Tag Archives: Henry Grey

Joan Beaufort’s descendants – Katherine Strangeways

Joan BeaufortJoan’s daughter Katherine married John Mowbray, 2nd Duke of Norfolk when she was about twelve.  He died in 1432.  Katherine then remarried to Thomas Strangeways of Castle in Yorkshire.  It can be supposed that Katherine’s second marriage which seems a bit of an odd one for a duchess to make says more about the Nevilles’ political aspirations in the north than anything else.  The Strangeways family was an important one within the Yorkshire and Durham gentry.  The name features as justice of the peace during the period- clearly the Neville family sought to create a powerful political affinity through a series of marital alliances.

Katherine (the dowager duchess of Norfolk) and Thomas had two daughters: Joan and Katherine.  I am pleased to report that there is not a great deal I wish to write about Joan. She married Sir William Willoughby of Lincolnshire – which if nothing else identifies the way in which the network of gentry and aristocratic families spread beyond county boundaries forming affiliations.

Katherine, Joan Beaufort’s grand-daughter, on the other hand was married off to Henry Grey, Baron Grey of Codnor in 1454 just before the Wars of the Roses escalated from a political feud into an actual war.  His location in Codnor,  a powerful member of Derbyshire’s gentry, reflects links between the Neville family and the wider Lancaster affinity first created by John of Gaunt – though it must have been complicated even then by the fact that Grey’s mother was a member of the Percy family- the Nevilles’ and the Percies’ feud with one another had led to the so-called Battle of Heworth Moor on 24 August 1453 when the Percy family headed by Lord Egremont attacked a Neville wedding party to celebrate the marriage of Sir Thomas Neville to Maud Stanhope. Thomas Neville, the groom, was  our Katherine Strangeways’ cousin.

Henry Grey, conflict between his own extended family and his family through marriage aside, tends to turn up in most popular accounts about the Wars of the Roses as an example of local feuding impacting on national politics.  I know that I’ve posted about him before but in all honesty I’ve never given much thought to his wife or the fact that she was the great grand-daughter of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford. Essentially Grey started off as a Lancastrian – hence the marriage.  He was on the Lancastrian side at the Second Battle of St. Albans in 1461.  However, after the Battle of Towton in 1461 he swiftly made his peace with Yorkist Edward IV and thereafter entered the lists as a loyal Yorkist.

Henry Grey  was less interested in the national picture than in what was happening in his own backyard. He had his own local feud with the Vernons of Haddon Hall to keep him out of mischief and in 1467 a member of the Vernon family, Roger (he was Henry Vernon’s uncle for those of you who know these things), managed to get himself killed after a series of unfortunate events in Belper where he was a squire.  Locally it is said that there was a battle fought at Codnor between the Greys and the Vernons as a result of Roger’s death.

George, Duke of Clarence who had acquired large portions of the land in the area as part of his inheritance (remember he is descended from John of Gaunt- the Cousins War is well named) favoured the Vernon family despite the fact that they had fought against the Yorkists.  Edward IV was said to have favoured the Grey family.  In any event the Earl of Shrewsbury  eventually fined both parties and told them to stop killing one another but this was only after the Duke of Clarence had failed to get them to keep the peace and both sides had attempted to nobble the jury.

In 1471, partly as a result of the rumbling aftereffects of the death of Roger Vernon, Grey managed to get himself in even more hot water by inciting a riot in Nottingham.  Grey was summoned to London where Edward IV asked some very difficult questions.  By this stage an act had been passed trying to prevent local magnates from keeping their own bands of armed retainers – not that it seemed to have much effect.

By then it would have to be said that Henry Grey had got the hang of killing people as he turned up  for the concluding battles of the Wars of the Roses – at Barnet, Tewkesbury, Bosworth and Stoke. It was only at Stoke in 1487 that he fought for the Lancastrian cause. Edward IV had even appointed him to office in Ireland (not that it went particularly well) so it is interesting that Henry VII not only granted him land but gave him a licence to work with metals.

After Katherine died Henry Grey remarried twice more. His third wife, also and rather inconveniently named Katherine married Edward IV’s nephew William de la Pole -meaning that she was married to a man marked as a potential Yorkist contender to the throne,  taking us in one of those ever decreasing historical circles that I like so much. Though the good news for readers of this post is that Katherine Strangeways and Henry Grey didn’t have any children.

