Lady Dorothy Josselyn, Tudor Courtier

Unknown lady writing at a desk


Fooling around in the family tree, I discovered one of my paternal great-grandmother’s ancestors were of the Josselyn family.  Going further back, one of my Josselyn ancestors was a Knight of the Bath.  This ancestor married a woman named Dorothy Gates, my 12th great-grandmother.  Interestingly enough, Dorothy, from 1540-42, served in the household of Queen Catherine Howard, fifth wife of King Henry VIII.

In surviving correspondence with her brother, John Gates, Dorothy noted that Queen Catherine was not easy to get along with.  “I fear I shall scant content her Grace”.  Dorothy may also have been a supplier of dresses to Queen Katherine Parr.  Her brother was a servant of Parr and perhaps this is how she got the work.  Turns out Dorothy regularly wrote letters to her brother asking for favors.

This correspondence between Dorothy and her brother is indicative of a collaboration between equals who had mutual interests during the Tudor era.  Barbara Harris says these letters provide “one of the fullest extant records of friendship and mutual assistance between a married woman and her brother”.  The letters survive in the State Papers of King Henry VIII in the National Archives at Kew.

Dorothy was the daughter of Sir Geoffrey Gates and Elizabeth Clopton and she was born c. 1512 in Suffolk, England.  Dorothy married Thomas Josselyn in 1524 in Hertfordshire.  Thomas was a landowner who was became a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of King Edward VI.  Dorothy’s brother John Gates was knighted at the same ceremony and served as a member of the Privy Chamber for King Henry VIII and for King Edward VI.

Both Dorothy and John were distantly related to Sir Anthony Denny, a key member of King Henry VIII’s council.  In fact, John married Sir Anthony’s sister.  During the final illness of Henry VIII, John Gates and Anthony Denny had control of the dry stamp of the king’s signature which gave John an enormous amount of influence, making him well placed to help out his sister and other family members.

The letters between Dorothy and John reveal that Dorothy was assertive and quite shrewd when it came to business and possibly more influential than her own husband.  She continuously writes in the first person singular and spoke of their joint concerns as hers.  The Earl of Oxford expelled Dorothy’s husband from his office of keeper of Stansted Park in 1542 and Dorothy wrote to John with a detailed account of the incident and discussed plans to secure his reinstatement.

In another letter she openly chastises her husband for attempting to settle the case informally, believing he would get a more advantageous settlement from the crown.  In the end, Dorothy’s influence paid off when King Henry commanded Oxford to restore Thomas Josselyn to the position or send two representatives to the Privy Council to explain why he didn’t do so.  In 1542, she wrote to her brother asking for his support and influence when her husband was implicated in a case of forgery.

Dorothy was keenly interested in acquiring and investing in real estate and wardships.  Because there was always vigorous competition for these types of properties, Dorothy called upon her brother for assistance.  In one case, she attempted to acquire a wardship from a certain Mr. Darcy.  She told John she was annoyed with Darcy because he raised the price of the wardship once he knew Dorothy and her husband were interested.  Dorothy was also worried the ward would die before they collected any income from his inheritance.

Darcy and the Josselyn’s finally agreed on a price.  Darcy also agreed to refund their money if the ward died before his fourteenth birthday.  Before the deal was closed, Dorothy asked her brother to appraise the value of the ward’s property and to make sure it was not tied up by a will, jointure, or mortgage.  This proves she knew the ins and outs of land transactions and was highly capable of protecting her own interests.

In return for providing her advice and favors, Dorothy conducted her brother’s business in Essex where he was an MP and sheriff while he was away at court.  One example in her letters recounts the death of a local landowner.  She tells John “If his land can do you pleasure, being copyhold, let me have knowledge about what ye would have done therein and I shall be glad to accomplish your desire”.  Dorothy also helped John recruit soldiers for the war with France in 1544 along with the supplies needed.  She wrote to tell him she regretted not being able to see him before he left the country, perhaps because she was pregnant at the time.

Dorothy had at least seven children, six of which survived to marry.  Dorothy’s husband died in 1562.  Dorothy made her will in 1579 but lived several more years, dying on February 11, 1581 at Sawbridge in Hertfordshire.  Unfortunately, Sir John came to a bad end.  He was part of the intrigue to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne upon the death of King Edward VI.  He was tried and found guilty of treason and was executed on Tower Hill on August 22, 1553.


