13 March 2015

Today's Princess: Frances Brandon

Portrait tentatively identified as Frances
Via Wikimedia Commons
Being a relative of the Tudors could be a very dangerous thing. However, the childhood bond between Henry VIII's niece France Brandon (1517-1559) and his oldest daughter Mary saved her head a couple of times.

Frances was the first daughter of Henry's beloved little sister, Princess Mary, who had been forgiven for marrying the king's friend Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk without permission, after her first husband the King of France died. Pretty and charming Mary won over King Henry and continued her friendship with his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Their children were raised in each other's company. As Anne Boleyn gained ascendancy, the women's dislike for her did not cause them to fall into disfavor during the King's divorce--Princess Mary must have been charming indeed. She died before the birth of Anne Boleyn's daughter but her own children still grew up despising Princess Elizabeth.

When Boleyn fell, the Brandons' love for Mary was not as dangerous for a time. Frances married Henry Grey Marquess of Dorset when they were both 16. After two children who did not survive, they had three girls: the precocious Lady Jane, the beautiful Lady Catherine, and the dwarf Lady Mary. In an age when women's education was still radical and any kind of deformity was feared, all three girls were given a superior education and were raised on an equal level with the daughters of the King. In his will, the King Henry VIII even skipped over the Scottish children of his older sister in favor of Frances and her daughters--they were in line right after his own daughters.

It was around this time that everything became complicated for Frances and her family. With such high rank and a potential throne at stake, her girls, especially the eldest Jane, were prized commodities. Seeking the highest possible position for them, they placed Jane in the household of the King's admired and ambitious brother-in-law Thomas Seymour, who promised to secure a marriage for her with the King Edward VI's after Henry's death. When this came to nothing, it was arranged for her to marry Guilford Dudley, son of the new Lord Protector, the Duke of Northumberland. It was he who launched a plan to replace Frances' dear cousin Mary and hated cousin Elizabeth and even herself in the succession to the throne. Northumberland convinced the dying teenaged king to set aside his father's will, to skip over the first three in line to the throne, and choose Jane as heir.

Jane's reign last nine days before Mary's forces overwhelmed Northumberland. Frances' husband and her eldest daughter were imprisoned. Frances successfully convinced Mary to release her husband. When he quickly took up arms in a new rebellion both his and his daughter's fate were sealed. They lost their heads.

Frances, however, secured positions for herself and her surviving young daughters in Mary's court. She was even permitted to remarry well below her rank: she married her horse master. After Queen Mary's death, Frances's position was less secure in the court of Queen Elizabeth. However, Frances avoided this problem by dying just 12 months after her cousin and childhood friend. They both died at the age of 42.

More about Frances Brandon:
Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk on Westminster Abbey
Frances Brandon on Tudor Place
The Maligned Frances Grey Duchess of Suffolk on History Refreshed by Susan Higginbotham
Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk on The Anne Boleyn Files

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