The Maligned Frances Grey – Guest Post by Susan Higginbotham

I am delighted that we are stop 5 of author Susan Higginbotham’s blog tour for her latest book, Her Highness, the Traitor.

As well as writing this excellent article on Frances Grey (née Brandon), Susan is giving away two copies of Her Highness, the Traitor (USA and Canada only). All you have to do is write a comment below this article before midnight on the 8th June (US Eastern Standard Time) 2012 and two winners will be chosen at random. GIVEAWAY OVER NOW.

Over to Susan…

Few Tudor women—with the exception of Anne Boleyn—have become as enshrouded with myth as Frances Grey (née Brandon), Marchioness of Dorset and later Duchess of Suffolk, the mother of Lady Jane Grey. Stories abound of her greed, ruthlessness, gluttony, unbridled ambition, and cruelty.

As I found when reading Leanda de Lisle’s excellent biography of the Grey sisters and when conducting my own research for Her Highness, the Traitor, the real Frances Grey bears no resemblance to the lurid tales about her. Only in our own time has she become a controversial and loathed figure.

Frances Grey was the daughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and Henry VIII’s sister Mary, Duchess of Suffolk, known as the French queen because of her brief marriage to Louis XII. Frances was born at Hatfield on July 16, 1517. In the spring of 1533, Frances married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset. Born on January 17, 1517, Henry was just a few months older than his new bride. With the death of Frances’s young half-brothers in 1551, Henry Grey was created Duke of Suffolk.

Probably in the spring of 1537, Frances gave birth to a girl, Jane, named after Henry VIII’s latest queen, Jane Seymour. Jane was the nineteen-year-old Frances’s third child: a son and a previous daughter died young.

It is with Jane’s birth that writers of popular nonfiction begin to wreak havoc with Frances’s reputation. Hester Chapman writes that the “Dorsets were disappointed at not having a son” when Jane was born, and goes on to state that Frances Grey “could not forgive” her daughters for their sex. Alison Weir writes that Henry Grey “regarded [Jane] as a poor substitute for the son who had died young before her birth.” In her truly execrable biography of Jane Grey, Mary Luke devotes two entire paragraphs to Frances’s longing to bear her husband a male child, ending with her “sobbing heartbreakingly” when she discovers she has borne a girl. Mary Lovell in her biography Bess of Hardwick writes that after the death of the Greys’ son, Frances gave birth to her daughters, “to whom their parents made it abundantly clear that they were a major disappointment.” None of these writers cite a source for their claim, for the very good reason that there is none. Frances and her husband might well have hoped for a son—parents of their class generally did—but there’s simply no evidence that they did not greet the birth of a daughter with happiness, particularly when the infant thrived instead of following her siblings to the grave. As Eric Ives points out, Henry and Frances Grey were not in the public eye when their most famous daughter was born, and neither her date of birth nor her place of birth has been recorded, much less her parents’ reactions to her arrival in the world.

Henry VIII died in 1547. Shortly afterward, the Greys performed the first act for which history has damned them—agreeing to Thomas Seymour’s request that they put Jane Grey in his wardship, in the hopes that Thomas would broker a match between Jane and the young king, Edward VI. This has been taken as proof of the Greys’ insatiable ambition, but what noble parent, given the opportunity to match their daughter with a king, would have passed up the chance? Like any other girl of her class, Jane would have been brought up with the expectation that she would marry for the good of her family. This was a two-way street: Jane would have also expected that her parents do their best for her future by marrying her to a high-status groom. Whether Jane was aware of these plans for her is unknown, but there is no reason to assume that the possibility of marriage to the king, her first cousin, would have displeased her.

It was in August 1550 that Frances made the biggest mistake of her life, at least in terms of her historical reputation. She went hunting with the rest of the household, and left her daughter Jane behind to greet a visitor, Roger Ascham. It was then that Jane made her famous complaint about her parents, recalled by Ascham years later, after Jane and her parents were all dead:

“For when I am in presence either of father or mother; whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing any thing else; I must do it, as it were, in such weight, measure, and number, even so perfectly, as God made the world; or else I am so sharply taunted, so cruelly threatened, yea presently sometimes with pinches, nips, and bobs, and other ways (which I will not name for the honour I bear them) so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr Elmer; who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him. And when I am called from him, I fall on weeping, because whatsoever I do else but learning, is full of grief, trouble, fear, and whole misliking unto me. And thus my book hath been so much my pleasure, and bringeth daily to me more pleasure and more, that in respect of it, all other pleasures, in very deed, be but trifles and troubles unto me.”

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.

Not content to extrapolate from Jane’s complaints, writers—even those professing to write nonfiction—have invented instances of Frances’s cruelty that simply have no historical basis. Mary Luke’s supposed biography of Jane treats us to vignettes of Frances shaking her infants. (Jane, adding an extraordinary memory to her other gifts, is even depicted by Luke as recalling the shakings.) Mary Lovell in her biography of Bess of Hardwick (a friend of Frances) tells us of Frances’s cruelty to her lower servants, despite the fact that none are on record of complaining about her. (Indeed, the only servant of Frances of which we know anything, Adrian Stokes, became her second husband.)

