The Real Adrian Stokes

Following the execution of her first husband, Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, married a commoner, Adrian Stokes. Stokes has usually been depicted in nonfiction and fiction as a poorly educated boy-toy, who disappeared into obscurity following the death of his wife. The real Adrian Stokes, however, was quite different.

To begin with, it is a myth that Adrian was much younger than Frances: a friend of his,  the antiquary Lawrence Nowell, recorded his date of birth to the hour: 8 p.m. on March 4,  1519. This makes him less than two years younger than his bride, born on July 16, 1517. He is identified in some sources as being a Welshman, but I have found nothing to support this. The entry for him on the History of Parliament site suggests that he was a son of Robert Stokes of Prestwold. He had two known brothers, William and Anthony Stokes, and named a Robert Price (or Aprice) as his cousin and a John and Francis Gates as his kinsmen.

By 1547, Adrian was serving in France at the garrison of Newhaven in the Pale of Calais. He was the marshal of Newhaven and, along with William, Lord Stourton, and Sir Richard Cavendish was a member of the council there. In August 1549, Newhaven fell to the French. The king’s council ordered in January 1550 that Adrian and the ten men who had served under him receive their wages.

John Gray, a younger brother of Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset (later Duke of Suffolk), had been the deputy of Newhaven, and it may have been this connection that brought Adrian into the marquis’s household—assuming that he was in it at all, for his exact position is murky. Elizabeth I’s biographer William Camden simply described him as a “mean gentleman,” whom Frances married “to her dishonor, but yet for her security,” but does not name him as holding any particular role in the Suffolk household. Elizabeth herself once asked Bishop de Quadra what King Philip would think if she married one of her “servitors,” as the Duchess of Suffolk and the Duchess of Somerset had done, but as Katherine Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, had also married a member of her household, it is unclear whether Elizabeth was referring to Frances or to Katherine. Leicester’s Commonwealth, the anonymous libel against Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, does expressly identify Adrian as Frances’s horse-keeper, and it may be accurate on this point.

Nothing else is heard of Adrian until he married Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk, whose husband had been executed on February 23, 1554. According to a postmortem inquisition for Frances taken in 1560, Adrian and Frances married on March 9, 1554, at “Kayhoe [Kew] in the county of Surrey.” The date has recently been called into question, but given the preciseness of the information contained in the inquisition, and the other dates it supplies, it seems more likely than not that the 1554 date was correct, especially since the information could have easily have come from Adrian himself. Interestingly, Frances’s stepmother, Katherine, Duchess of Suffolk, held a life interest in a house at “Kayho,” yet another variation on the spelling of “Kew.” Perhaps Katherine, who herself had married one of her servants, Richard Bertie, had had a hand in Frances’s marriage, and had offered her home for the ceremony?

What motivated the couple to marry is unknown. William Camden commented that the marriage was “to [Frances’s] dishonor, but yet for her security,” and it is quite possible that the duchess married beneath her in order to distance herself from the throne. Adrian’s motives might be dismissed as mercenary, since he gained a titled, wealthy wife, but it should be remembered that in March 1554, just weeks after the deaths of Frances’s daughter Jane and her husband, Frances’s position was precarious. She could not be certain that she herself would not be implicated in her husband’s treason or that she would be allowed to retain any of her property. Thus, she was not the most desirable of brides at the time. Perhaps Adrian married her because he believed she needed a protector.

It is possible that Frances and Adrian kept their marriage secret for a while, since a grant of land from the queen in May 1554 mentions only Frances, not Adrian, and the imperial ambassador wrote in April 1555 that it had been suggested that Frances marry the Earl of Devon.  In any case, by at least July 1557, the couple was known to be married, as they were mentioned together in grants of land.

Agnes Strickland writes that on November 20, 1554, Frances gave birth to a daughter, Elizabeth, who died that same day. Strickland cites no source for this claim, and I have not found anything to corroborate it. Frances’s postmortem inquisition does state that she and Adrian had a daughter named Elizabeth, but it says that the child was born on July 16, 1555, and that she died on February 6, 1556. The inquisition indicates that the couple had “others lawfully begotten” as well, but gives no particulars. If there were other children besides Elizabeth, none survived the marriage.

