Mary Tudor Brandon

Duchess of Suffolk,

the mysterious Lady

of The Lady with the Unicorn ?

The thesis defended here that is moved forward by MR ANDRÉ ARNAUD who was creator of cartoons in the workshop Robert FOUR in AUBUSSON, and displayed in the magazine Gallery of Arts n ° 209 of the October, 1981, special number Magic of the tapestry.
I want here pay tribute to him.

You will see, with The Lady and the Unicorn, we are far from the simple interpretation usually known of the Five Senses !

The tapestries of The Lady and the Unicorn were woven for Antoine Le Viste, perhaps in Brussels, Tournai or Bruges.

They can be the work of the painter Jean Perréal, known as Jehan of Paris.

The mysterious Lady is Mary Tudor Brandon, third wife of Louis XII and sister of Henry VIII, who was the queen of France from August to December 1514.


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The second woman is Claude of France, wife of François 1st.

The six tapestries, currently visible in the Museum of the Middle Ages and the Thermal Baths of Cluny in Paris, part of a series of eight tapestries, tell various episodes of Mary's life in France.


My interpretation is the result of a deep, meaningful and serious examination of all the details which, for some people, had gone unnoticed or were never considered with enough rigour.


I would be very happy to read your remarks and your suggestions about my interpretation : please, write me on :


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1- The Taste

Mary, queen of France, sends jewels to her brother. The supposed candies and fruits are pearls.


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2- The Hearing

Louis XII died on 1st January 1515. Mary (called White Queen) has been locked up for 40 days in the Hotel of Cluny, the current museum where the tapestries are exhibited, a time to know if she is pregnant of the late king. Let us notice that Mary and the unicorn are pregnant. To save time until the arrival of Charles Brandon or to get revenge for the attitude of Louise of Savoy, Mary simulated a pregnancy by dissimulating on her belly fabrics of linen.


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3- The Sight

Mary fears her return to England. To persuade her brother Henry VIII, she sends him the "Mirror of Napoli" brought back with so many other treasures of Naples by Charles VIII, a diamond of very great value. She marries secretly, again at the Hotel of Cluny, Charles Brandon (that the unicorn represents), the duke of Suffolk.


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4- The Smell

Mary is not queen any more, she loses her French crown. She removes one by one the French carnations from her crown which she will replace by English roses.


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5- The Touch (the Tent - My only desire)

Mary waits in Calais for the boat to Dover. It is the moment for each one to formulate his desire, that of Mary, that of Antoine Viste, and why not that of the painter. Two remarks which indicate the achievement of a cycle : Mary wears a red dress like the one she wore on her arrival in Abbeville, the same dress as in the Taste and she puts in the jewel case the necklace that she wears in the Taste, at the very beginning of the series. The painter insists on showing that the French cycle of Mary is completed and that she finds her original purity back, without fault and sin.


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6- Pavie

Mary is not present on this tapestry weaved to evoke the anger of the financier and the painter against Francis Ist after the defeat of the French army to Pavie in 1525. François Ist, loser and prisoner in Madrid, is depicted under the lines of animals carrying a necklace or an obstacle. The coalition so appears : Henry VIII is the unicorn, Charles the Fifth is the lion, The "Connétable" of Bourbon is the Lady under the lines of his aunt in Athéna, Anne de Beaujeu, who was the one that Louis XII called with Mary when she came in France in 1515.





The Taste




Francis 1st
Henry VIII


The Hearing





Charles Brandon

My only desire : the birth of a son


The Sight




Henry VIII
Charles Brandon


The Smell




Louise of Savoy
Henry VIII


The Touch










Thomas Wolsey

Francis 1st


Pavie -




Charles the Fifth

Henry VIII


*The plenitude of the Unicorn of the tapestry "The Hearing" is the projection of the desire to get pregnant, either genuine or simulated for Mary, but real for Claude of France who was already pregnant with child.

It is also the projection of the desire to be a father for Charles Brandon, the Lion, and for Henry VIII he serves as an ambassador.


The tapestry of the Lady with the Unicorn : a new reading of the coat of arms, by Carmen Decu Teodorescu

The shield that appears on the tapestry of the Lady with the Unicorn is attributed by specialists to the older branch and to the head of the family Le Viste, but it blatantly breaks the rules of French heraldry. While underscoring the weakness of the arguments in favour of the name Jean IV Le Viste as patron of the tapestry, this new interpretation suggests the probability of the intervention of a descendant of the younger branch, Antoine II Le Viste, in ordering the Lady with the Unicorn.

The incorrect superposition of colours could have been a deliberate choice intended to apprise the observer in an explicit manner that he was faced with a familiar phenomenon, that of the modification of the arms by a mark of cadency. A new reading of the sources appears to lend credence to this hypothesis, which has been too rapidly dismissed in the past.
(Translation by Patricia Stirnemann)

Carmen Decu Teodorescu, La Tenture de la Dame à la Licorne. Nouvelle lecture des armoiries, p. 355-367, dans Bulletin Monumental, tome 168-4, année 2010, Société Française d'Archéologie.


Jean Perréal :éal

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