Frances De VERE

(C. Surrey)

Born: 1516/7

Died: 30 Jun 1577, Soham Earl, near Framlingham, England

Buried: 1614, Framlingham, Surrey, England

Notes: The Complete Peerage vol.X,p.247,note g.

Father: John De VERE (15° E. Oxford)

Mother: Elizabeth TRUSSELL (C. Oxford)

Married 1: Henry HOWARD (E. Surrey) 13 Feb 1532


1. Thomas HOWARD (4° D. Norfolk)

2. Jane HOWARD (C. Westmoreland)

3. Margaret HOWARD (B. Scrope of Bolton)

4. Henry HOWARD (1° E. Northampton)

5. Catherine HOWARD (B. Berkeley)

Married 2: Thomas STAYNINGS BEF 1553


6. Henry STAYNINGS (b. ABT 1555)

7. Mary STAYNINGS (m. Charles Seckford)

Vere,Frances(C.Surrey).jpg (86366 bytes)

Sketch of Frances De Vere, countess of Surrey
by Hans Holbein the Younger

Second daughter and third child of John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford and his second wife, Elizabeth Trussel, was born circa 1517. Frances had four brother: the heir, John; Aubrey; Robert and Geoffrey; and two sisters: Elizabeth, married Thomas Darcy, 1st Lord Darcy, of Chiche; and Anne, married Edmund Sheffield, 1st Lord Sheffield.

In 1529, Anne Boleyn, whose mother was the sister of the Duke of Norfolk, was promoting a marriage between Princess Mary and her cousin Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. This would give Norfolk greater political influence and bring his family closer to the throne of England. And for Anne it was a way of neutralizing the threat that Mary posed to her and any children she might have from the King. But she soon realized that the Duke would use the party to support Mary's claim to the throne and support Catalina of Aragon in the frustrating divorce process. In Oct 1530, Anne Boleyn persuaded the Duke of Norfolk to marry Surrey to Frances de Vere.

There had been numerous Howard- de Vere matches in the past, and the fourteenth earl, John (1499-1526) had been married to Norfolk’s half-sister Anne. They had no children, and her husband treated her very shabbily. When his second cousin the 15th Earl of Oxford inherited his title, he stopped paying Anne’s jointure and sent a mob to rampage through her lands. They ended up killing many of her deer, and Anne was expelled from her lands and ended her days in isolation at Tendring Hall.

On 15 January 1532, Norfolk and Oxford drew up an indenture. Frances received an indemnity of four thousand marks, two hundred of which were paid upon marriage and the rest was paid in installments. Frances would keep this money in the event of her husband's death. Norfolk gave the couple land that would produce an annual income of £ 300. Each father was to provide for his child’s personal clothing. The marriage contract was signed on 13 Feb 1532.

The nuptial ceremony took place on 23 May 1532 and was attended by various nobles. The couple separated after the wedding because they were considered too young to consummate the marriage.

Frances's name appears on the list of maids of honour for the king's daughter, Lady Mary. In 1535 Norfolk separated from his wife Elizabeth Stafford and established his mistress Bess Holland with a house at Kenninghall. It was around this time that Frances and Surrey began living together.

They had two sons and three daughters: Jane Howard, Countess of Westmoreland, Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, Margaret Howard, Baroness Scrope of Bolton, and Catherine Howard, Baroness Berkeley. Surrey guaranteed his children were given a fine humanist education as they were tutored at Kenninghall by the Dutch humanist Hadrianus Junius.

In 1536, Frances was one of the chief mourners in the funeral of Catalina of Aragon, with Maria de Salinas, Lady Willoughby; Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester and Frances Brandon.

The Duke of Norfolk and Surrey were instrumental in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace. After this, Surrey moved Frances and the children out of Kenninghall and into the old manor house of Fersfield and later to Shottisham Hall. Finally, he moved everyone to the family mansion in Norwich. While in Norwich, Surrey decided to begin building his own home on some land he obtained from his father. Construction began on the house which was to be called Mount Surrey when Surrey asked to go to France and join the siege of Boulogne.

Late in 1546, while Frances was expecting her fifth child, Catherine, her husband was accused of treason. In the early morning of 14 Dec, Kenninghall was raided by the king’s men looking for evidence of Surrey’s treason. The men found the Duke’s mistress Bess Holland, and his daughter Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond, and a pregnant Frances alone in the home. Sir Richard Southwell and his companions arrived they placed men at all the doors and sent for the Duchess of Richmond and Bess Holland, 'who were only just risen', Southwell reported.

The fate of Norfolk's personal property is well documented, for the inventories drawn up at the time of his arrest were annotated as goods were sold or given away. Somerset took his pick of the 200 horses, 88 oxen, 115 steers, 420 hogs and 407 sheep found at Kenninghall. The Duchess of Richmond and the Countess of Surrey divided what remained of the household goods after Somerset was sated. Because of Frances’ condition, it was decided to send her and the children away. It is unknown where Frances went. Mary Howard was given charge of her children. She established a household at Reigate and employed John Foxe to educate them at Reigate Castle, probably on Lord Wentworth's advice. They were joined there by Charles Howard, their cousin, two years older than Thomas.

Frances lived a quiet life after Surrey’s death and she was remarried by 1553. Her new husband was a country squire named Thomas Staynings.

