The Horsey Master Stokes and the Gullible Mr. Marples

Where would the history of Lady Jane Grey and her family be without the intrepid Victorians? I came across this gem today while looking up a reference for Adrian Stokes. It’s from a piece in the 1885-86 Proceedings of the Liverpool Literary and Philosophical Society called “A Noble Family of the Middle Ages” by one Josiah Marples, and professes to be nonfiction. Sadly, the author’s source was the infamous Tablette Booke of Ladye Mary Keyes, a novel by Flora Francis Wylde that has fooled many a person, including most recently David Baldwin in his biography of Elizabeth Woodville, into citing it as a genuine memoir of Mary Grey.

There are a number of historical groaners in the excerpt below, but I’ll just point out a few places where history and Mr. Marples part company.  In reality, Frances died before her daughter Katherine Grey was put in the Tower and before her daughter Mary began her relationship with her future husband, Thomas Keyes;  Frances married Adrian Stokes during Queen Mary’s reign, not during Queen Elizabeth’s; and the “aunt Eleanor” referred to here, Frances’s younger sister, had died in the 1540’s.


While Mary [Grey] was thus occupied with her attendance on the queen, and her practising on the virginalls, and, shall we add, her conversations with the porter [Keyes], her mother, the proud duchess, now approaching her fiftieth year, found it necessary to take much horse exercise, which had become fashionable, as the queen had caused to be introduced a new saddle, “on which,” says Lady Mary, “a body was to sit side-ways.” One day, however, the startling news came that the duchess had not returned from her ride, and further enquiry showed that her frequent excursions in the company of her “Master of the Horse” had resulted, as such rides have frequently resulted since, in a marriage between the Tudor duchess and her lowborn groom, Adrian Stokes. Poor Mary, well might she say ” a bodye might have struck me down with a straw.”

Katherine [Grey], in the Tower, took the matter a little more philosophically, and chuckled over the fact that “henceforth there will be no more talk of the renowned Tudor race from the lips of our Lady Mother, lest a Tudor ghost should arise, and with his mailed gauntlet, strike her dearly beloved, Master Adrian Stokes, nigh unto death.” The duchess soon showed that if she had made a bad choice she would abide by it, for she wrote to Mary and told her of her marriage, and said that, as she preferred seclusion with her dear husband, she should henceforth live at Bradgate. She recommended Mary to follow her example and get married, and she concluded by saying she did not wish her, nor even Katherine, her favourite daughter, to visit her until they could accept Adrian Stokes as their father, with proper reverence and submission. It was quite anticipated that Elizabeth would have sent the couple to the Tower, but as, singularly enough, she was at the time supposed to have her own eyes fixed upon her “Horsekeeper,” the Earl of Leicester, she said little about it, only expressing her astonishment that her aunt should have so demeaned herself. Alas, a very few months were sufficient to unmask the man, who turned out to be a common, ill-bred, “horsey” fellow, who sacrificed everything to his own low and vulgar tastes, broke horses on the lawn, and had the house full of dogs, while his poor wife—erst the proud duchess – was broken in health and spirit. At length Mary was sent for, and she and her aunt Eleanor, the Countess of Cumberland, went down with all speed, only to find the poor duchess lying at the point of death. While they were in her chamber, nearly heartbroken, they heard a great noise in the next room, and soon the door was thrust open by Stokes, who strode in with “good een to you bothe: I hope I see your ladyshippes well; looke at my poore ould woman now, isn’t she bad? Beg pardon, ladies, for being covered before ye. But have a good heart, wife, you ain’t a-goinge to drop on your race course yet.” The duchess motioned him to leave the room,— “What! am I to go? Very well, have your own way, and live the longer,” then adding, with a broad grin, “But a year agone things was different; I had no need to be trotted back like a lame horse. It ‘b very good of your ladyshippes to come so far, so pray make yourselves right welcome—no formes here, all the bodyes do as they like.” Soon after he left the room, with an awkward sort of reverence, slammed the door after him, and then they “heard his whistle on the back-stairs, calling to a number of great, huge, uncouth dogs, who barked and whined for many minutes afterwards as never did we hear afore.” Mary adds, “Oh, that Master Stokes was an awful creature.” The duchess lived only two days longer. Her first husband’s brother, Lord John Grey, came the next day, and gave orders for the funeral after her death, for Stokes had gone for comfort to the brandy bottle, and was, of course, unfit to transact any business. The duchess’s maid told Mary that some papers of importance were in the writing cabinet, and they were delighted to find, in a secret drawer, a deed of gift, legally drawn up and witnessed, giving Bradgate, and all its lands, to Lord John Grey, so that Master Stokes had to return to the mire from which he ought never to have been raised.

3 thoughts on “The Horsey Master Stokes and the Gullible Mr. Marples”

  1. This is a very fine lesson for any duchess who, overcome by the youthful vigour a ‘horsey man’, Marries Down.
    Very nice find, Susan.

  2. It certainly does sound like a novel, doesn’t it? I am surprised that anyone could have been taken in by it. Two further howlers–Robert Dudley had not yet been created Earl of Leicester, and Frances was Elizabeth’s cousin, not her aunt. Oh, well….

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