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.

 

7 comments

  1. Can’t think of a solid reason, except to hazard there could have been something about the way Grey tried to return to England during Richard’s reign that really caught Henry on the raw. Henry was not a forgiving man, and might have been persuaded, against his better judgement, to trust Grey. If so, the attempt to scuttle back to Richard would have really set Tudor nerves jangling and teeth gnashing. And maybe Elizabeth of York was very fond of her half-brother, and would have kicked up a stink if harm had actually befallen Grey at Henry’s hands. I don’t think she was without influence with him. So Grey stayed in one piece, but was pinned to the wall wherever he went and breathed heavily upon if he so much as blinked. No? Sorry, it’s the best I can offer.

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  2. Henry’s mother played her part to make sure her son came to the English throne. Has anyone wondered why she was on her knees in prayer so often. She planned her son’s future well. She used her husbands to further his claim. She got rid of anyone who stood in her son’s way. Healthy king dies after a number of weeks illness,seems like poisoned to me. Was Margaret at court then. Did she pray so much because she knew she was going to hell for her sins. Princes in the tower I don’t believe that Richard did this dark deed. Margaret’s husband had connections to the tower. This woman was obsessed with putting her son on the throne of england and she did. Why she even gave herself a new title “the king’s mother”and looked on herself as the highest lady in the land. It is on record to be true that Henry Tudor grew to love his wife Elizabeth deeply that is why Grey stayed in one piece. Elizabeth loved Thomas and had seen too many of her family die.

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  3. Elizabeth Woodville probably told her on, Dorset (Thomas Grey), that she had solid confirmation that at least her son, prince Richard, was safe and sound in Flanders. And here’s why I believe that she may have known this. 1) Queen Elizabeth Woodville, had a brother named, Lionel Woodville, so Thomas Grey’s maternal uncle, who very little is known about him, outside of him being a member of the Catholic clergy, and was Bishop of Salisbury from 1482 until his death around June 23, 1484. Interestingly, his direct successor to this post, Bishop of Salisbury was a Thomas Langton, who just prior to being ordained Bishop of Salisbury was then the Bishop of St. Davids. There is also then a Calendar of State Papers regarding affairs in Venice written on March 10, 1484 from King Richard III to the Duke of Milan, asking that they grant the Bishop of St. Davids (Thomas Langton) safe passage while traveling through his territories. Right after this, on May 29, 1484, in the same BHO files, there’s another correspondence from a John Silvester Balsenus, Officer of the Seals, in Parma, who then wrote to the Duke of Milan, advising that the Bishop of St. Davids (Langton) arrived there and he notes he had “come from England by way of Flanders” on his way to Rome to see the Pope. What is interesting about all this, is that Thomas Langton was considered popular by all, as he had been treated well by Edward IV and served as his chamberlain, and Edward V, who nominated him Bishop of St Davids, but also by Richard III who later named him Bishop of Salisbury, and then also by Henry VII, who ultimately even had named him the Archbishop-elect of Canterbury, but never filled the post, because he died of plague in 1501. But even more interesting, is that Langton also would be one of the most fervent defenders of attempting to save Perkin Warbeck’s life after being captured, as he was apparently persuaded that he really was prince Richard, Duke of York. If he was a chamberlain of Edward IV, he would likely know the young prince Richard, as he was raised at the palace. Additionally, the princes have been theorized by several historians to possibly originally have been taken somewhere in England for safekeeping based on various sources, and then smuggled out of the country later. And that in combination, with Langton filling a position once held by Lionel Woodville, after he died, and considering very little is known of Lionel Woodville, other than him being a member of the clergy and Bishop of Salisbury and that this is a brother of Elizabeth Woodville, and Thomas Langton took an unexplained stop in Flanders, on his way to Rome, then this all seems quite coincidental. Perhaps, prince Richard had been in sancturary under protection of Lionel Woodville and protected their secretively, and perhaps when he was on his death bed, and knew that Langton likely would be inheriting the post, passed him onto him for further protection, and safeguarding, knowing he was loyal to Edward IV but also liked by Richard III. And as he now had a valid legitimate reason to leave the country this would be a perfect opportunity to safely smuggle the prince out. It should also be pointed out that the same guy who consecrated both Lionel Woodville and Thomas Langton as Bishop of St. Davids, was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Bourchier. even more interesting, is Thomas Bourchier also happened to be the same guy who supposedly persuaded Elizabeth Woodville, to release prince Richard from sanctuary to his uncle Richard, to go stay with his brother, Edward V at the Tower of London, to keep him company before his upcoming coronation which we all now know never occurred. People often question why she would give up her son to Richard III and there’s been lots of theories about somebody having provided her information that may have assured her. Some say it was Dr. John Carelon, however, it just as easily could have been Cardinal Bourchier, is he is the one directly named in the Stallworth letters, having persuaded her to release her son to his uncle in June 1483. Also, it’s interesting that Thomas Langton was so convinced Perkin Warbeck really was prince Richard, and we also see him taking a trip to Rome with an unexplained stop over in Flanders in 1484, which is the place where Perkin Warbeck was supposedly staying for several years before later identifying himself to be Prince Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York, son of Edward IV and rightful heir of the throne of England and emerged again in Ireland in 1491. In short, yes, I believe Thomas Grey was given information from his mother that must have assured him his half brother was safe and sound in Flanders, and that Richard III did not murder him, and likely that he also did not murder his other half brother, Edward V, either.

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