weeks after she repudiated Prince Charles she obeyed. On 13 August, she married the king by proxy in the Great Hall at Greenwich Palace. The Duc de Longueville, the king’s first cousin, who had been imprisoned in England, was freed and acted as the proxy for the occasion. To sweeten her pleasure in the marriage, King Louis sent magnificent gifts. They included the fabulous marriage apparel along with 200,000 crowns worth of jewellery, plate, devices, and other luxuries. The jewels included the famous Mirror of Naples jewel, a piece comprising an enormous diamond from which hung a pear-shaped pearl, the size of a pigeon’s egg. This extraordinary item was to become a cause of friction between England and France before the year was out. 

A month later on 14 September Louis, too, married by proxy in Paris. By this time Mary, known as Marie in France, should have set out from Dover for France. Terrible storms, symbolic of her inward state, prevented her departure for several weeks. Before leaving, she wrung a promise from Henry VIII that he would permit her to marry her choice of husband next time.

Queen Mary of France Enchants King Louis

King Louis XII

Mary met Louis near Abbeville in northeastern France, where the court had gone to meet her on 8 October 1514.  Duchess Anne de Beaujeu, the grande dame of France, Dauphin François Duke de Valois, the Princesses Claude

and Renée came to welcome her. Marie enchanted the feeble King Louis, who suffered from gout, and poor health, from the moment they met. They married the next day, 9 October, the Feast of St. Denis, patron saint of France.

From the first, King Louis wished to honour the English alliance. After his last disastrous Italian campaign, France had suffered several invasions. His falling out with the Papacy made matters worse. This alliance rescued France from the risk of itotal defeat.

His next demonstration of his high regard for the alliance was the coronation of Mary as Queen of France. It was rare to crown French queen consorts. If coronations occurred, they were normally given after the queen bore the dauphin that France required. However, Louis arranged Mary’s coronation for 5 November. He followed it with another major honour, her Grand Entrée into Paris, the next day.

The Reluctant Queen Rules in Paris

A great tournament scheduled for two weeks in November in Paris formed the next grand celebration of the marriage and alliance. Duke François, as the master of the event, organized a magnificent show. It took place in the streets immediately outside the royal palace, the Hôtel de Tournelles. The greatest jousters in Europe flocked to win prestige and valuable prizes. Duke Charles Brandon of Suffolk was among them. Queen Mary was its queen. She honoured each winner and distributed the magnificent prizes. Throughout the events, King Louis and the court came to the stands to cheer the events despite the king’s growing weakness.   

Queen Mary at Court

By the time the English contingent left in early December, King Louis was exhausted and kept to his bed most days. Queen Mary behaved beautifully, keeping him company at his bedside. They played cards and board games; she read to him or played the lute and sang. A letter exists from King Louis to King Henry praising her exemplary behaviour. King Louis says he loves her more each day. She did not have to play her role long. King Louis died on the night of December 31 to 1 January 1515.

 Marie, La Reine Blanche

According to French custom, Marie went immediately to the Hôtel de Cluny, the abode of widowed queens. Dressed completely in white, the French custom, she lived sequestered for the first forty days. During this time, her ladies allowed no man to enter her presence. This custom had a purpose. If the queen were pregnant during this period, its father was legally the late king, and a child of France. 

In Mary’s case, if the child were a boy, he would become king at the moment of his birth. Because of this huge political consequence, everyone was immensely curious about her ‘condition.’ Mary, the only person who knew the truth, had a different priority. She intended to make sure her brother kept his promise to let her choose her next marriage partner. She didn’t trust him to do so.

Mary Takes Action

Mary was young, but she knew what she wanted—and what she didn’t want. She did not intend to marry again for her brother’s political advantage. She’d watched as her sister-in-law became a pawn after Arthur died. And then there was her sister in Scotland. Margaret was an object lesson in how it could all go wrong. Mary wanted to return to England and stay there. She may have loved Charles Brandon. And, Brandon had been Henry’s favourite for years, so she knew him well. It may be that he was a firm friend.

She soon informed François, now king, and his mother that she was not with child. Therefore, François held his coronation on 23 January, well before the end of the 40-day period. She wrote to her brother, reminding him of his promise. To rile him, she hinted that King François was making improper advances, and planned to marry her to one of his subjects. And she menaced that if Henry insisted on marrying her against her will, she would enter a convent. As a bribe, she sent him the great Mirror of Naples, telling no one in France. Thus Mary opened her negotiations.

