Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk

Frances BrandonOn this day in 1559, Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, died at Richmond. She was buried in St Edmund’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, on the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I, and her second husband, Adrian Stokes, erected a tomb in her memory.

Frances was born on the 16th July 1517, St Francis’s Day, at Hatfield. She was the eldest daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his third wife Mary Tudor, Queen of France, sister of Henry VIII. “Lady Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Grey” acted as proxies for Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary at Frances’s christening at Hatfield on the 18th July. Some believe the mystery “Lady Boleyn” to be Anne Boleyn’s aunt, also named Anne Boleyn, and others believe it to be Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of the future Queen Anne Boleyn.

Frances married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, at Suffolk House, Southwark, around May 1533. Her mother, Mary, died in June 1533, and Frances acted as chief mourner at her funeral. Just three months later, her father, Charles Brandon, married his ward, Catherine Willoughby de Eresby. Frances became the Duchess of Suffolk in 1551 when her husband was made Duke of Suffolk on 11th October following the deaths of Frances’s half-brothers that summer.

Frances’s first two children, a son and a daughter, died in infancy, but she had three surviving daughters with her first husband, Henry Grey: Lady Jane Grey, Lady Catherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey. Her daughter, Jane, became Thomas Seymour’s ward and lived with him and his wife, Catherine Parr for a time. Frances has often been portrayed as an overly harsh mother after John Aylmer wrote of how Lady Jane Grey had complained of her parents’ treatment of her and their correction of her with “pinches, nips and bobs”, but there is no other evidence of this. Jane married the Duke of Northumberland’s son, Guildford Dudley, in May 1553, and was proclaimed queen on 6th July 1553, after being named Edward VI’s heir in his “Devise for the Succession”. Jane, Frances and Jane’s husband, Guildford Dudley, his father and brothers, were imprisoned in the Tower of London following Mary I’s overthrowing of Jane’s short reign, but Frances and Suffolk were released on 31st July 1553.

Following Suffolk’s’ involvement in Wyatt’s Rebellion, his and Frances’s daughter, Lady Jane Grey, was executed on the 12th February 1554, and Suffolk was executed on the 23rd February. Frances went on to marry her Master of the Horse, Adrian Stokes, and Mary I allowed them to reside at Richmond. Frances gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, who died in infancy.

Frances was ill enough on 7th November 1559 to draw up her will. She was forty-two year-old at her death on 21st November 1559. The Latin transcription on the monument erected at Westminster Abbey by Adrian Stokes for his wife reads, when translated:

“Dirge for the most noble Lady Frances, onetime Duchess of Suffolk: naught avails glory or splendour, naught avail titles of kings; naught profits a magnificent abode, resplendent with wealth. All, all are passed away: the glory of virtue alone remained, impervious to the funeral pyres of Tartarus [part of Hades or the Underworld]. She was married first to the Duke, and after was wife to Mr Stock, Esq. Now, in death, may you fare well, united to God.”

This article is taken from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway.

Author Susan Higginbotham has written some excellent articles on Frances and the Grey family, see The Maligned Frances Grey and also

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15 thoughts on “Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk”
  1. “Lady Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Grey” acted as proxies for Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary at Frances’s christening at Hatfield on the 18th July. Some believe the mystery “Lady Boleyn” to be Anne Boleyn’s aunt, also named Anne Boleyn, and others believe it to be Elizabeth Boleyn, mother of the future Queen Anne Boleyn.

    Does this belong in this article? I think it is a mistake.

  2. Hi Claire just a short note to let you Know that I have notice that in your eritings most of the time when referring to Queen Cathetine Of Aragon you do not use her title unlike when you write about Lady Anne Boleyn and I have also noted the same trend when Addressing Queen Mary I and Queen Elizabeth I Nothing big or disturbing but I though to let you know please correct me if I am wrong , thank you for your research and information

    1. I sometimes put “King” and “Queen” in front of names and I sometimes don’t. More often than not, I just write Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I, Mary I, Catherine of Aragon, Jane Seymour etc. I tend to only use a title if I’m emphasising it for something, e.g coronation, execution, death etc. Nothing to do with the person concerned. I don’t think I ever write “Lady Anne Boleyn”.

  3. The statue on the tomb effigy in Westminster Abbey is of a fine, proud, elegant and tall and slender woman, very traditional and heraldic in its appearence, but the portrait meant to be her and her husband Adrien Stokes in the other article; are definately as two different women. I know the effigy is one of a traditional idealistic nature. but the protrait I believe was at some point shown to be of a completely different woman. In some ways the severe woman in the portrait relfects the myth about Frances from the many historians mentioned above. I think that for a lot of people today that Lady Jane Grey is something of a gentle heroine and part of that myth comes out of the myths that she was badly treated as a child.

    Henry Grey and Frances Brandon when they made an alliance with the Dudleys for Jane were looking to the future. They were making the best social and political match that they thought approriate as Northumberland had the political power and the council behind him. His family were the upcoming one and an alliance with the Greys and Brandons for him was a match with royal blood; and for them it was a good political match and raised the status of both families. I have read in articles, not here but a long time ago that this match was seen as being part of the cruel way in which Jane Grey and her sisters were raised. If their mother did have any disappointment in her daughters not being sons, then commentators may see this match as making up for that disappointment. If you cannot produce male heirs, then you marry them and vice versa. But I see the match as just what it was: a savvy move in the delicate political balancing act that was the England at the end of the reign of the young Edward VI, one without a male or adult or Protestant heir. The match simply made sense and Jane would have been raised to know that she woudl be expected to make a good match. That was the way it was for women of noble and royal blood; not a sinister move by over ambitious parents; just a normal and sensible one.