Frances’s one recorded absence on a hunting trip has given rise to its own series of legends. Although no one actually knows whether Frances enjoyed hunting or whether she simply went on hunting trips out of a sense of social duty, this has not stopped authors like Hester Chapman from droning on about “her tireless enjoyment of open-air sports and indoor games,” or Alison Weir from assuring us that Frances was “never happier than when she was on horseback,” or Mary Luke from writing, “At Bradgate she could slaughter and maim to her heart’s content.” Luke also mentions the Greys’ dining “in the hall hung with the heads of Lady Frances’ unfortunate victims.” One can only hope that Luke was referring to deer.

Even Jane’s fine education, so amply on display when Ascham visited, has been used against Frances and her husband. While other Tudor parents who gave their daughters classical educations are praised for their enlightened notions regarding women, the Greys’ education of Jane is treated as part of a long-term scheme to put their daughter upon the throne or, by more generous writers, as the Greys’ way of compensating for not having a living son. Some writers even depict the Greys as resenting Jane’s intellectual activities. Henry Grey’s patronage of scholars and his reputation as a man who was proud of his own learning are blithely ignored by these writers, as is the fact that had the Greys disapproved of their daughter’s fondness for learning, all they had to do was dismiss her tutors and take away her books. Instead, they allowed her to correspond internationally and to receive visits from scholars—even to skip the famous hunting trip of 1550.

Those who accuse Frances of being a cruel mother, of course, can also point to the fateful spring and summer of 1553, when Jane married Guildford Dudley and when the dying Edward VI made Jane his heir. Scholars have argued endlessly over whether the marriage was simply a standard aristocratic marriage or whether more sinister purposes were involved, and whether it was Edward VI himself or the Duke of Northumberland who originated the plan to put Jane on the throne, but no contemporary source suggests that Frances, whose claim to the throne was better than her own daughter’s, influenced these events. Jane Grey herself, writing in the Tower after Mary I had reclaimed the throne, put no blame on her own parents. Although some Italian sources maintain that Jane’s parents beat her in order to force her to marry Guildford, English sources tell no such lurid tale, and Jane never claimed that she had been physically forced to marry Guildford, although it certainly would have served her interests with Mary to be able to say so.

Following Mary I’s bloodless victory over Jane’s forces, Jane was imprisoned, as was her father. Frances traveled to Mary’s lodging and persuaded the new queen to free Henry Grey. It has been supposed that Frances made no attempt to beg for Jane’s freedom, but it may simply be that Frances asked but was refused. Likewise, Frances is not recorded as visiting Jane in prison, but her counterpart the Duchess of Northumberland, who is well known to have been working actively to get her sons released, is not recorded as paying such visits either. Frances seems to have been on good terms with Mary, her first cousin and her godmother, and perhaps she was working quietly behind the scenes in hopes of persuading Mary to free Jane. We can only speculate.

Any chance that Mary would spare Jane’s life, however, evaporated when Henry Grey joined Wyatt’s rebellion, after which Mary believed it necessary to execute Jane and Guildford for her continued security. (The notion that Mary executed Jane simply to guarantee that Philip of Spain would marry her is not borne out by the diplomatic correspondence.) Frances was not implicated in the rebellion. Again, there is no record of Frances pleading for Jane’s life, but there is no particular reason to believe that she didn’t. The fact that no farewell letter from Jane to Frances survives has been taken as proof that Jane disliked Frances so much that she chose not to write to her, but Michelangelo Florio, Jane’s Italian tutor, stated that Jane did in fact write to Frances. The letter may have been lost, or Frances may have chosen to destroy it.

Jane was executed on February 12, 1554, and Frances’s husband Henry Grey was executed on February 23, 1554. According to Frances’s postmortem inquisition, she married Adrian Stokes, variously identified as her master of horse, her steward, or her equerry, on March 9, 1554. Frances’s hasty marriage so soon after the executions of her husband and her daughter has been taken as proof of her heartless nature, but at least one near contemporary, Elizabeth I’s early biographer William Camden, believed that Frances made the match “to her dishonor, but yet for her security.” Marrying a commoner distanced Frances and her surviving children from the crown, ensuring that Mary would not see them as a threat.

Which brings us to The Picture. For centuries, the portrait shown here, of a stout, middle-aged woman and a much younger man, was identified as a portrait of Frances Brandon and Adrian Stokes. In Our Mutual Friend, Charles Dickens commented on Mrs. Wilfer’s “remarkable powers as a physiognomist; powers that terrified [her husband] when ever let loose, as being always fraught with gloom and evil which no inferior prescience was aware of.” Where Frances is concerned, popular historians have outdone Mrs. Wilfer. Hester Chapman, for instance, waxes eloquent: “In the picture of her and her second husband, painted shortly before her death, the small, piercing grey eyes have sunk, the reddened swollen cheeks hang in stiff folds, and the expression is one of greedy complacency. It is the face of a woman not so much coldly indifferent to the feelings of others as actively cruel.” The problem for Chapman, and others who have followed her lead, is that their efforts were sorely misdirected: the portrait in question was properly identified a number of years ago. It is not one of Frances and Adrian at all, but one of Lady Mary Neville and her son, Gregory Fiennes. The only depiction of Frances which can be identified with certainty, in fact, is the handsome effigy on her tomb, which, no doubt to the disappointment of her modern-day detractors, does not provide any opportunity for the Mrs. Wilfers of the world to wax sinister.

