The Death and Burial of Frances, Duchess of Suffolk

In 1559, the chronicler Henry Machyn, a merchant and a parish clerk who faithfully recorded details of heraldic funerals, wrote, “The v day (of) Dessember was bered in Westmynster abbay my lade Frances the wyff of Harec duke of Suffolke, with a gret baner of armes and viij banar-rolles, and a hersse and a viij dosen penselles, and a viij dosen skockyons, and ij haroldes of armes, master Garter and master Clarenshux, and mony morners.”

Photo by lisby1. Used via Creative Commons license.

Frances, Duchess of Suffolk,  mother to the late Lady Jane Grey as well as to Katherine and Mary Grey, had been ailing since at least November, when she made her will:

In the name of God, Amen. I ladye Fraunces Duches of Suffolke, wife to Adryane Stockes esquyer, considering howe uncerteyn the howre of deathe is, and how certeyne ytt ys that every creature shall dye when ytt shall please God, being sicke in bodie but hole in mynde, thankes be to Almightie God; and considering with my self that the said Adrian Stockes my husbande is indebted to dyvers and sundrye persones in greate somes of money, and also that the chardge of my funeralles, if God call me to his mercye, shalbe greate chardges to hym, mynding he shall have, possesse, and enjoye all goodes, catalles, as well reall as personall, as all debtes, legacies, and all other thinges whatsoever I may give, dispose, lymytt, or appoynt by my last will and testament for the dischardge of the saide debtes and funeralles, do ordeyne and make this my present last will and testament, and do by the same constitute and make the saide Adryane Stockes my husbande my sole executor to all respectes, ententes, and purposes. In wytnes whereof I have hereunto putt my hande and seale the ix th daye of November, in the furst yere of the reigne of our soveraigne ladye Elizabeth, by the grace of God quene of Englande, Fraunce, and Irelande, defendour of the faythe, &c. Fraunces Suffolke.

Sealed and delyvered in the presence of. these under wrytten: Roberte Wyngfelde, Edmund Hall, Frauncis Bacon, and Robert Cholmeley.

Proved before the keeper of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, 28th of November, 1559, by the oath of Justinian Kidd, proctor of Adrian Stockes.

One of these witnesses is of particular interest: Robert Wingfield. Could this be Robert Wingfield of Brantham, who wrote the Vita Mariae Angliae Reginae, a highly sympathetic account of Mary’s recovery of her throne? Wingfield did take pains in his chronicle to note that Frances was “vigorously opposed” to her daughter Jane’s match with Guildford Dudley, “but her womanly scruples were of little avail.” He also had ties with Lady Jane’s famous visitor, Roger Ascham, whom he described in the Vita as “my very good friend.”

A postmortem inquisition on May 7, 1560, gives the date of Frances’s death as November 21, 1559, making her 42 at the time of her decease. (John Strype, however, gives her date of death as November 20.)

On December 3, 1559, Elizabeth directed Sir Gilbert Dethicke, Garter King at Arms, and William Harvey, Clarencieux King at Arms,  to augment Frances’s arms by quartering the royal arms with them. Archibald Barrington reproduced the queen’s letter to Garter:

Trusty and well-beloved, we greet you well, letting you to understand that for the good zeal and affection which we of long have borne to our dearly-beloved cousin, the Lady Frances, late Duchess of Suffolk, and especially for that she is lineally descended from our grandfather, King Henry VII., as also for other causes and considerations as thereunto moving, in perpetual memory of, thought fit, requisite, and expedient, to grant and give unto her and to her posterity, an augmentation of our arms, to be borne with the difference to the same by us assigned, and the same to bear in the first quarter, and so to be placed with the arms of her ancestors—viz., “our arms within a border, gobony, or and az.,” which shall be an apparent declaration of her consanguinity unto us. Whereupon we will and require you to see the same entered into your registers and records, and at this funeral to place the same augmentation with her ancestor’s arms, in banners bannerols, lozenges, and escutcheons, and otherwise when it shall be thought meet and convenient.