    I would like to know what Lady Frances really did look like. Have any portraits been identified as actually being hers other than this beautiful effigy?

    1. One of her supposed portraits is on Wikipedia but of course it’s not a confirmed one.

      I just have a comment about Lady Jane’s rumored abuse.I am not sure I believe it myself but there is some evidence.Lady Jane commented herself to Roger Ascham her tutor that she must do things perfectly or suffer so many pinches,nips and bobs that she thought she was in h***.Also the Cardinal Commendone who had been at the court of Mary and Philip II said that Lady Jane was compelled to submit to her marriage to Guildford Dudley by the insistence of her mother and threats from her father.

      Although not real proof you kind of have to wonder when Lady Jane claimed herself she was physically corrected for what appeared to be small things.That is to say she wasn’t measuring up to her mother and father’s standards which were probably pretty high standards.I have read that France’s children were educated in the manner of Kings.

    2. Not sure how lifelike the effigy in Westminster Abbey is, but many from the period are said to be true copies of death mask (Elizabeth I, Henry VII etc). It is my personal favourite out of all the many at the Abbey, though she has had a ‘nose job’ – you can just about tell from the photo above! It is a stunning piece of work, in, I think, marble, and the dedail to her hair is quite amazing. For all Tudor buffs, she is looking up at the memorial to Katherine Knollys, (nee Carey) daughter of Mary Boleyn who is buried in the same chapel and who is believed to have witnessed the execution of her aunt, though this is questioned, and became a favourite with her first cousin Elizabeth.

  4. I’ll have to look at Wikipedia to see if they have a portriat of her. One painting which for ages thought to be that of Frances Brandon and her second husband Adrian Stokes,is not.
    It is of Lady Dacre and her son. It wasn’t uncommon for parents in those days,whether rich or poor to slap or hit their children to correct them. Of course in Jane’s case,she was precoscious, and due to her royal blood given an education much like that of her three royal cousins.

  5. Royal children must have been held up to high demands and standards. I imagine that strict discipline and even physical correction was not unusual; even if they had someone to take the beatings for them (Edward VI is meant to have had a whipping boy called Barnie; who was chastised when he did his schooling wrong instead of the Prince) The Grey girsl were in line to the throne and had to set an example to others just because they were people of noble and royal blood. It is a good guess that they were ‘corrected’ in ways we may find harsh, but which may have been part of the normal way to upbring someone of their education and breeding. Even when parents chastise children; they often do so out of love and a wish to protect them; not out of cruelty or ambition, but ironically out of fondness. In fact the Bible tells parents to chastise children to keep them from sin and harm and does not condone being over lenient with them. It also tells parents to love children and children to obey parents and so on. A happy family ideal has both love and discipline at the heart of it; and let’s face it which of us as teenagers did not moan about our parents being unfair?

    Thanks for the portrait information.

  6. I feel the bottom line of the situation is Frances let Jane be put into the position that she ultimately was.Either Frances herself was being manipulated or she was the manipulator neither of which make her an outstanding mother.

  7. I wonder why Queen Elizabeth had Frances buried in Westminster Abbey bearing in mind that Frances’ mother had an intense dislike for Elizabeth’s mother, and strongly objected to Henry’s relationship with Anne.

  8. Not sure, but it was very early in her reign and maybe there was an element of sympathy and empathy, as well as the fact that she was of royal blood, being the granddaughter of Henry VII. I would love to know what she would have thought of her portrayal in ‘The Tudors’!

  9. I read in a few articles that Lady Frances Brandon was an abusive mother, even by Tudor standards, to her eldest daughter. Do you think this is an unfounded belief?

    1. Yes. The only evidence for this comes from a conversation recorded many decades later by a visiting school master who taught Elizabeth I and other royal children, Roger Ascham. He recalled that he found Jane who was 14 or 15 at the time reading the classics rather than hunting with her family. She told him she would rather be with her books.

      Jane also complained that her mother and her father often corrected her behaviour with pinches and with hits sometimes. This was actually a standard way to raise children during Tudor times. Later Richard Davy, writing her biography repeated the story and emblemished it. The Victorians turned these stories into Jane being bullied into marriage and into the beating you see in the film Lady Jane which is not based in fact.

      We know very little about the upbringing of Jane or her siblings except that she was very bright and well educated. Her family provided her with the best tutors so its hardly likely they would object to her reading her books. Her family were very ambitious but Jane was no angel. She had a temper so it is possible she was corrected at times. There is no evidence that Lady Frances was abusive. Jane would have known that she was expected to marry and Guildford was the same age as her. He wasn’t a drunken idiot, although we do hear he was taken by friends to a brothel. Apparently nothing happened as he passed out from drink. He reformed soon after. He was also a scholar.

      Jane was fond of dancing and hunting and was as much fond of fun and rich clothing as anyone in her class. She was a member of the high nobility, being the granddaughter of Henry Viii’s sister, Princess Mary.

      It is plausible that Jane refused to marry Guildford but its hardly likely her mother would beat her with rods until she complied. I would say this was exaggerated by Davy and others and that it was only the original sources that changed this view. You find a very different Jane and a much warmer relationship with her family in her letters and her prayers for them. There is also evidence of some affection for Guildford. Jane didn’t allow herself to be bullied either, refusing to make her husband King. She also showed signs of taking control of the campaign during her very short reign and of issuing orders. Her mother also willingly held her train which was a place of honour and was happy to stand aside for Jane. In the article there is more information about the legend of Lady Frances Grey and the myth of her being a cruel parent and we see that she was a very different person in reality.

      Two modern works, one by Leanne de Lisle on the three Grey sisters and one by Nicola Tallis called Crown of Blood which is a biography show her relationship with her parents and the lady herself in a more positive light.

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