Frances is in a strange position, for unlike Anne Boleyn, Frances was not a controversial figure in her day. None of Frances’s contemporaries are known to have disliked her; when Sir Richard Morison groused about “Lady Suffolk’s heats” in May 1551, he was referring to Frances’s stepmother, the sharp-tongued and quick-tempered Katherine Brandon, and not to Frances, who did not hold the Suffolk title until later that year. No contemporary is on record as regarding Frances as an unusually harsh mother; even Roger Ascham, having repeated Jane’s remarks, did not see fit to criticize Jane’s parents, but moved on to his real subject— “why learning should be taught rather by love than fear.” Indeed, soon after Jane’s death, Frances was entrusted with the care of her husband’s niece, Margaret Willoughby, whose friends commented approvingly on Frances’s success in introducing the young girl at court. Even Mary Lovell is forced to acknowledge Bess of Hardwick’s apparent affection for Frances.
So what happened? What made Frances Grey one of the most intensely hated figures from Tudor history? One explanation is offered by Leanda de Lisle, who noted that as Jane’s reputation as a helpless, meek victim developed over the centuries, Frances’s reputation devolved in parallel fashion: “From the early eighteenth century, Frances became the archetype of female wickedness.”

But there is another reason, I think, why Frances has become such a loathed figure, at least among women – and that is Jane herself. Jane, the girl who preferred reading a book to hunting with the family, is the thinking girl’s heroine. She is the sort of girl who hated gym class, who hated going to family gatherings and having to make small talk with her dreary relations, who spent her lunch hour hiding out in the library. She is the sort of a girl who grows into a reader and, often, into a writer. When female readers and authors come across Jane’s complaint to Roger Ascham, they do not picture just Jane, but themselves.

In that situation, poor Frances doesn’t stand a chance.

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85 thoughts on “The Maligned Frances Grey – Guest Post by Susan Higginbotham”
  1. Great and interesting article Susan. I have not read a lot about Frances Grey, but what I have read does not paint her in a positive light. I look forward to reading your book.

  2. Susan’s articles are always so fascinating! I’d love to win a copy of the new book – please enter me – I have a US address.

  3. Very interesting. I recall reading in some biographies of Mary I that Mary originally wanted to pardon Jane as an innocent pawn,but changed her mind after Suffolk joined Wyatt. If so, this would explain Frances’s failure to plead for Jane … it wasn’t necessary, the first time … and hopeless the second. Thanks for writing this …. and I look forward to reading your book.

  4. Thanks – fascinating read. Sticking to the facts about the Tudors is so much more
    interesting than the fiction.

    Now I want to read the book of course …

  5. The image in Frances that I read in Alison Weir’s “Innocent Traitor” was close to what I thought of her. It also brings to mind the film “Lady Jane” where Frances beats the heck out of Jane in order to get her to submit to a marriage with Guildford Dudley. I don’t think we’ll ever know the whole picture but 16th century parenting IS a lot different than how we raise our kids today. Thank you for this post as it gives me some more facts to consider about Frances 🙂

  6. I would love to win and read Susan’s new book. I am absolutely obsessed with the history of Anne Boleyn and that period of history. I do believe, if reincarnation is true, I lived in that period at one time, that is why I am obsessed. I live in the Philadelphia, PA, USA area and would love to receive Susan’s book. Elaine

  7. Wonderful article. Well written with intelligent, insightful bias thoughtfulness. The way history should always be written.

  8. Sounds wonderful and enlightening. Personally I think people began to give Frances a bad rep when she was left out of the succession in Henry VIII will, and her daughters were included. We also have to remember that Seymour was a “sweet-talker”, he presented her parents with an image that there daughter could be Queen, and one most not forget that daughters were not considered a blessing they were used to advance the family name. I would love to win a copy of this book to add to my collection of Susan’s books.

  9. A very interesting article on Frances Grey. Like Richard III, once the myths about a historical figure become widely accepted, many times because of copy-cat writers, retrieving their reputation is difficult. I’m happy to see that one of my very favorite authors, Susan Higgenbotham, gives a fresh take on the Greys. While I treasure my copy of “The Daughters of Suffolk” by William Jasper Nicolls published in 1910, a breathless and fanciful take on the family, I’m truly looking forward to reading what I’m sure will be a well-researched and fascinating “Her Highness the Traitor.”.

  10. Great article. I admit I once saw Frances Brandon is a negative light, but then I read de Lisle’s book, and my opinion was changed. Frances emerged as a woman of her time, removed from the archetypical monster of later history. Further, it was after reading Ives’s book on Jane, I became more aware of Jane, and the role she played in her own rise to power. It was this work that forced me to reconsider Jane, and thus, the perceptions of her parents, guardians, etc. Ives effectivley argues for Jane as active player rather than meek victim. Sadly, the negative perceptions of Frances Brandon persist. It seems easier to perpetuate unfounded myth than to consider the actual facts presented.

  11. I haven’t read much about Frances Grey. This was very fascinating. I’m looking forward to this book. Thanks for the opportunity to win!

