Sir William Brandon II

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 another man had died by the lance of Richard III. His name was Sir William Brandon II and it would be his son, almost thirty years later, that would become King Henry VIII’s most beloved and closest friend.

Sir William Brandon’s father was Sir William Brandon of Wangford and Southwark I (b. approx. 1425 d. 1491). WilliamBrandon I 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. He was a close friend and adviser to the Duke of Norfolk and his son as well as being made Marshal of the Marshalsea Prison. He was well known to Edward IV and was present at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, after the latter he was Knighted for his efforts.

Sir William and Elizabeth Wingfield had three sons, Robert Brandon, William and the youngest Thomas as well as seven daughters.  

William Brandon II followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming involved with matters of government. On 15th November 1476, William was listed as an esquire that was part of a commission of ‘oyer and terminer’ to explore offences committed by several men in the country of Essex.

William Brandon II married Elizabeth Bruyn of South Ockendon sometime between 1473 and 1476. Elizabeth was the daughter and co-heiress of Sir Henry Bruyn. Elizabeth had first been married to Thomas Tyrell Esquire who had died in 1473. Sir Bruyn had died in 1466 leaving Elizabeth a portion of her father’s wealth. Elizabeth survived the death of her husband William in 1485 and went on to marry William Mallory, Esquire.  Elizabeth died on 7 March 1494.

 William and Elizabeth had three children, a first-born son named William after his father, a daughter named Anne and Charles, the youngest. Charles would go on to become Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, beloved friend and brother in law to King Henry VIII.

King Edward IV died on 9th April 1483; his successor was his twelve-year-old son, also named Edward. Understanding the turmoil that a young boy might have in his early reign Edward had left his younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, as protector to guide the young Edward V in the ways of kingship until he reached the age of majority. To keep the young king and his younger brother, Richard Duke of York, safe after the death of their father, and to prepare for the coronation, Richard took the boys to the Tower of London. Then just before Edward’s coronation, Richard had the boys declared illegitimate because his brother had been precontracted to marry Lady Eleanor Butler and thus the children Edward IV had with his wife Elizabeth Woodville, were illegitimate. As his brother’s only legitimate heir Richard was asked by Parliament to take the throne and on 26 June 1483 was crowned King. Neither Edward or Richard were ever seen or heard from again and are known to history as ‘The Princes in the Tower’.

William continued his service under the new King, however this would change when the Duke of Buckingham rebelled against Richard III. The Brandon family decided to hedge their bets. With four adult Brandon men, William Brandon I, William II, Robert and Thomas, the family chose to align William II and Thomas with Buckingham and Henry Tudor, Robert Brandon with Richard III and Sir William Brandon I fled into sanctuary. If Buckingham were to be victorious and Henry Tudor was to come to the throne, then the Brandon’s would support the new king. If the rebellion failed and Richard III remained as king – as happened – then Robert Brandon would still have been seen to support the Yorkist King. Meanwhile Sir William Brandon I would have found safety in sanctuary. This was a smart move, one which allowed the family, no matter the outcome, to be on the winning side.

The rebellion was arranged for 18th October 1483; however, rebels in Kent rose early and began to march upon London. Richard III was now alerted to the uprising and sent John Howard, Duke of Norfolk to crush the rebels. It was vitally important that Buckingham and his men were able to meet up with supporters in the West. The weather was appalling with constant rain causing the rivers Severn and Wye to break their banks, thus flooding the surrounding lands making it virtually impossible for Buckingham to progress. Soon his soldiers began to retreat. Knowing that his cause was lost, Buckingham fled to seek refuge with Ralph Banastre, one of his retainers. However, there was a price upon Buckingham’s head, and Banastre betrayed the duke. Buckingham was arrested, and in the market place at Salisbury on 2 November, he was beheaded.

In 1484 brothers William and Thomas Brandon left England and headed to Brittany to join Henry Tudor. It is unknown where William, his brother Thomas and wife Elizabeth departed from England. One possibility was from Dover to Calais, and then they travelled overland to Brittany. Another possibility is they left England from a more westerly point such as Southampton. On 28th March 1484, a general pardon was granted to William Brandon II ‘the younger, ‘gentilman,’ alias esquire, son of William Brandon of the country of Norfolk, knight, of all offences committed by him before 27 March.’

 It is unclear if this pardon was issued before or after William Brandon II left to join Henry Tudor. If it was, then William may not have trusted the king’s words. If the pardon had been issued after William had left for Brittany, it might be that he had no knowledge of it, or if he had, then he might have felt it simply too late as he had already thrown in 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 second son, Charles.

To William Brandon II and his family 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.

On the 24th March 1485, William Brandon II was ordered to forfeit all possessions that had formally belonged to his wife Elizabeth’s first husband Thomas Tyrell and return them to Thomas Bruyn. It was claimed that Elizabeth’s husband Thomas had stolen the possessions from her male relative Thomas and claimed them for his own. Upon his death and Elizabeth’s remarriage, these possessions had passed to William Brandon, and he was ordered to return them to Thomas Bruyn.

