Sir Thomas Brandon

By Sarah Bryson

Much of Thomas Brandon’s early life is unknown. The date of his birth is not listed but it is known that he was the youngest of three sons born to Sir William Brandon and Elizabeth Wingfield. With two older brothers it would have seemed almost impossible for Thomas to make a great name for himself and yet of the three sons, it was he that built a lustrous career under the first Tudor King.  

The first mention we have of Thomas Brandon is in 1484 when he fled England after the failed rebellion led by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham. He left with his eldest brother, William Brandon II, and headed to Brittany to join Henry Tudor in exile. During this time Richard III was King of England. Yet many could not reconcile with the Yorkist King and sought out a man that they believed held a claim to the throne, Lancastrian Henry Tudor.

In September 1484, the Duke of Brittany’s treasurer, Pierre Landais, was planning to hand Henry and Jasper Tudor over to Richard III. Upon finding this out Henry Tudor managed to escape, threw himself upon the mercy of King Charles VIII of France and begged him for support for his claim on the English throne The French king helped Henry and his supporters purchase resources and mercenaries for the campaign ahead.

It is in France that we have the first accounts of Thomas fighting on behalf of Henry Tudor. John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford, a staunch Lancastrian had been imprisoned at Hammes Castle in the Pale of Calais for his part in the rebellion against the late Edward IV. In 1484 Oxford convinced the captain of Hammes Castle, James Blount, to allow him to escape. Oxford also convinced the captain to come with him, as well as Sir John Gawsein, the Porter of Calais. The men left the captain’s wife in charge of the garrison.

Shortly after their escape, the castle was besieged by Richard III’s men from Calais. Mrs Blount managed to get a message to her husband. Oxford returned with a group of men, including Thomas Brandon. While Oxford attacked the rear of the castle, Brandon led thirty men into the castle via a secret path through the adjoining marsh. After a short fight, the garrison of Calais agreed to let the men of Hammes go free without any further harm. Many of the men of Hammes then changed their allegiance and joined with Henry Tudor.

Back in England, on the 27th January 1485, Richard III issued a general pardon for Thomas Brandon and the other thirty-seven men involved in the storming of the garrison at Hammes. Thomas chose not to accept the pardon and remained with Henry Tudor.

On the 1st August 1485, when Henry Tudor and his men set sail from the port of Harfleur to lay claim to the English throne, there are no records of Thomas Brandon travelling with him. It is known his older brother William travelled to England, becoming Henry’s standard bearer at the famous Battle of Bosworth Field where Henry was victorious over Richard III and William Brandon lost his life.

In fact, we have no further mention of Thomas Brandon until September 1486, over a year later when he was made an Esquire of the Body, a position that required him to be close to the king’s person. From here Thomas Brandon’s star was on the rise.

On the 4th March 1487 at the Palace of Westminster, Thomas Brandon was made Admiral of the King’s Naval force. His standing orders were to patrol the English Channel and other territorial waters to spy out any enemy ships and stop them from invading or attacking England. 

After his father’s death in 1491, Thomas Brandon took over as Marshal of the King’s Bench prison in Southwark.

At the end of October 1494, Henry VII invested his second son, Henry, into the Most Noble Order of the Bath. To celebrate his son’s elevation a series of jousting events were held over three days at Westminster. Thomas Brandon, a skilled jouster, participated. Brandon’s horse was ‘trapped with a demy trapper of gren velvet as the oder a bove enramplished with lions heddys rasyd and crowned gold.’

Brandon’s opponent was Sir Robert Curson, and the pair seemed to be evenly matched. They had multiple jousts against one another, breaking several spears in the process and the contest ended in a draw. For his valiant effort, Brandon was presented with a golden ring containing a ruby.

Sometime between August 1495 and May 1496 Thomas Brandon married Anne Finnes, wife of the late William de Berkeley, 1st Marquess of Berkeley. His wife brought to the marriage five manors in Gloucestershire, two in Essex and one in Somerset which were worth between £300 and £450 per annum. Despite a considerable rise up the social scale for Thomas, the marriage did not last long. Anne died in September 1497.

