Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk
|Duchess of Suffolk
Marchioness of Dorset
|Spouse(s)||Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk and 3rd Marquess of Dorset
Catherine Seymour, Countess of Hertford
Lady Mary Keyes
|Father||Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk|
|Mother||Mary of England|
16 July 1517|
Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England
|Died||20 November 1559
Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk (16 July 1517 – 20 November 1559), born Lady Frances Brandon, was the second child and eldest daughter of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and Mary Tudor, Dowager Queen of France. She was the mother of Lady Jane Grey, who was briefly Queen of England, and older sister to Henry Brandon, 1st Earl of Lincoln and Eleanor Clifford, Countess of Cumberland. Her daughter and brother both predeceased her.
Her maternal uncle was King Henry VIII of England and her maternal aunt was Queen Margaret of Scotland. She had a strong claim to the throne of England that would be seized upon in 1553 by opponents to the accession of Mary I of England.
Early life and first marriage
Frances was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire and spent her childhood in the care of her mother. She was close to Catherine of Aragon, first wife of her uncle King Henry VIII. She was a childhood friend of her first cousin, Princess Mary (later Mary I of England). Frances' mother Mary was opposed to the annulment of the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine in 1533 and never accepted Anne Boleyn as a legitimate wife or Queen of England.
Her first two pregnancies resulted in the births of a son and daughter who both died young. These were followed by three surviving daughters:
- Lady Jane Grey (12 October? 1537 – 12 February 1554).
- Lady Catherine Grey (25 August 1540 – 26 January 1568).
- Lady Mary Grey (1545 – 20 April 1578).
Frances is considered to have been a strong and energetic woman. Her residence at Bradgate was a minor palace in Tudor style. After the death of her two brothers, the title Duke of Suffolk reverted to the crown, and was granted to her husband as a new creation. She had high expectations for her daughters and made certain they were educated to the same standards as their cousins, the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth (later Mary I and Elizabeth I, respectively). Her daughters were associated with both Princesses on relatively equal terms.
Scheming for her daughters
Frances was active at the court of Henry VIII and was on friendly terms with his sixth wife Catherine Parr. It was through her friendship with the Queen that Frances's husband Henry, Duke of Suffolk secured a wardship for their daughter. There, Jane came into contact with Prince Edward (later Edward VI of England), son of Henry VIII and half-brother of Mary and Elizabeth.
In 1546, the Imperial ambassador, van der Delft, wrote that there were rumours that Henry would divorce Catherine Parr in favour of her close friend, Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. Catherine Willoughby was Frances's stepmother.
Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, and Edward succeeded to the throne. Jane followed the Queen Dowager, Catherine Parr, to her new residence and was soon established as a member of the inner circle of the young King. Edward VI was only nine years old at the time of his accession. He would die in 1553 unmarried and childless. Frances found herself during the reign of King Edward VI, third-in-line for the English throne, following the Princesses Mary and Elizabeth. Her daughters followed her in line for the throne: Jane (fourth-in-line), Catherine (fifth-in-line) and Mary (sixth-in-line). Henry VIII's elder sister Margaret Tudor's descendants had been removed from the succession. This took place legally under the terms of the Will of King Henry VIII which laid out the succession to the throne. It was only after the Greys were discredited and the death of Elizabeth I that it was possible for the heir to Margaret Tudor's line, James VI of Scotland, to succeed to the English throne as King James I in 1603.
Catherine Parr married again, to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral. Jane followed the Queen Dowager to her new household. Frances and her husband soon started scheming with Baron Seymour on the prospect of arranging a marriage between Jane and the King. The two adolescents were reportedly already close. If any offspring were born to such a union, the success of this scheme would secure the succession of Edward VI. The Greys would as a result gain further influence at court. The Lord Protector Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset was seeking a Queen Consort for Edward VI among the daughters of Francis I of France and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
Catherine Parr gave birth to her daughter, Lady Mary Seymour, on 30 August 1548. Complications resulted in her death and that of her daughter on 5 September 1548. Frances did not trust her eldest daughter Jane alone with Baron Seymour and recalled her home. Baron Seymour, on the other hand, pressed the Greys with demands that he held Jane's wardship and she should be returned to his household. The Greys surrendered to the inevitable and Jane returned to Seymour's household and moved into the late Catherine Parr's apartments. Seymour still planned to convince Edward VI to marry Jane, but the King had become distrustful of his two uncles. An increasingly desperate Seymour invaded the King's bedchamber in an attempt to abduct him, and shot Edward's beloved dog when the animal tried to protect its master. Not long after Seymour was tried for treason and executed on 10 March 1549.