  12. Very interesting. This is the first I have read about Frances Grey, and it seems she deserves a closer, honest look. I look forward to reading your book!

  13. This is so exciting! I saw this book at the bookstore the other day and really wanted to buy it, but didn’t have my gift card with me! It looks like a fascinating story about a woman I’ve never read about, and I would be so excited to learn about her story! Crossing my fingers! I love these book giveaways! 🙂

  14. I really enjoyed reading this. The only perception I have of Frances is the movie “Lady Jane”. I am very happy that there is more research and publishing on the other personalities at the Tudor court. It wasn’t just the king and his queen and children. There were so many other fascinating people. Understanding them helps us to understand the society and it’s actions as a whole. I would love to win the book. Our library system has been decimated by repeated cuts by two different governors and have little hope of them adding books. Thank you.

  15. Great article, it seems that all of the Tudor women have been misrepresented in our modern era as we attempt to place contemporary values and goal on women who lived five hundred years ago in a world and culture that was completely different from today. Looking forward to reading the novel.

  16. It is still so striking to me that women of that period married and had children so young. Frances was 19 years old when she gave birth to her third child! I had my first at 27.
    Admittedly, I don’t know much about Frances Grey, but I look forward to learning more. As alwasy, my book collection is ever growing. Historical fact is often times so much more interesting than fiction.

  17. Very interesting! I knew very little about Frances Grey and this article makes me want to learn more! Look forward to reading – hope to win the giveaway!

  18. Thank you for a wonderfully enlightening article! I developed a fascination with Jane Grey as a child and have read so many books about her that I’ve lost count. And always her mother was portrayed as a villain. Nice to see that she wasn’t so bad after all. And over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that although Jane Grey is a fascinating young woman and sympatheitic victim, I doubt I would have liked her very much. I think she was probably a bit overly studious and full of her own sense of intellectual accomplishment. Not sure where that came from, but it’s just a feeling that I’ve developed about her. Thanks again for the fascinating artical.

  19. Fantastic article. I always had an issue with the image of Frances Brandon as I have such a romantic view of Mary and Charles Brandons relationship. From everything I’ve read it seems the other grey sisters never had quite the same upbringing as Jane. It always feels to me that Janes parents always had some subconscious idea that Jane was their ticket to the throne and they raised her with this in mind?

  20. The Grey family has intrigued me for years! There is something about Jane’s story that touches me so deeply. I look forward to reading this new book and reviewing some historical information on the family and our Jane.

  21. The Grey family has intrigued me for years! There is something about Jane’s story that touches me so deeply. I look forward to reading this new book and reviewing some historical information on the family and see what I can find out about Jane’s mother.

  22. Thank you for the great article. Frances has been much maligned by history. I loved the De Lisle book. I already have your new book and can’t wait to start reading it. However, I am in the middle of Hugh and Bess and must finish that one first.

  23. So many strong, Tudor women who get maligned throughout history… three immediately come to mind: Anne, Frances, Jane Boleyn… and I’m sure there are many, many more! We are so lucky to have people like Claire and Susan, who look past the accepted word, dig deeper, find the truth, and share it.

    Thank you!!!

  24. From 1977, when I first became fascincated with Jane, Frances and Henry Grey (but especially Frances) have been depicted as the parents from hell. I guess that I always believed that because that’s what all of the history books said. I guess what the article said was true – I related to Jane because I was always the girl who hated gym class, hated going to family gatherings (where some of my relatives reminded me of Frances (or at least how she has was depicted), at least as far as being verbally abusive, and spent lunch hiding out in the library.

  25. Well written and fair-minded article. Nontheless, were a modern Psychiatrist to be transported to that period, they’d have a field day!

  26. It never ceases to amaze me that so many of the books I have read about Tudor history contain myths stated as facts. Informative, interesting article. Thank you for changing my opinion of a woman I had such a horrible opinion of…and for citing some authors who do not adequate research prior to publishing their books.

  27. What a great post! I had no idea that Frances was so badly maligned. I’m looking forward to your book.

  28. It’s a bit worrying how often historians actually make up their facts to suit their theories, isn’t it? I had believed all the stories about Frances Grey, as well, until I read this article. Thanks for clarifying things. 🙂

  29. Excellent article. I think the truth about Francis Grey is somewhere in the middle of where history had placed her in the Jane Grey happening. It is understandable if Francis was disappointed by not have a son. Sons were a woman’s salvation in those days, but I don’t think she mistreated, or used Jane in the terrible manner that has been shownin film, novels, and some nonfiction. The thing I have always wondered is about her giving up her place in the line to the throne to her daughter. What was really behind her doing that? I, also, do not think that Jane Grey was all the innocence that she has been made out to be.

  30. I LOVED the article as I know virtually nothing about poor Lady Jane Grey, except that Mary I wanted to spare her until the Wyatt Rebellion, and then it was said to from someoone to someone that Mary I had signed the warrant, and the quote I remember is that, “Traitors are not pardoned twice.”

    Also, Elizabeth did and later say to Mary that is was she who, “,,,joyfully rode with her into London and face those who would gladly have taken her throne.” This was true, but Mary also had Elizabeth basterdized under the Roman Catholic Church again, and was immediately put under house arrest and endure endless questioning as Mary did not want the “Act of Succession” to go through if she died childleess.

