21 November – A playwright who courted controversy and Frances Grey, an abusive mother

On this day in Tudor history, 21st November 1495, churchman, Protestant playwright, historian and Bishop of Ossory, John Bale was born in Suffolk.

Bale wrote twenty-four plays, and a book on famous British writers, which is his most well-known work. His work on Protestant martyrs was also used by the famous martyrologist John Foxe.

John Bale also courted controversy with his attacks on Catholics, and he spent a fair amount of time in exile.

Find out all about this accomplished Tudor man in this talk…

Also on this day in Tudor history, 21st November 1559, Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk and mother of Queen Jane, or Lady Jane Grey, died at Richmond.

Frances, daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Mary Tudor, Queen of France, has gone down in history as rather a harsh and abusive mother, but I tell you all about the woman who was once named in Edward VI’s “devise for the succession” in this video…

I also introduce Teasel the dog who had just joined us! Now you really need to watch this one!

Related Post

6 thoughts on “21 November – A playwright who courted controversy and Frances Grey, an abusive mother”
  1. Frances Brandon Grey, Duchess of Suffolk deserves a biography, not really to be a footnote in her daughter’s biographies, but instead she has this awful reputation because of one teenage discussion with a visitor to her home at Bradgate in the 1550s. Roger Ashcam had been a tutor to both Lady Elizabeth and to Edward and to Jane, although a new tutor was assigned to her. He recalled the conversation years later in the 1580s. From this one unreliable recollection the entire childhood of Jane and her sisters was made out by the Victorians who wrote Jane up as a romantic heroine, a political pawn and so on, to have been one of misery. The ridiculous film from the 1980s with Helen B Carter didn’t help, especially with scenes in which we see Jane dragged off to a whipping tower because she refused to marry Guildford Dudley, didn’t help. This has made out Frances to be an abusive mother, even by the standards of her time, in the popular imagination. Frances was also wrongly condemned because of a popular story that she married her servant, Adrian Stokes three weeks after her husband’s execution for treason. Henry Grey was beheaded in February 1554 after he escaped the first time when he put his daughter on the throne. Mary pardoned Henry and Frances who was close to her cousin and friend, the Queen. However, Henry Grey was involved in the Rebellion of Wyatt and not spared a second time. According to myths Frances was with her lover at the time and married Stokes three weeks later. In fact she married again over a year later and contrary to popular belief, Adrian wasn’t many years younger than her, he was only a few years younger. In any case, what if he was? Frances wouldn’t have been the first lady of means to have a toy boy. Remember Owen Tudor and Katherine de Valois. Even Frances Willoughby was older than Richard Bertie. Queen Mary was a few years older than Prince Philip. Frances’ own father married her stepmother and friend, Frances Willoughby less than three months after the death of Mary, King Henry’s sister. She was no more than 15 and Brandon was 49. Remarriage was common during this period and several people had four spouses during their lifetime. I think three weeks might have been considered hasty but several months would draw little comment.

    Henry Viii didn’t hang around when he remarried after the death of Anne Boleyn and was practically down the aisle before her body was cold in the ground. He was at Chelsea with Jane Seymour the night of her death, they where engaged the next day and married after 11_days. His people were horrified at this haste. They were still in shock after the trial and execution of the Queen, Anne Boleyn and her alleged lovers on multiple charges of adultery, treason and incest. The wedding of the King and her lady in waiting must have sent shockwaves through the City of London.

