November 21 – Frances Grey (née Brandon), daughter of Mary Tudor and mother of Lady Jane Grey

On this day in Tudor history, 21st November 1559, Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, died at Richmond.

Frances was laid to rest in St Edmund’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, in London, on the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Frances’ second husband, Adrian Stokes, erected a tomb in her memory.

Frances was the daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and the mother of Lady Jane Grey, or Queen Jane, and she has gone down in history as rather a harsh and abusive mother.

Let me (and Teasel and Ari the cat!) tell you a bit more about the woman who was once named in King Edward VI’s “devise for the succession”…

Further reading: The Maligned Frances Grey – Guest post by Susan Higginbotham


Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk

On this day in Tudor history, 21st November 1559, Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk and the mother of Queen Jane, or Lady Jane Grey, died at Richmond. She was buried in St Edmund’s Chapel, Westminster Abbey, on the orders of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. Her second husband, Adrian Stokes, erected a tomb in her memory.

Frances was born on 16th July 1517, the Feast of St Francis, 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 Queen Catherine of Aragon and Princess Mary at Frances’s christening at Hatfield on 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.

In around May 1533, sixteen-year-old Frances married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset, who was also aged 16, at Suffolk House, Southwark. 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 fourteen-year-old ward, Katherine Willoughby. Frances’s father died in 1545 and in 1551, Frances’s husband, Henry Grey, became Duke of Suffolk following the deaths of Frances’s half-brothers.

Frances’s first two children, a son and a daughter, died in infancy, but she had three surviving daughters with Henry Grey: Lady Jane Grey, Lady Katherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey. Her daughter, Jane, became a ward of Thomas Seymour, brother of the later Queen Jane Seymour and Edward Seymour, Lord Protector, and lived with him and his wife, the dowager queen, Catherine Parr, for a time.

Frances has often been portrayed as an overly harsh and abusive mother after Roger Ascham, who was visiting the Grey household to see his wife Alice and friend John Aylmer, wrote of how Jane 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. Author and historian Susan Higginbotham addressed this topic in an article on the Anne Boleyn Files website, writing:

“The impact of Ascham’s recollection on Frances’s reputation simply cannot be understated. Historians and novelists alike have used it to construct an image of Jane’s entire childhood as more Dickensian than anything that Dickens himself could have imagined, brightened only by Jane’s brief stay at Katherine Parr’s household. Any possibility that the adolescent Jane, like other intelligent adolescents, might have been exaggerating her complaints, that she might have spoken less harshly of her parents with time and maturity, or that her parents might have had genuine cause (by Tudor standards) for disciplining her has been ignored by all but a handful of writers.”

It’s hard to know what was behind Jane’s words,

On 25th May 1553, Frances’s eldest daughter, Jane, married the Duke of Northumberland’s son, Guildford Dudley, and her second daughter, Catherine, married Lord Henry Hastings. Soon after, an ill King Edward VI wrote his “Devise for the succession”, in which he removed his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth from the succession. The original draft stipulated that the Crown would descend through the male heirs of his cousin, Frances, and the male heirs of her children, if Edward died childless. When he took a turn for the worse, Edward changed the Device to read “To the Lady Fraunceses heirs males, if she have any such issue before my death to the Lady Jane and her heirs males.” Then, when it became clear that he was dying, Edward settled the succession of Jane. On 6th July 1553, Jane was proclaimed queen.

Unfortunately for Jane, her reign was cut short when Edward’s half-sister, Mary, took the throne. Jane and her husband, Guildford, her parents, and Guildford’s father and brothers, were imprisoned in the Tower of London, but Frances and Suffolk were released on 31st July 1553 after Frances appealed to her cousin the queen.

Following Suffolk’s involvement in Wyatt’s Rebellion, his and Frances’s daughter, Lady Jane Grey, was executed on 12th February 1554, and Suffolk was executed on 23rd February. Frances went on to marry the Master of her Horse, Adrian Stokes, in 1555, 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.”

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