    I look very much forward to getting your book and reading it! Mary Queen of Scots was also had a chance to be heir, but Roman Catholicism was not what England wanted, and she was the granddaughter of Henry VIII”s older sister Margaret, whereas Lady Jane was heir by Henry’s favorite sister Mary, and this is how I suspect the whole thing and much happened. Thank you, WilesWales!

    I willl defend Queen Anne for as long as I’m around! She was innocent of all charges against her, but she gave England a very glorious gift, Queen Elizabeth I. Queen Elizabeth I was the the greatest absolute monarch that country ever had!

    “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes:…” Pslams 118:23

  31. Susan, and anyone else for that matter, I was wondering what your views are regarding Frances Grey’s portraiture? As you say, there are no known portraits of her, but she was the niece of Henry VIII, and therefore a princess of the blood royal, the daughter of a queen, and a high-ranking duchess, so surely there should be dozens of portraits of her!

    Alison Weir has proposed that the portrait said to be of Mary Boleyn may be Frances. This may be true, but I don’t know whether anyone shares my theory – that the portrait said to be Katherine Howard is not actually her but Frances Grey:

    Since the lady in the portrait is in her 21st year, and we know Frances was born in 1517, this could suggest it dates from c.1538 – the dress of the lady do suggest late 1530s; it could alternatively be Margaret Douglas or even Mary Tudor.

    I am researching Katherine Howard’s life and have written two articles on her and hopefully an extensive biography; I am quite convinced the portrait is not of her, as she probably did not reach her nineteenth birthday.

    1. It does seem odd that there are no known portraits of Frances, doesn’t it? There is one, said to be from the Royal Collection, that Mary Lovell claimed is a possible portrait of Frances, but she didn’t elaborate. I finally got off my duff today and e-mailed the Royal Collection in hopes that they might be able to tell me more about the portrait.

      For what it’s worth (which may not be much), an inventory of Adrian Stokes’ goods mentions portraits of Katherine Parr, Mary I, and the “French Queen” (Frances’s mother. Mary Tudor), but none of Frances.

      Looking forward to your work on Katherine Howard!

  32. Nice to see another much maligned main charactor of this period raising up from the ashes to be seen for the person she probably was, rather than the person she was perceived to be by wrong interpretation of the facts, or made up nonsense.
    I must say though I have never read good about the Lady, or her husband, so it is be a refreshing change to read a little about her in a ‘good light’. Really enjoyed the post.

  33. I suppose I want to believe that Jane was an innocent pawn in her parents schemes. Yet, I agree with the overuse of Jane’s comments to Ascham. I am fascinated with the “Nine Days Queen” and frankly got sick of reading Ascham’s recollection of Jane’s discontent. I agree it sounds like good ole fashioned teen angst. What teen ever feels as though they are good enough for their parents? Times may change but human nature does not.

  34. This is a thought provoking piece as it goes against everything I’ve ever read about Lady Jane’s life, and her mother, and of course what is portrayed in the movies. I always felt that Mary had no choice but to execute Jane because of the threat of constant uprising. This is sad because I don’t believe Mary bore any ill will towards Jane, it was a matter of “this is business and not personal”. I also believe that Jane probably wanted to be left alone to read her books and had no desire for power or the throne. She’s quite the tragic figure in history, and her parents made to look like evil, ambitious child abusers.
    Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to see this chapter in a different light!

  35. I should definitely read more about this woman, as I know little of her. It would be hard to be looked at as a villainess in your own village, among your own people, if you truly were not. And on top of that, to lose your child in such a cruel, horrible way.

  36. Very good read,Yet another trajic outcome for Lady Jane Grey,she was much to young as well as not having the knowledge ,of what it took to being a Queen and for nine days? I found Queen Jane and Dudlly were so child like,and had know idea what they were doing ,well in fact they were just children,put into a very dangorues situation,as for her parents , well they would’nt get parent of the year.Queen Mary1, was a forced to be recond with,a shame that yet another family wiped out in history.As Queen Anne and her family.As far as Queen Jane Grey she, was just another innocent victum of the Tudors rath.I do however see how one could become greed stricken ,with wealth and power as many people did,very big misstake ,if you did not watch what you were doing, you most likely would end up without your head or worse burned on the stake.But with that said, thats what made history what it is today. Baroness

  37. Loved the article. I’ve never read a more positive consideration of Frances Grey. It’s nice to see that there is a balance and common sense approach to presenting the information insead of the biased books that slander several people of that time due to lack of contemporary sources. It’s also helps since Frances shares my birthdate to know that she wasn’t the nasty person she is normally shown to be. Being a Cancer, we’re neither all good nor all bad. Thanks for sharing the article and the opportunity to express our appreciation. Hope the book does well. Best wishes.

  38. I LOVED this article! I never really believed Frances Grey to be as bad as everybody made her out! I am glad someone is standing up for her.
    Of course the “methods” they used in times to rear children and bring them to be obedient are, shall we say: “frowned upon” now -THANKFULLY-
    Back then it was absolutely normal and I don’t think the Greys did anything any other Tudor parent wouldn’t have done without thinking twice.
    I am looking forward to reading the book! It definitely just catapulted itself to the top of the list! Thanks for your hard work!

