21 November 1559 – Death of Frances Grey (Brandon), Duchess of Suffolk

Frances BrandonOn 21st November 1559, Frances Grey (née Brandon), Duchess of Suffolk, eldest daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his third wife Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and mother of the ill-fated queen Lady Jane Grey, died at Richmond. She was laid to rest in St Edmund’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey.

You can read more about Frances in my article Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk.

Frances has gone down in history as a very domineering figure who abused her eldest daughter, Lady Jane Grey, and forced her to take the crown, but is this true? Well, historians and authors like Leanda de Lisle and Susan Higginbotham have challenged this view and you can click here to read an excellent article by Susan and I’d also highly recommend Leanda de Lisle’s book on the Grey sister: The Sisters Who Would be Queen.

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13 thoughts on “21 November 1559 – Death of Frances Grey (Brandon), Duchess of Suffolk”
  1. It is true that Frances reputation has suffered because of what happened to her daughter and countless books both biographical and historical fiction have portrayed her as an unfeeling mother who ruthlessly pushed her child onto the throne for personal glory and power, but that doesn’t mean that’s what really happened or that she was like that, De Lisle and Higginbotham both mention there is no actual proof that she beat Jane and made her take part in blood sports and left her to rot in the Tower whilst she pleaded with the Queen for just her husbands life, whose to say she didn’t plead for Jane either? All this is just speculation as Jane said to her tutor Ascham she was subjected to bullying and this he recorded years later, you cannot take seriously what a young girl says and parents in Tudor times were known to be very strict, Jane could well have had a rebellious streak and could have been cheeky to her parents which needed a certain amount of discipline, she was highly intelligent and was said to have been more clever than her cousin Princess Elizabeth, very clever kids can be cocky and she could have been a bit of a handful, all children were precious in Tudor times as the infant mortality rate was high therefore I find it hard to believe Jane or her siblings were a disappointment , although they were naturally devastated when their son and heir died there is no need to suppose that Janes birth wasn’t a delight, they made sure all their children had a very good education even Mary the youngest who was a hunchbacked dwarf, had Frances been that unfeeling she would no doubt have not bothered with Mary also, I find the story of the Grey sisters extremely sad, Jane was sacrificed on the scaffold, Katherine made an illicit marriage and died young and Mary didn’t find happiness either, their royal blood it seems was a curse, as Frances found favour again with Queen Mary she couldn’t have been as black as she’s painted, the two cousins were close therefore it’s hard to believe she betrayed her so easily by putting her daughter on the throne, could she have been merely obeying her husband and Dudley? Maybe Dorset was easily swayed and Frances had no choice but to go along with it, Dorset and Dudley were a pair of foolish hotheads and of course when Dorset joined the Wyatt plot he sealed Janes fate, she wasn’t allowed to live after that, I find the last letter she wrote to her father extremely poignant in it she tells him she forgives him there’s no bitterness there, it’s a shame we have no letters she may have wrote to her mother, or any what Frances wrote to her, Frances alone came out of this unhappy affair with her head intact, earned Queen Mary’s forgiveness and had a splendid tomb at Westminster, but she had lost both her daughter and husband, she was extremely lucky it just goes to show how merciful Queen Mary was and was not quite the ‘Bloody Mary’ that later writers and historians would have us believe.

  2. I was just wondering why Frances Grey was not put forward as heir to Edward VI ahead of her daughter. I know that Edward named his second cousin in his will, but her claim derived through her mother.

    1. Perhaps it had to do with childbearing; Frances was likely done having children, while the newly married Jane might soon birth a son. Edward may have been looking to get to a male heir as soon as possible, and that meant bypassing Frances for Jane.

      1. Edward asked Lady Frances to stand aside for those exact reasons as she was in the first draft of the Devise as the next heir. Her sister was also overlooked. The final draft does mention Lady Frances but the final document puts Lady Jane and her heirs male as Frances was in her late 30s. Her surviving children were growing. Jane was 16, Katharine around 13 and Mary a couple of years younger. Her child bearing days where not behind her but she was not likely to have heirs quickly now. Jane was just married and at the start of her child bearing years. It was a time of crisis and if Jane wasn’t male, it was expected her children might be. Unfortunately, Lady Frances had lost male children in infancy as the Tudor curse spread to another generation. But marriage outside of the Dynasty was hopeful and Guildford was one of at least five brothers. Even without a knowledge of genetics, logical thinking pointed to Jane having a good chance of having male heirs.