In June 1497 rebellion broke out in Cornwall. The people were unhappy with the taxes being levied on them and with ever-growing numbers, they headed south toward London. An army of around 10,000 rebels was led by James Truchet, 7th Baron Audley, Thomas Flamank and Michael An Gof. In response around 25,000 men were gathered under Lord Daubeney and the Earl of Oxford. On the 17th June Daubeney met the rebels at Blackheath while Lord Oxford and his men maneuvered around and attacked from behind. Thomas Brandon was part of the battle although it is unknown whom he served. The rebels were decisively defeated, and Flamank and An Gof were hanged at Tyburn, while Lord Audley was beheaded on Tower Hill. Thomas Brandon was knighted after the battle.

Sir Thomas Brandon would be an active member of the court and sat on the king’s Council on several occasions. In 1499 he was appointed as Master of the Horse having complete control over the care and maintenance of the King’s horses. Records also show that he also had some part in the care of the royal hawks. So efficient was Thomas that after the death of Henry VII, he was reappointed as Master of the Horse by Henry VIII in 1509.

On the 20th of May 1500 Thomas Brandon was referred to in court documents as a knight of the king’s body. This position showed that Henry VII trusted Brandon to protect his person from anyone that would wish to do him harm.

The following year Thomas took part in the magnificent wedding of Prince Arthur to Princess Katherine of Aragon. He was part of the court delegation that first met Katherine when she arrived in England. At the royal wedding, Thomas wore a gold chain worth around £1,400 (approximately £680,540.00 in today’s currency).

Between August and September 1502 Sir Thomas Brandon married Elizabeth Dynham, sister and coheir of John, Lord Dynham and widow of first Lord Fitzwarin and then Sir John Sapcotes. Thomas paid Henry VII £100 for a letter of recommendation to Elizabeth. Elizabeth was a wealthy widow and the marriage further boosted Thomas’ financial base.

In January 1503 Sir Thomas Brandon was part of a select group of ambassadors sent to meet with Maximillian I, Holy Roman Emperor in order to discuss the Emperor becoming a member of the Order of the Garter. Yet Thomas also had another mission. He was to try and persuade the Holy Roman Emperor not to support the staunch Yorkist, Edmund de la Pole, 3rdDuke of Suffolk. Pole was a contender for the English throne and since de la Pole was in exile, Henry VII wanted him brought back to England. Brandon was successful in his mission, and Maximilian signed a treaty stating that he would not support Pole if he ever attempted to invade England. While at Maximilian’s court Brandon was described as ‘a distinguished knight’ and for his expenses as ambassador, Sir Thomas Brandon was granted £66 13s 4d by Henry VII. Brandon would return to Maximilian’s court as an Ambassador in 1508.

In April 1507 Sir Thomas Brandon himself was elected into the Order of the Garter. To add to an already impressive list of positions he was also appointed as Marshal of the Court of Common Pleas.

When Henry VII died in 1509 and his son Henry became Henry VIII, Sir Thomas’ career continued to flourish. He retained his title of Master of the Horse, and on 2 June 1509 was created warden and chief justice of the royal forests south of Trent.

On the 24th of June 1509 Thomas Brandon participated in the coronation procession of Henry VIII and his wife Katherine of Aragon. According to Edward Hall, Brandon wore: ‘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.’

Less than a year later on the 27th January 1510, Sir Thomas Brandon’s illustrious career came to an end when he passed away at Blackfriars. At his funeral, his oldest brother Robert was the chief mourner followed by Anthony and Humphrey Wingfield and John Brews. Thomas’ nephew William Sidney, by his sister Anne, whom Thomas had taken under his wing when he was a boy, carried Sir Thomas’ Great Banner of Arms. Also, there was a sermon and masses said for his soul. The church was hung with black cloth, and his arms were on display.

As Sir Thomas had no male heirs of his own body a considerable sum of his fortune was left to his nephew Charles Brandon, the future Duke of Suffolk. Sir Thomas’ will comprised of land, plate and coin totaling almost £1,000 (approximately £483,770.00 in today’s money).

