House of Grey: Mothers and Sons

Chapter 3 : Margaret Wotton & Henry Grey, 3rd Marquis of Dorset

Thomas II married sometime early in the reign of Henry VIII. His wife was Margaret Wotton, daughter of a Woodville connection in Kent, and already the widowed mother of a son, George Medley. The couple did not reach his parents’ tally of some thirteen children, but managed nine, of whom the eldest son, Henry, was born in 1517. Thomas II was on excellent terms with his cousin, Henry VIII, and young Henry Grey found a place in the household of the king’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond.

When Thomas II died in 1530, like his father, he reposed his trust in his ‘beloved’ wife, leaving her not just as executor of his will, but also explicitly stating he wished her to have guardianship of their children. Since Henry, once he attained his majority, would be a tenant-in-chief of the king, he automatically became a ward of the king, and the whole of his inheritance, except for Margaret’s jointure could be controlled by the Crown, and potentially awarded to someone outside the family, with no obligations other than the maintenance of the young Henry. Such a course would leave Margaret still liable for Thomas II’s bequests, but only her own jointure income to pay for them. She was thus responsible for fulfilling all the family bequests since 1501- those of Thomas I, Cecily, and Thomas II, with no guarantee of any money to pay them, and responsibility for the maintenance of her eight younger children.

Before long, Margaret had another problem, this time caused by young Henry himself. Before his death, Thomas II had agreed a marriage for Henry with Katherine FitzAlan, daughter of the Earl of Arundel.  As was typical in this type of agreement, failure to complete the marriage would lead to a financial penalty – in this case, a ruinous 4,000 marks. Henry, however, for reasons that are unknown, refused to marry Katherine when he reached the age of consent (fourteen).

We can imagine Margaret pleading with him – the financial cost of his decision was huge – but to no avail. Her next step was to ask the king to put pressure on her son, which he duly did.  Henry reluctantly accepted the king’s command, but Arundel then withdrew – if Henry did not want his daughter, then the earl would take the money instead.

Matters seemed to be slightly alleviated when, in 1533, Margaret (to whom the king had granted control of the Grey lands on payment of an annual fee) agreed to sell his wardship to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk was an old friend of Thomas II’s, and the king’s brother-in-law. Suffolk was to pay her £2,000, maintain Henry, and arrange a marriage between Henry and his own daughter, Frances.  After the couple were married, Margaret would be responsible for their keep. Relieved that the financial pressure was off, Margaret stopped paying Henry any allowance.

Unfortunately, although Suffolk was as good as his word about arranging the betrothal, he was less forthcoming about Henry’s maintenance. Henry blamed his mother for not paying his allowance and the matter was brought before the king’s council.  The council, rather unfairly on the facts as known, but perhaps privy to other information, insisted Margaret pay for Henry’s maintenance. She responded with a barrage of letters to Suffolk and Cromwell, pointing out that she had had an agreement with the former, and requesting the latter to have it enforced.

She also confided in Cromwell that she was worried about Henry’s behaviour. Could Cromwell keep an eye on him and if he saw him involved in

 ‘any large [gambling] or great … swearing or any other demeanour unmeet for him to use, which I fear me shall be very often, I pray you, for his father’s sake to rebuke him, and if he has any grace, he will be grateful to you when he grows older’. 

No doubt the adolescent Henry saw his mother’s worrying as tiresome interference, especially now he was a married man – he and Frances were married some time in the summer of 1533. The couple did not immediately have a settled home of their own. Henry was still attached to the court, whilst Frances seems to have spent her time variously with relatives, her family home in Suffolk or at either the Grey or Brandon London homes.  It was probably in one of these that she gave birth to her first child, Lady Jane.

In 1538, Henry was declared of age. He now had control of his patrimony, but Margaret was still responsible for the outstanding debts under Thomas II’s will. The two continued to quarrel. Margaret wrote to Cromwell again, saying that she was ‘trouble[d] not a little’ by the rumours of her ‘unkindness’ to Dorset. She thought them especially unfair considering ‘what a good mother [she had] been to him, what pains [she had] sustained and what bonds [she had] brought her friends into for his sake, since … his father’s death’.

She thanked Cromwell and Lord Chancellor Audley for their good offices in effecting a reconciliation between her and her son ‘although there was nothing between [them they] could not end [themselves, they] were both glad to comply, especially considering the good heart borne by [Cromwell] to [her] late husband’.

Part of this arbitration seems to have been an agreement that Margaret would leave the family home at Bradgate, which Thomas II had allocated to her for her lifetime, to let Henry and Frances occupy it. This was probably no great hardship for Margaret, who spent most of her time at Tilty in Essex, or Ightham Mote in Kent. Nevertheless, even this agreement proved fraught with rancour and bitterness. Henry, having won the point of occupying the family seat, refused to allow Margaret’s servants to take away her personal belongings.  Henry’s reasoning, presumably, was that an agreement for him to occupy Bradgate included its furnishings. That they were arguing over the pots and pans shows just how divided this mother and son had become.  Not only that, she despaired to Cromwell, but Henry, despite now having control of the property, was refusing to allow payments of the outstanding bequests of Thomas II and Cecily, so the creditors were hounding Margaret.

In her old age, she said, she found this hard to bear. She was so beset that she did not think she would long keep Henry out of the remainder of his lands.  In this, she was proved right – Margaret died in the late summer of 1541. There is no information on whether she and Henry were ever reconciled. It seems unlikely, given the long-standing quarrels, but Henry remained on excellent terms with his siblings, and also his half-brother, George Medley, so perhaps there was some rapprochement.

Having quarrelled so bitterly with his mother, what relationship did Henry have with his own children, particularly his eldest daughter, Lady Jane? To find out, go to the Lady Jane Grey Reference site here