  39. Excellent article, with its vigorous defense of Frances Grey. I liked especially the last paragraph, depicting Jane Grey as the thinking girl’s heroine. Am looking forward to reading “Her Highness, the Traitor”.

  40. Great article. Looking forward to reading more. Tudor times are so different than they are now.

  41. This article left the voice of my high school English teacher in my ears. How many times do she stress to our class that “you weren’t there, you weren’t the author, you don’t know what he or she was thinking!” From Jane’s description of her parents has come the legend of their cruelty. As an adult, I can now appreciate some of the thing my parents did when I was younger that absolutely drove me up the wall when I was Jane’s age. I’m sure that if someone had asked me about my parents when I was a teenager I would have responded very much the way she did, I’d take my books over spending time with my family any day!

    I can’t even count the number of times I’ve thought “thank goodness I’m not being judged by what I said and did as a teenager!” Poor Frances Grey is judged by what a teenager said about her!

  42. Queen Jane is such an amazing figure in English history. Her wealth of knowledge and her composure, faith, tenacity and fortitude amidst such dark times in her life and the lives of those around her, compel us to learn about her impact upon others during her short life, and challenge us to listen to what she had to say, even today. Frances’ influence upon the life of the young Queen must have been positive to say the least. I’d love to find out more about her through reading the book.


  43. Superb post, Susan. After reading this, I’m very much looking forward to reading your novel on Jane who has been one of my favorite historical figures to study and after all the biographies I’ve read on her over many decades, I’m always left confounded about her portrayal as some sort of weak, simpering pawn of her parents and the Dudleys, yet she was profoundly intelligent and could hold her own in discourse with the finest scholars and Catherine Parr, who was no slouch herself, academically.
    Your point on her parents desire for a great marriage for her being natural is spot on. Why wouldn’t the daughter of The French Queen, niece and cousin to English kings want an advantageous marriage for her own children? And why wouldn’t Jane expect as much herself?
    I especially enjoy your ending paragraph; your description of Jane. I’ve always imagined her as a wallflower of a sort, a before-her-time blue stocking; awkward w/her own peers, yet quite at home in groups of like-minded intellectuals and religious reformers. A very complex and ultimately tragic young lady.

  44. What an interesting and insightful piece!
    I am looking forward very much to reading more about your portrayal of Jane. I have seen some parallels drawn between Frances and overbearing “stage mothers” in the past, and I cannot wait to delve into your take on the relationship between Jane and her mother.

  45. I just downloaded a sample of this book to my Kindle to chedk it out. After reading this post I know that I will enjoy reading this one and I am looking forward to it!

  46. Best article I’ve read in ages, complete kudos to Susan Higginbotham.

    I love it when authors dig deep and separate the facts (as we can discern them with the distance of 500 years) from fiction. It is not always easy to do and sometimes the historical record only tells us what was not there, i.e., what others have assumed the fact (or absence of fact) tell us.

    It is very easy to paint major female historical figures into one-dimensional caricatures: The Bitch (Frances Grey), the Slut (Katherine Howard), the Doormat (Jane Seymour), the Virago (Anne Boleyn), the Saint (Katherine of Aragon) (OK, I don’t need to go on here…) and the truth is harder to come to — but makes for much more rewarding reading.

    Thank you Susan, and I will look forward to adding your newest to my summer reading list, and remain a huge fan.

  47. Susan,Very good read!We or ,I myself did not know tomuch about the Family Grey,just that ,The Lady Jane Grey was a Queen for 9 Days.Her mother and father were not very likeable people and selfserveing.Jane just a child and Dudley pushed into a marriage,and took the throne for all of 9 days.Then put on trial and to death ,yet a very trajic ending,such as Queen Anne.I have often wonderd how people could be so cruel,just for greed and gain,power.Queen Jane Grey ,was just a child and did not really even know Dudley,another aranged marrige,for power,it almost seems like people back in the day cared only about how much profit they could get at any exspence,truely a shame,and very cruel untimely death for many. Regards Baroness

  48. this arranged marriage scenario was normal in the nobility and jane would have gone willingly to her marriage to dudley,i dont think frances grey or anyone else could have foreseen what transpired later did it not happen with so many others ie the bad ending ie execution .it was all about underhand subterfuge and really they all played the game

  49. My favourit

    This has been my favourite era in history, ever since my very first visit to a public library, as a young girl accompanying my mother, when I choose a book about Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon. The lives of Lady Jane Grey, Mary Tudor and Anne Boyleyn have fascinated me ever since. Thank you for your great work. Denise

  50. Poor Frances…and Henry grey..damned if they did and damned if they didn’t..They gave their 3 daughters the best education they could.

    And they are remembered as child-beaters and anti-intellectuals…so very sad..

    La belle provence du Canada

  51. wonderful insight. I never thought about the details of her mother although I have read that her chilhood relative to her parents was draconian and subserviant to say the least. Lady Jane was a pawn on the chess board of life for the advancement of her parents interests. Such is the greed of the royals!

