When Knighthood Was in Flower
or, the Love Story of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor the King’s Sister,
and Happening in the Reign of His August Majesty King Henry the Eighth
Rewritten and Rendered into Modern English from
Sir Edwin Caskoden’s Memoir by Edwin Caskoden [Charles Major]
Copyright 1898 and 1901 by the Bowen-Merril Company, Indianapolis, U.S.A.
Chapter II: How Brandon Came to Court
When we learned that Brandon was coming to court, every one believed he would soon gain the king’s favor. How much that would amount to none could tell, as the king’s favorites were of many sorts and taken from all conditions of men. There was Master Wolsey, a butcher’s son, whom he had first made almoner, then chief counselor and Bishop of Lincoln, soon to be Bishop of York, and Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church.
From the other extreme of life came young Thomas, Lord Howard, heir to the Earl of Surrey, and my Lord of Buckingham, premier peer of the realm. Then sometimes would the king take a yeoman of the guard and make him his companion in jousts and tournaments, solely because of his brawn and bone. There were others whom he kept close by him in the palace because of their wit and the entertainment they furnished; of which class was I, and, I flatter myself, no mean member.
To begin with, being in no way dependent on the king for money, I never drew a farthing from the royal treasury. This, you may be sure, did me no harm, for although the king sometimesdelighted to give, he always hated to pay. There were other good reasons, too, why I should be a favorite with the king. Without meaning to be vain, I think I may presume to say, with perfect truth, that my conversation and manners were far more pleasing and polished than were usual at that day in England, for I made it a point to spend several weeks each year in the noble French capital, the home and center of good-breeding and politeness.
My appointment as Master of the Dance, I am sure, was owing entirely to my manner. My brother, the baron, who stood high with the king, was not friendly toward me because my father had seen fit to bequeath me so good a competency in place of giving it all to the first-born and leaving me dependent upon the tender mercies of an elder brother. So I had no help from him nor from any one else. I was quite small of stature and, therefore, unable to compete, with lance and mace, with bulkier men; but I would bet with any man, of any size, on any game, at any place and time, in any amount; and, if I do say it, who perhaps should not, I basked in the light of many a fair smile which larger men had sighed for in vain.
I did not know when Brandon first came to London. We had all remained at Greenwich while the king went up to Westminster to waste his time with matters of state and quarrel with the Parliament, then sitting, over the amount of certain subsidies.
Mary, the king’s sister, then some eighteen or nineteen years of age, a perfect bud, just blossoming into a perfect flower, had gone over to Windsor on a visit to her elder sister, Margaret of Scotland, and the palace was dull enough. Brandon, it seems, had been presented to Henry during this time, at Westminster, and had, to some extent at least, become a favorite before I met him. The first time I saw him was at a joust given by the king at Westminster, in celebration of the fact that he had coaxed a good round subsidy out of Parliament.
The queen and her ladies had been invited over, and it was known that Mary would be down from Windsor and come home with the king and the court to Greenwich when we should return. So we all went over to Westminster the night before the jousts, and were up bright and early next morning to see all that was to be seen.
[Here the editor sees fit to substitute a description of this tournament taken from the quaint old chronicler, Hall.]
The morow beyng after dynner, at tyme conuenenient, the Quene with her Ladyes repaired to see the Iustes, the trompettes blewe vp, and in came many a noble man and Gentleman, rychely appeareiled, takynge vp thir horses, after whome folowed certayne lordes appareiled, they and thir horses, in cloth of Golde and russet and tynsell; Knyghtes in cloth of Golde, and russet Veluet. And a greate nomber of Gentlemen on fote, in russet satyn and yealow, and yomen in russet Damaske and yealow, all the nether parte of euery mans hosen Skarlet, and yealow cappes.
Then came the kynge vnder a Pauilion of golde, and purpul Veluet embroudered, the compass of the Pauilion about, and valenced with a flat, gold beaten in wyre, with an Imperiall croune in the top, of fyne Golde, his bases and trapper of cloth of Golde, fretted with Damask Golde, the trapper pedant to the tail. A crane and chafron of stele, in the front of the chafro was a goodly plume set full of musers or trimbling spangles of golde. After folowed his three aydes, euery of them vnder a Pauilion of Crymosyn Damaske & purple. The nomber of Gentlemen and yomen a fote, appareiled in russet and yealow was clxviii. Then next these Pauilions came xii chyldren of honor, sitting euery one of them on a greate courser, rychely trapped, and embroudered in seuerall deuises and facions, where lacked neither brouderie nor goldsmythes work, so that euery chyld and horse in deuice and fascion was contrary to the other, which was goodly to beholde.
Then on the counter parte, entered a Straunger, fyrst on horsebacke in a long robe of Russet satyne, like a recluse or a religious, and his horse trapped in the same sewte, without dromme or noyse of mynstrelsye, puttinge a byll of peticion to the Quene, the effect whereof was, that if it would please her to license hym to runne in her presence, he would do it gladly, and if not, then he would departe as he came. After his request was graunted, then he put off hys sayd habyte and was armed at all peces with ryche bases & horse, also rychely trapped, and so did runne his horse to the tylte end, where dieurs men on fote appareiled in Russet satyn awaited on him. Thereupon the Heraulds cryed an Oyez! and the grownd shoke with the trompe of rushynge stedes. Wonder it were to write of the dedes of Armes which that day toke place, where a man might haue seen many a horse raysed on highe with galop, turne and stoppe, maruaylous to behold. C.xiv staves were broke and the kynge being lusty, he and the straunger toke the prices.
When the queen had given the stranger permission to run, and as he moved away, there was a great clapping of hands and waving of trophies among the ladies, for he was of such noble mien and comely face as to attract the gaze of every one away from even the glittering person of his majesty the king.