Katherine Strangeways’ mother the dowager duchess of Norfolk from her first marriage to John Mowbray would marry twice more. Both her third and fourth husbands have their part to play in the Wars of the Roses – her last marriage being described as “diabolical” by her contemporaries – guess what I’m posting about tomorrow? There are no rewards for anyone who has worked out who Katherine Neville ended up marrying or what the scandal was – but I can guarantee that some of you will exhale and think – ‘well, why didn’t she say at the start of this whole unravelling of Katherine Neville’s family?’

Weir, Alison. (2008) Britain’s Royal Families. London: Vintage Books


Filed under Wars of the Roses

The Siege of Gloucester

Colonel Massie.jpgGloucester is one of the key locations for Parliamentarian and Royalist confrontation.  It is the victory that Parliament desperately needed in 1643 and it is perhaps also written about by historians as much as it is on account of the fact that there’s so much primary source material to support the story.  The Earl of Stamford arrived in Gloucester in about November 1642 and left a regiment there for its defence.

The Earl of Stamford is one of those historical surprises that turn up from time to time- his name is Henry Grey and he would acquire the title Baron Grey of Groby on his father’s death – so yes, for those of you who like your Wars of the Roses, he is part of that family. And for those of you who like a good Tudor link he is often known as Henry Grey of Bradgate (childhood home of Lady Jane Grey whose father was also a Henry Grey).  Essentially our Henry was descended from a younger brother of Lady Jane Grey’s father.  You may be asking where our Henry acquired the title Earl of Stamford. Put simply – by marrying Ann Cecil he gained the manor of Stamford – and so yes, his wife was descended from Elizabeth I’s trusted adviser.

Henry had fought on the king’s side during the Bishop’s War of 1639 but had got into hot water when he admitted to rather admiring the Scottish clergy.  This probably wasn’t the most sensible thing to tell King Charles I but it does prove Henry’s Puritan credentials.  It is perhaps not surprising then, that he supported Parliament in the build up to the civil war.  Because he supported Parliament his neighbour, Henry Hastings, the earl of Huntingdon supported the king – evidently, one of those feuding sort of relationships.

Anyway, back to Gloucester.  Edward Massie (pictured at the start of this post) was appointed governor. He arrived on the 8th December 1642.  A trained band of local men were commanded, in part, by men that accompanied Massie to the city.  In addition there were some Scots.  In total there were two bands of foot and since there were so many soldiers in the city they had to be billeted on the local population.  There are also problems with regard to pay – parliament was short of cash and the unpaid soldiers threatened a mutiny of sorts.

In February 1643 Prince Rupert captured Cirencester and Bristol was captured on 26 July. Gloucester was an isolated pinpoint of parliamentarianism. Corn prices started to rise.  Citizens loyal to the Crown decamped from Gloucester and those of a nervous disposition also left if possible.

The king paid Bristol a visit in August.  In my imagination he did a quick royal walk around, glad-handed a few dignitaries and then went on his way.  The reality was somewhat different.  He was met by cheering crowds – who probably knew better than appear anything else!  But the main reason for his visit was to settle the acrimonious arguments that had burst out between his own commanders and to plan what to do next.  Lord Hopton’s Western Army were not happy with the number of casualties they had sustained.  It was also evident that the Cornish weren’t keen on leaving their region.

Charles placed his nephew, Prince Maurice (Prince Rupert’s brother) in charge of the Western Army and sent him off to vanquish Parliamentarian hotspots in Devon such as Plymouth. Ralph Hopton, who was still recovering from injuries caused by an exploding  munitions waggon was made deputy governor of Bristol under Prince Rupert.  Charles arranged for the army he had fetched with him from Oxford to be divided into a garrison for Bristol and a force to attack Gloucester which was headed up by the king – though he very sensibly took Prince Rupert and Patrick Ruthven (the Scottish Earl of Forth) with him.

By that time Bristol was the only Parliamentarian stronghold between Bristol and Lancaster.  In short it was the fly in the proverbial ointment. It was a Parliamentarian stronghold that allowed them to interfere with royalist communications across the Severn. Things did not look good for the Parliamentarians.  It was admittedly a walled city with a castle but the former, Roman in origin, didn’t go all the way round and the latter was in the process of being dismantled.  There was also a serious shortage of powder despite the fact that Massie had written to Parliament asking for money, weapons and reinforcements.  As elsewhere in the country Gloucester’s population found themselves shovelling soil as fast as they could to create earthworks to strengthen their city’s defences.  It is not recorded how they felt when Massie started burning the suburbs beyond the city wall so that the Royalists wouldn’t have any cover.

