Friday, February 25, 2011

Question from Abbs - William Brandon and Henry VII

What did William Brandon do to be given the honour of being Henry VII's standard-bearer (assuming Wikipedia is correct and it was an honour)? Were they close?


Foose said...

I can't find my copy of S.J. Gunn's biography of Charles Brandon, which might have some specific information about William Brandon and why he was chosen as standard-bearer. I did check a number of other sources and there is not a great deal on this individual, who is also confused with his own father, Sir William Brandon. (There is some question as to whether Charles Brandon's father was actually knighted).

William Brandon seems to have come from gentry circles in East Anglia, where allegiance to the Crown was stressed by property disputes and seizures. Brandon was affiliated with the Mowbrays (his grandmother was a Mowbray) and a first cousin of the extensive Wingfield kin, with connections among the Cheyneys and Fitzlewises, other major gentry families. Mowbray holdings broke up when the line became extinct and John Howard became the chief contender for the title (achieving that under Richard III) and competition for the pickings became intense among the various heirs, kinfolk and supporters of the old Mowbray affinity. There were also issues with the property of William's wife Elizabeth Bruyn.

At some point the Brandons, staunch Yorkists, became sufficiently disgruntled - so William Brandon and his brother played an important role in Buckingham's 1483 rebellion against Richard, organizing revolt in Essex. They were obliged to flee to Brittany, where Henry VII was living as a "guest" of the Duke.

This is why Yorkist and Tudor kings were so intent on murdering or capturing pretenders living abroad. Someone was always dissatisfied with the result of a royal decision about property and titles, and the loser always had the opportunity to join the court of the exile, bringing money, intelligence and prestige. The Brandons were valuable to Henry Tudor as former loyal Yorkists, as relations of important families in East Anglia (their cousins the Wingfields did very well out of the Tudor accession, with two of them marrying Elizabeth Woodville's sisters), as experienced conspirators familiar with the mechanics of raising rebellion, the pressure points of noble-gentry discontent, and the names of likely plotters, as antagonists to John Howard (one of Richard III's key supporters), and perhaps as brave but hardened ruffians who knew how to put the stick about.

Foose said...

William Brandon turns up in the Paston letters as something of a Thomas Culpeper type, cited by John Paston in 1478 as having committed a double rape:

"Young William Brandon is in ward and arrested for that he should have by force ravished and swived an old gentlewoman, and yet was not therewith eased, but swived her oldest daughter, and then would have swived the other sister both; wherefore men say foul of him, and that he would eat the hen and all her chickens …” (Note the interesting parallel to Sir Francis Bryan's alleged jest to Henry VIII, cited by Nicholas Sander when trying to make the case about Henry sleeping with Elizabeth Boleyn and her daughters.)

Standard-bearers had a certain mystique in the culture of chivalry. St. Michael, for example, is God's standard-bearer and St. John is called Christ's standard-bearer. I found references to the standard-bearer being called "the other king," as it was his responsibility to lead the army if the king perished. Usually the office goes to an important noble; sometimes it is hereditary; at other times it seems to go to an exemplary paladin of chivalry. William Brandon's selection doesn't meet these eligibility criteria.

However, some sources referred to standard-bearers chosen for their magnificent physiques. I couldn't find any physical description of William Brandon, but his son Charles was a noted jouster and sportsman, known for his splendid height and brawny appearance. It could be that Henry Tudor, who is not described as a particularly physically impressive specimen in any sources, chose Brandon because of his contrasting physique - a man who would clearly stand out in the melee of battle as a focal point and lodestone. (And would end up getting killed, possibly because he was so prominent.)

Finally, you can't discount the suggestion that Henry actually liked him, although Brandon's character does not seem much of a recommendation. The king was never as exuberant in his friendships and favoritisms as his children - at the most you could say he had occasionally noticeable preferences - but Brandon may have had an expansive charm that he passed on to his son (a favorite with three out of four of Henry's children).

Besides Gunn, you might consult Rosemary Horrox's Richard III: A Study of Service; Ian Arthurson's The Perkin Warbeck Conspiracy; Ralph Alan Griffiths' The Making of the Tudor Dynasty; and the Paston letters.

Foose said...

I did finally find Gunn's book, but it's disappointing on the topic of William Brandon - two references, and one of them a genealogical table.

Griffiths' The Making of the Tudor Dynasty is more informative on the group of young men who surrounded Henry Tudor in Brittany. I can't find any suggestions anywhere that Henry was acquainted with William Brandon before the latter's flight to Brittany after the failed Buckingham rebellion, but Griffiths suggests that Henry's circle in exile was tight and loyal. He discusses how the Buckingham rising reveals a crucial web of conspirators, involving Woodvilles and Edward IV's old servants, as well as the Brandons, that easily transferred their loyalty to the Lancastrian candidate. Brandon is characterized as a "good friend" of Henry VII "since Breton days" but there is no source to support this and he does not enlarge on what exactly made Brandon a friend. It might simply be the dynamic of exile - compare Edward IV and his brothers living in Burgundy, or Charles II on the run in Scotland or living hand-to-mouth on the Continent.

I also found that Sir John Cheyne or Cheyney, who stood with Henry and Brandon at Bosworth, and was cut down immediately after Brandon (but survived) had been Edward IV's standard bearer. Sources agree he was a man of outstanding physique, which might support my conjecture that William Brandon was similarly endowed. He would also have been useful in training Brandon in his duties.

Finally, consider Richard III's standard bearer - Sir Percival Thriball, or Thirlwall, or Thirwall, or Thirwell, or Thurleball, as his surname is variously spelled. In none of his aliases have I been able to find out much about him, except that he was a trusted former "comrade-in-arms" of the king. He had his legs cut off at Bosworth and died, and I only hope someone was sympathetic and interested enough to take in his son and rear him in comfort, if he had one.

The larger point is that neither Henry VII nor Richard III seem to have had a standard bearer who in himself reflected the symbolic importance of the role as conceived in medieval chivalry - Brandon and Thirlwall are comparative nobodies. It would be interesting to find out if this was a result of the diminished role of the standard bearer in the late Middle Ages, or if kings placed a higher value on having someone they liked and trusted at their side, rather than someone of prestige and rank, or if experience was preferred, or if some other reason was operative.