Tag Archives: Frances Grey

England’s Forgotten Queen – the use of wills.

lady-jane-greyHow many of you watched Helen Castor’s new three part series on Lady Jane Grey last night entitled England’s forgotten queen?  Its on BBC4 at 9.00pm on Tuesday evening.  I’m sure its on the Iplayer as well by now.

I usually think of Helen Castor in connection with the Wars of the Roses and I know that her history is thoroughly researched.  I’d have to say that I enjoyed her outline of events as well as the discussions about primary sources. I loved the fact that Lady Jane Grey was the first queen proclaimed by printed proclamation rather than a hand written one and that it required three pages to explain how she’d landed the crown rather than Henry VIII’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth. I enjoyed the dramatisations less but that’s probably just me.

But back to Lady Jane Grey and those wills.  On 30th December 1546 Henry VIII made his final will.  He died almost a month later on the 28th January 1547.  The succession was straight forward.  Henry VIII was succeeded by his son Edward VI – though interestingly Edward V was never crowned, disappearing instead quietly in the Tower (this is not the time to start pointing fingers at who did it.  Suffice it to say the V is a ghostly imprint upon the chronology of England’s monarchy.)

1531_Henry_VIIIMaking Henry VIII’s will was probably a tad on the tricky side to draw up as it had become illegal to speak about the king’s death thirteen years before it was drawn up in 1535- verbal treason.  Normally a family tree would have been sufficient to identify who was going to inherit what but Henry’s matrimonial past was complex to put it mildly.  Parliament had passed two Succession Acts – one in 1536 and the second in 1544.  Both of them empowered Henry to nominate his heir.  There was even a proviso for the appointment of a regency council.  Henry clearly thought that being dead was no barrier to dictating the way things should happen.

The will aside from giving directions to be buried next to his “true wife” Jane Seymour in Windsor and giving money to the poor obviously launched by placing Edward on the throne.  It then ran through a variety of scenarios about who should inherit in the event of Edward’s demise without heirs.  Rather optimistically for a man of increasingly poor health he identified that any children by Queen Catherine or “any future wife” should inherit.   He then identified his daughters, both of whom had been made illegitimate by that time – first Mary the only surviving child of Catherine of Aragon and then in the event of her not surviving or having children, her sister Elizabeth the only surviving child of Anne Boleyn.  So far so straight forward and very typical of Henry to decide who was and who wasn’t legitimate based on his particular plans – or even that they could inherit even if they were illegitimate so long as Parliament ratified it.

He identifies his nieces and their families after that.  His elder sister Margaret had married James IV of Scotland but Henry’s nephew James V was already dead.  That just left his great niece the infant Mary Queen of Scots.  Really, because she was descended from the eldest sister the little queen should have been identified next in Henry’s will but aside from being Scottish and the daughter of Marie de Guise there was the small matter that the Scots hadn’t taken kindly to the proposed marriage of their little queen to Edward.  There was also the issue that in Scotland Cardinal Beaton  had been murdered and the pro-French were becoming increasingly important (for the time being at any rate.) In any event Henry ignored the senior female line of the Tudor family tree and identified  the heirs of his younger sister Mary who had married Charles Brandon (duke of Suffolk).  Mary died in 1533 aged just thirty-seven.  She did however have two surviving daughters, Frances and Eleanor.  Frances was married to Henry Grey the Marquess of Dorset. They had three daughters Jane, Katherine and Mary.  Henry’s will went on to say that after the heirs of Frances that the heirs of Eleanor married to Henry Clifford earl of Cumberland would be by default his rightful heirs.

As Susannah Lipscomb observes Henry’s will is an intriguing document and its easy to see why it ended up being so roundly contested.  You have to admire Henry’s consideration of the possible scenarios and his plans for each eventuality.  It’s interesting that Frances wasn’t identified as a contender for the crown only her heirs.  What was it about Frances that Henry didn’t like?  Lipscomb observes that her husband Henry Grey wasn’t on the list that Henry VIII proposed as Edward VI’s councillors so it may simply have been that he didn’t like the man very much.

Unfortunately for Henry soon after his death the idea of a regency council was rather badly mauled by Edward VI’s Seymour uncles and by the time young Edward VI lay dying it was the duke of Northumberland who was the power behind the throne.

Henry VIII had stipulated that his daughters Mary and Elizabeth had to accept the order of succession on pain of their exclusion from the succession.  What Henry hadn’t accounted for was that his son Edward would write his own will.  A perusal of  Edward’s will was one of the highlights of last night’s programme on Lady Jane Grey.  It revealed poor penmanship and a last minute change of plan.  Logically if one king could leave a kingdom in his will as though it was a personal possession with the connivance of Parliament and its two supporting acts – it isn’t such a great leap that another king should do exactly the same.

edward-smEdward’s “devise” differed from his father’s in that he excluded Mary – she was just far too Catholic for devoutly Protestant Edward.  He also excluded Elizabeth- because she was legally illegitimate and because by that time, if we’re going to be cynical about it, John Dudley duke of Northumberland had acquired Lady Jane Grey as a daughter-in-law and wanted to remain in charge.  In excluding Mary Queen of Scots young Edward was simply following his father’s will. At first, as Castor revealed last night, the will only considered the possibility of male heirs – either his own or those of the Grey sisters.  As his health unravelled the amendment was made in two words which made Lady Jane Grey his heir; L’ Janes heires masles,” turned into “the L’ Jane and her heires masles.”  Simple really – though it did rely on Mary and Elizabeth accepting the turn of events or being rounded up sooner rather than later.