The death of Edward VI brought about a revolution in the Howard fortunes. Princess Mary, fearful of plots against her, fled from Hunsdon to shelter at Kenninghall "where she has the support of several gentlemen" but as soon as she arrived there she learnt of Lady Jane Grey’s accession. On the advice of Norfolk retainers, she rode on next day to Framlingham Castle, which could stand a siege if necessary. The royal standard usurped the Howard banner at the castle until the crisis was over, and then she rode to London, accompanied by Elizabeth Stafford, Duchess of Norfolk, to take up her residence in the Tower until Coroation Day. Before then, the Duke had been released from the Tower and was restored to the Order of the Garter. Although nearly eighty he was soon back in harness, preparing as Earl Marshal for Mary’s coronation. his grandchildren’s sojourn at Reigate was also over. Thomas Howard soon joined him in London and at the end of the month the Countess of Surrey was ordered by the Council to have the rest of her children brought from Reigate Castle to Mountjoy Place "where they shall be rewarded by the Duke of Norfolk".

The ageing 3rd Duke of Norfolk gave his daughter-in-law and her new husband nine manors, including Rising, worth in all £353 a year. The couple are found presenting to the living of Earl Soham in 1554 and Staynings soon began to participate in the duties in the county expected of a man in his greatly enhanced social position. He became a justice of the peace in both Norfolk and Suffolk and in 1559 he joined a commission to select quays at King’s Lynn and adjoining creeks for the execution of a new statute regulating the loading and unloading of wares. He was also active in organizing the local musters. It seems that he enjoyed a life annuity of £20 from Queen Mary, but the reason for this grant has not been discovered. 

The couple lived together in East Anglia and Frances attended court for the obligatory funerals and christenings. Frances came to court, as a peeress in her own right, and in Jul 1554 was Queen Mary's representative at the christening of the French Ambassador´s son. After Thomas had succeeded his grandfather it was suggested to Bishop Gardiner that Lady Surrey should "have the ordering of her daughters Ladies Jane and Margaret Howard", but they stayed on at Kenninghall.

Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond and Somerset, died on Monday 9 Dec 1557. The Countess of Surrey acted as chief mourner at the funeral of her sister-in-law. The service over, the Dowager Countess Frances returned with the mourners to the duke's palace for the funeral feast; but for the rashness of Surrey ten years back it would have been her palace. As chief mourner she sat in the hall under a cloth of estate of black velvet. Thus she discharged her debt to the woman who for five difficult years had acted as foster-mother to her own children.

Staynings sat in the first Parliament of Queen Elizabeth for Castle Rising, enfranchised a year earlier, when the two Members had been the Duke of Norfolk’s kinsman Sir John Radcliffe, and his steward Sir Nicholas Le Strange. The same two names appear on the election return for 1559, but Staynings evidently wished to sit in this Parliament, and for some reason not ascertained he was brought in at Castle Rising, while Radcliffe had to find a seat at Grampound. Staynings was presumably one of the Norfolk justices John Parkhurst, Bishop of Norwich in 1564 described as "very well affected and given to executing of the orders and laws of this realm established for the ecclesiastical policy”.

Margaret Audley, Duchess of Norfolk died at Norwich on 10 Jan 1564 and was buried at St. John the Baptist's church at Norwich. The Dowager Countess of Surrey acted as chief mourner at her funeral, going through the same sombre ritual in the cathedral and the great hall of the palace that she had done six years before for her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Richmond. It was only a Howard death that brought her out of the shadows.

There is no evidence that Staynings was connected with the activities which led to the Duke of Norfolk’s arrest in 1569: indeed, he attempted, though with little success, to raise men to preserve order in Suffolk. Thomas Howard wrote to his son Phillip in the days leading up to his execution in 1572. He was worried about her mother, Lady Staynings, and hoped they would send her to the country, because he feared that if she was still in London on the day he was executed, her shock would kill her.

In 1576, Frances she had received a valuable lease from her grandson Phillip, Earl of Arundel, the new head of the Howard family.

Frances had two children with Staynings, a son named Henry and a daughter Mary. Mary married Charles Seckford.

Frances died in Jun 1577 at Earl Soham, Suffolk, and was buried in the Howard family church of St. Michael’s in Framlingham. In 1614 Henry Howard, 1st Earl of Northampton, had Surrey’s remains transferred from the church of All Hallows and buried alongside Frances.

The tomb of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and his wife Frances at Framlimgham Church


The date of Staynings death has not been found. His name appears on the Suffolk commission of the peace for 1582 but has been deleted, presumably either because of his advanced years or his death. No will has been found. 



Abernethy, Susan:

Chapman, Hester W.: Two Tudor Portraits: Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and Lady Katherine Grey (Little, Brown and Company - 1960 - Boston)

Head, David M.: The Ebbs and Flows of Fortune: The Life of Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk (The University of Georgia Press – Athens & London – 1995)
Murphy, Beverley A.: Bastard Prince: Henry VIII's Lost Son (Sutton Publishing Ltd. -  2001 – Phoenix Mill)

Williams, Neville: Thomas Howard, fourth Duke of Norfolk (Barrie and Rockliff – 1964 - London)

The History of Parliament:



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