        The problem was there simply wasn’t time for any of that. Edward was far too ill by the time the last draft was made and the best scenario was a newly married Jane and her future heirs. Frances was told to step aside and was happy to obey. She didn’t show any resentment and was honoured to walk behind her daughter and carry her train. She was pragmatic. The letters from the Dutch ambassador do comment on it but nobody knew the inside story.

  3. I just read this excellent artcile by Susan Higginbotham about Frances née Brandon. Yes I too had been told that poor Jane Grey had been raised by cruel parents. What Ascham told – long after Jane and her parents were dead – was extrapoled indeed but I do think that all that tale has to do with a “vae victis”. When we think of how the Grey sisters were treated, not by their father and mother as long as we know, but by their royal cousins, Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, we can guess that they were just sort of prisoners (the same fate as, many years after, Arabella or Arbella Stuart cousin to King James); they were allowed to live (nothing more, I’m afraid to say), but not to marry or have children . Jane’s mother was the ideal guilty one to give an explanation to others’ ambitions . If we have (I dont agree) to seek for some ill-intended persons we of course have the Dudley family – two of their sons, young but already adults obeying their greedy father by marrying two girls of fifteen and thirteen or about, just in order to corner a crown was the fatal act for the whole Grey family, without any doubt .

  4. Also, I want to add that Frances was considered a legitimate heir to the throne where at this point Mary and Elizabeth were not.I think this had some sway over Edward IV’s decision to make Frances and her male issue his rightful chosen heirs.If Frances had no male issue at the time of Edward’s death than the throne would pass to Jane’s male issue.

    1. Yes Edward believed both his sisters were illegitimate even though his father had put them in the succession, but his councillors mainly Dudley coerced him into barring them from inheriting the crown and where Mary was concerned it was her religion that was a source of concern, and of course he couldn’t leave it to Elizabeth as if Mary was illegitimate then so was she this was the argument Edward faced therefore he left it to Jane, I think Frances didn’t want to be Queen as really she was the next in line but she relinquished her claim to her eldest daughter, no doubt Dudley who was extremely ambitious wanted to be the power behind the throne and didn’t care for the consequences, they knew what they were doing was treason and the penalty was death but Dudley was so puffed up he really thought he could succeed, yet after his forces were defeated by Mary he threw himself on her mercy and begged for his life, it was to no avail and he was executed, but the two people out of this tragedy who were truly innocent were the ones who paid with their lives, Jane and Guildford, I think Queen Mary could have banished Jane from England instead of executing her, but she was seen as a source of rebellion and of course Mary was advised that only her death could bring the kingdom peace but she could have just banished her to a Protestant country, to kill people just because they were considered a threat was awful but it was something Henry V111 did to the Countess of Salisbury and Buckingham, and monarchs in those days couldn’t be seen to be weak.

      1. Thank you, Mrs Fiennes for sharing what you know.
        And thanks to you Christine for your explanations – they make the story so clear.
        So it was the strong influence Dudley exerted on the young king that lead all these persons to the scafold. Good to know.
        Of course, unlike in France by then (under the salic law), women could, if not (before M Tudor) reign by themselves, give the crown to their legitimate children.
        I could not forget one of the reasons of the 100 years war…(Isabelle, french princess but mother of english king Edward III).
        I happen to know very few about king Edward Tudor – quite normal if we consider how short is life, king at ten, he died before making his sixteen).
        I truely BELIEVED (nothing else) he got on very well with his two (half-)sisters.
        Of course, I knew he was first under the power of his terrible uncles (Seymour brothers, so daring), before being influenced by the Dudleys.
        That makes me wonder wether he was not ill.
        I am quite aware he was a mere teen-ager by then, but being surrounded by so much “evil”-minded persons … wouldn’t it that he was really feeble (in his body and/or in his mind) ?

