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November 21, 1559 – Death of Frances Brandon Grey

Frances Brandon Grey – maybe – by an unknown artist (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

This was a woman with some ups and downs in her life.

It started up: Frances was the daughter of Mary Tudor and Charles Brandon, so she grew up a member of the (extended) royal family. She married Henry Grey who saw his own Marquess of Dorsett title upgraded by the de jure uxoris title of Duke of Suffolk, and she had three daughters: Jane, Catherine, and Mary Grey.

Then things got tough. A dying (Protestant) Edward VI decided he didn’t want his Catholic sister Mary to inherit the throne and came up with a scheme to vest the crown in his cousin Jane. (It is not clear how much of this was actually the brainchild of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, but he must have had some part in it since Frances was the next in line to succeed but she was passed over in favor of Jane, who conveniently married Dudley’s son Guilford). That scheme failed but Mary was merciful: she let Henry and Jane (and Guilford) live – she even let Henry out of the Tower…but then Henry supported Thomas Wyatt’s rebellion and sealed their fates.

Things turned again (kinda…you decide): Mary brought her cousin back to court, let her be one of her ladies – restoring her title but not her income. Still, Frances got to keep her title – though she took herself out of the running for any dangerous succession fights by marrying her Master of the Horse, Adrian Stokes.

For decades, I thought that Frances was a horrible person, based on her treatment of Jane as reported by Roger Ascham: “[W]hen 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 honor I bear them), that I think myself in hell.” In recent years, however, there has been a reexamination of the facts: Ascham wrote this years later with his own agenda in mind and it contradicts contemporaneous expressions of admiration…Other people say she was noted for her hospitality and generosity… Let’s just say it’s open to debate.


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November 21, 1559 – Death of Frances Brandon Grey
Published inOn This Day


  1. Dina Willert Dina Willert

    Some say that historically, Frances got the short end of the stick. She was a proud woman, and determined, too. There is no proof that she beat Jane. If you listen to what she said to her teacher, she complains that no matter what she does, it wouldn’t please her parents. I am not saying Jane was treated well, but that sounds like a fifteen year old girl to me. Maybe it’s time to give Frances her due.

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