William Brandon; Henry VII’s Standard Bearer


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By Sarah Bryson

On the 22nd of August 1485 King Richard III met his death at the Battle of Bosworth field. With his death ended the rule of the Plantagenet Kings. Yet only a short time earlier in the battle anotherman had died by the very lance of Richard III. His name was Sir William Brandon and it would be his son, almost thirty years later that would become King Henry VIII’s most beloved and closest friend.

When Sir William Brandon died it is reported that he was close to Henry Tudor, proudly holding Henry standard high. Richard III charged at Henry’s standard bearer with his lance, the lance piercing through Brandon and breaking in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high’ Henry Tudor’s standard, ‘and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe’. William Brandon drew his last breath fighting for Henry Tudor to become King. Little would he know the great legacy that his death left his one-year- old son Charles Brandon the future Duke of Suffolk.

There appear to be very few facts related to William Brandon. His father was Sir William Brandon of Wangford and Southwark (b. approx. 1425 d. 1491). William Brandon Snr 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 (d. 28th April 1497). 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, 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 V.

Sir William and Elizabeth Wingfield had three sons, Robert Brandon, 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. William Brandon Junior was born around 1456.

There appears to be some scandal surrounding William Brandon Junior. In 1478 Sir John Paston wrote that:

‘yonge William Brandon is in warde and arestyd ffor thatt he scholde have fforce ravysshyd and swyvyd an olde jentylwoman , and yitt was nott therwith easysd, butt swyvyd hyr oldest dowtr, and than wolde have swyvyd the other sustr bothe; wherforr men sey ffowle off hym, and that he wolde ete the henne and alle hyr chekynnys; and som seye that the Kynge ententdyth to sitte upon hym, and men seye he is lyke to be hangyd, ffor he hathe weddyd a wedowe’

John Paston’s letter suggests that sometime during or before 1478 William Brandon forced himself upon an older woman and also made an attempt to have some sort of relationship with the woman’s daughters. In addition to this great offence, the letter claim’s that the King, Edward IV was not pleased by this news and that the punishment for such horrible crimes was to be hanged. It is interesting to note that despite the required punishment there does not seem to be any record of William Brandon serving time in prison or being punished accordingly. It could be that they were mere gossip or hearsay or that those that were alleging these crimes did not have enough power behind them to see Brandon fully punished. Whatever the case Brandon was not punished and he managed to return to King Edward IV’s good graces.

William had strong Lancastrian ties and supported Henry VI during the Wars of the Roses. However when Henry VI was defeated and eventually murdered and Edward IV came to the throne, the Brandons changed sides. They pledged their support to the new Yorkist King Edward IV, however upon his death his brother Richard III came to the throne and the Brandon’s loyalty quickly began to fade. William Brandon and his brother Thomas soon became dissatisfied with the new King and the shock deposition of the future Edward V and 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 own 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 William and Thomas Brandon managed to remain in England, however by 1484 both became dissatisfied with Richard III once more and left England. The brothers headed to Brittany to join with Henry Tudor and support his claim to the throne. In the spring of 1484, King Richard III issued a general pardon to several men that had rebelled against him, one of those being William Brandon. It is unclear if this pardon was issued before or after William Brandon left to join forces with Henry Tudor. If it was indeed before William may not have trusted the King’s words after the failed rebellion and the execution of the Duke of Buckingham. If the pardon had been issued after William had left for Europe it may be that he had no knowledge of the pardon or if he had then he might have felt it simply too late as he had already hedged his lot with Henry Tudor. Whatever the reason for not accepting this pardon it was believed at this time William’s wife Elizabeth was pregnant with their son Charles.

Elizabeth Bruyn of South Ockendon was the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Bruyn. Elizabeth was first married to Thomas Tyrell Esquire who had died in 1473. Sir Bruyn died in 1466 leaving Elizabeth a portion of her father’s wealth. Elizabeth and William Brandon married sometime between 1473 and 1476. Elizabeth survived the death of her husband William in 1485 and lived on until March 1493/4.

To William and Elizabeth Brandon Henry Tudor must have signified hope and a future. The Wars of the Roses had brought a great deal of upheaval to England and now leaving the country they placed all their hope in Henry Tudor and his campaign. Laying claim to the English throne was one thing but obtaining it was another. Throughout 1483/84 Henry and his ever-growing group of supporters relied heavily upon Duke Francis of Brittany for support and received payments from the Duke to help pay for their day to day upkeep. In September 1484 Henry Tudor threw himself upon the mercy of King Charles VII of France and begged him for support for his campaign. The King agreed and helped Henry and his supporters purchase resources and mercenaries for the campaign ahead.

The 1st of August 1485 was to be the day that Henry Tudor would finally leave France after fourteen years of exile in Brittany and France aiming to lay claim to the English throne. He set sail from Harfleur, France accompanied by approximately 2000 soldiers. The exact number of men is hard to estimate as different reports record different numbers. What is known is that this would be Henry’s greatest push to date and by his side would be William Brandon.