After hearing about Louis’s death, Henry sent three trusted men, including Charles Brandon, to bring Mary’s dowry—and Mary—home. Henry also extracted a solemn promise from Brandon that he would not marry Mary. Obviously, he was aware of the possibility.

Queen Mary Becomes a Duchess

Mary Tudor & Charles Brandon

When Brandon arrived, Mary, indulging in a bout of hysteria, begged him to marry her. When he demurred because of his promise to Henry, she became steely. She told him, basically, it’s now or never, because if you think I will beg you, you’ve got it wrong. Brandon buckled. They married secretly in the Hôtel de Cluny between 30 January 30 and 3 February.

Mary then informed François and Brandon wrote to Henry and Cardinal Wolsey. He threw himself upon Henry’s mercy, blaming Mary for insisting upon the marriage. But he also added that they ‘had lain together so heartily’ that she might be with child. In other words, they had consummated the marriage and her reputation would be in shreds if the king repudiated it. Both continued to bombard Wolsey and Henry with pleas for his forgiveness and clemency. They also promised a huge indemnity for disobeying him knowing his insatiable hunger for money. 

Queen Mary was reluctant to return the valuable gifts King Louis had showered upon her. But the French insisted they belonged to the Queen of France not her. So, under cover of diplomatic immunity Mary and her English advisors whisked the moveables among Louis’s enormous gifts out of France,. Meanwhile negotiators argued fiercely over the value of her French dower. French outrage, when they discovered she had sent the Mirror of Naples, part of the French crown jewels, to England complicated the situation. Mary avoided created a diplomatic incident only because François valued the English alliance so much.

Queen Mary Wasn’t Reluctant To Leave France

With the ascension of François, French policy changed. His eyes fixed on Milan, he wanted to secure alliances with his neighbours. He needed to do so before departing to avoid attacks from behind. Thus, François asked Brandon to negotiate for the return of Tournai to France from England as part of the settlement of Mary’s dowry claims. This put Brandon into an impossible bind, having promised both sides to do them favours. He chose to disappoint France, as was wise, and he returned to Paris a failure. However, it led to the loss of François’s trust.  

The French would be outraged if Dowager Queen Mary became pregnant while believed to be unmarried. Duchess Louise d’Angoulême realized it was urgent she and Brandon marry publicly even though King Louis had died only three months earlier. Therefore, on 31 March 1515, they married in a small public ceremony in Paris. But the Duchess condemned Mary’s choice, calling him ‘a man of low degree.’

Mary & Charles Return to England

Queen Mary was reluctant to remain longer in France. Charles, too, wanted to return to England. However, François had promised the King of Scots that he would delay until England had signed an accord with Scotland. Therefore, he kept postponing the pass to permit the couple and their entourage to travel through France until April. It was not until mid April that the couple crossed from French Montreuil to English Calais. Here Mary wrote a last letter to her brother before trasetting sail. She took all the blame for the Brandon’s marriage. Once again, she reminded Henry of his promise that she could choose herself if she pleased him by marrying Louis. She and Brendon promised to pay Henry the vast sum of £24,000, at £1000 per year. Henry accepted her apology, and the couple remarried a third time in Greenwich on 13 May 1515.

Here I leave them. Now 19, Mary had married two men within one year. She made her wish to return to England a reality. There, she bore the title Dowager Queen of France for the rest of her brief life. She maintained cordial relations with the Duchess d’Angoulême who respected forceful women and useful contacts. Her French dowry was always in arrears; a bone of contention between France and England.

Personality of Mary Tudor, the Reluctant Queen

Mary was one of the most beautiful women of her time. She was also charming, gifted, graceful, well-spoken and strong-willed. King Louis fell for her the moment they met. Duke François infuriated his mother by trying to seduce her at every opportunity.

Historians have long considered her a typical woman whose marriage to Brandon was an example of head over heart. Recent scholars have reassessed Mary’s actions.

Instead I, among many others, see Mary as a woman taking control of her destiny. No longer willing to allow men to decide her fate, she chose her own goals. She persuaded both Brandon and her bully of a brother to accept them. Her techniques included flattery, subtle threats, and bribery. The opinions of the French did not concern her one bit.

Books and Articles

Susan Abernathy Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk

Mary Croom Brown Mary Tudor Queen of France

Sarah Bryson La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor A Life in Letters

Sarah Bryson  The Marriages of Mary Tudor

Monique Mary Tudor A rose among the lilies of France

Tudor Times Mary Tudor, Queen of France, Life Story

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