        1. Hi Bruno, Edward was very close to his eldest sister Mary when he was a toddler but of course as he grew older the differences over their religion surfaced, he was said to be quite cold hearted as is the case when he wrote about his youngest uncles execution, Thomas Seymour he was also very serious and was said to have only laughed once in his life, he seems to have inherited his mothers personality who was very quiet and almost colourless but as shown she was very ambitious to have married the King and she appeared to have no pity for Anne Boleyn either, I can see this trait in her son Edward although this is just speculation on my part, one historian said had he lived he could well have been an autocrat like his father, he was I think under the influence of Dudley because his religion meant a lot to him and he did not want England to return to the Catholic faith which of course it would if he left the crown to Mary, so he was persuaded to bar her from the succession, Dudley and many of the councillors were Protestant so he thought to save England this was the only way, really Edward was in his right to leave his crown to whoever he wanted so Jane did nothing wrong in accepting the crown, although she was reluctant to do so, therefore to have her executed on treason was very unfair, in a sense you could say Mary usurped her throne, not the other way round, but she was Henry V111s daughter and the people thought her right was the greater, the chaos that descended on England with her reign with the persecution of the Protestants after maybe left people thinking they would have been better of with Jane however.

  5. Thank u so much, Christine, for ur very precise analysis.
    I guess u’re right thinking young king Edward certainly pondered over all these facts when making his will : of course, he did not believe that his older half-sister, being daughter to a “very catholic” spanish princess, would be the good choice as his heiress.
    I am aware that queen Katherine (born princess of Aragon) was much praised among english people, for her kindness (but also, quite simply, for being a genuine princess, as was not the case for K H’s later wives).
    We can assume that her personal popularity was reflected on her only daughter.
    I mean of course before the latter could exert her terrible power.
    Maybe, after such a hard childhood and then rivalries about a throne she considered her own she became sort of a paranoiac ?
    I’ve learnt that her husband Philip of Spain, found her “impossible” (she was in fact unhealthy, too old certainly for a man, young and lively , but I really think there is something else; her official portraits show fix and sour expression, vacant eyes, sth that makes u feel uneasy in watching her).
    About Jane Seymour, your point of view is very interesting, because mine is quite different on the matter .
    Quiet and colourless, I won’t discuss (even Chapuys, whose esteem for her was great, because she was so devoted to his past queen, Katherine of Aragon, admitted she was plain and insipid) and certainly ambitious – she accepted to play the bride-to-be of her king, knowing what it meant for the (by then) still living queen.
    But, in her case, I’d rather think she obeyed her family’s orders.
    Of course this case has already been subject of debate here, and I agree with some of the commentators, she acted as if she had a real mission.
    She was catholic (that, we know, was not the case for her two famous brothers, that is the men who would surround and advise their royal nephew) and acted not only as a perfect tool for these brothers, but also like an obedient servant in order to re-establish her princess Mary Tudor in her rights (in a way that upset much K H).
    I do think she felt uneasy her own legitimacy when seeing how she behave to the royal princess.
    I just see (but I might be wrong, of course) her as the very contrary of Anne Boleyn.
    I don’t know whether she was horrified about her “rival’s” fate (or could get over her trial and execution by considering it was a holy punishment) , but I think she hated being the death tool.
    I believe she was chosen by K H because he expected her to be what she seemed, that is rather predictable, being neither brilliant, nor surprising woman.
    If her attitude towards Queen Anne had been that merciless, I feel he would have hesitated to take such a cold-hearted woman.
    On the contrary she appears to have been nothing else than his humble and grateful servant.
    For young prince Edward, taking is father after to give an explanation to his merciless behaviour was well enough

  6. .I am afraid that too much mistakes of me can make my puspose rather confused
    I do think she felt uneasy ABOUT her own legitimacy when seeing how she behave toWARDS the royal princess.
    For young prince Edward, giving an explanation to his merciless behaviour by connecting it with what he took after his father was well enough

    And Christine, thank u again for portraying the young king Edward.

