The Tudor Society

November 21 – Frances Grey, mother of Lady Jane Grey

On this day in Tudor history, 21st November 1559, Frances Grey (maiden name Brandon, other married name Stokes), Duchess of Suffolk and the mother of Queen Jane, or Lady Jane Grey, died at Richmond. She was laid to rest 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, 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 let me tell you a bit more about the woman who was once named in Edward VI's "devise for the succession".

Further reading:

In today's video, I introduced Teasel the dog. For those of you who are animal lovers and like to know about the animals of our household, Teasel is our latest addition and we certainly didn't think that we'd be having a fourth dog. She was abandoned in our village and we caught her and took her to the vet as we thought she'd been hit by a car. She wasn't using her back legs properly. It turns out that she's a year old and was born missing rather a lot of vertebrae. She can put weight on her back legs, but she can't control them. It doesn't stop her walking and running (so fast!) though, she does a jumping movement. She's also incontinent and we suspect that's why she was dumped in our village. She's a happy and affectionate soul, and we have welcomed her into our household, which is a madhouse anyway!

Also on this day in history:

  • 1495 – Birth of John Bale, churchman, Protestant playwright, historian and Bishop of Ossory, at Cove, near Dunwich, in Suffolk. Bale wrote twenty-four plays, including “Three Laws of Nature, Moses and Christ, corrupted by the Sodomytes, Pharisees and Papystes most wicked”, “A Tragedye; or enterlude manifesting the chief promyses of God unto Man”, “The Temptacyon of our Lorde”, “A brefe Comedy or Enterlude of Johan Baptystes preachynge in the Wyldernesse, etc” and “ Kynge Johan”. His most famous work is his Illustrium majoris Britanniae scriptorum, hoc est, Angliae, Cambriae, ac Scotiae Summarium... ("A Summary of the Famous Writers of Great Britain, that is, of England, Wales and Scotland"), which was his effort to record every work by a British author.
  • 1558 – Death of James Bassett, courtier and stepson of Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle. Bassett was a member of Philip of Spain's Privy Chamber and private Secretary to Mary I. He was buried at Blackfriars, London.
  • 1579 – Death of Sir Thomas Gresham, merchant and founder of the Royal Exchange and Gresham College, at Gresham House in Bishopsgate, London. He was buried at St Helen's Church, Bishopsgate.
  • 1613 – Death of Rose Throckmorton (née Lok), businesswoman and Protestant exile, at the age of eighty-six. Rose was the daughter of Sir William Lok, mercer and Gentleman Usher of the Chamber to Henry VIII, and in her memoirs she claimed that her father had been responsible for supplying Queen Anne Boleyn with religious books from the Continent.

Transcript of talk:

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 the 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 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.

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 the 12th February 1554, and Suffolk was executed on the 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.”

There are 6 comments Go To Comment

  1. M

    Pretty dog! Congratulations on your new addition to your family. May be bring you much joy and happiness.
    I love to read about Frances Grey. She is a very fascinating woman. Is there a biography of her? Just her? I have LeAnda de Lisle’s book on the Grey sisters, and recently read Eric Ives’ book on Lady Jane. But is there anything about just her? I’m curious about her life, especially early, even before her mother died.
    Thanks for the interesting video. Michelle t

    1. C - Post Author

      Thank you!
      No, I don’t believe there is a biography of Frances. Yes, a very interesting lady given her background and then her closeness to the throne.

  2. R

    Hello to Teasal, isn’t she beautiful? Ari looks as if she is wondering who is sitting in my place, bless her. Poor Teasal, but now she has a lovely home and looked so quiet and good natured. Hope you’re new baby is doing well, Claire, she looks lovely.

    Frances Grey has been so misrepresented, there was even a portrait which was wrong which made her look bossy and it was the wrong lady. What a lovely dedication by her second husband. Some historians even used to write that Francis was going out with her stable hand while her husband was about to die on the block and that she married him three weeks later. We now know this wasn’t true and she married him at least one year or more afterwards. Frances has been badly done by.

    It was very shocking to see Lady Frances carry her daughter’s train because Frances should have followed to the throne first but Frances agreed to stand aside as it was hopeful for Jane to have sons. She was after all only sixteen and her mother in her late 30s. Edward had commanded her to stand aside but she appeared content to serve her daughter. Carrying her train was a great honour, but you know what foreign Ambassadors are like, always full of gossip.

    What was also remarkable, especially given her Protestant faith, was that Frances was a close friend to Princess and Queen Mary I. She also supported her mother and was a mourner at Katherine of Aragon funeral. She managed to reach Queen Mary after she was restored to her crown and was received and pardoned by the Queen. She remained in favour. She certainly had a dramatic life.

    1. C - Post Author

      Teasel is beautiful. She’s only been with us since Monday night and already it feels like she’s always been here. She’s very happy and affectionate, and doesn’t fuss at all about having nappies put on her.

      Yes, the portrait of Lady Nevill and her son. Gregory Fiennes, was once thought to be Frances and Stokes, and Frances has been very badly treated by historians and authors in the past. I’m going to have to expand my list of people from the past I’d invite to a dinner party as I’d love Frances to attend!

      1. R

        You will have to book Hampton Court for a grand banquet with all of these wonderful guests. I can just imagine the talk over dinner.

        I have just been watching the Who Do You Think You Aren’t? with Danny Dyer from East Enders on BBC 1_again last night, which is very interesting because it goes back to Katherine Cromwell and her grandparents including Thomas Cromwell and then the connection to the Seymour family via Elizabeth and Gregory and their son, the Wentworth connection all the way back to Edward iiii. There was a follow-up in which he met them and got to know more about them by walking and dressing in their footsteps.

        Frances Grey would be at my dinner party too.

  3. M

    Awww Claire, what a softie you are! I’m so glad you took Teasel into your family, as she’s now a part of ours ❤️ Frances has been treated so badly by history, she was a beast in the movie with Helena Bonham Carter, but most “historical” movies, for me anyway, I watch as pure entertainment. Otherwise I’d go mad over the inaccuracies!

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November 21 – Frances Grey, mother of Lady Jane Grey