 By April 11th William Brandon II was being referred to as a rebel in government documents. On this date, Philip Constable, servant of Richard III, was granted all the lands belonging to William Brandon II in Killingholme, Lincoln and a yearly rent of 20l from the residents of Brandon’s manor in Southcarleton, Lincoln.

On 27th May of the same year, William Brandon II was ordered to return the manor of South Workington and two acres of land in Stifford, Essex to John Henyngham. It was declared that the property rightfully belonged to William’s sister-in-law, Alice Bruyn and her husband, John Henyngham. When Alice died, John claimed the land. However, William Brandon ‘unjustly expelled’ John from the land and claimed it as his own. John had also died, and the manor and land reverted to the Crown.

Then finally on 7th July an act of Attainder was passed on William Brandon II. The act stripped Brandon of all his land, manors, property and wealth, which reverted to the Crown. In addition to this, the act charged Brandon with high treason. As well as losing all his property, land and possessions Brandon, if captured, would be sentenced to a traditor’s death without trial.

After fourteen years of exile, Henry Tudor set sail from France on 1 August 1485 to lay claim to the English throne. He set sail from the port of Harfleur, only six miles east up the River Seine, from the Normandy coastal port of Le Havre, accompanied by approximately 2,000 soldiers. The exact number of men is hard to estimate as different reports record different numbers. What is known is that William Brandon II was by his side.

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, illegitimate son of Tudor Owen Henry’s grandfather. Gathering his men Henry headed off across land 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 step son.

The next day, on the 21st 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 appeared he kept his distance. Also, on the 21st August 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 Sir William Brandon II. 

The Battle of Bosworth Field took place on 22nd August 1485. It is estimated that Henry had an army of between 5 – 8,000 soldiers going up against King Richard III’s 12 – 20,000 men. Thomas and William Stanley had a combined force of approximately 6,000 men, which had not yet been committed to either side.

Lacking experience in military action, Henry Tudor appointed the more experienced Earl of Oxford to command his troops and to lead the vanguard. Sir Gilbert Talbot took the right-wing and was ordered to defend the archers and keep an eye on the battle line, while John Savage was to lead the left-wing. Henry Tudor was positioned with several French mercenaries that he had brought with him from France and to the rear of the troops.  Standing close to Henry was Sir William Brandon II.

Facing them, on King Richard’s side was John Howard, Duke of Norfolk with Sir Robert Brackenbury leading the Yorkist vanguard. The rear guard was commanded by Richard III and comprised of his bodyguard and other soldiers. Behind him was the Earl of Northumberland and his men.

When the battle cry went up, arrows fired and the roar of Richard III’s artillery filled the air. Oxford’s men clashed with the Duke of Norfolk’s, the two being old foes. Both sides paused to reorientate themselves. Oxford formed his men into a wedge and charged forward. At this second charge, Henry’s French troops attacked Norfolk’s vanguard. Soon Norfolk’s men were in trouble, and many were killed including the duke, others fled while some defected to fight on 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 in the fray. Among this chaos, some of the king’s supporters begged Richard III to flee, but he declared that he would live or die as a king. Oxford’s men had pushed forward leaving a gap, and Richard III saw an opportunity to get to Henry Tudor. He charged with his men, aiming to strike Henry down.

As he charged, Richard III’s lance pierced through Henry’s standard-bearer, Sir William Brandon II and broke in half. History records that William Brandon ‘hevyd on high’ [the Tudor standard] ‘and vamisyd it, tyll with deathe’s dent he was tryken downe.’ One can only imagine what was racing through Sir William’s mind in those last few moments as Richard III and his men came thundering towards him. He had given up his property, his land, his wealth, everything he had to support Henry Tudor. He had bid his wife and infant son farewell to follow Henry to England in the hopes of a better life, not just for himself or his family, but for England. It was his sworn duty to protect Henry Tudor with his life and as Richard III’s lance pierced through his armour and threw him from his horse, he gave up his life to save the man he believed to be the rightful King of England. Sir William Brandon II had been loyal to his last breath.

Richard III and his men continued fighting their way forward, the battle was fierce and heated, and Henry became separated from the Earl of Oxford and his men. At this point, William Stanley and his men charged down in support of Henry Tudor and the rival armies clashed. At some point, Richard III was killed. Vergil wrote that ‘king Richerd alone was killyd fyghting manfully in the thickkest presse of his enemyes’. Despite what people thought of his rule, Richard III fought bravely until his final breath.

After Henry was declared victorious, he ordered that all those who had died to be given a decent burial and the wounded tended to. Many of those that died were buried at the nearby church of St James the Greater, Dadlington. Sir William Brandon II was the only member of nobility on Henry Tudor’s side killed at Bosworth. Unfortunately, the exact location of Brandon’s grave remains unknown. For a man that had died so loyalty trying to protect his King, Sir William Brandon II’s final resting place has been forgotten.

Model of Henry Tudor and Sir William Brandon II at the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre

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