World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk

Frances Grey
Duchess of Suffolk
Portrait of a woman sometimes identified as the Duchess of Suffolk, c. 1560
Spouse(s) Henry Grey, 1st Duke of Suffolk
Adrian Stokes
Father Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk
Mother Mary of England
Born (1517-07-16)16 July 1517
Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England
Died 20 November 1559(1559-11-20) (aged 42)
London, England
Buried Westminster Abbey

Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk (16 July 1517 – 20 November 1559) was the second child and eldest daughter of King Henry VIII's sister Mary and Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk. She was the mother of Lady Jane Grey.


  • Early life and first marriage 1
  • Scheming for her daughters 2
  • Queen's mother 3
  • Second marriage and death 4
  • Reputation 5
  • Ancestry 6
  • Titles 7
  • Dramatic representation 8
  • References 9

Early life and first marriage

Lady Frances Brandon was born in Hatfield, Hertfordshire[1] and spent her childhood in the care of her mother. She was close to her aunt Catherine of Aragon, first wife of her uncle King Henry VIII, and a childhood friend of her first cousin, the future Queen Mary I. Lady Frances received permission from the King to marry Henry Grey, Marquess of Dorset, in 1533. The marriage took place in Southwark.

Her first two pregnancies resulted in the births of a son and daughter who both died young. These were followed by three surviving daughters:

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 future queens Mary I and Elizabeth I. Her daughters were associated with both Mary and Elizabeth on relatively equal terms.

Scheming for her daughters

The Duchess 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 the Duke secured a wardship for their daughter. There, Jane came into contact with Henry VIII's son and future successor, Edward. Henry VIII died on 28 January 1547, and Edward VI succeeded to the throne. Lady Jane followed Catherine Parr to her new residence and was soon established as a member of the inner circle of the young king. Edward 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 his half-sisters Mary and Elizabeth. 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.

Queen Catherine married again, to Thomas Seymour, 1st Baron Seymour of Sudeley and Lord High Admiral. Lady Jane followed her to her new household. The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk soon started scheming with Lord Seymour on the prospect of arranging a marriage between their eldest daughter and the King. The two adolescents were reportedly already close. The Suffolks would as a result gain further influence at court. The Lord Protector Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, was seeking a wife for Edward VI among the daughters of the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor.

Catherine Parr died on 5 September 1548. The Duchess did not trust Lady Jane alone with Lord Seymour and recalled her home. Seymour, on the other hand, pressed the Suffolks with demands that he held Jane's wardship and she should be returned to his household. The Duke and Duchess surrendered to the inevitable and Jane returned to Seymour's household and moved into 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 Suffolks convinced the Privy Council of their innocence in Seymour's scheme. Jane was again recalled home. The Duke and Duchess lost hope of marrying her to the King, 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.

The Duke and Duchess of Suffolk 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 Lady Jane was brutally beaten and whipped into submission by the Duchess. However, there is no historic evidence for it. Lord Guildford was, as a fourth son, not the greatest match for an eldest daughter of royal descent, and William Cecil, another close friend of the Suffolks, claimed the match was brokered by Catherine Parr's brother and his second wife.[2] According to Cecil, they promoted the match to Northumberland who responded rather enthusiastically. The Suffolks did not favour the match much, since it would have meant passing the crown out of their family to Northumberland's. However, since Northumberland 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 deprecating the marriage, was compelled to submit by the insistence of her mother and the threats of her father".[3]

Queen's mother

The marriage of the Lady Jane to Lord Guildford Dudley occurred on 15 May 1553. Northumberland had a greater scheme in mind. King Edward VI was dying and was considering the matter of his own succession. Edward was a firm believer in the practices of Anglicanism. His half-sister Mary was a devout Roman Catholic. Her accession might have ended the Protestant Reformation in England had she not died childless, which no one could foresee. Northumberland arranged for the will of the dying Edward to exclude both Mary and Elizabeth under the pretext of both being bastards, as Henry VIII had his marriages to their respective mothers annulled, though at the time both remained in the line of succession. Their removal would have made the Duchess the heiress presumptive, but Edward passed her over. She and especially her husband were at first outraged, but eventually, after a private audience with the King, she had to renounce her own rights to the throne in favour of Jane.[4]

The throne was meant to pass to the Duchess's daughters and their heirs male. King Edward VI died on 6 July 1553. Lady Jane was declared queen on 10 July. The Duchess 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.[5] Their success was short-lived. Jane was deposed by armed support in favour of Mary I on 19 July 1553.