    It is these small details and myths which have had the influence on how Frances Brandon has been remembered, certainly in modern times. There is no contemporary evidence that she was cruel or abusive and the complaint of one teenager of nips and the odd blows to correct her really has to be put into context. First we have to ask was she telling the truth and was this typical parenting in the sixteenth century? Yes, it was. Whether it was true or not is entirely unknown. Frances may have had good cause to correct her daughter and to use discipline. There is no evidence of anyone else making such a remark about her and Jane was a high spirited child. She also had a reasonable relationship with her parents as evidenced by letters she wrote to them and prayers she wrote for them. Frances had obviously indulged Jane that day by allowing her to refrain from a hunting party in order to study at her books which was her first love. Nor is it true that Jane hated the hunt as she went on a number and in fact it was her mother who sometimes remained behind. Jane may have had a hissy fit when her marriage was arranged but it was her duty and she wasn’t forced to marry him. They where the same age, both from reforming families and both very intelligent. There is a tale that Guildford went with his friends to a brothel but was so drunk that nothing happened. Afterwards he changed his ways. We don’t know how either of them really felt but there was some affectionate letters between them. Jane was not a push over and once she accepted the crown she started to use her political power at once as evidenced by her orders on the army and her control of the keys in the Tower to prevent the Council deserting her. She made a proclamation which called the real Queen, Mary, and her supporters traitors so Jane was just as adamant about her own right to rule as Mary was. Frances supported her daughter and carried her train. This was remarkable because Frances should have been the next heir after Elizabeth and Mary where excluded by Edward. She was asked to step aside because of her age and it was hoped that Jane and Guildford, married in May 1553 would have children quickly to succeed Edward. Unfortunately, there was no time for that as Edward died on 6th July 1553 and Jane and her future heirs where made his successors. This Devise was never ratified by Parliament so it is argued that her succession wasn’t lawful. Not that it mattered as Mary rallied her supporters and within two weeks was proclaimed Queen. She was the legitimate daughter of Henry Viii and Katharine of Aragon, a Tudor on the throne, not a remote grand niece. Mary made sure her legal status was confirmed by Parliament.

    Frances remained close to her cousin, Mary and had always been a friend and supported her and her mother. This was out of character for her and she went to the Queen to plead for mercy and this was granted. Unfortunately, when her husband rebelled, as I said before, her daughter, Jane and her husband where executed, already having a death sentence on them. Frances was spared and may not have been in London at the time. It appears we don’t actually know where she was. She was probably mourning. It is a great pity that her reputation has suffered through mythology, popular assumptions, modern media and Victorian story telling. Richard Davy immortalized the ideas of Jane the romantic and Jane the martyr and victim of abuse in his early 20th century biography of Jane Grey. Few historians have ever questioned the tales. This changed with modern works such as Leanne de Lisle on all three Grey sisters and the biography by Nicola Tallis. An excellent article by Susan Higginbotham has exploded the myths of Lady Frances Brandon in depth.

    Her magnificent tomb is in Westminster Abbey and the dedication honours her shows a woman quite different to that of legend. May she rest in peace and her ridiculous legendary reputation with her.

