In Season One of Showtime's series The Tudors, the viewer meets several characters and begins to follow their stories. One of the few characters who is featured throughout the series is Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk. In the first season, Charles and Henry VIII are close friends, sharing adventures, sport, and womanizing together. Then, things take a turn for the scandalous--Charles gets romantically involved with Henry's sister, Margaret.
Here is how the story plays out in the series:
Henry VIII asks Charles Brandon to escort his sister, Margaret, to Portugal to marry the old, decrepit king. Charles protests that his rank isn't high enough to warrant his taking on such an important charge. Henry responds by granting him the title Duke of Suffolk. However, knowing Charles' reputation as a notorious womanizer, Henry warns Charles about getting involved with Margaret. Margaret, on the other hand, isn't thrilled by the idea of being married to the King of Portugal or by being escorted by someone as low-born as Charles. She demands that Henry promise her that should she go through with the marriage, when the King dies, she should be permitted to marry who she chooses.
Charles accompanies Margaret to Portugal. Along the way, they become romantically involved. When they arrive, a terrified Margaret is introduced to the King of Portugal, and she is immediately repulsed by his age and pronounced limp. Regardless, she married the King, and he manages to perform in the nuptial bed. When Charles informs her that the English escort is due to leave, she smothers the King, suffocating him with a pillow. As a result, she returns with the escort, enjoying Charles' company on the way back. Both of them are at a loss as to what to do about their relationship. Charles proposes that they marry.
Charles and Henry's mutual friend, William Compton, breaks the news to Henry, and he is incensed. He banishes Charles and Margaret from court. Under these secluded circumstances, their marriage quickly starts to fall apart. Charles begs Henry for the opportunity to return to court, and, after winning an arm-wrestling match against Henry, he is welcomed back. Margaret returns as well, but, because she disapproves of Henry's relationship with Anne Boelyn, she chooses to spend more time at home in Suffolk. Charles returns to his womanizing ways, growing more and more neglectful of Margaret. Margaret quickly dies of consumption while he is at court.
What's the real story?
Although several sources claim that "Margaret Tudor" in the series is actually a composite of Henry VIII's two real sisters, Mary and Margaret Tudor, I fail to see how there is much of Margaret Tudor in either the story or the character presented in the program. The story is based nearly entirely on the life of Mary Tudor, and certainly with more than a few liberties taken. It may have been that the screenwriters didn't think it made much sense to have two regularly-mentioned characters with the same name, and decided against simply calling the character Mary Tudor (the other Mary Tudor was Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon). As far as I can see, the only "composite" of Margaret and Mary Tudor is the fact that Margaret's name is affixed to Mary Tudor's story.
Margaret Tudor was Henry VIII's older sister, born in 1489 and married James IV of Scotland in 1503. She was closely involved in Scottish politics during her lifetime and especially after her husband died in 1513. She married twice more after the king's death, and it is through her that her grandson, James I, had enough of a claim to the English throne that he succeeded Elizabeth I, Henry's last surviving child, known as the Virgin Queen.
Mary Tudor was Henry VIII's younger sister. She was born in 1496 and was rumored to be extremely beautiful. She was originally betrothed to the future Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, due to marry him in 1514, but Henry VIII decided against this match after he succeeded his father as king of England. Henry and Mary were close, and their shared interests meant they spent a lot of time together at court. Henry, interested in cementing a positive relationship with France, arranged a new marriage contract for Mary with Louis XII of France who was, unfortunately, about 34 years older and apparently, not a very attractive prospect. Henry was aware that Mary was attracted to Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk. Charles Brandon was granted the title Duke of Suffolk while Henry was working to encourage a marriage between him and Margaret of Savoy, the governor of the Netherlands. This ennoblement was also in response to Charles' father's involvement in the pivotal battle of Bosworth in 1485 in Henry VII's favor. Mary did, though, ask her brother for the right to marry who she chose after Louis' death, and Henry, eager for her to accept Louis, granted this request.
Louis XII didn't last long, although longer than the King of Portugal did, and Mary certainly didn't directly kill him. They were married for just over 80 days at the end of 1514, and there was some implication that his active, physical involvement with his wife put enough strain on him to hasten his death rather abruptly. Mary was rushed into seclusion after his death to ensure that she was not pregnant with Louis' heir. She was later kept in relative seclusion by succeeding King Francis. Henry dispatched Charles Brandon to bring Mary back to England. Upon his arrival, he learned that Francis was aware of Mary's feelings for Charles, and Mary demanded that Charles marry her then and there. Charles, taken aback by the situation and overwhelmed by emotion, agreed. Charles and Mary married secretly in France. Charles immediately knew this was going to be problematic, so he wrote to Cardinal Wolsey, Henry's chancellor and friend, to ask for help. Wolsey managed to plead Charles' case to Henry successfully, and they were allowed to return to England. They had to pay Henry back Mary's dowry, over a period of time, and beg the king's forgiveness. They were married again, publicly, in May 1515 in England.
Mary was close to Catherine of Aragon, and Charles' working against Catherine and in favor of Henry's divorce proceedings may have put a wedge between the two of them, although this is unclear. Mary and Charles had four children together during the course of their marriage. She exhibited signs of failing health after a bout of the sweating sickness in 1518, and she died, probably from cancer, in 1533. Months later, Charles married his ward and his son's betrothed, Catherine Willoughby.
The Tudors gets about a 5 for historical accuracy. "Margaret" Tudor does marry an old king she isn't happy with, although this should have been the king of France. Since the timing of this is everything, and the series starts in the 1520s, it was probably necessary to change the monarch (all of this really happened between 1514 and 1515). She does ask Henry for the right to marry who she chooses later on. However, she had feelings for Charles Brandon long before she married him. The marriage was definitely an illicit one from a political standpoint, and Henry was angry, but not enough to banish them from court in the real history (and not enough to require that Charles arm-wrestle him for the right to return). The real Charles Brandon certainly had a multitude of problems with women, but whether or not this made him a womanizer in real life is a mystery. "Margaret" did disagree with Henry's divorce proceedings against Catherine. However, her death in the program occurs before 1530, and she lasted into the decade another three years. There is also no mention of the Brandons having had any children in the series, which they certainly did. The impression is given that their marriage was a short one, when it actually lasted 18 years. She dies of consumption in the program, but it is more likely that she actually died of cancer.
One of the best points? The story of Charles Brandon and Mary Tudor, whether portrayed on the screen or read as factual history is equally fascinating in either case. It may be a little much to call it a true love story from the historical standpoint, but it was definitely a case of truth being just as entertaining as fiction.
Henry Cavill as Charles Brandon, the Duke of Suffolk in The Tudors
Gabrielle Anwar as Margaret Tudor in The Tudors
Margaret Tudor by Daniel Mytens c. 1500-1503
Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, unknown artist, c. 1516