Elizabeth Stokes is said in the postmortem inquisition to have been born and died at Knebworth in Hertfordshire. Frances had no connection to the manor that I have found; it was in the hands of the Lytton family. Perhaps Frances and Adrian were leasing the manor? Frances was not hard up for land; in April 1554, she was granted a number of manors by the crown for life, chiefly Beaumanor in Leicestershire. Perhaps the little girl had been born at Knebworth while Frances was attempting to travel to Leicestershire and was too sickly to be moved to Frances’s own estates.

Contrary to legend, there is no record of Queen Mary objecting to Adrian and Frances’s marriage or of her deeming Frances unfit to raise her daughters, though Frances does seem to have spent little time at court after her marriage. If one of Frances’s motives in marrying Adrian was to demonstrate her lack of ambition for the crown, it would be hardly surprising if Frances chose to avoid the court. Her daughter Katherine Grey, however, did at some point become one of Mary’s ladies, and Frances was successful in introducing her first husband’s niece, Margaret Willoughby, at court. Mary eventually found a place for Margaret in Elizabeth’s household.

On November 17, 1558, Mary died, leaving the throne to her sister Elizabeth. When the new queen opened her first Parliament on January 12, 1559, Adrian was a member of the House of Commons, representing Leicestershire. The records of the 1559 Parliament, which are described on the History of Parliament website as defective, do not indicate on what committees he served.

Sadly, while Adrian’s prestige was increasing, his wife’s health was failing. By early November 1559, Frances was setting her affairs in order. On November 9, 1559, she executed her will, which left all of her property in Adrian’s hands and appointed him her sole executor. She died on November 21, 1559, and was buried at Westminster Abbey on December 5, 1559. In 1563, Adrian erected a tomb to her memory. Its Latin inscription reads, as translated by the Westminster Abbey site, “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.” If Adrian composed the inscription himself, as seems quite likely, he had plainly been educated in the classics.

Meanwhile, while serving Mary, Katherine Grey had fallen in love with Edward Seymour, the young Earl of Hertford.  About a year after Frances’s death, Katherine and Hertford secretly married. When the heavily pregnant Katherine revealed the couple’s secret, the outraged Queen Elizabeth ordered her to be imprisoned in the Tower. In the investigation that followed, Adrian Stokes was one of those called upon to give depositions. According to Adrian, he and Frances had discussed the possibility of the couple marrying, after which Adrian approached Hertford and advised him to talk with members of the queen’s council who could intervene on his behalf. Frances, meanwhile, had Adrian draft a letter to the queen in which Frances stated that the marriage was the only thing she desired before her death and that it would be an occasion for her to die the more quietly. Katherine Grey testified that Adrian advised Frances to write to the queen but that Frances was so sick that she never wrote the letter and died soon thereafter. One wonders if Frances would have been able to persuade the queen to allow the couple to marry had she lived a little longer.

The imprudent behavior of his stepdaughter did not harm Adrian’s standing with the queen. In 1563 he was allowed to continue leasing Beaumanor, where he and Frances had spent part of their married life. Through the law of tenancy by curtesy, he also held a life interest in Frances’s estates in Lincolnshire, Warwickshire, and Somerset.

As the owner of the manor of Astley in Warwickshire, Adrian pulled the spire off Astley’s church for its lead, to the dismay of the inhabitants, who complained that “he had caused the tall and costly spire of their church, made of timber, together with the battlements, al covered with lead, to be pulled down, being a landmark so eminent in that part of the woodland, where the ways are not easy to hit, that it was called the Lanthorn of Arden; as also of the two fair aisles, and a goodly chapel called St. Anne’s chapel adjoining, the roofs of which were also leaded, by reason of which sacrilegious action, the steeple, standing in the midst, took wet, and decayed (and afterwards fell to the ground).”