John_Dudley_(Knole,_Kent)Ignoring the  problem of Henry VIII’s daughters there was the small mater of Parliament.  The Third Succession Act of 1544 left Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate but placed them in line for the Crown.  Henry VIII’s will is backed up by Parliament.  It is not simply a personal document.  It is held up on the shoulders of law.  Edward’s on the other hand assumes that because one king has willed his kingdom to his heirs that another could do the same.  The problem for the duke of Northumberland was that Edward did not live long enough for the legal process to be fulfilled by an act of Parliament.

Lipscomb, Suzannah. (2015) The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII

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Frances Brandon

frances-tombFrances Grey nee Brandon is another ‘not quite Tudor princess.’ She was the elder daughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary Tudor the Dowager Queen of France and her second husband Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk- based on modern rules she would not be defined as a princess but her nearness to the crown at a time when there was a shortage of Tudor heirs created tragedy for her three daughters.

Frances was born at Hatfield on July 16, 1517. Interestingly, like her cousins there was some legal wrangling as to her legitimacy. Charles had been married to Margaret Neville before marrying Mary – unfortunately Margaret was still very much alive at the time. Charles had to get the marriage annulled on grounds of consanguinity by which time Frances had arrived so his legal paperwork had to declare her legitimate.

 

Mary Tudor was close to her sister-in-law Catherine of Aragon so inevitably Frances spent time with her cousin the Princess Mary meaning that the arrival of Anne Boleyn made family gatherings a tad tricky.

 

In 1533, Frances married Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset. He was the great-grandson of Elizabeth Woodville through her first marriage. Soon after the marriage Frances’ mother died. By 1551, Frances’ half brother was dead and Henry Grey became Duke of Suffolk. Frances was also third in line for the throne, the Tudor lack of males making her more important than she might otherwise have been. By the time she was nineteen she’d already lost a daughter and more importantly, in the minds of folk wanting male Tudors, a son. In 1537 another daughter, Lady Jane Grey, was born. Roger Ascham, her one time tutor, recorded Jane’s views of Frances’ parenting strategy –

 

“For when I am in presence either of father or mother; whether I speak, keep silence, sit, stand, or go, eat, drink, be merry, or sad, be sewing, playing, dancing, or doing any thing 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 will not name for the honour I bear them) so without measure misordered, that I think myself in hell, till time come that I must go to Mr Elmer; who teacheth me so gently, so pleasantly, with such fair allurements to learning, that I think all the time nothing whiles I am with him…”

 

No wonder then that numerous writers have suggested that the greys were disappointed that Jane was not a boy – although expectations of learning amongst the Tudor children was undoubtedly high.

 

Unlike Eleanor Brandon who seems to have been unambitious, perhaps because of her poor health Frances appears to have been much more determined to shin up the Tudor powerlist. When Henry VIII died in 1547 they handed Jane over to Thomas Seymour as a ward in the hope that he might arrange a match with her cousin the new king Edward VI.

 

But by 1553 it was clear that Edward was dying. Jane leapfrogged over her cousins Mary and Elizabeth bypassing Henry VIII’s will when Edward named her his heir. She was married off to Guildford Dudley. Novels suggest that Frances beat Jane in order to ensure compliance but there are no historical sources to support this.

 

Frances’s husband Henry Grey was executed on February 23, 1554 for his part in Wyatt’s rebellion against Mary- he outlived his daughter by ten days. His involvement in the rebellion cost Jane her life.

 

Frances went on to marry her Master of Horse, rather suggesting she wasn’t as ambitious as all that the following month. By marrying Adrian Stokes she lowered her rank so significantly that William Camden believed that she distanced herself and her surviving children far enough from the throne to make them less of a threat. Leanda de Lisle’s book about the Grey sisters reveals that Katherine and Mary remained at risk because of their closeness to the throne but that during Mary’s reign they were welcome at court, as indeed was their mother Frances.

 

Frances’ health deteriorated in part from late pregnancies- she gave birth to a daughter who died the same day – had she visited Henry Grey in the Tower after his arrest there might have been some doubt as to whether or not Adrian Stokes was the father. And there were also two sons who died in infancy. Frances died in the Charterhouse at Sheen in 21 November 1559. She was given the burial of a princess in Westminster Abbey and was described as such by the heralds at the funeral demonstrating that the term princess was a moveable feast during the Tudor period.

 

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