Three Myths About Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk

First, let me make it clear that I take no credit for busting the three myths that I am about to discuss: all three have been previously addressed by other authors. Nonetheless, whenever I do a search on Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk (nee Brandon, mother of Jane Grey), I run across all three of them, so I will discuss them here in an effort to counter all of the nonsense that a search brings up.

Myth #1: Frances Grey married her second husband, Adrian Stokes, within three weeks of the executions of her daughter and her first husband in February 1554. (One source I ran across last night has Frances rushing to the altar within 10 days of the executions.) In fact, as Carl T. Berkhout, Leanda de Lisle, and Eric Ives have each pointed out recently, the marriage did not take place until March 1555 or possibly even later. Indeed, as late as April 21, 1555, Simon Renard was reporting to Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, “It has been proposed that [Edward] Courtenay 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.”

But what of the story that Frances had a child by Stokes born in 1554? Notes and Queries from December 8, 1855, citing Cole’s Escheats, notes that Frances and Adrian did indeed have a daughter, Elizabeth, who died in infancy on February 7, 1556–a death date entirely compatible with a 1555 marriage. I have yet to find a source that supports the statement that Frances bore a child in 1554.

Myth #2: Adrian Stokes was half Frances’s age. Not only is Frances said incorrectly to have rushed to the altar after the executions of February 1554, she’s accused of doing so with a boy-toy. In fact, Carl T. Berkhout has found that Laurence Nowell, a contemporary of Stokes, recorded the exact day and hour of Stokes’ birth in a horoscope: 8 p.m. on March 4, 1519. This makes Stokes less than two years younger than Frances, born on July 16, 1517. Both parties, therefore, were in their mid-to-late thirties when they married.

Myth #3: A double portrait of a double-chinned woman and a much younger man is that of Frances and Adrian. As readers of Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time know, a bedridden Inspector Grant spots a portrait of Richard III and decides that he must have been a decent chap after all, and proceeds to assemble evidence to that effect. The portrait below has caused many an author to do some reverse Inspector-Granting with Frances. Richard Davy, for instance, notes the “very sinister expression” in Frances’s eyes.

All of these physiognomic efforts, however, have been wasted, for the portrait was re-identified in 1986 by Susan Foister as being that of Mary Neville and her son, Gregory Fiennes–not of Frances and Adrian at all. An actual portrayal of Frances Brandon–the figure on her tomb in Westminster Abbey–could not be more different from the portrait that is still misidentified as her on various sites.


Carl T Berkhout. Notes and Queries. London: Mar 2000. Vol. 47, Issue 1.

Karen Hearn, ed., Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630.

Eric Ives, Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery

Leanda de Lisle, The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: Mary, Katherine, and Lady Jane Grey.

7 thoughts on “Three Myths About Frances Grey, Duchess of Suffolk”

  1. Susan, thanks again for setting the record straight. Many people believe that Frances Grey also mercilessly beat her daughter Jane- mainly, I believe, because Jane once wrote that her mother treated her badly. The image of Frances as a coldhearted b**** was also reinforced in the movie Lady Jane. Of course, Frances may have deserved that part of her image, but it could also have been Jane simply having a typical teenage sulk.

  2. Very interesting. Adrian Stokes generally appears in historical fiction as much younger than Frances. Many thanks for posting the evidence!
    The horoscope would seem pretty incontrovertible. Do we know why and how the myth about the age difference developed in the first place? If someone at the time was trying to discredit Duchess Frances, it would surely have been obvious that Adrian was about the same age as her and the myth might have been hard to establish, so I wonder if it appeared later?

  3. Susan Higginbotham

    Thanks, Caroline! I'm going to post one day about Frances's supposed beating of Jane.

    RS and Kathryn, thanks! There can never be too much myth-busting!

    Carla, I believe that the age-difference story is a later invention, perhaps based upon the picture being mis-identified. I haven't found any contemporary comments that mention an age difference, though the fact that Frances was marrying downward was duly noted by William Camden, who wrote that Frances, "forgetting the Nobility of her linage, had marryed Adrian Stokes a mean Gentlemen, to her dishonor, but yet for her security."

  4. Elizabeth Kerri Mahon

    Interesting post Susan. The Irish Princess by Karen Harper also uses the myth that Jane was treated terribly by her parents and beaten. I look forward to your post on the subject of Frances beating Jane. I think Leandra de Lisle also refutes that myth in her biography.

  5. So R3 had a nice face. So did the Mafia’s Babyface’ but that didn’t make him a nice guy. Some of those medieval portraits though are a bit much. Thank goodness for Mark Satchwill and his medieval portraits. Have you seen his pics of the Famous Five of the E2 time? E2 without a beard and looking remarkable handsome, sort of like a medieval Timothy Dalton.

    What a Useless Eustace Inspector Grant is. Sherlock Holmes would eat him alive. So would the Commissioner of Scotland Yard for unethical and unprofessional conduct .As for DOT that should be compulsory reading for new recruits to crime/homicide ‘ How not to solve a crime’

    Poor Frances! Such is fame. At least she’s been spared the ultimate insult of turning up in ‘The Tudors’. Pity, therefore, poor Atia, not of the Julii, a most respectable, religious and revered lady who appeared in ‘Rome’ as a vicious and voracious vamp. Can’t the History Police do something about Hollywood screenwriters?

    Give how much Daddy Charles is all over the place how about considering the Brandons as your next subject Sue? Sort of prequel perhaps?

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