The Funeral of Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk

Effigy of Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk in Westminster Abbey (Image:

Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk, died on November 21, 1559.  She was the daughter of Mary Tudor, Queen of France and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and close companion of King Henry VIII.  Frances was the mother of Jane, Katherine and Mary Grey.  Her husband Henry Grey had been executed by Queen Mary I after his participation in the Wyatt Rebellion in 1554.  Frances married her master of horse, Adrian Stokes in 1555 and had three pregnancies during the marriage.  None of the children survived.

When she became ill in 1559, she made preparations for her death, petitioning the Crown for license to sell off some of her jointure property in order to give the proceeds to her daughters.  Her will was drawn up on November 7 and she left her goods and a life interest in her estates to Stokes.  Shortly before her death, Frances and her husband had given their consent for Katherine Grey to marry Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford.  She did not live long enough to see the dire consequences of this marriage.  She died at Richmond.  Queen Elizabeth I agreed to pay for the funeral of her ‘beloved cousin’.

The family had to give consideration on what type of funeral service would be presented.  Queen Elizabeth I was naturally conservative and favored the 1549 Book of Common Prayer over the 1552 version which Frances’ first husband had help introduce during the reign of King Edward VI.  Elizabeth enjoyed religious ceremony, including the candles and copes.  She was not in favor of the sermon-giving that was essential to the purer forms of Protestant worship.

Elizabeth’s secretary, William Cecil and his allies had convinced Elizabeth to accept the 1552 Prayer Book but she insisted on some concessions.  Kneeling at Communion was dropped, priests were allowed to wear distinctive vestments and a few sentences on the administration of the bread and wine were inserted to imply that Christ was present if only in the spiritual sense in the elements.

While some of the family complained about these changes, they agreed to remain tactful just as Frances had been in her relationship with Queen Elizabeth I.  Everyone agreed that John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury would officiate the funeral as he was the least objectionable alternative.  The funeral was set for December 5.

Frances’ remains were transported by procession from Richmond to Westminster Abbey.  They were accompanied by a great banner of arms and eight dozen escutcheons, and two heralds of arms.  Frances’ daughter Katherine acted as chief mourner, following the coffin dressed in black while her train was carried by a gentlewoman assisted by an usher.  Fourteen-year-old Lady Mary Grey followed in the line of procession.  Frances’ body was brought into the Abbey and set under a structure known as a hearse.  This was large enough to hold the coffin and allow the principal mourners to sit inside it.  Katherine sat at the head with the other mourners on either side.

The service was in English and decidedly Protestant.  The Bishop’s sermon was highly commended.  The Grey daughters and the congregation received Communion according to Elizabeth’s Prayer Book and Frances was buried in St. Edmund’s Chapel on the south side of the choir.  Her funeral was the first Protestant service in Westminster Abbey after the reconstitution of its chapter by Queen Elizabeth I.

Four years later, Adrian Stokes erected an exceptional alabaster monument to his wife, possibly designed by the sculptor Cornelius Cure.  Her recumbent effigy is dressed in the ermine robes signifying she was a duchess with a pendant around her neck.  She lies on a rush mattress with a lion at her feet, a coronet on her head and a prayer book in her hand.  Shields and lozenges around the base of the tomb show the coats of arms of the families of Brandon, Stock or Stokes, Bruyn and Rokele.  The English inscription reads:

“Here lieth the ladie Francis, Duches of Southfolke, daughter to Charles Brandon, Duke of Southfolke, and Marie the Frenche Quene: first wife to Henrie Duke of Southfolke and after to Adrian Stock Esquier”

On the south side the inscription is in Latin and can be translated:

“Dirge for the most noble Lady Frances, onetime Duchess of Suffolk: naught avails glory or splendour, naught avail titles of kings; naught profits a magnificent abode, resplendent with wealth. All, all are passed away: the glory of virtue alone remained, impervious to the funeral pyres of Tartarus [part of Hades or the Underworld]. She was married first to the Duke, and after was wife to Mr Stock, Esq. Now, in death, may you fare well, united to God.”

Further reading:  “The Sisters Who Would Be Queen:  Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey, A Tudor Tragedy” by Leanda de Lisle, entry on Frances Brandon in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography written by Retha M. Warnicke