Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn

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Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn

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Category: History
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was almost unique in Tudor history in that he was a close friend and companion – in fact the closest – of King Henry VIII throughout the latter's reign, never really fell out of favour, and had the good fortune to die peacefully in his bed, just eighteen months before his royal patron. Although full of detail, it is a somewhat dry study aimed more at the academic than the general reader.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: July 2016
Publisher: Amberley Publishing
ISBN: 978-1445660318

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Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, was almost unique in Tudor history in that he was a close friend and companion – in fact the closest – of King Henry VIII throughout the latter's reign, never really fell out of favour, and had the good fortune to die peacefully in his bed, just eighteen months before his notoriously capricious royal patron.

Professor Gunn's biography, first published in 1988 and now newly revised, is a feast of facts. He admits that his subject has been an elusive one, in that 'most of his thoughts and feelings (are) lost to us,' and also 'his itinerary, his finances, his landlordship, and the personnel of his household and administration can be reconstituted in far less detail than those of a number of his contemporaries'. It is hardly surprising that he is so far the only modern historian to undertake writing such a life.

Brandon was the son of Henry VII's standard-bearer at the Battle of Bosworth. He first met the then heir to the throne at his father's court, where he held several important offices in the royal household. For several years he appears to have played the role of chief fixer, taking on responsibility for overseeing the end of Catherine of Aragon's household after her divorce, and negotiating with Anne of Cleves when her marriage to the King ended in similar fashion. At the same time he had a difficult relationship with Anne Boleyn (if less difficult, naturally, than the man who married her and then sent her to the scaffold), and also gave offence to their sovereign by secretly marrying his favourite sister, Mary, widowed Queen of France. In fact he led a charmed life, for he also managed to survive a certain amount of mismanagement, or perhaps misfortune, in his taking charge of military campaigns – not always successfully - and being suspected of passing secrets to the French. Nonetheless, he managed to maintain his position at court. On his death in 1545 he was laid to rest in St George's Chapel in Windsor.

As a chronicle of facts, dates and figures, such as administrative and financial detail, this book is excellent. But the elusive Brandon has indeed proved a difficult subject for his biographer. Somehow the Duke of Suffolk never really comes to life in these pages, and nor do those closest to him, such as his wives and family. Several recent accounts of King Henry and members of his family have conveyed the spirit of the age and the personalities in their pages on what are sometimes slender sources, but in this case the eminent gentleman manages to do Gunn no favours in remaining stubbornly at a distance. The preface warns us that his study is conditioned partly by the limitations of the evidence, and that this book is a thematic, rather than a chronological treatment. The reader will not want for anything in the genealogical tables or the maps, and we have a lively selection of plates, including contemporary portraits and engravings alongside modern landscape photographs.

As a thorough academic study this can hardly be faulted. Yet the lack of primary sources has proved an impediment and rather detracts from the readability. I found it somewhat dry and stilted, as will I suspect the average general reader and Tudor enthusiast.

For an account of the start of King Henry's reign, may we also recommend So Great a Prince: England and the Accession of Henry VIII by Lauren Johnson, and for an excellent account of the whole dynasty, Tudor: The Family Story by Leanda de Lisle, both superbly researched yet aimed more at a general readership.

Buy Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Charles Brandon: Henry VIII's Closest Friend by Steven Gunn at Amazon.com.

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