    All K H’s children seem to have inherited this cold heart from their father and that fear for their own fate from an instinct much accurate in these troubled times
    I still consider that by marrying Jane Seymour, K H wanted to get rid of strong-minded wives

    1. Yes Henry had been married to Katherine for over twenty years and she had been a very good wife and Queen Consort, obedient gracious and won the love of the people, but then Henry went and fell for the volatile Anne Boleyn who was completely different in character to his wife, Katherine showed her mettle however when he tried to divorce her and proved as stubborn as Anne, after the kings marriage to Anne however he expected her to conform to the role of queen, obedient and just provide him with heirs and not to complain when he took mistresses, but Anne couldn’t change and continued to nag him and the marriage soon turned sour, she was not a passive wife and Henry grew tired of her temper and tantrums, that which enchanted him in a mistress was not acceptable in a kings wife and then her failure to bear him a son was her undoing, naturally Henry turned to her complete opposite in Jane, some one quiet and gentle and he began to realise that she was more suited to his wife than Anne was, he had had enough of his previous two wives defying him, and thought he would find matrimonial bliss with Jane, sadly she died after giving Henry his son and heir, which of course led to his next two disastrous marriages, until finally finding peace with his last and final wife, Katherine Parr.

  7. Hello again Christine,

    As long as my bad english allows me to say that, I can guess you got a style to tell things.
    When I read “the differences over their religion SURFACED”, I find it just beautiful.
    Among all your other formulations.
    And, last but not least, your sort of “sunk carving” of K H, seeking for “the perfect bride” is concise and quite striking.
    I would like to add that Katherine of Aragon, kind of prisoner in England after her first husband’s death, already grew a stubborn princess.
    By the time, her own loving mother Isabel of Castile, died, her greedy and indifferent father re-married and showed no concern about her (matter of money like it often is : by then, she was a portionless princess, whose existence soured the relations between England and Spain).
    So she had no support there and had to count only on herself in this misery, on her own pride and will.
    And kept being very proud – we can assume she was, maybe not loving, but much thankful to the new king Henry, because he accepted at once after his coronation to solve the problem by marrying her.
    He was eighteen, vigorous, certainly anxious to have a relation to a woman (I think princes were much looked over on this matter – we know nearly all about our french Louis XIV’s sexual life, and K H VII appeared to have been very inquisitive to his sons, we can remember the fates of both young prince Arthur, dying at sixteen, we dont know if he had consummated his marriage, being not at all free to do it, as was the case for Katherine’s own only legitimate brother prince Juan de Aragon, who died at eighteen , soon after his wedding, royal sexuality was a serious matter, and privacy simply did not exist), he began with being very tender to her – that and his good looks (by then) was much more than princesses could expect.
    No doubt, she was faithful both as queen and as wife (first to her god, then to her king).
    She probably was not greatly affected by the king’s mistresses (Elizabeth Blount), just no comparison at all with her.
    The end of the story, we know (lack of male heir and a man of forty, seeking new pleasures, other younger women).
    I think her feelings about her legitimacy were strongly shared among english people then and both these personal certainty and common love were devolved to her only daughter, a fact that would proved fatal to the Greys (among other)
    I know it is a quite different matter, but Christine, are you sure, that K H found bliss and peace in being Katherine Parr’s third husband ?
    This lady appears as both clever and ambitious, but also had a well-balanced mind, was accustomed to be a good stepmother (his second husband, a Neville of Latimer was already father of two, when she was married to him) and she acted as such with K H’s three children, no matter their different feelings about religion (however, the two younger were too little children to have any sturdy opinon, but they might have been influenced by her deep protestant faith indeed).
    As long as we know, she was versed in theology and her eloquence on the subject brought more than once her royal husband’s wrath against her own life and interests.
    I’m pretty sure that it was too late for K H, after his first long-lasting divorce, that meant other breakings with neighbour-countries, Church and so on.
    He was never to find peace in his private life, I guess because of these struggles, and, for such a fearful man, very frightened with holy punishments, and inside-rivals, it might have been too much.
    Just a guess of mine, that of course needs to be improved

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