Frances’s daughter Jane turned 15 years old in 1552 and was fast becoming known as one of the leading evangelical women in England. Her father hoped that she would marry King Edward VI, and he turned 14 later that year. That same year, Frances was seriously ill, and Henry was recalled from the court urgently. He wrote, “She has a constant burning ague and stopping of the spleen, it is to be feared death must follow.”1 It is unclear what ailed Frances, but she recovered. For the New Year, Frances gifted King Edward a purse of knit silver and gold containing £40 in half sovereigns. In return, she received three covered gilt bowls.2
By then, King Edward was already ill – he had a cough that he just could not shake off. His health continued to deteriorate over the coming months. He realised he was dying and set about writing his own will. His first major decision was to exclude both his half-sisters on the grounds of their illegitimacy. He too bypassed the line of Margaret Tudor as his father had done as its representative – Mary, Queen of Scots – was foreign-born. Her aunt, Margaret Douglas – from Margaret Tudor’s second marriage – was of questionable legitimacy and was married to a Scot. This left Frances as next in line. However, Edward too believed that a woman could not rule and so he left to the throne to Frances’ male heirs and then to any of her grandsons, followed by the sons of her niece Margaret. None of these male heirs existed. He did nominate whoever became the mother of the heir to act as governor. If no male heir was born during his lifetime, Frances would be appointed governor until one was born.
The next generation would need to be married off quickly. On 25 May 1553, Lady Jane married Lord Guildford Dudley, a younger son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland in a triple wedding with her sister Lady Katherine and Henry, Lord Herbert and Lord Guildford’s sister Lady Catherine and Lord Hastings. It soon became apparent that Edward could not wait out the birth of a male heir and he altered his will to include Lady Jane, bypassing Frances. This infuriated Frances’s husband Henry, who saw the power slip away. Frances was summoned to see the King, and he demanded that she submit to his decision to pass her over in favour of Jane.3
On 6 July 1553, the end came for the boy King. The following morning, the Mayor of London and City magistrates swore an oath of allegiance to Queen Jane. The next morning, Frances joined her daughter and Jane had to be convinced that she was truly Queen now. That Sunday, she officially received the news that Edward was dead and Frances and Henry knelt before their daughter. On 10 July, Jane took formal possession of the Tower, but a letter arrived from Princess Mary saying that she was Edward’s rightful heir. Frances burst into tears upon receiving the letter. In the end, Jane would reign for just a few days as Mary was triumphant against the odds.
On 29 July, Frances arrived at Beaulieu to meet her childhood friend, Mary, hoping to save her family. Frances pleaded with her that her family was just a victim of the Duke of Northumberland’s ambitions. Mary had wanted to grant Jane and her father a pardon, but she was convinced to only give a pardon to Henry and that Jane would remain in the Tower for now. Jane was tried for treason and convicted. On 22 August, the Duke of Northumberland was executed, but Mary remained determined that Jane’s life should be spared. Wyatt’s Rebellion the following February was the final nail in the coffin for Jane, Guildford and her father. Mary now had no choice but to execute them. Jane and Guildford were executed on 12 February 1554, followed by her father on 23 February 1554.
Frances realised that she could not save Jane or her husband, but she now focussed on saving the future of Katherine and Mary. Her lands were forfeited to the crown along with her husband’s wealth. Frances encouraged them to play Catholic for now and stay silent. By the following April, Frances had been re-granted several manors. In July, she was invited to join the Queen’s Privy Chamber, and Katherine and Mary joined their mother at court. Sometime in 1555, Frances remarried to her Master of the Horse, Adrian Stokes, and she mostly retired from court. Her health reportedly became worse during the early years of her new marriage, and she suffered a series of failed pregnancies. Her young daughter Mary went with her mother, but Katherine was often at court.
By October 1559, Frances felt that death was near. On 9 November, Frances drew up her will and made Adrian her executor. She died on either 20 or 21 November with her two daughters by her side. She had outlived Queen Mary who had died on 17 November 1558. She had been succeeded by Elizabeth, who agreed to take on the funeral expenses of her “beloved cousin.”4 The following December, Frances was buried at Westminster Abbey, and Adrian erected a monument to her, which still survives.
- The sisters who would be Queen: the tragedy of Mary, Katherine, & Lady Jane Grey by Leanda De Lisle p.93
- The sisters who would be Queen: the tragedy of Mary, Katherine, & Lady Jane Grey by Leanda De Lisle p.94
- The sisters who would be Queen: the tragedy of Mary, Katherine, & Lady Jane Grey by Leanda De Lisle p.105
- The sisters who would be Queen: the tragedy of Mary, Katherine, & Lady Jane Grey by Leanda De Lisle p.195