His hair, worn in its natural length, fell in brown curls back from his forehead almost to the shoulder, a style just then new, even in France. His eyes were a deep blue, and his complexion, though browned by exposure, held a tinge of beauty which the sun could not mar and a girl might envy. He wore neither mustachio nor beard, as men now disfigure their faces—since Francis I took a scar on his chin—and his clear cut profile, dilating nostrils and mobile, though firm-set mouth, gave pleasing assurance of tenderness, gentleness, daring and strength.
I was standing near the queen, who called to me: “Who is the handsome stranger that so gracefully asked our license to run?”
“I can not inform your majesty. I never saw him until now. He is the goodliest knight I have ever beheld.”
“That he is,” replied the queen; “and we should like very much to know him. Should we not, ladies?” There was a chorus of assent from a dozen voices, and I promised, after the running, to learn all about him and report.
It was at this point the heralds cried their “Oyes,” and our conversation was at an end for the time.
As to height, the stranger was full six feet, with ample evidence of muscle, though no great bulk. He was grace itself, and the king afterwards said he had never seen such strength of arm and skill in the use of the lance—a sure harbinger of favor, if not of fortune, for the possessor.
After the jousting the Princess Mary asked me if I could yet give her an account of the stranger; and as I could not, she went to the king.
I heard her inquire:
“Who was your companion, brother?”
“That is a secret, sister. You will find out soon enough, and will be falling in love with him, no doubt. I have always looked upon you as full of trouble for me in that respect; you will not so much as glance at anyone I choose for you, but I suppose would be ready enough with your smiles for some one I should not want.”
“Is the stranger one whom you would not want?” asked Mary, with a dimpling smile and a flash of her brown eyes.
“He most certainly is,” returned the king.
“Then I will fall in love with him at once. In fact, I don’t know but I have already.”
“Oh, I have no doubt of that; if I wanted him, he might be Apollo himself and you would have none of him.” King Henry had been compelled to refuse several very advantageous alliances because this fair, coaxing, self-willed sister would not consent to be a part of the moving consideration.
“But can you not tell me who he is, and what his degree?” went on Mary in a bantering tone.
“He has no degree; he is a plain, untitled soldier, not even a knight; that is, not an English knight. I think he has a German or Spanish order of some sort.”
“Not a duke; not an earl; not even a baron or knight? Now he has become interesting.”
“Yes, I suppose so; but don’t bother me.”
“Will he be at the dance and banquet to-night?”
“No! No! Now I must go; don’t bother me, I say.” And the king moved away.
That night we had a grand banquet and dance at Westminster, and the next day we all, excepting Lady Mary, went back to Greenwich by boat, paying a farthing a head for our fare. This was just after the law fixing the boat fare, and the watermen were a quarreling lot, you may be sure. One farthing from Westminster to Greenwich! Eight miles. No wonder they were angry.
The next day I went back to London on an errand, and over to Wolsey’s house to borrow a book. While there Master Cavendish, Wolsey’s secretary, presented me to the handsome stranger, and he proved to be no other than Charles Brandon, who had fought the terrible duel down in Suffolk. I could hardly believe that so mild-mannered and boyish a person could have taken the leading part in such a tragedy. But with all his gentleness there was an underlying dash of cool daring which intimated plainly enough that he was not all mildness.
We became friends at once, drawn together by that subtle human quality which makes one nature fit into another, resulting in friendship between men, and love between men and women. We soon found that we had many tastes in common, chief among which was the strongest of all congenial bonds, the love of books. In fact we had come to know each other through our common love of reading, for he also had gone to Master Cavendish, who had a fine library, to borrow some volumes to take with him down to Greenwich.
Brandon informed me he was to go to Greenwich that day, so we determined to see a little of London, which was new to him, and then take boat in time to be at the palace before dark.
That evening, upon arriving at Greenwich, we hunted up Brandon’s uncle, the Master of Horse, who invited his nephew to stay with him for the night. He refused, however, and accepted an invitation to take a bed in my room.
The next day Brandon was installed as one of the captains of the king’s guard, under his uncle, but with no particular duties, except such as should be assigned him from time to time. He was offered a good room on one of the lower floors, but asked, instead, to be lodged in the attic next to me. So we arranged that each had a room opening into a third that served us alike for drawing-room and armory.
Here we sat and talked, and now and then one would read aloud some favorite passage, while the other kept his own place with finger between the leaves. Here we discussed everything from court scandal to religion, and settled to our own satisfaction, at least, many a great problem with which the foolish world is still wrestling.
We told each other all our secrets, too, for all the world like a pair of girls. Although Brandon had seen so much of life, having fought on the continent ever since he was a boy, and for all he was so much a man of the world, yet had he as fresh and boyish a heart as if he had just come from the clover fields and daisies. He seemed almost diffident, but I soon learned that his manner was but the cool gentleness of strength.
Of what use, let me ask, is a friend unless you can unload your heart upon him? It matters not whether the load be joy or sorrow; if the former, the need is all the greater, for joy has an expansive power, as some persons say steam has, and must escape from the heart upon some one else.
So Brandon told me of his hopes and aspirations, chief among which was his desire to earn, and save, enough money to pay the debt against his father’s estate, which he had turned over to his younger brother and sisters. He, as the eldest, could have taken it all, for his father had died without a will, but he said there was not enough to divide, so he had given it to them and hoped to leave it clear of debt; then for New Spain, glory and fortune, conquest and yellow gold. He had read of the voyages of the great Columbus, the Cabots, and a host of others, and the future was as rosy as a Cornish girl’s cheek. Fortune held up her lips to him, but—there’s often a sting in a kiss.