The Greys convinced the Privy Council of their innocence in Seymour's scheme. Jane was again recalled home. The Greys lost hope of marrying their eldest daughter to Edward VI who was sickly and thought likely not to live. For a time it is claimed they contemplated marrying her to Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford, son of the Lord Protector and Anne Stanhope. However, the Lord Protector fell from power and was replaced by John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland.
The Greys soon declared their allegiance to the new Lord Protector, who successfully arranged for Jane to be married to his youngest son Lord Guildford Dudley. It has been claimed since the early 18th century that Jane was brutally beaten and whipped into submission by Frances. However, there is no historic evidence for it. Guildford was, as a fourth son, not the greatest match for the eldest daughter of royal descent, and William Cecil, another close friend of the Greys claimed the match was brokered by Catherine Parr's brother and his second wife. According to Cecil, they promoted the match to Northumberland who responded rather enthusiastically.
The Greys didn't favour the match much, since it would have meant to pass the crown out of their family and to Northumberland. However, since Dudley claimed to have the king's support in the matter, they finally gave in. The only historic proof of some family quarrel concerning the marriage is written down by Commendone as "the first-born daughter of the Duke of Suffolk, Jane by name, who although strongly depreciating the marriage, was compelled to submit by the insistence of her mother and the threats of her father".
Mother to a Queen Regnant
The marriage of the Lady Jane to Lord Guildford Dudley occurred on 15 May 1553. Northumberland had a greater scheme in mind. Edward VI was dying and was considering the matter of his own succession. The young King was a firm believer in the practices of Anglicanism. His half-sister, Mary, was an equally firm believer in those of the Roman Catholic Church. Her accession would end the Protestant Reformation in England. Northumberland arranged for the will of the dying King to exclude both Princesses Mary and Elizabeth under the pretext of both being bastards, on the grounds that Henry VIII had his marriages to their respective mothers Catherine of Aragon annulled and Anne Boleyn executed for high treason (though at the time both daughters remained in the line of succession). Their removal from the succession would make Frances the heiress presumptive of the King. Edward changed his will concerning the succession, passing Frances over. Frances and especially Henry Grey were at first outraged, but eventually, after a private audience with the king, Frances had to renounce her own rights to the throne in favour of Jane. The throne would pass to Jane and any male issue from her marriage to Guilford.
Edward VI died on 6 July 1553. Jane was declared queen regnant on 10 July. Frances joined her for the proclamation and during her stay in the Tower. She had been fetched when Northumberland realised Jane's confusion and overwhelming feelings, and she managed to calm her daughter down. Since she had seen the king himself and spoken to him about the succession, she could convince Jane that she was the rightful queen and heir. Their success was short-lived. Jane was deposed by armed support in favour of the Princess Mary who was proclaimed Queen on 19 July 1553.
Northumberland paid for his failed machinations with his life on 22 August/23 August 1553. Henry, Duke of Suffolk was arrested, but released days later thanks to Frances' intervention. The moment she heard of her husband's arrest, Frances rode over to Mary in the middle of the night to plead for her family. Despite all odds, not only did Frances manage to be received by the Queen, but also could secure him a pardon by placing all the blame on Northumberland. While in his household, Jane had fallen sick of food poisoning and had suspected Northumberland's family. Frances now used Jane's suspicions and her husband's sickness to accuse Northumberland of having tried to kill her family. Therefore, Mary was willing to pardon her first cousin's husband. Mary also intended to pardon Jane once her coronation was complete, thus sparing the 16-year-old's life.