The king and his army asked or “summoned” the city to surrender on the 10th August 1643.  He settled down for a siege despite the fact that Rupert advocated storming the city, recognising that it wasn’t equipped for that eventuality.  Charles, as at Turnham Green, was worried about the casualties.

By the end of August the Earl of Essex was on the road from London to lift the seige. Charles who had been shelling Gloucester could not risk being caught between Gloucester’s garrison and Essex’s army so raised the siege and let Essex occupy the city.   The next eighteen months were somewhat tense for the inhabitants of Gloucester. They had already sold off their plate to pay for provisions prior to the siege but now they had to deal with the fact that over two hundred houses had been destroyed by the Parliamentarians to prevent the royalists from finding cover close to the walls, the town ditches were flooded and the shelling had done rather a lot of damage.  The church of St Nicholas has a decided lean even today because of the  royalist shelling.

We know that Massie would have had to surrender if Essex had not arrived when he did at Gloucester.  He was running extremely short of gunpowder.  Gloucester Civic Trust have a helpful article on the siege. In 1645 Massie’s loyalty to Parliament came under question and by 1659 he was actively plotting for the town’s take over by Royalists.  By that time the town which had always been largely Presbyterian in sympathy and organisation looked rather more divided in its loyalties.

More significantly,  the fact that the king had to march away from Gloucester brought the Royalist summer of victories to a close and set the scene for the Battle of Newbury  which took place on 20 September 1643.   Essex and his army were returning to London.  Charles chased after Essex and overtook the Parliamentarian army at Newbury.  If Essex wanted to get back to London he had to get by the Royalists.  Later Essex would be accused of lacking in military flare but on this particular occasion he made a surprise dawn attack on Charles’ army.  It was touch and go for Essex who was almost encircled at one point in the battle.  Despite that he saw off Prince Rupert and his cavalry and when battle broke off it was the royalists who had to give way because they did not have sufficient ammunition to continue the encounter.  The Scots would soon officially enter the war and from that point forwards the tide would shift in favour of Parliament.

‘Gloucester, 1640-60: The English Revolution’, in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester, ed. N M Herbert (London, 1988), pp. 92-95. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/glos/vol4/pp92-95 [accessed 13 February 2018].






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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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Edward Courtney, Earl of Devon