In 1565, Adrian’s other stepdaughter, Mary Grey, followed her older sister’s example and married without the queen’s permission. Since Mary’s choice of husband, Thomas Keys, sergeant porter to the queen, was well beneath her in rank, Mary might have thought that the marriage, like that of her mother to Adrian, would not provoke the queen. Unfortunately, she guessed wrong, and she and her husband were both imprisoned, Thomas in the Fleet and Mary in various private houses.

Adrian now had two stepdaughters in royal custody for marrying without royal permission. There is no indication that he petitioned for their release, but it is very unlikely that he would have succeeded. Katherine Grey died in 1568, a captive to the end of her life.

Throughout the 1560’s, Adrian served on various commissions in Leicestershire. In 1571 he was again elected to Parliament for Leicester. He served on committees on religion and church government, treasons, abuses in conveyancing, the order of business, respite of homage and church attendance, apparel, and corrupt presentations.

On April 10, 1572, Adrian received a general license to marry Anne Throckmorton, the widow of Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and the daughter of Sir Nicholas Carew. Like that of Frances, Anne’s family was tainted with treason. Her father had been executed during Henry VIII’s reign for his suspected involvement in the Exeter conspiracy, and her husband Nicholas Throckmorton had spent some time under house arrest for supposedly encouraging Mary, Queen of Scots to marry the Duke of Norfolk. Nicholas had died the previous year when he fell ill while visiting Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester. Anne Throckmorton was left with six sons, the eldest of whom was not of sound mind, and one daughter, Elizabeth. While Adrian Stokes was her social inferior, the match was a good one for the widowed Anne in material terms. She and Adrian probably had known each other for many years, as Anne had served as Jane Grey’s proxy at the christening of Guildford Underhill on the last day of Jane’s brief reign as queen.

Soon after Adrian’s remarriage, Mary Grey, whose husband had died, was allowed to go free. For a few months, she lived with Adrian and his new family before settling into her own house in London. Mary died in April 1578. In her will, she left Adrian’s wife a silver gilt bowl with a cover.

In 1573, Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex, prepared to go into Ireland. Stokes wrote from Beaumanor on June 24, 1573, to tell him that he thanked God that the earl was going “because I am fullie perswaded your jorney shalbe greatlie to the service of God, for that you shall drive out those which knoweth not God, and plant in those that shall drive out those which knoweth not God, and plant in those that shall lyve in his feare.”

The Gray’s Inn Admission Register shows that in 1574, Adrian was one of several men admitted as readers at the request of Sir Christopher Yelverton. Francis Hastings, who was a younger brother of Henry Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon, and who often served with Adrian on local commissions, was also admitted at this time at Yelverton’s request.

In 1574, William Lambarde presented Adrian with four maps that had belonged to Adrian’s friend Laurence Novell, who had died in 1570.

Adrian served the crown at the local level in the 1570’s and 1580’s.  In 1576, the queen’s privy council directed him and Francis Hastings to inform themselves about the nefarious doings of “one Tomson, professing to be a refiner of gold.” In the following year, he was serving as the keeper of the queen’s park at Brigstock. When Nicholas Allen, one of Stokes’ servants, was awaiting trial for killing one of Lord Mordant’s servants, the privy council warned the justices of assizes that if Allen was found guilty, they should not give judgment for his execution until “her Majesty shall signifie her further pleasure.” Lord Mordant himself, who had been unlawfully hunting in the park, was warned by the privy council not to offer any occasion of quarrel to Stokes, his friends, or his servants.

Walter Mildmay, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote to Adrian on February 6, 1581, asked him to settle a dispute between Adrian Farneham of Quarndon, a minor, and his tenants in Barrow over common pasturage rights.

