‘La Reine Blanche: Mary Tudor, A Life in Letters’ Interview with Sarah Bryson

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. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.

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Many thanks to Sarah for answering my questions.

(c) Amberley Publishing

Why did you choose to write about Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Duchess of Suffolk?

My research on Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk led to my fascination with Mary Tudor. I began to research Brandon’s time in France when he was tasked with bringing Mary back to England after the death of her husband Louis XII. Suddenly I discovered a strong, determined woman. Mary could have been married off to create another diplomatic alliance but instead she took her life in her own hands and forged her own path. She managed to manoeuvre the men in her life to ultimately gain her heart’s desire. For me this was fascinating. In a time dominated by the wills of men, where women were subject to their father’s, husbands, brothers etc. Mary forged her own path and followed her heart – and all at just eighteen years of age!

What does your book add to existing works about Mary Tudor?

My book examines Mary’s letters and the letters and documents written about her to give the reader a personal, emotive understanding of Mary. Instead of a simple biography outlining her life my book delves deeper to get to the woman that Mary really was. Through her letters I explore what drove Mary, her desires, her fears, her wishes in life. I hope that the readers develop a more intimate understanding of Mary.

Why do you think Henry VIII forgave Mary for marrying Charles Brandon?

What other choice did he have? Mary was deeply loved by the English people, Henry VIII would have looked horrible if he did not forgive his sister and Henry was very aware of his image and how he was perceived. Mary played the role of a weak woman, feeble and following her desires, easily led and Henry would have appeared as a nasty brother if he had not forgiven her. The whole incident was perfect staged so that Henry could forgive his sister while still seeming to be the one in charge – and that was all thanks to Mary!

Who do you think was the main protagonist behind their marriage, Mary or Charles?

It was all Mary. We have letters from both Mary and Charles that state that it was Mary who proposed marriage to Charles, that she cried and feigned fear and convinced him to keep the marriage secret. Mary made the decision that she wanted to marry Charles and she proposed to him, she was the instigator and the main driving force behind their marriage.

If either of Mary’s sons had lived, do you think people would have accepted Henry Brandon over Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII, in the succession crisis of 1553?
That’s actually a really interesting question. Henry VIII was a larger than life figure and even after his death his will and wishes were followed to some degree. Mary Tudor was second in line for the throne after Edward and only if Mary or Elizabeth did not have heirs would Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon’s children have come to the throne. But then again there is the case of man vs a woman as heir to the throne. Personally I think it would have been nice if Mary’s sons did live to sit on the throne!

What do Mary’s letters whilst Queen and in the aftermath of the death of Louis XII, reveal about her personality and her political role?

As a Dowager Queen Mary was once more an eligible pawn on the marriage market. Being in France she was vulnerable to the new king of France, Francis I’s, wishes. She could have very easily been married off to a European nobleman or member of royalty to create an alliance with France. On the other hand she was a Princess of England and her brother could also have married her to another to create an alliance. Mary was extremely vulnerable and her letters show what a strong woman she was. Mary took her life into her own hands and refused to let the men in her life dictate her future. She married Charles Brandon, stuck to her guns and was able to outwit the men around her to have her happy ending.

Which of Mary’s letters is your favourite and why?

I honestly don’t have a favourite, all of Mary’s letters are so passionate and you can really feel her in her writing. I do quite like Mary’s letter to Thomas Wolsey straight after Louis XII’s death. In his letter Wolsey to Mary he tells her not to act rashly and in return Mary subtly tells him that she’s not a child! She then signs off her letter, Mary Queen of France, another subtle hint that she was a Dowager Queen and Wolsey was beneath her!

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