Further reading: “English Aristocratic Women 1450-1550” by Barbara J. Harris, entry on Sir John Gates in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Narasingha P. Sil, “The Rise and Fall of Sir John Gates” article written by Narasingha P. Sil in Historical Journal, 24 (1981), pgs. 929-43



20 thoughts on “Lady Dorothy Josselyn, Tudor Courtier

  1. I’m so glad you posted this! I just discovered that Lady Dorothy is my 14th great -grandmother through her son Edward. So….hi cousin! Thank you for this really interesting article

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great story on Dorothy Gates. It shined a completely different light on her. I came across your article when trying to find more information on Dorothy. She sparked my interest when I discovered she was my 11th great-grandmother and my 11th great-grandaunt when researching my DNA. This is on my father’s side Ernest Gates. My 9th great-grandfather Peter Gates (1566-1605) married Mary Marian Josselyn (1568-1595). Mary Josselyn’s grandfather was Sir Thomas Josselyn, making Dorothy Gates my 11th great-grandmother. Sir Geoffrey Gates (1484-1526) my 12th great-grandfather and Lady Clopton my 12th great-grandmother was of course Dorothy and John Gates parents. Making Dorothy my 11th great -grandaunt. Thought you might enjoy this little mind twister. I signed up for your newsletter and can’t wait to read more of your historical stories! Amy


      • Oh, how fun. It so wonderful to have come across such a beautiful historical writer, and find out we are related. We most likely share many more relatives. Looking at your next project I noticed you were doing a biography on the Stuart family. My family goes back to the Stuart’s through the Gates side. This is my family tree from my father Ernest Gates to Robert Stuart. My father’s step father was a Dixon.
        Nice to meet you cousin.


  3. Interesting story which caught my eye because of her married name-Josselyn. In America I believe in some instances it became Joslin. A John Joslin of Virginia was my 7th great grandfather.


  4. Hi Susan, thanks for this interesting information. We must be related, because Dorothy Gates is my 11th grandmother through my mother’s side of the family, the Gates. While researching for the DAR I eventually found information going back to Tudor times .The story of Sir John Gates has made some surprising conversations in our family!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Fascinating – and so wonderful to find such a full correspondence. The relationships angle is one of the things that interests me about court life. it seems that if you did well at court your entire extended family expected to benefit but in turn this meant they had more influence in regional matters and business transactions – ultimately the most successful families seem to have had a canny woman behind them.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. May I suggest two references in researching family histories? The first is The second is the Mormon Ancestry Files; I’m sure there’s many more, but North Americans rely heavily upon these sources.

    For any unfamiliar with why the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) are keen on genealogy, one of the key steps of their faith is to bring as many of their ancestors to Salvation as possible. This may be done by a process of identifying the ancestors and having their church sanctify them as saved. I know very little beyond this, but do know the LDS are very open to any research that aids this purpose and serious people may access their archives as long as any discoveries are submitted to said archives.
    Fees may be involved. I had family members research through them, but never thought to ask if there is a cost. requires membership. They often have specials on rates, so it’s usually reasonable.


    • Hello Susan! I used to get your postings rather regularly, but haven’t seen one in months until this one popped up in my Google feed. Have you not been posting? Or do I have to do something in order to receive your post once again? Many thanks! Grace


      • Hi Grace, I didn’t post anything for the last three weeks but I’m back on track now. At the top of the page there should be a button to sign up to follow the blog. If you are not following, please sign up again. Otherwise it will say you are following it already. 🙂


  7. Love this! Very interesting. Is it bad if me to want to know about the ward? LoL. I love this kind of stuff. I could send hours going from one person to other. The Lady Jane Grey has always fascinated me too. Like other I wish I knew more about my ancestors. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. You are fortunate to have a known family tree going back so far. It’s so interesting to get an insight into the life of a woman who was not royal, although aristocratic. It seems she had a large influence on family finances. I’m sure this was true of most women, whether born high or low!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Perhaps you are also kin to John Josselyn, who wrote “New England’s Rarities” and “An Account of Two Voyages”?

    This gentleman came to New England twice in the middle 17th century. He explored and wrote about plants, geography, First American cures and their modes of living in the harsh land. I love the books for the naive and quaint descriptions.

    But what impressed me most was that he seemed to view the native inhabitants as ordinary people with valuable information to impart. Of that age, he was far more cosmopolitan and accepting than average Englishmen. He left a touching description and poem dedicated to a First American woman.

    It certainly makes sense if you and he are related. Both published authors and non-judgmental of others. I do hope it is so!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. We are related! I am directly descended from the Josselyn/ Jocelyn family. My branch went to Ireland. As I am in New Zealand at the moment, I can’t tell you exactly how, but I return to UK at the end of the month & then I will be able to tell you. Sylvia


  11. Wow, “just fooling around” ? Great story. Love all the detail of this super competent woman. I traced back a line, also on my father’s mother’s side and found myself amidst knights and ladies too, and then I stopped cold at Herleva, mother of William I. Your story inspires me to find out the specifics of the all the people in between .

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m also descended from the Jocelyns (same family different spelling) They went on to become Earls of Roden in Ireland.
      Im 17th century, they lived at Hyde Hall, Sawbridgeworth .
      Hello, cousin!


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