Arthur Throckmorton, the second son of Adrian’s wife Anne, kept a journal, and it is because of this that we have a glimpse into Adrian’s personal life during the period after his second marriage. In 1579, Adrian gave Arthur five pounds, which Arthur spent on fine clothing, including carnation silk stockings.  That summer, Adrian served as godfather to Henry Cavendish’s son; Arthur acted as his proxy. (Henry Cavendish was the son of Bess of Hardwick, who had been close to Frances.) While Arthur was visiting Beaumanor that summer, Adrian and Anne received many visitors, including Thomas Wilkes, a clerk of the queen’s privy council, and Cavendish. Stokes and his wife visited George Hastings, another younger brother of the Earl of Huntingdon, and went hunting in his park at Gopsall. After Adrian and Anne returned to Beaumanor, they were visited by Lord and Lady Cromwell and their daughter; the couples then went to the Earl of Bedford’s on a hunting trip and killed a buck.  That October, Arthur recorded that he “fell out” with Adrian, though by the next spring the two were exchanging letters. In September 1582, Arthur, in debt following a tour abroad, received presents from Adrian and his mother.  Later that autumn, Arthur stayed at New Wark, a house Adrian owned at Leicester. In March 1583, George Hastings and his wife again visited Beaumanor.

Meanwhile, in 1582, Adrian assigned his interest in the lease of Beaumanor to his brother William and to their cousin, Robert Apyrce, on the condition that after Adrian’s death they provide maintenance to John and Francis Gates, two kinsmen of Adrian’s who were studying at the university, and to three of Adrian’s servants.

Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s Principal Secretary, wrote a letter to Sir Ralph Sadler on October 6, 1584, advising him that he should keep a watchful eye on Mary, Queen of Scots, and that if his own servants were not well furnished with “dagges” or “petronells,” he should procure some from the well-affected gentleman in that county. Walsingham believed that none would better furnish him than Adrian Stokes, but noted that he dwelled somewhat far off.

In April 1585, Arthur Throckmorton was informed by the Earl of Leicester that Adrian was dead. Arthur hurried to Beaumanor only to discover that the report was a false one. Adrian, however, was probably seriously ill, for he made his will on April 15, 1585. On November 2, 1585, he died at age sixty-six.

Adrian asked to be buried in the chapel of Beaumanor without any pomp or solemnity “as yt hath bene used in the Papistes tyme.” He left Anne his manor and lordship of Langacre in Devonshire, all of the goods and furniture in his houses in London and at Brigstock, the lease and interest in his house at Leicester and the goods there, and those  plate and goods at Beaumanor specified in an inventory. To his stepdaughter Elizabeth Throckmorton he left a bed in the duchess’s chamber, with the furniture to be given to her on her marriage (Elizabeth would later secretly marry Sir Walter Ralegh, making her the third stepdaughter of Adrian to incur the queen’s wrath for marrying on the sly.) He left his horse “Grey Goodyeare” to Robert Throckmorton and his horse “Grey Babington” to George Hastings. Stokes left the rest of his goods to his brother William, who was sixty. He appointed his friend George Hastings (who became the Earl of Huntingdon a decade later following the death of his childless brother) and Sir Walter Mildmay to be the supervisors of his will.

The goods at Beaumanor left to Anne Throckmorton included 1290 ounces of plate. Adrian’s goods at his London house included a pair of virginals, a picture of a French king, a Book of Martyrs, and portraits of Katherine Parr, Mary I, and the “French Queen” (Frances’s mother. Mary Tudor). Perhaps the last lady, who had married once for policy and once for love, might have sympathized with Frances’s choice of a second husband.


C 142/128/91 (inquisition postmortem for Frances, Duchess of Suffolk).

Acts of the Privy Council of England.

Mary Bateson, ed., Records of the Borough of Leicester.

Carl T. Berkhout, “Adrian Stokes, 1519-1585.” Notes and Queries, March 2000.

Calendar of Patent Rolls.

Calendar of Scottish Papers.

Joseph Lemuel Chester and Sir  GeorgeJohn Armytage, eds., Allegations for Marriage Licenses Issued by the Bishop of London, 1520 to 1610.

Joseph Foster, ed.,  Gray’s Inn Admission Register: 1521-1887.

The History of Parliament (online entry for Adrian Stokes).

Joseph Jackson Howard, ed., Miscellanea Genealogica et Heraldica.

C. S. Knighton, ed., Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, Mary I, 1553-1558.

Leicester County Council, Record Office Catalogue.

Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen.

National Archives.

John Nichols, The History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester.

