The Strange Case of Thomas Grey, Marquess of Dorset
Thomas Grey was the elder son of Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband Sir John Grey of Groby. Not unnaturally, once his mother married King Edward IV, Thomas’ position in society improved markedly and he became prominent at court, eventually being created Marquess of Dorset. In addition he made successive marriages to heiresses, Anne Holland and Cecily Bonville, and was very nicely placed when his stepfather died.
He is credited with an unfortunate boast that the Council could manage and decide policy without the Duke of Gloucester. Events proved otherwise. After initially taking sanctuary at Westminster with his mother, Grey managed to escape, and despite Richard III’s attempts to capture him, fled to Brittany where he joined Henry Tudor’s miscellaneous collection of misfits, traitors and exiles. He then followed Tudor to France, where something very surprising happened.
Elizabeth Woodville had made her peace with Richard III, and now she apparently contacted Grey and told him to come home, presumably with the approval and good will of the King. What is surprising is that Grey immediately defected from Tudor’s ‘court’ and attempted to return to England. He was however captured near Compiègne and held at Paris where he remained as ‘security’ for loans advanced to Tudor by the French. He was not, therefore ‘available’ for the Battle of Bosworth.
Now it is absolutely certain that Richard had executed Grey’s Uncle Anthony Rivers, and his full brother, Sir Richard Grey. According to some people he did so for no particular reason. The same people are convinced that Richard also murdered Grey’s half-brothers the ‘Princes in the Tower’. So what on earth, if this was so, was Grey thinking about? It is sometimes argued that Elizabeth Woodville had ‘no choice’ but to come to terms with Richard III, who was apparently firmly established as King. (The same people will tell you in the next breath that Richard’s position was fragile.) Now this might be true as far as she was concerned, but it was certainly not true in the case of Grey, who was safe in France. In his position would a wise man not have thought that his mother was writing under duress? What on earth would have possessed Grey to return to the court of a man who had supposedly killed four of his nearest male relatives for no particular reason? Was he suicidal? Was Tudor’s breath really that bad?
An alternative view might be that Grey had received ‘new evidence’. Perhaps he knew very well that his uncle and brother had been plotting against Richard, and that their deaths were therefore ‘fair game’. Perhaps he now learned that his half-brothers were alive and well, or that someone other than Richard had killed them. Would this not make his course of action seem more reasonable?
Be that as it may, it is certain that Henry Tudor never trusted Grey again. At the time of the Lambert Simnel Rising, Grey was shut up in the Tower. Why? Why should Henry VII suppose that Grey would wish to depose his own half-sister, Elizabeth of York, to set up the son of Warwick, a noted family enemy? It simply does not make sense as presented. Even if we assume Elizabeth Woodville retired to Bermondsey voluntarily, gleefully shedding the responsibility for her lands at the same time, it is certain that Grey did not enter the Tower for a time of prayer and reflection.
Even in 1492, when Grey accompanied Henry to France, he was forced to declare in writing that he would not commit treason. Why on earth should this have been suspected of him? Asking a nobleman to sign a promise not to commit treason was certainly a rare distinction, if not a unique one. It really demonstrates that Grey was one step away from the Tower for the rest of his life.
Feel free to produce reasons for Henry’s distrust of Grey that do not challenge the ‘accepted version of events.’ I can’t think of any myself.