  2. All high born Tudor parents were strict, it did not mean their children were not loved, rather it was a sign of deep affection, all parents knew that their children might if they were lucky be allowed to go to court and earn a place in the king or queens household, and the Tudors many of them were very precocious, Jane especially was said to be more clever than the Lady Elizabeth herself a very learned lady, certainly her passion for studying was exceptional and as Ives wrote in his biography ‘A Tudor Mystery’, ‘her reputation was heard as far away as Zurich’, she did complain to her tutor that her parents picked on her if she did not stand straight enough or did not do this properly etc, it could just be the whining’s of a surly teenager, but it does suggest she was quite a strong character, not the meek little miss characterised by the victorians, and Jane proved she was a Tudor when she was queen so briefly and did not know tow before Dudley or her councillors, so such a character would rebel against authority a little, her younger sisters made no such complaints against their parents, but they had not the scholarly reputation of Jane, and maybe Dorset and his wife were a bit more strict with her because they recognised her brilliance and hoped one day she might marry Prince Edward, however I do believe that Frances reputation for being a bit of an old harridan might be a bit misplaced, there was a picture said to be of her with her second husband and for years this stout elderly woman with a bullish face was thought to be Lady Frances Grey, but since has been disproved, in several fiction books she is depicted as a bully and beating Jane for preferring her books to the glories of the hunt, this depiction is unfair, ‘A Crown In Darkness’ by ‘Margaret Mallory’ showed Frances as a dreadful unfeeling unaffectionate mother who actually disliked all her daughters for not being sons, thus these long dead people are maligned and it is only by careful research we get to know a much more tolerant figure, however I have no love myself for Frances I feel she was greedy for power and pushed her daughter towards the throne, both Jane and her young husband were still only children by our standards when they were thrust into the limelight and in doing so lost their lives, the plot could well have been masterminded by Dudley and he coerced Jane’s parents into being part of the plan, but it was very dangerous to attempt to seize the crown and both Frances and her husband knew they were committing treason, the punishment for which was death, Dudley has gone down in history as a brilliant charismatic personality, he had the young kings ear and he was an ardent Protestant, little Edward surrounded himself with those of a like mind and it was obvious to the rest of the council that he was more or less in his control, he was both feared and unloved, only it seems his family adored him, he had many children, two of whom were later to become firm favourites at Elizabeth’s court, Ambrose and Robert the latter whom was loved devotedly by the queen, the shame Dudley brought upon his house however and that of the Greys by his failed plot earned him and Jane’s father a place in St Peter Ad Vincula, along with their son and daughter, we do not know if Frances herself was eager for her daughter to be queen however in fiction as I have already said, she is depicted as being hungry for power, maybe she had no choice but to fall in with her husbands and Dudleys plans, wives were meant to be subservient were they not? But wether she was a willing member or a reluctant one she was extremely lucky Queen Mary forgave her, she lived her natural life span and her tomb is magnificent, unlike her poor and brilliant daughter who ended her life before it had even begun, and whose grave has never as yet been found, her daughter Katherine went onto marry but fell foul of Elizabeth during her reign, was incarcerated in the Tower for marrying without the queens permission, and her baby sister Mary a plain little hunchbacked dwarf was also viewed with suspicion and led quite a lonely life, she to married but had no children, there are however many descendants of Frances through her second eldest child Katherine who was known as being a famous beauty, she could well have inherited her looks from her royal grandmother Mary Tudor because certainly, in her lifetime no one ever praised Frances Brandon’s physical appearance, I could say RIP Lady Frances Brandon but the sympathy I have for her eldest daughter keeps me from doing so, but I do admit she could well be unfairly maligned, her husband was an even bigger fool for after being given a pardon, he went onto commit treason again for joining Thomas Wyatt’s plot, so in the same year Frances lost both husband and daughter, Mary was a very forgiving monarch because contrary to the myth about this often maligned queen as well, she showed generosity of spirit by pardoning all those who had taken part in Dudley’s plot, Jane’s father should have thanked god he had such a forgiving monarch, but sadly like so many before him and those that came after, he never learnt his lesson.

    1. The portrait you refer to is now believed more correctly to be Lady Mary Neville and her son, Gregory. Fancy a reputation being made on a portrait, really. We are a shallow race.

      I do believe Lady Frances and Sir Henry Grey as well as John Dudley, who when all is said and done himself was a nobody. His title was given to him, he wasn’t noble. His family already had the stain of treason and he was amongst those only too willing to abandon the will of King Henry Viii for the Regency to support the Seymour Supremacy. That relationship turned sour and it was John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and now Duke of Northumberland who dominated the Council. We have two versions here about why the Council accepted the Devise of Edward vi and it’s not easy to work out the truth.

      Frances and her husband blamed everything on Northumberland (John Dudley) who apparently was a forceful character. That’s not surprising. They were trying to save their own necks and as we have seen with Henry Viii, neither Frances’ sex or rank would have saved her, had Mary judged her guilty of treason. Two Queens and two noble women, one the niece of two Kings had been executed by Henry Viii. The other version is that it was the idea of King Edward and that Northumberland merely sold it to the Council. The Council went along with what was the will of their King.