A. L. Rowse, Ralegh and the Throckmortons.

10 thoughts on “The Real Adrian Stokes”

  1. I wonder what happened to the portraits of Katherine Parr and ‘The French Queen’, Mary Tudor? I wonder if they are among the well-known portraits?

    1. Thanks, Anjere! It would be great to know what happened to the portraits, wouldn’t it? Nichols notes that George Belgrave, who was acting as executor for Adrian’s brother William in 1596, sold a portrait of the Duke of Suffolk along with other furnishings from Beaumanor, but Nichols doesn’t mention the fate of any of the other portraits. Since the furnishings of Adrian’s London house, which included the queens’ portraits, went to his widow Anne, I would guess that they were eventually sold by her executor.

  2. Your posts are always so informative. Great write up on Adrian Stokes, I knew so little about him other than his marriage to Frances. Very interesting that Bess Throckmorton was also his stepdaughter–sometimes it seems that all those folks were so interrelated and interconnected that it’s nearly incestuous! And for her to make the same mistake that his Grey stepdaughters, did–gosh, memories must have been short. I, too, wonder what happened to those portraits, such a loss that their fate is unknown. What a find they’d be! Thanks.

  3. Very interesting post! Is it known where the myth that Adrian was much younger than Frances came from? It seems so odd given the negligible difference in their ages.

    1. As far as I can tell, the myth came from the double portrait that was long misidentified as Frances and Adrian, which is actually that of Lady Dacre and her son. Near-contemporaries commented on the inequality of station between the couple, but not upon any glaring age difference.

    1. Quite possibly,Gabriele….Elizabeth probably saw any close family member who married as a threat to her crown (something that seemed to preoccupy all of the Tudor monarchs, except maybe Edward).

      Elizabeth had wanted to marry Robert Dudley. However, he was already married at the time of her accession. After Robert’s wife (Amy) had died, there was supposition that he would marry Elizabeth. However, Dudley had enough people disliking him and suspecting him of complicity in Amy’s death to warn Elizabeth off.

  4. Due to Katie’s reaction, I started to read this blog (had not read it before), and then something struck me when seeing the marriage date. From the sequence of dates I see that Suffolk was executed on February 23, 1554; the marriage was dated (according to the inquisition post mortem of 1560) March 9, 1554; a grant of land to Frances was made in May 1554 (not mentioning Adrian Stokes), and the birth of their daughter on November 20, 1554 (but no contemporary source for this, only Strickland).

    My question is: could there be some confusion around the changing of the year here? We are accustomed to count January 1 as the first day of the new year. But that was not always the start of the new year. Grotefend’s Taschenbuch der Zeitrechnung, (1971, 11th issue), states on page 13 that in England the Anglosaxon tradition was used until the Norman conquest; that meant that until then the year changed on December 25. From the Norman conquest up to January 1, 1752 the year changed on March 25.
    So a date given in an original manuscript as March 9, 1554 would for the person writing it down have been in the “old year”, but in our reality it would have been March 9, 1555 (the year changing from 1554 to 1555 on March 25). We can assume that historians have taken that into account for Suffolk’s execution, which would have been dated officially as taking place on February 23, 1553, but which would have taken place in 1554 according to our calculation.
    For the person writing the inquisition post mortem of 1560 the date of marriage would in their reality have taken place in 1554; they would not have changed that, would they? So, if the date in the original inquisition is indeed given as March 9, 1554, we should probably read that as 1555 in our calculation.
    That would make more sense for two other things. Somehow it seems improbable that Frances would have married Adrian Stokes only days after her husband was executed, even if she thought she needed protection. It would also explain why the grant of May 1554 does not mention her second husband, but only her. The one problem is the date of birth of their daughter given by Strickland. But then the question is: where did Strickland get this date?
    The daughter given in the inquisition was born on July 16, 1555. Now, according to simple calculation it has either to be a daughter born in November or in July of the next year. We can’t have both, since the time between both dates is just a little too short for two children being born. Since the July 1555 birth is from an official document, I would say that this is the date we have to go for.
    This would give another reason for the marriage to Adrian Stokes: Frances being pregnant…

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top