Thomas Brandon was the third son born to East Anglican gentry. From a young age he would have known that if he were to make a name for himself, he would have to do that on his own. He achieved this by faithfully serving King Henry VII. Through his service he was able to reach a respectable and high position within the court. Upon his death he left a great wealth to his nephew and a legacy that the young Charles Brandon would seek to emulate.


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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 the Brandon family who lived in England during the 14th and 15th centuries.  She has previously written a book on the life of Mary Tudor, sister of Henry VIII and wife of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. She runs a website and facebook page dedicated to Tudor history. Sarah lives in Australia, enjoys reading, writing and Tudor costume enactment.



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Book Review – John Morton: Adversary of Richard III and Power Behind the Tudors by Stuart Bradley

By Nathen Amin

John Morton may not be a name familiar to the casual observer of English history, but few men were as integral in establishing the Tudor Dynasty upon the English throne as this son of Dorset who rose steadily through the church ranks to become an archdeacon, bishop, archbishop, and finally in 1493, a cardinal.

In his introduction to this fascinating project ‘John Morton, Adversary of Richard III, Power Behind the Tudors’, Dr Stuart Bradley declares the subject of his biography to have been ‘a man of immense ability’ whose story deserves to be brought ‘from the obscurity where for too long he has remained hidden’, and by the end of this concise study, it is clear to the ready he has done exactly this.

Morton was born around 1420, and received his first appointment of note when he was made a Rector of Shellingford, Berkshire, in 1453. Within two years, however, this rising churchman’s career was impeded by the outbreak of the Wars of the Roses, and having pledged his support towards the Lancastrian cause, was captured by the Yorkists in 1461. Though he escaped captivity and fled into exile, by 1471 Morton was reconciled to the House of York under Edward IV, and served this king until his death in 1483.

Opposing the rise of Richard III, during whose reign he became an ‘agent provocateur and master spy’, Morton played a ‘major role in coordinating the rebellion and ongoing subversion throughout Richard’s reign and in the machinations that resulted in the accession of Henry VII’. It was thus Morton became the ‘power behind the Tudors’ as described in the book’s subtitle. One of the few men the new king had utter trust in, Morton ‘gritty doggedness’ thereafter, as Archbishop, Cardinal and Chancellor, helped establish the fledgling dynasty, refilling the royal coffers and, with pen and parchment rather than sword and shield, helping fend of repeated challenges to the Tudor ascendancy.

The book is clearly the work of an author who really understands the period he is writing about, with extensive use of source material such as chancery documents, diplomatic correspondence and chronicler accounts, with insightful analysis to bolster his argument – an unusual but appreciated inclusion is the occasional use of tables within the text to support a claim, for example on page 38 which shows a breakdown of the amount of Patent Rolls issued for each month between 1476-1485, allowing the reader to really see for themselves how the conflict of the day affected government business. Rather than just make the point, Bradley invites the reader to see just how he arrived at this deduction.  The level of research is not lacking, either; chapter 6, for example, has 123 instances of endnotes.

It was the opinion of the 17th century antiquarian George Buck that Morton was ‘a stern and haughty man, odious at court and more generally so in the country’, an ‘evil spirit transformed into an angel of light and wearing the habit of religion’; any reader will put Bradley’s work down full informed this caricature of the cardinal was not a fair statement, and does not stand up to scrutiny. As the author himself declares, ‘the arguments of Ricardian apologists are difficult to reconcile with the evidence’, and that particular king exempted, Morton was nothing other than ‘the exponent of faithful loyal service’ to the other kings he served, namely Henry VI, Edward IV and Henry VII.

I am presently unaware of any other biography of Morton, certainly not a modern publication, so Dr Bradley’s book is a welcome addition to 15th century study, bringing, as he intended, this intriguing royal servant out of the shadows. Though only 135 pages (with another 75 as an appendices), it is not long, but covers everything that is known about Morton’s life, using all surviving source material and commendably avoiding the common trap of merely padding out a biography with semi-relevant fluff that may or may not be pertinent to the study at hand. Bradley never loses sight of his subject, and the result is truly a scholarly study with a fresh angle. Morton was ‘a man whose story deserves to be told’, and here, Bradley has made a highly admirable attempt to do so.