Thomas Wyatt the younger declared a revolt against Mary on 25 January 1554. Suffolk joined the rebellion, but was captured by Francis Hastings, 2nd Earl of Huntingdon. The revolt had failed by February. The plot ringleaders had wished to supplant Mary with her sister Elizabeth, although Elizabeth played no part in the matter. Jane was now becoming too dangerous for Mary and was beheaded on 12 February 1554 with her husband. Jane's father was convicted of high treason and was executed eleven days later on 23 February 1554. With two young daughters barely in their teens and her husband a convicted traitor, Frances literally faced ruin. As a wife, she held no possessions in her own right. As such all her husband's possessions would be returned to the Crown, as usual for traitors' property. She managed to plead with Queen Mary to show mercy, which meant at least she and her daughters had the chance of rehabilitation. The Queen's forgiveness meant some of Grey's property would remain with his family, or at least could be granted back at some later time.
Second marriage and death
Frances and her two surviving daughters settled in court, serving the queen. Mary I made a point of placing them by her side, favoured but kept under the observation of the queen. They were still regarded with some suspicion and in April 1555 the Spanish ambassador, Simon Renard wrote of a possible match between Frances and Edward Courtenay, a Plantagenet descendant. Once again, their children would have had a claim to the throne, but Courtenay was reluctant, and Frances escaped the marriage by another, much safer match. She married her Master of the Horse, Adrian Stokes. It was a safe marriage for her, since any children from it would be considered too low-born to compete for the throne. Also, her childhood friend and stepmother Catherine Willoughby had married her gentleman usher, so Frances moved on familiar ground. She and Stokes married in 1555, .
Three children were born to the couple:
- Elizabeth Stokes (20 November 1554), stillborn.
- Elizabeth Stokes (16 July 1555 – 7 February 1556), died in infancy.
- A son (December, 1556), stillborn.
Frances died on 20 November 1559. She was buried at Westminster Abbey at the expense of Elizabeth. Her daughter Catherine acted as chief mourner. Four years after her death, her husband crowned the grave with Frances' effigy which still remains. The inscription on her grave reads in Latin:
Nor grace, nor splendour, nor a royal name,
As the centuries passed on, the view on Frances Brandon changed dramatically. At the beginning of the 18th century, the myth of Frances as evil woman and cruel mother emerged. It was mainly due to the changing public attitude towards her daughter Jane. Many began to adopt the belief that The Nine Days Queen was an almost angelic being, an example of innocence and passivity, a chaste child-martyr. To outline her perfection, she needed an antagonist, and it was Frances who fell victim to this need. A portrait of the harsh-looking Lady Dacre and her son was re-labeled and claimed to be Frances with her second husband Adrian Stokes. Thanks to the physical attributes of Lady Dacre, Frances was soon regarded as a female version of her uncle, King Henry VIII: ambitious, cruel and lustful.
Another reason for Frances' growing unpopularity was the quotation from Jane to Roger Ascham:
For when I am in presence of either Father or Mother, whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand or go, eat, drink, be merry or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing or doing anything 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 shall not name, for the honour I bear them), so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell“.
From this passage it was – and still is – deduced that Frances and Henry Grey had mistreated their daughter.
However, it needs to be noted that Ascham wrote these words years after the actual meeting, and to promote the idea that children learned well under a kind tutor. Also, his view might have been influenced by the later events concerning the Greys. The letter he wrote to Jane just a few months after the visit speaks admiringly of her parents and praises both Jane's and their virtues. James Haddon, chaplain of the Greys, told his acquaintance Michel Angelo Florio how Jane was following in her parents' footsteps concerning piety, and how close she was to her mother Frances. Jane's age also most certainly played a role in her words. At the age of fourteen and highly aware of her brightness and people's admiration of it, it couldn't sit well with Jane to still have to submit to her parents' authority. The Tudor times demanded, of all virtues, obedience, and Jane was spirited enough to even make her beloved teacher Aylmer agree with her parents that it was necessary to "provide bridles for restive horses." At a difficult age, with a developing sense of her own personality, yet obliged to obey as if she was still a child, Jane was as bound to clash with her parents as any other teenager.
