Here, we will be exploring the life of Thomas Brandon, uncle to the more famous Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Thomas Brandon served five kings during his lifetime; however, it was under the rule of King Henry VIII that he breathed his last. Frustratingly little is known about Thomas Brandon’s early life and most information that we have today comes from his adult years and the latter years of his life serving the Tudor kings, Henry VII and Henry VIII.
Thomas Brandon’s father was Sir William Brandon of Wangford and Southwark. William Brandon rose from relative security under the service of John de Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk. Before the Duke died in 1476, he granted Sir William a seat in the local Parliament and also the marriage to Elizabeth Wingfield. William had a long list of accomplishments including becoming Marshal of the King’s Bench, Burgess (M.P) for Shoreham, Knight for the Shire of Suffolk and Collector of Customs at Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. William Brandon was also present at the Battle of Tewkesbury. The Battle of Tewkesbury was one of the most decisive battles in English history where Prince Edward, King Henry VI’s son, was killed and the Lancastrian forces, of which William was a part of, were decisively defeated. Despite their loss, William Brandon was knighted for his efforts. William must have been able to come to terms with the Lancastrian loss as he was present at the coronation of Richard III, brother of Yorkist King Edward IV.
Sir William and his wife Elizabeth Wingfield had three sons, Robert, William and the youngest Thomas. It has also been proposed that the couple also had several daughters two of those being Anne and Elizabeth although there is contradictory evidence to support this claim. Thomas’ birthdate remains unknown however as his older brother William was born around 1456, it can be assumed that Thomas was born after this date.
Despite having strong Lancastrian ties when Henry VI was defeated and eventually murdered bringing Edward IV to the throne, Thomas Brandon and his older brother William changed sides. They pledged their support to the new Yorkist King, however after Edward’s death when Richard III came to the throne, Thomas Brandon’s loyalty began to fade. Thomas and his brother soon became dissatisfied with the new king, and with the shock deposition of the future Edward V, they decided to join The Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion in 1483. The rebellion was led by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham and aimed to have Richard III removed from the throne and replaced by his nephew Edward, oldest son of Edward IV. However, rumours abound that Edward was dead and the plan was changed to replace Richard III with Henry Tudor. It was at this time that Henry made his first attempt to lay claim to the throne. He sailed with a small army from Brittany, however, due to poor weather Henry and his men had to return. Without Henry Tudor’s men, Buckingham’s army floundered, and a bounty was put upon his head. He was eventually captured, convicted of treason and beheaded in Salisbury on the 2nd of November 1483.
Despite supporting the Duke of Buckingham and his failed rebellion, both Thomas and William Brandon managed to remain in England. However, by 1484, both men had decided to turn their back on the Yorkist cause and return to their Lancastrian roots. The brothers headed to Brittany to join Henry Tudor and support his claim to the throne.
Henry Tudor and his group of exiles were first in Vannes in Brittany and then at the French Court. During this time, Thomas helped to conduct a raid which would see more men join Henry’s forces. The Earl of Oxford, a loyal supporter of the Lancastrian cause, had previously been imprisoned in the garrison in Hammes. On 28th October 1484, the Earl escaped and met with Henry Tudor, joining his growing forces. The decision was made for Oxford, Thomas Brandon and others to return to the garrison to free fellow supporters. While Oxford and his men attacked the garrison from outside, Thomas Brandon and thirty strong men entered, and after some harsh fighting, a truce was called. This allowed the Earl of Oxford and Thomas Brandon to take seventy loyal men from the garrison to join Henry Tudor’s cause.
Interestingly, shortly after this Richard III issued a general pardon for Thomas Brandon and the other thirty men involved in the storming of the garrison at Hammes. This may have been an attempt to win back supporters for his cause. It is unclear if Thomas Brandon knew of this pardon and if he did it would be highly doubtful that he would have accepted considering by this time he had firmly thrown in his lot with Henry Tudor.
On 1st August 1485, Henry Tudor left France after fourteen years of exile in Brittany and France aiming to lay claim to the English throne. On the 22nd August, the Battle of Bosworth took place. It is estimated that Henry Tudor had an army of approximately five to eight thousand soldiers to King Richard III’s twelve to twenty thousand men. Thomas and William Stanley had a combined force of approximately six thousand men, however, neither brother had made a definitive move as to which side of the battle they would join. Richard III held the higher ground upon Ambion Hill while Henry and his men were on the lower ground next to marshes. The battle was fierce, and during the fighting, Thomas Brandon’s brother William lost his life.
When the battle ended Richard III was dead, and Henry Tudor was declared the new king. It is interesting to note that there are no records of Thomas Brandon travelling with Henry and his men to England in August 1485 or of him participating in the Battle of Bosworth Field. It is possible that Thomas took an active part in the battle, his presence simply not recorded. It is also possible that he stayed behind in France with his brother’s wife to protect her and his young nephew, the future Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk.