      Like the Protectorate of Richard iii as Duke of Gloucester you have more than one version of history and really do have to work out what really happened. You also have to understand the legal powers held by the Lord Protector as these are particularly English in nature and have varied over time. Misunderstandings of this role have often led to a misunderstanding of the history associated with the individual in that position. For example Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester held the position but wasn’t granted full Regency powers, so he wasn’t like another King, he had to rely on the Council without executive powers. Richard was granted full Regency powers and he still held for life the political office of Constable of England. He was to rule with the Council but he had extensive legal executive powers. The same role was in effect granted and taken by Edward Seymour except he wasn’t Constable of England, which was something Richard already held. Henry had set up a Regency Council of 16 men to prevent a full power grab. That was ignored and 9 others supported Seymour. The whole thing went south when the Seymour brothers were executed for treason. Since then the Earl of Arundel and Northumberland had dominated the Council and political scene.

      It was the Earl of Arundel who put his weight behind the Devise and the Council don’t actually appear to have been bullied but it’s far from certain how much pressure was put on them. It’s also unclear as to what pressure John Dudley put on Edward. He was ill for months and yet it is his thinking we see in the draft documents. I do feel that Henry Grey had a fair bit of influence, especially as his own family had played power games before. He was very well educated himself and extremely bright. Frances could have done better but Henry was a ward of her father and his affairs where controlled by Charles Brandon until he came of age. As the Earl of Dorset he held an ancient title and his family where famous for their jousting as well as political intrigue. After all they were descendents of Elizabeth Grey, Lady Wydeville. The two families aligned themselves in a triple marriage but they were already aligned by marriage and reformed religion. They were connected at Court and they spent much time together. A marriage between their children did have several advantages and can be seen simply as clever manoeuvres. There is no doubt in my mind either that the two families were ambitious and had a long-term game plan to be close to the throne. Whether that included being parents of a future Queen, we can only speculate based on hindsight.

      I think that Frances was actually worried about this idea of her daughter on the throne and we know she was aware of it because she was summoned by the King and told to set her own superior claim aside. The Devise was sent to the Judges and Council weeks before Edward died, so the conspiracy was happening for several weeks. Whoever initiated it, Dudley or Grey, the two families where in agreement and where waiting for Jane to be prepared to accept the crown. They knew what they were doing. However, it was the will of King Edward, so was it treason? Yes, as far as Mary was concerned and as far as the law was concerned. If Parliament or the Three Estates confirmed it, then Jane was Queen. The Devise wasn’t ever ratified. Jane wasn’t there long enough to be crowned or to open her own Parliament or everything would have been legal. However, she was Proclaimed Queen. She issued legal documents under her Royal Seal and she gave orders as Queen. Jane may even have had a symbolic crowning. Her successors never recognised her and she wasn’t broadly recognised either.

      Frances was ambitious, that I agree but she also had to support her husband and her daughter. She rode in the middle of the night to plead for her family. She was lucky and she was no fool. She knew Mary was willing to offer a pardon to those who joined her side. Her husband was locked up but Frances had him released. No doubt she pleaded for her daughter and son in law. Mary saw Jane as an innocent and certainly in the conspiracy she was. However, she saw herself called by a higher power and accepted the crown, if a little reluctant to do so. She was assured it was the will of King Edward. The family had positioned themselves for four days, getting everything ready and brooking no opposition. Jane was received by a silent population. One boy cried out that the throne belonged to Queen Mary and had his ears cut off. Frances supported everything over the next ten days but Jane refused to make Guildford a King. She was also aware of the not so legal status of her claim, I think. Everyone must have been aware that this was less than legal and it could all go wrong.

      Mary wrote to every member of the Council to uphold her claim and she set up a base at her stronghold of Framlingham in Suffolk. The navy came over to her side. The lord mayors made speeches to support her, the local lords went to her side, she gathered over 10,000 men and had an army at her back. Led by Lord Arundel the Council abandoned Jane and she was forced to accept it was all over. Northumberland had tried to save himself but as the instigator and with Frances and her husband putting all the blame on him as the Council did, he didn’t stand a chance. Northumberland was soon tried and executed. Ironically he became a Catholic before be died. Frances was allowed to live in Richmond with her second husband and she was lucky as most of her family were also freed and pardoned. Unfortunately for Guildford and Jane and Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, more treason in their name put them in the frame as too dangerous to allow to live. They were all executed in February 1554.