Northumberland paid for his failed machinations with his life on 22 August/23 August 1553. The Duke of Suffolk was arrested, but released days later thanks to the Duchess' intervention. The moment she heard of her husband's arrest, she rode over to Mary in the middle of the night to plead for her family. Despite all odds, not only did the Duchess 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, Lady Jane had fallen sick of food poisoning and had suspected Northumberland's family.[6] The Duchess now used her daughter's suspicions and her husband's sickness to accuse Northumberland of having tried to kill her family.[7] Therefore, Mary was willing to pardon the Duke of Suffolk. She intended to pardon Jane once her coronation was complete, sparing the 16-year-old's life.


  1. ^ Genealogy site
  2. ^ Leanda de Lisle: The Sisters who would be Queen, p. 98
  3. ^ De Lisle, p. 329
  4. ^ De Lisle, p. 104
  5. ^ De Lisle, p. 110
  6. ^ Leanda de Lisle, p. 105
  7. ^ De Lisle, p. 126
  8. ^ De Lisle, p. 157
  9. ^ Calendar State Papers Spain, vol. 13 (1954), no. 177
  10. ^ Eric Ives: Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery. Wiley-Blackwell 2009; p 38; ISBN 978-1-4051-9413-6
  11. ^ De Lisle, p. 197
  12. ^ De Lisle, p. 310
  13. ^ De Lisle, p. 68
  14. ^ De Lisle, p. 17
  15. ^ De Lisle, p. 159
  16. ^ De Lisle, p. 70
  17. ^ De Lisle, p. 104
  18. ^ De Lisle, p. 162
  19. ^ De Lisle, p. 69
  20. ^ IMDb profile of Frances, Duchess of Suffolk


Frances, Duchess of Suffolk was portrayed by Sara Kestelman in the 1986 film Lady Jane and by Julia James in a 1956 episode of the BBC's Sunday Night Theatre.[20]

Dramatic representation

  • 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 did not cease using her highest title even after her second marriage, just as Lady Katherine Neville was styled Dowager Duchess of Norfolk although she had remarried three times after the death of the Duke)



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 kills a deer in white snow, establishes early on in the film that she is the evil character, a wicked Queen to Jane's Snow White.“[19]

As biographer Leanda de Lisle writes:

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.

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.[17] 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.[18]

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.[14] 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.[15] Jane's age 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."[16] 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.

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, [sic] that I think myself in hell“.[13]

Another reason for Frances' growing unpopularity was the quotation from Jane to Roger Ascham:

As centuries passed, views on Frances Grey changed dramatically. At the beginning of the 18th century, the myth of Frances as evil woman and cruel, power-hungry mother emerged[12] due to changing public attitudes towards Lady Jane Grey. 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, greedy, cruel, and lustful.

Lady Dacre and her son Gregory, often mislabeled as Frances Brandon and Adrian Stokes


Nor grace, nor splendour, nor a royal name,
Nor widespread fame can aught avail;
All, all have vanished here.
True worth alone Survives the funeral pyre and silent tomb'[11]

Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk 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:

  • Elizabeth Stokes (20 November 1554), stillborn.
  • Elizabeth Stokes (16 July 1555 – 7 February 1556), died in infancy.
  • A son (December, 1556), stillborn.

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. Her childhood friend and stepmother Catherine Willoughby had married her gentleman usher, so Frances moved on familiar ground. She and Stokes married in 1555.[10] Three children were born to the couple:

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.[9]

Second marriage and death


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.