  52. Great article (the book is on my wishlist now!). I’d love to know what’s going on in the minds of historians who perpetuate or initiate unsubstantiated myths. Do they just feel obliged to embroider the know facts in order to keep things interesting?

    I never found the Jane-as-ever-suffering-victim story very interesting, so I’m glad to see another nail hammered into that coffin. I agree with Geri that charicaturing historical figures is easy but unsatisfying. Wolf Hall is my favourite work of historical fiction partly because it doesn’t impose familiar personality-templates on everyone and instead manages to create coherent characters that fit the conflicting historical sources.

  53. Great post! It was very informative and insightful. I absolutely love this period of time. Can’t wait to read the book, it sounds amazing! 🙂

  54. This article was truly enlightening, I can only imagine how much more so the book will be. I love Tudor history, and all the people that surround it and are a part of it. Frances Grey is a figure shrouded in mystery, a figure who is overshadowed by her daughter. It will be interesting to see what blanks can be filled.

  55. Another great article for a website that has become known for exposing myth and promoting truth! I have always related to Lady Jane since reading the infamous statement about having to be so perfect in all she did or become victim to her parents displeasure. I lived such a life as a child; always trying to please a parent who could never be pleased.Unless you have lived that life there is much you would not understand about that statement. Taking into consideration the hormonal ups and downs of a teenage girl, the natural inclination to exaggerate our own suffering and the hopes of gaining an ally, as well as it being reported years after the fact and memory may not have been completely accurate; all I can say is where there is smoke there has usually been fire. As a teen I too would try to gain sympathy by overstating my relationship with my parent; but in later life I realized that it could never be overstated when abuse of a child is being described. Whether emotional, mental, or physical, an abused child is tainted in some way for life. If the statement was truly made by Jane then I believe much of it is true and she suffered at the hands of parents with unrealistic expectations. I especially related to the remark about slaps as that was the main method my parent used to let me know something I said or did was not the right thing. I always use one example to explain my parent and have never had anyone say anything but something like “That’s horrible” about it. On the day of John Kennedys’ assination I was 13 and home with strep throat. Both my parents had taken me to the doctor and one had dropped us at home to go get my medicine at the drugstore. I was lying on the sofa, watching television when the assination was announced. All that was said was the President had been shot and further details would be forthcoming. I immediately walked into the kitchen where my mother was preparing lunch. I told her what I had heard on the television, tears streaming down my face. She back handed me for “lying”. A few moments later my father came home, upset and told her what he had heard on the radio. No apology was given me. One does not apologize to a possesion. If Jane endured even a quarter of this type of attitude and abuse, then both her parents deserve the title of negligent parent. To his credit, my father tried to protect me when not at work, this type of treatment was not tolerated by him, but it took me slapping back to end it when I was 17. I have no doubt that if she could, my mother would have chosen my husband and controlled my life to her dying day. Yes, I relate to Janes’ statement very much and find comfort in the fact she found pleasure at all in her short life. Should new evidence show that her parents were loving and treated her well or she did not make any type of statement that exposed their ill treatment of her and I shall be the first to sing their praises; but until then I shall continue to believe some sort of abuse did occur and that even in an age where daughters were used for advancement and seen as commodities rather than gifts their treatment of Jane was over the norm and undeserving by a young girl eager to do nothing more than learn all she could and live a quiet life of scholarship. Frances Grey may not have been a monster; but I do believe she was excessive in her expectations of Jane and her punishments did not fit the “crimes”.

    Should evidence ever be discovered showing otherwise, I shall rejoice for Jane is without doubt one of my role models. In school, I loved learning for learnings sake and used her as an example to follow in scholarship. I would love to have more information on her studies and correspondence with contemporary academics; the letters exchanged must have been so interesting. One can only speculate of the many topics discussed in such an exchange.

    Again, a wonderful and thought provoking article. One of the great things about this website is the ability of it’s readers to express their theories and ideas; such is the way of those of us eager to know more of this time and the people who lived in it.

    1. I can appreciate your affinity with Jane Grey.

      Myself and my mother lived with my late father’s sister until her death. I was able to escape to University but my mother endured a lifetime of verbal abuse.
      This woman was a religious fanatic (think the Catholic equivalent of the Taliban) and justified every crazy notion that came into her head by saying it was the will of God or that was what the Blessed Virgin would have done/wore/said in a similar situation.
      This woman was also “excessive in her expectations” as you phrase it – I did not concentrate on my prayers, my mind wandered, I kept looking at the clock during the rosary, I was having too much fun with other children and could have ended up being led into sin! Making my a living saint assured of a place in heaven was her life’s project.

      Humility and obedience (to her, as God’s will on earth) was a big issue. No matter how much other teens laughed at me I had to wear the modest, respectable and dowdy clothes she bought me. I was not allowed to talk to other young people on the phone or even with my mother unless she was present and could monitor the conversation.
      I was well supplied with toys and baubles but lacked the human love. Jane grey lived in a degree of luxury and comfort unimaginable to the peasants who lived in shacks on the family estates but was probably emotionally impoverished.

      You have my understanding and sympathy for your upbringing. I had the chance to escape to University and led a semi-detached life from my home (and unfortunately my mother too) until my aunt’s death. Sadly my mother only outlived her by five years.