With Henry Tudor now King Henry VIII, Thomas Brandon began to build an illustrious career for himself. In September 1486, Thomas became an esquire for King Henry VII’s body, a position that required him to be close to the king’s person, and in the spring of 1487, he was commanding a naval force. Six years later he was serving in a French campaign and was knighted after the Battle of Blackheath in 1497. Sir Thomas Brandon was an active member of court and even sat on the king’s council on several occasions as well as acting as a diplomat for the king. He was involved with Henry VII’s horses and hawks and from around 1499 was appointed as Master of the Horse.
Thomas Brandon also participated in the baptism and knighting of Prince Arthur, Henry VII’s first son and heir. He also was present at the knighting of young Prince Henry, the future Henry VIII. Thomas regularly participated in court jousts and in 1501 he took part in the magnificent wedding of Prince Arthur to Katherine of Aragon. It is reported that at the wedding Thomas wore a gold chain worth around £1400!
Sir Thomas Brandon was also honoured with leading the party of courtiers which was sent to meet Philip the Fair when a storm wrecked his ship on the coast of England. Thomas was also Marshal of the King’s Bench prison in Southwark, and it is thought that he lived in Southwark in a manor he rented from the Bishop of Winchester. To add to this impressive list, Thomas Brandon was elected to the Order of the Garter in April 1507.
Thomas married twice; both women were wealthy widows in their own right. Through these marriages and his services to the king, Thomas Brandon came into a considerable amount of wealth as well as ownership of a great many estates.
After the death of Henry VII in 1509 Thomas Brandon’s career continued to flourish under the new king, young Henry VIII. He retained his title of Master of the Horse, and on 2nd June 1509 was created warden and chief justice of the royal forests south of the Trent. On 24th June 1509, Sir Thomas Brandon had the great honour of participating in Henry VIII’s coronation procession. According to Edward Hall in his book ‘The Lives of King Henry VIII’, Brandon was:
“clothed in tissue, Broudered with Roses of fine Gold, and traverse his body, a greate Bauderike of Gold, greate and massy, his Horse trapped in Golde, leadyng by a rayne of Silke, the kynges spare Horse trapped barde wise, with harneis Broudered with Bullion Golde, curiously wroughte by Gold Smithes” (Hall 1809, p. 41)
Six months later on 27th January 1510, Sir Thomas Brandon passed away at Blackfriars. He was buried on 29th January at London Blackfriars. At Sir Thomas’s funeral, his oldest brother Robert was the chief mourner followed by Anthony and Humphrey Wingfield and John Brews. Thomas had no male heirs, so he left a great sum of his fortune to his nephew, Charles. Sir Thomas’s will consisted of land, plate and coin totally almost £1000 although not all of that went to Charles. Sir Thomas left a sum of money to Lady Jane Guildford whose servants had cared for Sir Thomas in his final illness.
Sir Thomas Brandon is all too often overshadowed by his nephew Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, yet he is a man that led an extraordinary life. He had a strong military background and lived through the reign of five kings. He held firm to his beliefs and even went into exile to serve a man he believed to be the true heir to the English throne. He was a faithful courtier whose career flourished and prospered under the rule of the Tudor kings. He proved himself to be a man of intelligence and strategy who was able to work his way up the social and political ladder at court. Upon Thomas Brandon’s death, he left a fascinating legacy which luckily for us has not quite been lost to history.
Sarah's other "The King's Men" articles:
Sarah Bryson is the author of "Mary Boleyn: In a Nutshell" and "Charles Brandon: The King's Man". She is a researcher, writer and educator who has a Bachelor of Early Childhood Education with Honours and currently works with children with disabilities. Sarah is passionate about Tudor history and has a deep interest in Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing, Tudor costume enactment and is currently writing a biography of Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII.
Notes and Sources
- Bayani, D (2014) Jasper Tudor: Godfather of the Tudor Dynasty.
- Breverton, T (2014) Jasper Tudor: Dynasty Maker, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.
- Gunn, S (2015) Charles Brandon, Amberley Publishing, Gloucestershire.
- Hall, E (1809) Hall's chronicle: containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J. Johnson, London.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, 1509-47, ed. J.S Brewer, James Gairdner and R.H Brodie, His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1862-1932.
- Meyer, G.J. (2010) The Tudors: The Complete Story of England’s Most Notorious Dynasty, Delacorte Press, New York.
- Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 'Brandon, Sir Thomas (d. 1510)', 2015, Oxford University Press, viewed 3 February 2017, http://www.oxforddnb.com/.
- Richardson, D (2011) Plantagenet Ancestry: A Study In Colonial And Medieval Families, 2nd Edition, CreateSpace, USA.
- Skidmore, C (2013) The Rise of the Tudors: The Family That Changed English History, St. Martin’s Press, New York.