Henry 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.
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]