      If Jane Grey had lived today she would have had the means of escape from home. At that time it would have been a totally alien concept for a girl to leave home, study and survive alone.

    1. Susan,Great read as we really did not know much about this family,I saw the movie Lady Jane Grey Queen For 9 days,was excellent ,your read and with that gave me much more insight on what really happen to this young girl and Dudlly. They never saw this comming,much like Queen Anne. Maybe Queen Jane Grey, if she would have lived would have been, yet another great Queen Thanks so much, Susan love your last name,it very long I have trubble with just saying Reis.Hope you will be back on the AB Files, with more on the family Grey.And thank you aswell. Kind Reards.

  56. Sarcastic comments, about fellow authors, does your argument more harm than good.

    You also suggest that their viewpoint is written from their adolescent self, the implication being that they were putting forth their own angst and not being objective in their assumptions of Frances Brandon. Could it be that you have gone too far in the opposite direction, and watered down this historical figure’s temper….could it be that you, too, are failing in objectivity?

    1. I agree with this. I think it’s hot among historians to decry whatever common concept of history is floating around and say they know what “really happened”. Alison Weir – whom otherwise I love very dearly – did the same thing in her book on Mary, Queen of Scots. She was so desperate to prove that Mary was absolutely innocent of any wrongdoing that she dismissed what evidence exists to the contrary as made-up or irrelevant and put different motives into the heads of her subjects that she supposes must be there since she’s already decided who is innocent and who is guilty. I found the book interesting but definitely did not put it down thinking that Mary hadn’t anything to do with Darnley’s murder. Weir tried too hard and I couldn’t buy it.

      There is no doubt Frances was incredibly ambitious, and all the evidence I see points towards Jane being very reluctant to become queen, albeit forced to cooperate by her parents and the authorities. I don’t think she was quite as cruel and cold-hearted as Weir depicted her in Innocent Traitor, but I don’t see any evidence that she was kind to her daughter. Let’s look at it this way: There is no direct, irrefutable evidence one way or the other that Frances was either a good or bad parent. However, when we take the circumstances involved – a girl first being fervently manipulated into being the King’s wife, and then later manipulated into unwillingly being Queen Regnant herself, the whole while her mother remaining cognizant of the fact that she was of royal blood – to me that paints a picture of a ruthless and very proud woman.

      If there is evidence that Frances attempted to save her husband, then why wouldn’t there be evidence of her pleading for Jane? Why is all the evidence of Frances’s kindness towards her daughter conveniently lost? If I were to speculate on the situation I would guess that Frances knew her daughter was doomed and wanted to disassociate herself from her as much as possible by painting herself and her husband as innocent victims, in an attempt to salvage as much influence as she could.

      And I see no reason for Ascham to make up his quote.His treatise may have worked just as well without it, and an invented statement could have furnished the argument much more effectively. Again, given what we know about the circumstances surrounding Lady Jane Grey it is not unimaginable that her parents behaved in such a way towards her, as they by all appearances seemed ambitious and opportunistic as regards her.

  57. Order a drink in the open-air bar and view the planet go by.
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  58. This was very interesting. I appreciate the open way Susan presented Frances. There is so much speculation in regards to history it is very nice to have all the facts as well as multiply opinions. I have not read much on Frances Brandon nor Jane Grey but now I have the need to do more research. Thanks so much!

  59. I can’t get enough of Books on British history especially when it comes to the
    Tudors and especially Lady Jane Greg, Anne Bolelyn and the English Queens right up
    To Queen Victoria ….gotta get this book. Can’t wait….:)

  60. I wish that the letter from Jane to her mother written before her execution would have survived. It would make for some interesting reading and may have shed some more light on their relationship.

  61. This was a really interesting article, and obviously there was more to Frances Grey than a one-dimensional monster. But why should we be so quick to dismiss Jane’s claims of abuse? I personally would err on the side of believing the alleged victim. And the probable reason Ascham didn’t say anything until after Jane’s parents’ death is fear of repercussions, speaking out about his wealthy/upper-class clients.

    I do like how this blog always tries to present a balanced picture of people, so I do appreciate this article, but it is possible that some historical figures were actually bad people – or, in this case, at least bad parents. Parenting then wasn’t exactly what it is today.

  62. I have read “Children of England: The Heirs of Henry viii” by Alison Weir. The section on Lady Jane Grey reveals that, after her arrest, her father wrote to apologise for the way she had been treated. I do not recall the exact details but I think this apology related to the way she was treated by her parents.

  63. What a fascinating character! I loved reading this, and now need to know more. Very well researched and presented. Hopefully this will be added to my collection!

  64. Jane was a very intelligent girl and I don’t think her parents deserved her really, she must have been telling the truth when she claimed to be ill treated by them, after all why should she make up something like that? Whilst Tudor parents were very strict and often did beat their children Frances and her husband seem to have been overly so, Jane appears to have been a sensitive girl who took a delight in learning, maybe her parents were disappointed as she wasn’t born a boy, even so I think her upbringing was rather sad especially after she was sacrificed for their ambition, to put your own children’s life at risk just for power and personal gain is incredibly selfish and says volumes about the Duke and Duchess of Suffolk, they both appear to have been indifferent parents.

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