Landing on the 7th of August at Mill Bay six miles west of Milford Haven located along the Pembrokeshire coastline it is said that when he reached the coast Henry knelt down and kissed the sand reciting Psalm 43 ‘Judge me, O Lord and favour my cause’. He then made the sign of the cross.

At Mill Bay Henry was met by his half Uncle David Owen, the illegitimate son of Tudor Owen, Henry’s grandfather. Gathering his men Henry headed off to lay claim to the English throne. Their first stop was the village of Dale of which its castle surrendered easily. Henry and his men camped here and the future King made sure to remind his men not to get up to any trouble. The troops then moved on through Haverfordwest and Cardigan then northward to Llwyn Dafydd. After this, they claimed the garrison at Aberystwyth Castle and then turned to march inland. On August 13th, they reached Machynlleth and the next day they made a thirty-mile trek across rough terrain to Dolarddun. Following this the growing army headed to Long Mountain where Henry met with Rhys ap Thomas, an important man who carried a great deal of sway with the Welsh people. Rhys pledged his loyalty to Henry and brought approximately 2000 troops to Henry’s cause.

With his growing number of troops, Henry then headed to Shrewsbury. However the portcullises were closed and Henry and his men were not given permission to pass. The next day Henry sent a messenger to negotiate with those in charge at Shrewsbury and after a mysterious message from an outside source was sent to the head bailiff Henry and his men were allowed to pass through and a number of men from the town joined Henry’s forces.

From Shrewsbury Henry travelled through Shropshire and Staffordshire. It was here at Staffordshire that Sit Gilbert Talbot and a troop of about 500 men joined with Henry. The men marched to Stafford where Henry would meet Sir William Stanley, younger brother of Henry’s stepfather.

From Stafford Henry and his men marched through Lichfield arriving at Tamworth on the 20th of August. The next day his men marched over the River Anker to Atherstone where Henry is reported to have had a secret meeting with his father in law. It was at this meeting that allegedly Thomas Stanley pledged his formal support for his stepson.

However the next day, on the 22nd of August Henry Tudor sent a message to his stepfather asking him to send his men to join Henry’s troops. To this Stanley replied that he needed to prepare his men and for now it would appear he was keeping his distance. Also on this day Henry chose to knight several men who had shown great loyalty to him throughout his time in exile. These men included Sir Richard Guildford, Sir John Jastoy, Sir John Sisley, Sir John Trenzy, Sir William Tyler, Sir Thomas Milborn and now Sir William Brandon.

At the Battle of Bosworth, 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.

Henry Tudor appointed the Earl of Oxford to command his troops and lead the Vanguard. Behind the vanguard was Henry, flanked by Gilbert Talbot and Sir John Savage and the rest of his men. Close to Henry was Sir William Brandon. Brandon had been chosen to be Henry’s standard bearer, a great honour for a man who continued to display his loyalty.

A standard bearer is ‘one who bears a standard or banner’. It was Brandon’s duty to carry the flag that represented Henry and his troops. The standard that Henry chose was white and green representing the Tudor colours. Upon this was the red cross of St George, patron saint of England and soldiers and the red Dragon of Wales. Henry Tudor had strong ties with Wales through his grandfather Owen Tudor as well as his uncle Jasper Tudor. This identification with Wales and its people helped Henry to recruit many Welsh men and soldiers along his campaign towards London.

Upon King Richard’s side he ordered the Duke of Norfolk and Sir Robert Brackenburry to lead his vanguard. The rear guard was commanded by Richard III and compromised of his personal bodyguard and other soldiers. Behind him was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry was called arrows fired and then Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s. Both sides then paused, perhaps to regain their breath and positions. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge Henry’s French troops joined the battle and joined the attack on Norfolk’s men. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble and many were killed including the Duke himself, others fled while some defected to Henry Tudor’s side.

Northumberland and his men did not move into the fight and it is believed that at some point the Earl decided to leave the battle without employing any of his men into the fray. Amongst the chaos some of his loyal supporters begged Richard III to flee but the King would be no coward. Oxford’s men had pushed forward leaving a gap. Seeing his gap Richard III saw an opportunity to get to the man who caused such a great threat to his throne and he and his men charged forward aiming to strike Henry Tudor down.

It was here that William Brandon met his death at the end of Richard III’s lance. The Battle of Bosworth is remembered for the tragic death of King Richard III and the rise of the Tudors. Sir William Brandon, standard bearer seems almost insignificant amongst a battle that changed the course of English history yet one must not forget his story. While little is known about his life he was fiercely loyal to a man he believed was the true King. He gave his life for Henry Tudor and it was his son Charles Brandon that would continue the Brandon legacy.


Graham’s Turner’s Painting of William Brandon’s Death


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 Boleyn, Charles Brandon, the reign of Henry VIII and the people of his court. She is the author of Mary Boleyn in a Nutshell and Charles Brandon: The King’s Man.

Visiting England in 2009 furthered her passion and when she returned home she started a website, queentohistory.com, and a Facebook page about Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.