The Tudor Society

20 April – Lady Mary Grey, sister of Lady Jane Grey

On this day in Tudor history, 20th April 1578, Lady Mary Keys (née Grey), sister of Lady Jane Grey and wife of Thomas Keys, died at her home in the parish of St Botolph without Aldgate, London.

Like her sisters, Mary had a sad life. Her secret marriage led to Elizabeth I imprisoning her and her husband, and they never saw each other again.

Find out more about the tiny Mary who was described as "crook-backed", her marriage to a man who was said to be 6'8, and what happened to Mary and Thomas, in today's talk.

Book recommendation: “The Sisters Who Would be Queen” by Leanda de Lisle.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 20th April 1534, Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent, was executed for treason. Find out more about her, the visions she had concerning Henry VIII, and how she ended up being hanged, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1483 – Burial of Edward IV in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.
  • 1523 – Death of Henry Clifford, 10th Baron Clifford, magnate. At around the age of sixty, Clifford led a force at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 against the Scots.
  • 1534 – Prominent citizens of London were required to swear the “Oath of the Act of Succession”.
  • 1584 – Execution of sixty year-old James Bell, Catholic priest and martyr, at Lancaster. Bell had been found guilty of being a Catholic recusant and celebrating the mass, and sentenced to death for high treason.
  • 1587 - Burial of John Foxe, martyrologist, in St Giles, Cripplegate. He died 18th April at his home in Grub Street, in the same parish.


On this day in Tudor history, 20th April 1578, Lady Mary Keys (née Grey), sister of Lady Jane Grey and wife of Thomas Keys, died at her home in the parish of St Botolph without Aldgate, London.
Here are some facts about this Tudor lady…

• Mary was born in around 1545 probably at the Grey family home, Bradgate Hall in Leicestershire. She was the youngest daughter, after Jane and Katherine, of Henry Grey, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Frances Brandon. Through her mother, Mary was the granddaughter of Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife, Mary Tudor, Queen of France, and the great-granddaughter of King Henry VII.
• In May 1553, when she was about 8 years old, Mary was betrothed to Arthur, Lord Grey of Wilton, her cousin, but the fall of her sister, Lady Jane Grey, in the summer of 1553, followed by the execution of Jane and the sisters’ father in February 1554 dashed the family’s hopes of a good marriage for Mary and the betrothal was dissolved.
• Mary was described as “little, crook-backed and very ugly” by the Spanish ambassador.
• Mary was interested in theology and had a collection of religious works.
• Mary served Queen Elizabeth I as a maid of honour and was granted a pension of £80, which was a real help seeing as her late mother’s estate had mostly gone to Mary’s stepfather, Adrian Stokes.
• In 1565, she angered Elizabeth by marrying the queen’s sergeant porter, Thomas Keys, who was a widower, had rather a lot of children, and was twice her age. It was in interesting match, too, in that Mary was tiny and he was said to be 6ft 8, and he was of the gentry class and Mary was related to the queen.
• The queen was furious with the couple for marrying without her consent when Mary was so close to the throne. Keys was thrown into Fleet Prison and Mary was put into the care of Sir William Hawtrey at Chequers. In 1567, Mary was moved to the home of her step-grandmother, Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk, and then on to that of Sir Thomas Gresham in 1569. In 1568, Keys was released from prison, but he died in 1571 without ever being reconciled with Mary. Although the queen gave Mary her freedom in 1572, Mary stayed with Gresham voluntarily because she had nowhere else to go and no money. However, Gresham really didn’t want her and in 1573 she moved to her stepfather Adrian Stokes’ home for a time, before setting up her own home in London. At New Year 1578, she is recorded as having exchanged gifts with the queen, and so was back at court by that time.
• She died at her home on this day in 1578 at the age of 33 during an outbreak of the plague. In her will, she left her mother’s jewellery to her stepgrandmother, Katherine Willoughby, along with a mystic ruby, something that was thought to protect against the plague. She also made bequests to her cousin, Lady Arundell, her stepfather’s second wife, Lady Throckmorton, her servants, and her stepdaughter, Jane. The bulk of her estate went to her god-daughter, Mary, who was her stepdaughter’s daughter.
• Mary was laid to rest on 14th May 1578 at Westminster Abbey, with Susan Bertie, Countess of Kent and daughter of Katherine Willoughby, acting as chief mourner, She was laid to rest in the tomb of her mother, Frances.
If you want to know more about Mary, and her sisters Lady Katherine Grey and Lady Jane Grey, I’d highly recommend reading Leanda de Lisle’s book “The Sisters Who Would be Queen”.

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20 April – Lady Mary Grey, sister of Lady Jane Grey