Born: ABT 1545
Died: 20 Apr 1578
Buried: Westminster Abbey, London, Middlesex, England
Father: Henry GREY (1° D. Suffolk)
Mother: Frances BRANDON (D. Suffolk)
Married: Thomas KEYES (d. 8 Sep 1571) 16 Jul 1565, in secret
Portrait wearing her wedding ring c.1571
All daughters of Henry Grey, Marquis of Dorset and later Duke of Suffolk, and Frances Brandon received a high standard of learning, all three received the same advantages and all developed differently. In a later age Jane would have been described as the clever sister; Catherine as the pretty, frivolous one; and Mary as that poor little creature for whom nothing could be done: for she was a dwarf, and very ugly. These counted as nothing to the Dorset's again her daughters uses as political and dynastic catspaws.
In 1553, when her sisters had been married, Mary was betrothed to her cousin, Arthur Grey, a man much older than she and not previously aligned to the faction of the Duke of Northumberland. The betrothal was later dissolved when Queen Mary prevented Lady Jane Grey from claiming the throne. Mary Grey was at court with her mother and sister Catherine from Jul 1554 until May 1555 and then left with her mother when Frances remarried.
She was a maid of honor under Queen Elizabeth. Mary, only a little over four feet tall, with red hair, freckles, and enough of a physical deformity to be nicknamed “Crouchback Mary”, did not learn from her sister, Catherine's mistakes. No other attempt had ever been made to arrange a marriage for Mary after her briefly betrothal to Arthur Grey of Wilton, and since Catherine's disgrace it was obvious that none ever would be. Mary, who seems to have shared some, at least, of Jane's intellectual interests as well as her independence of spirit, had therefore decided to make her own arrangements.
On 16 Jul 1565, Mary married secretly at Whitehall Palace, without seeking the Queen's permission. Her husband, Thomas Keyes, was a gatekeeper in the Royal Household. Keyes was 6’6” tall, a widower twice Mary's age who had several children by his first wife, and was related to the highly respectable and royally connected Knollys family. He figured once in William Petre's accounts, having got a great reward, probably for opening the gates late one night.
The wedding was secret but not clandestine. The date was chosen because most of the court would be at another wedding, that of Henry Knollys and Margaret Cave, at Durham House. The officiating clergyman, described as an old man, short and very fat, failed to leave his name and address, but there were a sufficient number of witnesses present able to testify that the ceremony had actually been performed. As many as eleven people witnessed the ceremony, including Keyes's brother, Edward, and one of Keyes's sons.
Elizabeth was furious when she discovered Mary's indiscretion on 21 Aug, saying her generosity had been abused and she wanted no 'little bastard Keyes'.
William Cecil wrote to his friend Thomas Smith on 21 Aug:
"Here is an unhappy chance and monstrous... The Sergeant Porter, being the biggest gentleman in this court, hath married secretly the Lady Mary Grey, the least of all the court. They are committed to several prisons. The offence is very great."
The current Spanish ambassador, Guzman da Silva, thought it worth while to pass on the news to King Felipe, explaining that the Queen had in her house a sister of Jane and Catherine. 'She is little, crook-backed and very ugly, and it carne out yesterday that she had married a gentleman named Keys, sergeant porter at the palace. They say the Queen is very much annoyed and grieved thereat'.
Less than two weeks after their wedding the couple were arrested. Mary spent the rest of her life under house arrest while Thomas was sent to Fleet Prison. They never met again. Mary was removed to Chequers, in Buckinghamshire, under the custody of William Hawtrey, Esq., the first of a succession of unwilling gaoler host. She was allowed only one groom and one waiting woman. As with Catherine, Mary appears to have been virtually destitute of both money and possessions, having nothing but an old feather bed, 'all torn and full of patches, without either bolster or counterpane . . . an old quilt of silk, so tattered as the cotton of it comes out' and 'two little pieces of old hangings, both of them not seven yards broad'. After, on 7 Aug 1567, she was put in charge of Catherine Willoughby, the widow of her grand father, who was then at her house in the Minories in London. Like Catherine, Mary pined. According to the second Duchess of Suffolk, now also remarried to a member of her household staff, 'all she has eaten these two days is not so much as a chicken's leg'.
Mary wrote numerous letters to the Queen, begging to be allowed to take care of Thomas's children from another marriage, but she was denied permission to do so. In Jun 1569, the Lady Mary was moved to the London house of Sir Thomas Gresham in Bishopsgate Street, where she spent much of her time locked in a room with her books.
In spite of Gresham’s many pleas, the Lady Mary remained his guest until May 1572. On 23 Jan 1571, Queen Elizabeth dined at Gresham House in Bishopsgate, Mary was confined to her rooms while the Queen was in the house. In early Sep 1571, after the death of the Lady Mary’s husband, she was moved to the Greshams’ country house at Osterley in Middlesex. As her keepers, the Greshams went with her. By Jan, Sir Thomas’s letters were begging that the Lady Mary be removed from his keeping for the “quietness” of his wife, Anne Ferneley, and in Mar 1572 he referred to “my wife’s suit for the removing of my Lady Mary Grey”. He characterized his wife’s plight as “the bondage and heart sorrow she has had for these three years”.
Mary was released from private custody of Sir Thomas Gresham, and went, destitute, to live with her step-father, Adrian Stokes, at Beaumanor in Leicestershire. By Feb 1573, she had purchased a house in St. Botolph's-Without-Aldgate, London. She did remain on friendly terms with Thomas's children from another marriage. Elizabeth allowed Mary to attend Court on a number of occasions. In 1577, she spent Christmas at Hampton Court.
She made her will on 17 Apr 1578 and died three days later in her London house. She was buried on 14 May in Westminster Abbey on the Queen's orders and shared her mother's tomb. She has no marker or monument of her own.
Mary Grey was described as the smallest person at court, crooked backed and 'very ugly'. Her reported deformity could be described as kyphosis. In spite of the intrigues involving her sisters, it does not appear that Mary Grey ever made a serious claim to the throne. She died childless, aged 33.
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