Women who Married for Love

Chapter 8 : Lady Mary Grey

Lady Mary Grey, born in 1545, was the younger daughter of Frances Brandon, Duchess of Suffolk. Mary suffered from scoliosis and was unusually short, but was still Maid of Honour to her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.

In a period when external appearance was considered an important aspect of kingship, her physical disability made Mary unlikely to be considered as an alternative candidate for the throne. Perhaps this made her believe her choice of husband was a private matter. Her selection was certainly surprising. Thomas Keyes, the tallest person at court, whereas Mary was the shortest, was a widower, around 40 to Mary’s 19, with several children. Thomas was also no more than the Sergeant Porter, in charge of palace security.

Their romance is touching – he gave her the ring from his finger, and a golden chain with a mother-of-pearl pendant. In July 1565, taking advantage of Elizabeth’s absence at a wedding, Mary and Keyes married, carefully ensuring the presence of witnesses. After a month of marital bliss, the secret leaked out. Elizabeth, livid, had Keyes thrown into prison and Mary placed under house arrest. The couple never met again.

Keyes remained in the Fleet Prison until 1569, after which he was released and permitted to return to Kent, before dying in 1569. Mary, forbidden from bringing up his orphaned children, continued to be confined in the homes of begrudging courtiers and relatives, until allowed back to Court at the end of 1577, for a brief taste of freedom before dying in 1578.

These stories, whether happy or sad, show that, even in an age where status was all, women were prepared to risk their reputations, possessions and even their freedom for love that crossed the social divide.

This article was first published on 21 April 2015 on the BBC History Extra website http://www.historyextra.com/