      1. Thanks Lyn Marie, the portrait of Mary Neville was for some years thought to be that of Francis, elderly and and stout with a rather grumpy expression on her face, she looks like she is annoyed over something, considering Frances maligned reputation it’s hardly surprising Mary was taken to be her, she does indeed look a battle axe, what I find it surprising that Frances married her second husband not long after the deaths of her daughter and first husband, maybe her emotions were all in turmoil and she seized what she hoped would give her a second chance of happiness, it must have been dreadful to lose both husband and child in such way, I also heard the story about the child who lost his ears for shouting out the throne was the Lady Mary’s, it was very harsh treatment towards a minor but he had spoke treason, still a dreadful thing to do to a young person, as for Jane we can see she was in a very awkward situation, when things happened in those days they believed it was by divine judgement, so she must have thought it was gods calling, it was him who approved of Protestantism, no popish monarch on the throne, so yes she probably was a little reluctant at first after the initial shock had worn off, then decided if it be her lot to be queen then be queen she would, but her crown was shaky and although technically she could not be tried for treason, she had after all no involvement in Edwards devise, but in accepting the crown it was considered by Mary’s supporters that that act constituted treason, it was such a legal quagmire that Edward had caused in his bid to keep England free from Catholicism that he put his young cousin in terrible danger, her death was inevitable considering the danger she posed to Queen Mary, those men of the council who had pledged their loyalty to Jane began deserting her as Mary was proclaimed queen leaving this poor young girl vulnerable and alone, she was left in the Tower that later was to become her prison, Queen Anne Boleyn was about thirty five when she was beheaded, sophisticated a woman of the world, she showed remarkable courage at her execution, Lady Margaret Pole was about seventy, she had experienced a long life , yet how did young Jane feel a teenager, barely out of the schoolroom when convicted of high treason and condemned to death? It is very hard to imagine a young person today being executed and it would send shock waves throughout our tolerant world, we know those awful events that followed Edward V1’s death actually occurred, and it was Jane Greys tragedy that she was born in the century she was.

  3. It was out of the batch of Dudley brothers that we get Sweet Robin, who was in the Tower at the same time as Princess Elizabeth in 1554. Ambrose Dudley, another brother was tried, condemned and pardoned. He became Earl of Warwick as well. He also has a grand chest tomb in the famous Beauchamp Chapel in Saint Mary Colegiate Church, Warwick, which is in the town centre, not the castle grounds, the traditional burial place of the long line of Earls especially the Neville family. Here is buried Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury in the famous tall, framed tomb and the marble tomb of the same Robert Dudley and his second wife, Lettice Knowles dominates the side of the Chapel. Their young son, also Robert Dudley is buried there, aged between 3 and 8 years old. Looking at the tomb he was probably closer to 8 than three, but the records are very confusing. He is referred to as That Noble Imp.

    In the same place, right at the side of the grand Dudley tomb is a little brass plaque. It honours Sir William Parr 1571. He was the brother of Queen Katharine Parr, the one who wanted his wife burned for adultery. Yes, believe it or not it was legal. He had petitioned King Henry Viii to have his wife, Anne, accused of petty treason but the King refused. Instead the couple divorced and she was given some lands in 1543. He married twice more but died without a lawful child. The Queen bore the cost of the funeral. He was Earl of Northampton. His ledger stone lies next to the tomb of Ambrose but is in 16th century English and the plaque is very useful, if a bit obscure. He was staying at the hospital in Warwick, a hotel for the poor, when he died of the plague. Thus he was buried in Saint Mary’s.

    Lettice Knowles was previously married to the Earl of Essex and her son, Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, became the famous toy boy of Elizabeth I. His obsession with the Queen, his failure in Ireland, his humiliation of her one night when she was in bed, his ridiculous rising, all led to his eventual execution for treason in 1601. Lettice Knowles had a third husband, Sir Christopher Blount, who was successful in Ireland. She had married Dudley without the Queen’s permission and was banished from Court. Lettice was the daughter of Catherine Carey and her husband Francis Knowles, who was the daughter of Mary Boleyn and Sir William Carey. Everyone on Facebook is related to her lol. The present Queen certainly is. Of course this meant that Lettice and Catherine were cousins of Queen Elizabeth. Some people think that her real father was Henry Viii, but that’s another story.