edward courtney.jpgEdward Courtney was the only surviving son of the Marquess of Exeter born in 1526.
More significant  was the fact that he was the great-grandson of Edward IV.   Katherine, the sixth of Edward and Elizabeth Woodville’s children to survive babyhood, was married off to Sir William Courtney a loyal Lancastrian in the aftermath of Bosworth which must have been a bit of a comedown from an earlier proposal for her to marry either a Scottish or a Spanish prince but better by far than scuttling around in the sanctuary of Westminster Abbey.  Unfortunately for poor old William he somehow became inveigled into a conspiracy to put Edmund de La Pole on the throne in 1502 and spent the rest of Henry VII’s reign in custody – it’s fairly safe to say that the Courtneys were framed.
Katherine Courtney of York.jpgWhen Henry VIII came to the throne he had his uncle by marriage released from prison but persuaded his Aunt Katherine to renounce her claim to the earldom of March- and the Mortimer inheritance which caused so much mayhem during the Wars of the Roses- and following the death of William in 1511, Katherine took a vow of chastity.  This seemed to go down well with Bluff King Hal who gave her the rights to the income from the Courtney lands during her life time, drew her son Henry into the inner court circle and made her godmother to the Princess Mary in 1516. The problem so far as her grandson Edward would be concerned would be that little drop of Plantagenet blood.  It had been alright for Katherine to sign herself ‘the excellent Princess Katherine, Countess of Devon, daughter, sister and aunt of kings’ (Westcott) but royalty wasn’t such a good thing to have in one’s bloodstream during the mid-Tudor crisis and especially not if one fancied wearing a crown rather than a coronet.
Edward Courtney looked all set for a charmed life – he was a cousin of the Tudors and his grandmother had been a respected member of the inner family circle.  He’d spent time in the household of Mary Tudor, Duchess of Suffolk – presumably to learn the art of being a gentleman.
Unfortunately for Edward his father Henry Courtney  came up with the wonderful wheeze of marrying young Edward off to the Princess Mary – you’d have thought he’d have learned from his own father’s experiences.   In addition, Henry’s second wife (and mother of Edward) Gertrude Blount was a daughter of Baron Mountjoy who had served Katherine of Aragon since her arrival in England – Blount, a Derbyshire man  and Katherine’s chamberlain- had a bit of a torrid time of it during the 1530s but Gertrude remained unswervingly loyal to Katherine – and yes, Gertrude was related to Bessie Blount (Henry VIII’s mistress and mother of Henry Fitzroy) but this isn’t the post for that particular amble around Tudor family trees. The Mountjoy clan and the Courtneys were identified as members of the Aragonese faction as supporters of Katherine were called. Henry  Courtney was not only related to the Poles and the Nevilles but on good terms with them – they, being Catholic, were decidedly grumpy about the break with Rome. Put in a nutshell Courtney managed to get himself caught up in one of Thomas Cromwell’s snares in 1538 to keep anyone with a claim to the throne under lock and key- the planned match between Edward and Mary being the icing on the cake so far as Cromwell’s evidence was concerned, so as to speak.
In November 1538 Gertrude, Henry and twelve-year-old Edward found themselves in the Tower.  Henry was executed at the beginning of December and Edward remained a prisoner for the next fifteen years. Henry paid for his distant cousin’s food and education. Upon Henry VIII’s death the regency council and the duke of Somerset decided that an adult male with Plantagenet blood was better in the Tower than out of it – so there he remained, although he now had the company of Bishop Gardiner.  The pair took something of a shine to one another.  Edward referred to the bishop as “father” and Edward became Gardiner’s protégée.
In August 1553 Princess Mary fresh from Framlingham arrived in London to claim her throne from Lady Jane Grey.  A month later Edward was created earl of Devon and Reginald Pole described him as the “Flower of English Nobility” on account of his learning –  let’s face it there wasn’t much else for him to do in the Tower to while away the hours other than read, translate various ancient works and play the lute.
On 1 October 1553 Courtney took his place in Mary’s court by bearing the sword of state at her coronation.
Edward now spent considerable amounts of time running around London with the wrong kind of women – but I don’t suppose he’d had much opportunity for drunkenness and debauchery whilst in custody. Queen Mary was not impressed.
Meanwhile Mary was determined to marry into the family of Charles V.  It had been her mother’s wish and she refused to consider any other options – no matter what anyone else might say on the matter. The thought of Philip II of Spain made quite a lot of English gentlemen feel a little nauseous. Gardiner did try and suggest Courtney as a match but it was no go.  Instead, Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Peter Carew came up with the idea of Courtney marrying the Princess Elizabeth – voila Protestant, English – Tudor/Plantagenet- what more could one wish for? Sir William Paget the Tudor administrator was keen on the match as well.  Obviously Gardiner wasn’t so keen on the idea – him being very catholic and everything but Courtney whose freedom seems to have done strange things to his personality and common sense thought it was a terrific plan, as did the recently freed duke of Suffolk Henry Grey, father of Lady Jane Grey.
The plan for the regions to rise up did not go well.  The council found out that there was rebellion in the air and various parties ran around in ever decreasing circles until they were rounded up and placed under arrest – the only exception was in Kent where Wyatt’s rebels advanced upon London and caused quite a lot of panic. Henry Grey scarpered to the Midlands where he met with indifference or hostility whilst Gardiner slapped Courtney metaphorically around in order to find out exactly what he knew.  Gardiner had no intention of languishing in the Tower or loosing his head although it looks as though Gardiner did try and keep Courtney out of trouble no matter what the rest of the Privy Council and the now very influential Spanish Ambassador had to say on the subject.
Ultimately Wyatt’s Rebellion foundered and Edward Courtney found himself back in the Tower once more scratching his head and looking vaguely bewildered. Unfortunately for Courtney, Wyatt had been tortured and had incriminated the earl in the hope, it is believed,  of securing a pardon.  The two men would meet on the 11 April 1554 when Wyatt went to the block and is said to have begged Courtney’s pardon. Wyatt made it quite clear before his execution that neither Courtney nor Elizabeth had been involved in his rebellion. Henry Grey went to the block and so too did Lady Jane Grey and her husband Guildford Dudley who had no part in the plot and were not intended to benefit from the plot – it was an opportunity to tidy up loose ends. But not as it turned out to get rid of Courtney and Elizabeth.
At the end of May 1554 Courtney was sent to Fotheringhay where he stayed for a year. Then he took a journey, presumably for the benefit of his health to Brussels and from there to Venice.  Unfortunately the Spanish took a dim view of the earl and were planning to have him assassinated – the assassin changed sides in Venice thus saving Courtney from an untimely end.
It does appear that Courtney couldn’t help but dabble in treason as the moment he arrived in Italy he hooked up with Sir Henry Dudley, one of Northumberland’s sons, and between them they came up with a harebrained plan to murder Mary  and replace her with Elizabeth – with Courtney as royal spouse. There was even talk of a possible match to Mary Queen of Scots  thanks to Henri II of France.
On the 18 September 1556 Edward Courtney died in Padua where he had enrolled as a student. There were rumours of poison but in reality he’d caught a chill whilst out hawking. A letter sent to Queen Mary by Peter Vannes provides an account of events, “for his Honest recreation… to see his hawks fly upon a wasted ground, without any houses” was caught “in a great tempest of wind and rain” Rather than leave his sport he’d refused to get changed out of his wet clothes and by the end of the week “entered into a continue hot ague, sometimes more vehement than at another… so that his tongue had so stopped his mouth, and his teeth so clove together” that he couldn’t take the Sacrament at the end.
Inevitably with an unexpected death in a time of intrigue and treason there are always conspiracy theories. Poisoning is a favourite so far as Courtney is concerned but I have also read that he may have died of syphilis – that other perennial Tudor exit strategy. The earldom of Devon was extinct  as there were no more male sprigs. Four girls inherited his estates but not the title. There was also one less contender for the throne.
Ian W. Archer, ‘Courtenay, Edward, first earl of Devon (1526–1556)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/6449, accessed 17 March 2017]
Margaret R. Westcott, ‘Katherine, countess of Devon (1479–1527)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/70277, accessed 17 March 2017]


Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

Henry Grey, duke of Suffolk – father of Lady Jane Grey.

henry-greyHenry Grey was the great grandson of Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband Sir John Grey of Goby – and incidentally it’s pronounced ‘Grooby’. He died at the second Battle of St Albans in February 1461 leaving Elizabeth a widow with two sons.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Henry Grey’s father was the second marquis and on of Elizabeth of York’s closest relatives.  He found that his credentials were suspect under the new Tudor regime not least because of his suspected conspiracy in the Lambert Simnel affair.  What saved his bacon was his skill at jousting and his friendship with Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk.  When he died in 1530 it is perhaps not surprising that young Henry found his wardship in the hands of Brandon.  And with that knowledge it is unsurprising that he ended up married to Charles’ daughter Frances.  His links to the crown mad whim a suitable match for a girl of royal blood – Frances’ mother was, after all, Princess Mary or the French Queen as she was known during her lifetime.

Henry did what nobles did – he jousted. He gambled. He wandered around looking magnificent whilst being short of cash.  He took part in ceremonies such as Henry VIII’s funeral.

To all intents and purposes he does not appear desperately interesting, until that is he became embroiled involved with Sir Thomas Seymour at the beginning of Edward VI’s reign. Seymour convinced Henry and Frances that he could arrange a marriage between their oldest surviving child, Lady Jane Grey, and the new king, young Edward VI.  With this in mind and perhaps on account of Henry’s rather sizeable gambling debts, Henry sold the wardship of his daughter to the king’s uncle and was drawn further and further into Seymour’s web.  Whilst  Jane was at Chelsea in Katherine Parr’s household all initially seemed to be well.  Young Jane was in receipt of a first rate education and a step closer to the crown. All that can be said with the clarity of hindsight  is that Grey was either extremely ambitious and took gambling to the extreme or that he was incredibly naive to believe that any of Seymour’s schemes would work. Not only that of course but it soon became clear that Seymour was behaving inappropriately by romping with Princess Elizabeth. For reasons best known to themselves, even after they’d heard the rumours Jane’s parent allowed her to remain in Seymour’s care. She did refer to him as a beloved father and there is no evidence of any untoward behaviour on Seymour’s part.