The abuse of her daughter as well as her role in the machinations to bring Jane the crown are the subject of historical debate. While Jane was already with her husband Guildford Dudley, under the supervision of his parents, she heard news that Edward VI was changing his will to exclude her mother from the succession and name Jane as his heir instead. Jane, startled by the news, asked her mother-in-law permission to visit her mother, yet was met with refusal. Ignoring her, Jane sneaked out of the house and went back home. The evil mother from the myth was accused of having beaten Jane into submission to marry Guildford Dudley and certainly would not have taken kindly to her daughter running away from her husband. However, if Frances' claim of having opposed the match from the beginning on is true, Jane fleeing to her makes perfect sense.
In fact, Frances was noted for her hospitality and generosity. When her brother-in-law's children Thomas, Margaret and Francis Willoughby were orphaned, the Greys took them under their wings. Thomas soon joined Henry and Charles Brandon at college and his siblings went to live with their uncle George Medley. However, during the Wyatt rebellion, Medley was imprisoned and taken to the Tower. At the time he was released, the imprisonment had taken its toll on him and he couldn't take care of the children any longer. Frances had already lost her eldest daughter, her husband and a considerable part of her lands. Nevertheless, she once more resumed care of Francis and Margaret Willoughby, organized a place in school for the boy and took the girl to court, along with herself and her surviving daughters. Their elder brother was placed as ward under a Councillor's care. Since Thomas was his father's heir, the councillor had control over the Willoughby fortune during Thomas' minority. Therefore, Frances' decision to take care of the younger siblings certainly wasn't made for profit's sake. Also she did her utmost to realize her daughter Catherine's wish to marry the man she loved.
The discrepancies between these facts and the legend of the bullying, intimidating woman are hard to overlook. As Leanda de Lisle puts it:
Since the eighteenth century she has been used as the shadow that casts into brilliant light the eroticised figure of female helplessness that Jane came to represent. While Jane is the abused child-woman of these myths, Frances has been turned into an archetype of female wickedness: powerful, domineering and cruel. The mere fact that Frances was with the rest of the household in the park, while Jane read her book, became the basis for the legend that she was a bloodthirsty huntress. The scene in Trevor Nunn's 1985 film Lady Jane, in which Frances slaughters a deer in white snow, is inspired for it and establishes her early on in the film as a ruthless destroyer of innocents: a wicked Queen to Jane's Snow White.“
|Ancestors of Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk|
- The Lady Frances Brandon
- Lady Frances Grey
- The Most Honourable Marchioness of Dorset
- Her Grace The Duchess of Suffolk
- Her Grace The Dowager Duchess of Suffolk (she didn't cease to use her highest title even after remarriage, just like Lady Katherine Neville was styled Dowager Duchess of Norfolk even though she remarried three times after the death of the Duke)
- Frances was fictionalized in the 2007 historical fiction book Innocent Traitor by author Alison Weir. All portrayals of her depict her as a cruel, ambitious and violent woman.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk|
- Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters who would be Queen, p. 98
- Leanda de Lisle, p. 329
- Leanda de Lisle, p. 104
- Leanda de Lisle, p. 110
- Leanda de Lisle, p. 105
- Leanda de Lisle, p. 126
- Leanda de Lisle, p. 157
- Calendar State Papers Spain, vol.13 (1954), no.177
- Eric Ives: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery Wiley-Blackwell 2009 ISBN 978-1-4051-9413-6 p. 38
- Leanda de Lisle, p. 197
- Leanda de Lisle: The sisters who would be queen, p. 310
- Leanda de Lisle: The sisters who would be queen, p. 68
- Leanda de Lisle: The sisters who would be queen, p. 17
- Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters who would be Queen, p. 159
- Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters who would be Queen, p. 70
- Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters who would be Queen, p. 104
- Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters who would be Queen, p. 162
- Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters who would be Queen, p. 69