    Robert Dudley was of course released and went on to become the favourite of Elizabeth I. She definitely loved him at one time and he was in love with Elizabeth. They couldn’t marry despite romantic moments at the start of his reign as he married in May 1550 to Amy Robsart. She died on 8th September 1560 in mysterious circumstances, her body being found at the bottom of the stairs at home. Some say she was killed, some it was suicide, some an accident. Amy had breast cancer and was ill at the time of her death. However, she was looking forward to Robert coming home and had ordered a new dress. She had dismissed the servants and her companions and was alone in the house. This was unknown in Tudor England and she was also probably depressed. The verdict of the post mortem was an open verdict. The QC who looked at the jury post mortem was professional in his report and Robert Dudley was keen to find the truth. It was never a stain on him but Elizabeth couldn’t marry him after this. Robert was still trying to win her hand in 1574 when he entertained her for several days at Kenilworth and pushed the boat out. Here he most certainly courted Lettice Knowles and they were married soon afterwards. Elizabeth was furious and she really took it as a personal slight.

    In 1588 Leicester as he was now Earl of this as well, died and wrote the Queen a last very loving letter which she wrote on it… His Last Letter and kept it. She was distraught at his end. She was also somewhat reconciled to Lettice Knowles, his widow.

    Some people have speculated that Elizabeth may have been much happier had she been able to marry Robert Dudley. In fact it would probably have been a disaster. For one thing, his father and grandfather had been executed as traitors and the law extended the stain of treason to the next generation unless the monarch changed that. For another, he wasn’t exactly politically astute and he managed to upset the majority of courtiers around him. He wasn’t discreet either and everyone knew that he visited the Queen at night. He also hated being at Court. Contrary to popular belief Dudley wrote that he wanted to be away from Elizabeth and the political den of intrigue at Court as much as possible. He was, however, constantly called back as one of the few people who could control her violent temper. Elizabeth was out of sorts when Dudley wasn’t around. At the same time, he didn’t spend all that much time with his wife and she didn’t have her own home. Dudley was good at entertaining the Queen but he was also involved in conspiracy against her. There is some indication that he was caught up in the Ridolfi Plot 1572, although nothing was proven against him. He was naive and he was more obsessed than actually in love with the Queen. He was also the type of husband Elizabeth didn’t want, outrageously ambitious. There is no way he would have accepted anything less than the crown matrimonial i. e. the official title of consort or King. Elizabeth didn’t want to share power and she feared men trying to take it from her if she gave them too much of a chance. Essex came dangerously close to doing just that. Elizabeth was a sole femme and that wasn’t about to change. The law put any husband she had personally as the head of her household, she was meant to obey him. Mary had worked ways around that into her marriage contract but in private she was prepared to give and take. Elizabeth certainly wasn’t. She might love Robert Dudley but she would never allow any man to rule her. Elizabeth also had some personal issues with marriage. She was a rare Protestant monarch in a Catholic world. There were issues of tolerance and rights etc with a mixed marriage. All children had to be raised as Catholic, for example, in a country where the Mass was outlawed, msking that impossible. She had also experienced some abuse as a young woman, still barely a teenager which must have made intimacy difficult. Her father’s example must have been off putting. There is no evidence that at the age of nine Elizabeth said that she would never marry and she did actively take part in marriage negotiations and Courtship. Her Council remained divided on the issues of whom to marry and the problems a French marriage would bring. In the end she grew too old and gave up. It was a decision which left her vulnerable to plots, especially from the fertile Mary Queen of Scots and which made her suspicious of anyone in love and marrying without her consent. She still played the same games of love her mother was famous for and love still blossomed at her Court, but it was with hesitation and often wild consequences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *