Frances Grey’s Date of Remarriage, Revisited

A while back, I wrote a post about the myths about Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk. One of those I mentioned was the date of her remarriage to Adrian Stokes. Recently, as I noted, historians have leaned toward the idea that the marriage took place in 1555, instead of in 1554, just weeks after the executions of her husband and her daughter Jane.

The other day, however, I stumbled upon the inquisition postmortem that apparently is the source of the 1554 story—an inquisition that took place in Warwickshire on May 7, 1560, and of which a certified copy was made on February 14, 1600. The inquisition, as printed in the Calendar of State Papers,  states, “That the Duke of Suffolk died at London, 1st Mary, and the land remained in the hands of the Duchess, when on 9 March, 1 Mary, 1554, she married Adrian Stokes; that they had issue a daughter Elizabeth, born at Knebworth, co. Herts, 16 July, 1 & 3 Philip and Mary, 1555, who lived till 7 Feb following, and then died at Knebworth. That the said Frances died at London, 21 Nov., 2 Eliz., 1559, Stokes surviving her.”

Naturally, this didn’t please me, since my novel, reflecting current thought, has Frances and Adrian marrying in 1555. So I hit the National Archives and came up with three documents mentioning Frances’s marriage.  The first, found at C 142/128/91, appears to be the same inquisition referred to above, as it was taken “in the second year of the reign of Elizabeth” and involves the same lands in the county of Warwick and was taken before the same commissioners. It gives a 1554 date for the marriage:

And the same Frances, duchess of Suffolk, named in the said writ, being thus seised of the premises, on the 9th day of March in the first year of the said late Queen Mary, at Kayhoe in the county of Surrey, took as her husband Adrian Stokes, esquire, by virtue of which the same Adrian Stokes and the aforesaid Frances the duchess, his wife, were seised of the aforesaid college, manors, rectories and other premises with appurtenances in their demesne as of fee tail as in the right of the same duchess, viz of the aforesaid college and other premises with appurtenances, specified in the aforesaid letters patent, to the aforesaid duchess and the heirs of the body of the said late Henry, duke of Suffolk, and the aforesaid Frances the duchess lawfully begotten, and of the aforesaid manor of Monkeskyrby, Brockeste, Walton, Paylton, Straydeston, Newbolde, Horborough, Lawford, Eysnell, Woolvey, Copston, Rookebye and Willey, and the other premises with appurtenances to the aforesaid duchess and the heirs of her body lawfully begotten. And the same Adrian Stokes and Lady Frances, duchess of Suffolk, his wife, being thus seised of the aforesaid college, manor and other premises, as is aforesaid, afterwards had issue, viz one daughter called Elizabeth among others lawfully begotten. Which same Elizabeth on the 16th day of July in the first and third years of the reigns of King Philip and the said late Queen Mary, at Knebworth in the county of Hertford, was born and begotten and lived in the world from the aforesaid 16th day of July until the 7th day of February then next following, on which day the aforesaid Elizabeth at Knebworthe, aforesaid, died. And the said jurors say further that the aforesaid Adrian Stokes and Frances, duchess of Suffolk, being thus seised of the premises, as is aforesaid, afterwards, viz on the 21st day of November in the second year of the said now lady queen, the same Frances died at the city of London seised thereof as of estates tails, and the aforesaid Adrian Stokes survived her and kept himself within the aforesaid manor of Monkeskyrby and the other premises in Monkeskyrby, Brockest, Walton, Paylton, Streytiston, Newbolde, Horbury Magna, Horbury Parva, Lawforde, Eysenell, Wolvey, Scopton, Rougby, Newneham, Wythybroke, Marson Jubytt, Cosforde, Happesforde, Halfpathe, Brinkeley and Wylley, and in Crycke and Sharisforde, aforesaid, as tenant by the curtesy of England, with remainder thereof to the right heirs of the body of the said Frances lawfully begotten. . . . And the said jurors say further that Lady Katherine Grey and Lady Mary Grey are the daughters and next heirs both of the bodies of the said Henry, late duke of Suffolk, and Lady Frances his wife lawfully begotten and of the said Frances, duchess of Suffolk. And that the aforesaid Lady Katherine at the time of the death of the said duchess of Suffolk was of the age of 19 years. And that the aforesaid Lady Mary Grey at the time of the death of the said duchess was of the age of 14 years.

The second document (WARD 7/14/93), an inquisition “taken at Borne in the county of Lincolnshire on the 15th day of March in the 16th year of the reign of our lady Elizabeth” (March 15, 1574), simply states that “being seised in an estate tail, [Frances] took as her husband a certain Adrian Stokes, esquire, and died on around the 11th day of November in the first year of the reign of our now lady queen, after whose death the said Adrian Stokes kept himself inside as tenant by curtesy of the kingdom of England.” Note that the date of death differs from the date in the Warwick inquisition.

The third inquisition (C 142/254/2) “taken at Wincaunton in the aforesaid county [Somerset] on the third day of April in the 40th year of the reign of our Lady Elizabeth” (April 3, 1598), gives no date for Frances and Adrian’s marriage. It too gives Frances’s death date as November 11, 1559. Maddeningly, it states that “the aforesaid Adrian had issue of the body of the same Frances lawfully begotten between them,” but gives no particulars.

With the only inquisition which gives specifics stating that Frances and Adrian were married in 1554 and that they had a child in 1555, the case might appear to be closed. Inquisitions post mortem, however, aren’t infallible, as the conflicting death dates here—November 21 in the Warwick inquisition, November 11 in the ones from Lincolnshire and Somerset—neatly attest.

Moreover, Elizabeth Stokes’ birthdate is given as July 16—which happens to be Frances’s own birthdate. It’s certainly possible that Frances and her daughter shared a birthday, but this does make one wonder if there was some confusion on the part of the jurors.

Furthermore, none of the contemporary records I have found from 1554 refer to Frances as being then married to Adrian Stokes. In a letter dated from London on March 15, 1554, John Banks wrote to Henry Bullinger in eulogistic terms about the recent deaths of Lady Jane and her father, but made no mention of Frances’s remarriage, which surely would have  merited a disapproving line or two had it taken place by then. An entry in the Calendar of Patent Rolls dated April 10, 1554, records that the crown granted Frances a life estate in Beaumanor and other properties; the grant makes no mention of Adrian, as would have been necessary had Frances been married to him. On May 8, 1554, Queen Mary’s privy council allowed the Duchess of Suffolk (presumably Frances and not her fiercely Protestant stepmother, Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk) to use the House of Croydon; again, no mention is made of Adrian. Indeed, as late as April 20, 1555, Simon Renard, the imperial ambassador, wrote to the emperor Charles, “It has been proposed that Courtenay [Edward Courtenay, Earl of Devon, recently released from prison] might be married to the widow of the last Duke of Suffolk, who comes next to the daughter of Scotland in line of succession to the crown. If this is done, it will make Elizabeth very jealous, and would give rise to much dissention in the kingdom if the Queen died without issue.” It seems unlikely that those suggesting Frances as a possible bride for the Earl of Devon would not have heard of the matter if she had been already married the year before to Stokes. (Ungallantly, Simon Renard continued, “But I hear that Courtenay would rather leave the country than marry her.”)

All in all, then, I’m inclined to think that the Warwick inquisition postmortem got the date of Frances’s marriage, and the date of the birth of her daughter Elizabeth Stokes, wrong. In other words, I’m going to stick with writing the story that I have written. Still, I do care about historical accuracy, so if anyone runs across any further evidence supporting the 1554 date, feel free to let me know—but do it gently, please.

24 thoughts on “Frances Grey’s Date of Remarriage, Revisited”

  1. The obvious answer to this is that Frances and Stokes were married secretly, with the marriage only becoming known some time later. After all, remarriages with unseemly haste were not unknown, and the fact that her first husband had died a traitor might have prompted her to remarry a nobody like Stokes to distance herself from Henry Grey, and to attempt to show that she had no designs on the crown. It is also possible that they might have been having an affair, or at least have been strongly attracted to each other–off with the old and on with the new. That her daughter had also been so recently executed might be a possible motive for a secret marriage to avoid the obvious opprobrium. By the time the marriage became publicly known, the whole affair would have been something of a nine days’ wonder, if even that, given that the attention of the country by that time was fixated on all of the problems caused by the Queen’s marriage.

  2. What of a puzzle: The crown’s 1554 grants to Frances without mentioning Adrian seem conclusive; however what is the evidence she married him in 1555, and in which year was her daughter born if not 1555? Was she pregnant when she married him? It’s a bit hard to believe that her inquisition p.m. would have three dates & years wrong: her marriage and the birth and death of her daughter (the mistake 21 for 11 November may be a classical scribal error, after all he got the month and year right, it’s more difficult to explain three wrong years). Btw, was Suffolk and his property attainted after his execution? From the inquisition it sounds like Frances and his daugthers were able to inherit. — Please don’t see this as criticism, your thoroughness and perseverance have no example!

  3. Thanks, ladies! A secret marriage is certainly a possibility. On the other hand, when I was researching my first novel, I came across IPM’s that varied widely from county to county in their findings, especially as to the ages of the heirs. One document even stated flatly that one of my characters, Hugh le Despenser the even younger (the one who died in 1349), had married Elizabeth Comyn, though no other source described him as having married, and the papal dispensation that Hugh obtained for his marriage to Elizabeth de Montacute mentioned no prior marriage or precontract, as it would have to have done since Elizabeth Comyn was still alive. So it’s all a muddle to me still! Maybe it’s time to hold a seance.

  4. The “historians” have obviously not done the math on this. The 1555 date means that Frances would have been well advanced in pregnancy when she married her servant–an out-of-wedlock pregnancy would have been a great disgrace for an aristocratic woman, as indeed it was for a woman of the lower classes. The IPMs are very explicit as to the birth and death dates of Elizabeth Stokes. I have to agree with Christine–I think it highly unlikely that they would have gotten so many dates wrong, and the discrepancy in Frances’s death date is pretty obviously due to a simple scribal error, which doesn’t matter all that much anyway (off by only 10 days), whereas the acceptance of the 1555 date for the marriage has all sorts of problems.

  5. As a matter of fact, I don’t think it mattered much when they got married, as long as they were happy, which I assume. It was not totally unusual to marry very soon after your spouse had departed this world: the saintly Thomas More married 4 weeks after becoming widowed, the respectable diplomat Sir Edward Stafford likewise. De Quadra wondered after Amy Dudley’s fall whethter the queen would Lord Robert at once.

    As Judith said, there were also “secret” marriages, which I would simply call private in the sense that not much fuss was made about them until the equivalent of the press (ambassadors) noticed. Lettice Countess of Leicester seems not to have informed anybody either of her marriage to Sir Christopher Blount (we simply know through French gossip that 6 months after Leicester’s death she had married again).

    Honestly, I am not sure that people commented on the speed of the remarriage (I’ve always thought this is rather pushed up by modern biographers), I think what they commented on was the suitability of the match (if they commented at all; I’ve never seen a comment on Frances Grey apart from modern writers, and perhaps Queen Elizabeth some years later, because she also would have like to marry her “horsemaster”).

    Likewise I don’t think anybody would have been shocked if she had been pregnant, if anyone did take notice at all; high-ranking women got pregnant without suffering in their position. I simply don’t think the Tudor nobility was so Victorian and bourgois as many modern biographers.

    The problem I see with entirely disregarding the i.p.m. is methodological: there seems to be little hard evidence against it: Ives & de Lisle are very nebolous about this. And what do we in other, more important cases??

  6. I think the problem is that we are not taking into consideration the calendar of the times. The year was considered to begin on March 25th. Therefore their “March 9, 1554” would be our “March 9, 1555.” Scholars often express this difficulty by writing dates before March 25th as “March 9, 1554/5”

  7. So if she did indeed marry in March, 1555 that would mean that she was 5 months pregnant. That’s not as strange as it may seem. Getting pregnant was a common way for those in line for the throne to force the hand of a reluctant monarch. (I believe similar cases happened in the reigns of Elizabeth and Charles II.) Since a betrothal was considered to be as binding as marriage, jumping the gun wasn’t condemned at heartily as mere licentiousness.

  8. Hi, Deb!

    That’s a good point about the new year possibly leading to a confusion between 1554 and 1555; the only problem I see, however, is that in the original inquisition postmortem (as opposed to the printed one), the jurors use regnal years, which lessens the possibility that they confused 1554 and 1555.

    I do find the July 16 birthdate for Elizabeth Stokes suspicious, however, as July 16 was also Frances’s birthday. It makes me wonder if somehow those dates didn’t become crossed, though again, it’s entirely possible that Frances and Elizabeth did share a birthday.

    I have to say, the possibility of a secret marriage is looking more and more likely to me, as the only thing that could reasonably account for the IPM, the grant of land to her alone, and the fact that her marriage evidently hadn’t been made public as of April 1555. It’s maddening, but I may have to tweak my plot accordingly!

  9. Apologies, but it occurred to me that there are funny coincidences with dates: Both William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes died on the same day in the same year! My mother and her half-sister were born on the same day, 30 years apart; which means that my grandfather, who had three children in all (all girls), had two daughters with the same birthday. I would also think it not too likely that any jurors were aware of Frances Grey’s birthday, as birthdays played no great part in people’s life in the Tudor era. I agree that there may be errors in “documentary evidence”; only the problem is that “errors” or misinformation occurrs in all sources. Clearly, this case once again reminds us how little we can really know, practically nothing. Please never change your plot!

    1. Good points!

      Another factor that weighs in favor of the accuracy of the inquisition postmortem dates, unfortunately for my plot, is that Adrian Stokes was very much alive at the time of the IPM. The dates of his marriage and the birth and death of Elizabeth Stokes could have easily come from him.

      1. This is getting ever more weird: in the wikipedia entry on Stokes someone put 1 March 1555 as marriage date, cited to a Victorian book, it seems. I agree a secret marriage sounds intriguing … so sad the little girl didn’t survive!

        1. The March 1, 1555 date comes from Miscellanea genealogica et heraldica, I think. It baldly states that Frances and Adrian married on 1 March 1554-55, but doesn’t give a source.

          Edited: The same date appears in the “Beaumanor” section of History and Antiquities of Leicestershire. But the author muddles Frances with her stepmother, claiming that Frances was forced to flee from Bishop Gardiner, whom she had offended, when of course it is Katherine Brandon who was on bad terms with Gardiner.

  10. Leanda de Lisle

    Dear Susan, congratulations! You have made a very intriguing find. As I expect you know I dated the marriage to 1555 in my biography of the Grey sisters (The Sisters Who Would be Queen). I assumed the 1554 date was wrong for a host of reasons – one of which was the Spanish ambassadors comments in April 1555 on gossip that Frances was to be married to Courtney. I am now wondering if I was wrong…. But what also interests me is that their daughter was named Elizabeth. Frances had always chosen royal names for her daughters. I wonder if Elizabeth Tudor was godmother. Anyway you have given us all good for thought. I can’t wait to read your novel!

    1. Thanks so much! I’d love to send you a copy when it’s published–I mention your book in the author’s note. If you want to send me a mailing address to, I’ll send one out in June.

      I also think it’s intriguing that according to the IPM, Frances and Adrian were married at Kew–a manor that belonged to Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk. I wonder if she had a hand in suggesting the marriage?

      1. Leanda de Lisle

        Yes, I always thought that seemed likely, and Frances may well have felt very threatened in 1554. The Spanish were keen to see the entire male line of the Greys wiped out, and Frances might have feared being married off to a Catholic. Marrying Stokes protected her and her daughters (while she lived)

  11. One more thing – Frances’s stepmother was threatened by Gardiner in 1554, while she was recovering from the birth of her daughter (from memory the girl was born around Feb). Another reason perhaps for her to encourage Frances to re-marry ASAP. Still nothing is mentioned in the records at the time – for example in April 1554 when Frances was re-granted Beaumanor etc. I think we need to puzzle over this a while…

    1. The grant is one of the things that made me think that the 1555 date must be the correct one–but on the other hand, it could be, as someone pointed out below, that Frances kept her marriage secret at first, as had her own parents. My own theory is that she kept the Stokes marriage secret for a while out of respect for the memory of her first husband and her daughter, knowing that if Mary tried to force her into an unwanted marriage with someone else, she could then reveal her marriage to Stokes.

      What made me finally decide to go with the 1554 date (which necessitated some rewriting) was the very specific information in the IPM; it struck me as the sort of information that could have come from Adrian Stokes himself. And then there’s the additional problem that if the July 1555 birthdate for Elizabeth Stokes is correct, a March 1555 wedding date would mean that Frances was far advanced in pregnancy when she married Stokes. I would think that if she had “had to” marry him because she was carrying his child, she would have done so a lot earlier, unless for some reason she didn’t realize she was pregnant until rather late.

  12. I hope you got my email with my address. Against 1554 marriage date, seem to recall a letter from Frances to the earl of Rutland in April 1556
    In which she asks to rent a house – no mention of adrian . It is in bevoir mss. In favour of a prompt marriage is the recent history of all those royal marriages in may and June 1553. Katherine Suffolk married before march 20th 1553, but no way of knowing if the timing is significant .

    1. Thanks! I did get the e-mail and will be making a post office run in a few days. I found the printed version of the letter to the earl, but it says April 1557. Maybe Frances wrote in her own name because she was the more suitable spouse to ask a favor of the earl?

      There is this in the Devon Record Office from July 1557, which mentions Stokes:

      5 July 3 and 4 Philip and Mary
      Covenant to levy fine
      1. Adrian Stokes of Hogesden, Middlesex, esq. and his wife Frances Duchess of Suffolk, late wife of the Duke of Suffolk.
      2. Sir William Petre knight.
      Premises: as in 123M/TP22 and 123M/TP23.
      Consideration: £100.
      Sigs. and seals of 1., the seal of Stokes arm. and broken.

      I was wondering that if assuming Frances did marry soon after the duke’s death, she might have been inspired by the example of her own parents to marry quickly.

  13. Nah, I think it must have been inspired by fear, as was claimed in Elizabeth,s reign. Fascinating though – says a lot about how Frances judged Mary in aftermath to execution of Jane, as well as male family members, ie what was this woman capable of? …Elizabeth put in Tower same day Harry was beheaded. Pity about Belvoir letter. I will check out mss but doubt we will learn anything new

    1. By the way, and this has nothing to do with Frances’s second marriage, did you ever come across the story that while walking at Sheen, Frances and Henry Grey encountered a bloody, axe-wielding hand coming from behind the wall? It shows up everywhere–Chapman, Weir, Davey, and in countless novels, but I can’t trace it back further than Agnes Strickland. Do you know whether she actually had a source for it, or whether the Victorian imagination was just running wild that day?

  14. No! I hate to think that she deliberately made stuff up, but you have to wonder. Did anyone suggest the October birthdate for jane before Strickland or the chopines?

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