The details of Frances’s funeral, which took place two days later, can be found in a manuscript in the College of Arms. John Strype summarized the account as follows:

December the 5th, the duchess of Suffolk, Frances, sometime wife of Henry, late duke of Suffolk, was buried in Westminster-abbey. Mr. Jewel (who was afterwards bishop of Sarum) was called to the honourable office to preach at her funerals, being a very great and illustrious princess of the blood; whose father was Brandon, duke of Suffolk, and her mother Mary, sometime wife of the French king, and sister to king Henry VIII. She, the said Frances, departed this life November the 20th, in the second year of the reign of queen Elizabeth; not in the sixth of her reign, as Mr. Camden hath put it; led into that mistake, I suppose, by the date on her monument; which indeed shewed not the year of her death, but of the erection of that monument to her memory, by her last husband Mr. Stokes. She was buried in a chapel on the south side of the choir, where Valens, one of the earls of Pembroke, was buried. The corpse being brought and set under the hearse, and the mourners placed, the chief at the head, and the rest on each side, Clarenceux king of arms with a loud voice said these words; “Laud and praise be given to Almighty God, that it hath pleased him to call out of this transitory life unto his eternal glory the most noble and excellent princess the lady Frances, late duchess of Suffolk, daughter to the right high and mighty prince Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk, and of the most noble and excellent princess Mary, the French queen, daughter to the most illustrious prince king Henry VII.” This said, the dean began the service in English for the communion, reciting the ten commandments, and answered by the choir in pricksong. After that and other prayers said, the epistle and gospel was read by the two assistants of the dean. After the gospel, the offering began after this manner: first, the mourners that were kneeling stood up: then a cushion was laid and a carpet for the chief mourners to kneel on before the altar: then the two assistants came to the hearse, and took the chief mourner, and led her by the arm, her train being borne and assisted by other mourners following. And after the offering finished, Mr. Jewel began his sermon; which was very much commended by them that heard it. After sermon, the dean proceeded to the communion; at which were participant, with the said dean, the lady Catharine and the lady Mary, her daughters, among others. When all was over, they came to the Charter-house [Frances’s residence of Sheen] in their chariot.

Leanda de Lisle writes that Katherine Grey, Frances’s oldest surviving daughter, was her chief mourner, a role Frances herself had played at her own mother’s funeral. (A chief mourner had to be the same sex as the deceased, so a spouse could not play the role.)

Adrian Stokes erected a fine monument to Frances, which still exists today, in 1563.  The Westminster Abbey website identifies it as possibly being by Cornelius Cure. It contains inscriptions in English and Latin, the first of which reads: “Here lieth the ladie Francis, Duches of Southfolke, daughter to Charles Brandon, Duke of Southfolke, and Marie the Frenche Quene: first wife to Henrie Duke of Southfolke and after to Adrian Stock Esquier.” The Westminster Abbey website translates the Latin inscription as follows:

Dirge for the most noble Lady Frances, onetime Duchess of Suffolk: naught avails glory or splendour, naught avail titles of kings; naught profits a magnificent abode, resplendent with wealth. All, all are passed away: the glory of virtue alone remained, impervious to the funeral pyres of Tartarus [part of Hades or the Underworld]. She was married first to the Duke, and after was wife to Mr Stock, Esq. Now, in death, may you fare well, united to God.

The fact that the inscription does not mention Frances’s daughters has been taken by some of a final proof of the duchess’s supposed failings as a mother, but it should be remembered that when Stokes erected this monument, Katherine Grey was a prisoner of the Crown for her presumption in having married Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, without royal permission. Stokes had been one of those questioned about the events leading up to the clandestine marriage. Katherine’s place in the royal succession was also a very delicate subject in the 1560’s. Thus, assuming that Stokes made a conscious decision not to mention Frances’s daughters on her tomb, he was most likely not being disrespectful but prudent.


Archibald Barrington, Lectures on Heraldry.

Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen

John Gough Nichols, The Diary of Henry Machyn.

John Gough Nichols, Wills from Doctor’s Commons.

John Strype, Annals of the Reformation and Establishment of Religion.


7 thoughts on “The Death and Burial of Frances, Duchess of Suffolk”

    1. Thanks, Kathryn! I wish I had seen it when I was at the abbey a few years back, but unfortunately, Frances wasn’t on my radar atr all at the time.

  1. I’ve never seen that monument as Westminster Abbey – will look out for it when I next visit. I hadn’t worked out Frances was only 42 when she died – that surprised me.

    1. Take a picture for me if you do, please! I think a lot of people have the general impression that Frances was older than she was.

  2. Pingback: The Maligned Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk | History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham

  3. I did check out Frances’ monument at westminster and noticed that it was particularly vandalised over the following centuries. While almost all of the effigies are vandalised in one way or another, Frances Brandon’s was shockingly covered with carved initials, etc. Not quite sure what to make of it, if anything.

  4. Her funeral as described show she seems to be a well respected woman, i wonder how different her life and that of her 3 daughters would have been if Frances had been successful in opposing Jane’s marriage to Dudley.

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