Grey was a man of the time.  He had  Protestant sympathies. He was father to three of the potential claimants to the throne and husband of the fourth.  He was a man worth cultivating. Perhaps for this reason he was appointed to the privy council in 1549 after the fall of the duke of Somerset. He certainly started to extend his collection of lands at this time, he rounded up some of the property of the duke of Somerset when he was convicted of treason, and added to his offices. In 1551 he became a warden of the marches but didn’t really seem to know what to do.  It was something of a relief to all concerned, apart possibly from the Scots, when he handed in his notice. Even if he was fairly nondescript as a politician or a military commander his role as head of the family of female Tudors made him important in the Tudor political world so it is fairly unsurprising that Dudley made him duke of Suffolk following the death of his father-in-law and two young  half-brothers-in-law. There was also a handy little grant of £2000 a year.


Suffolk, as I shall now call him in line with his title, must have felt as though everything was falling into place when Northumberland persuaded Edward, who was seriously ill by the beginning of 1553, that it would be a good idea if his own son were to marry Lady Jane Grey and that she should be nominated heir to the throne given her protestant credentials. There was the small matter of persuading Jane that it was a good idea but it was effectively a done deal with the marriage being celebrated in May 1553 along with the nuptials of Jane’s younger sister Lady Katherine Grey to William Herbert, heir of the earl of Pembroke on the same day.  At the same time as the Grey girls acquired husbands the duke of Northumberland’s daughter, also called Katherine and not yet twelve years old, married Henry Hastings, son of  the earl of Hastings – another man with Plantagenet blood threading through his veins. Northumberland was binding his party together through promises of power and through the traditional medium of marriage.  Edward VI died on 6 July 1553.
 On the 9th July 1553 Suffolk together with the privy council declared Jane queen.  A few days later Suffolk declared Mary queen outside the Tower before tearing down the canopy of state from over his daughter’s head.  He then left her to face the music.
Somehow or the other Suffolk managed to avoid being  incarcerated in the Tower and having the key  to his cell thrown into the Thames. He was imprisoned, along with Frances, on the 27th  May 1553. After a few days he was released without charge, unlike seventeen year old Jane. She was a hostage and Mary’s pro-catholic council, featuring amongst its number men who’d made her queen, were looking for an excuse to end her life. Under those circumstances you’d have thought that Suffolk would manage to keep his head down and his nose clean.
Of course, he didn’t. Whilst Frances and their two  younger daughters returned to court where they were welcomed by Queen Mary, Suffolk having paid a fine made disgruntled noises about the prospect of a return to Catholicism.  It was for this reason that he became involved with Sir Thomas Wyatt who wished to prevent Queen Mary from marrying Philip of Spain.  Suffolk thought that as a leading gentleman of the Midlands that he could raise support for a rebellion.  He also thought that the Earl of Hastings would support him. Hastings was very busy at that particular time back tracking as fast as he could. Unfortunately  Suffolk was just about as good a rebel as he was a politician and had failed to spot that the band of nobles who’d sealed their deal with the marriages of their children were now backtracking rather rapidly – poor Katherine Grey was virtually kick rout of the Pembroke house despite the young couple having taken rather a shine to one another. The plot was betrayed by Edward Courtenay, earl of Devonshire, who also happened to have quite a lot of Plantagenet blood and who Wyatt thought would make a better royal spouse.
It wasn’t long before the Privy Council asked Suffolk to pop around for a cosy little chat.  Had he heard anything about a rebellion?  Would he take command of men in order to put the insurgents down? Suffolk panicked and scarpered home to Bradgate where the locals showed a determined line in being loyal to the Crown.  Leicester and Coventry turned him away.
Suffolk realising the game was up thought that it would be sensible to leave rather rapidly…he wasn’t terribly good at being a fugitive either. He decided that he would flee to Denmark but wasn’t quite sure about the direction he needed to take. Unsurprisingly he was softly captured and returned to the Tower where he was executed on 23rd February 1554. His actions were the excuse that Mary’s government needed to execute his daughter. Grey, attainted of treason,  went to his death grieving for his daughter who was executed along with her husband on the 12th.
It’s hard to feel any sympathy for Henry Grey. He played at the top table of Tudor politics without having any real aptitude for the game. His eldest daughter paid with her life.

Robert C. Braddock, ‘Grey, Henry, duke of Suffolk (1517–1554)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/11535, accessed 27 Feb 2017]


Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors

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.



Filed under Sixteenth Century, The Tudors