Differing opinions about Frances Grey

I am currently reading ‘A Dangerous Inheritance’ by Alison Weir. The sequel to ‘Innocent Traitor’, this new historical novel, weaves together the lives of Katherine Grey and Katherine Plantagenet.

The cover blurb reads:

‘Two women’s lives are linked by love, intrigue and the overwhelming danger of being too close to the throne.’

I was intrigued to read the following in the Author’s note:

‘The long-accepted view of the Suffolks as harsh parents has recently been challenged, but there is no credible explaining away of Lady Jane Grey’s own bitter testimony to that, as recorded first-hand by Roger Ascham, and at least one contemporary source records Jane being beaten and cursed when she resisted her betrothal to Guildford Dudley. New research undertaken by historian Nicola Tallis suggests that the traditional view of the Suffolks is correct. It is conceivable that Frances mellowed after Jane’s execution, as portrayed in this novel, and that Katherine and Mary never suffered the rigour and expectations that their parents imposed on Jane. I would question the theory that there has been a deliberate attempt down the centuries to blacken Frances’s character.’ (p.501, Weir)

According to Alison Weir’s Tour website, Nicola ‘is currently working on her first history book, a biography of Frances Brandon, mother to the ill fated Lady Jane Grey.’ (Alison Weir Tours)

I asked Leanda de Lisle (author of 2009’s ‘The Sisters Who Would Be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey) to comment on this new development and this is her response:

‘The ‘bitter testimony’ referred to here is not Jane’s but Roger Ascham, writing years after Jane’s death in a book in which he made a number of things up. Reported speech is not the same as speech! I could say, in ten years time, that you told me your mother was a pig. Would that make it true? It is also telling that even Ascham does not single Frances out for criticism- his “Jane’ complains about both parents equally – yet Frances came to be attacked personally in the next century and after. The other ‘contemporary source’ referred to here, in which Jane is obliged to marry Guildford ‘at the insistence of her mother and the threats of her father’ also post dates Jane’s death. In cutting through the myths on Jane it is vital to look at what we know from sources that predate July 19th 1553, when Jane lost her throne, and be more questioning about anything after that date. I have found this very revealing in my current research. But I look forward to reading Nicola Tallis and wish her well with her project on Frances – history is not static and what one historian writes one day may be overthrown the next, it is all part of the excitement.

Leanda’s next book, will discuss the date of Frances Grey’s second marriage and the document discovered in the National Archives by author, Susan Higginbotham.

‘Tudor: The Family’s Story’ is due to be published in 2013.

I am really looking forward to reading both Leanda’s new book and Nicola’s biography of Frances Grey. It will be fascinating to discover in detail their different arguments about the mother of Lady Jane Grey and will make for interesting discussions!

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