The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria

The Life of Jane Dormer, Duchess of Feria

by Henry Clifford

Jane Dormer came from a family of staunch Catholics on her father's side. She was brought up by her grandmother, Lady Jane Dormer, the daughter of John Newdigate. She must often have heard the story of her uncle Sebastian - a gentleman of the Privy Chamber to Henry VIII - who was warned by his sister

"not to stain his soul and honour with so dangerous and pestilent contagions, as the bad example of so potent a master did lead him to"

He passed off the warning, saying that the King was not as bad as his detractors would have it, then said to her:

"Sister, what will you say, if the next news you hear of me shall be that I am entered to be a monk in the Charter-house?"

"A monk!" she saith. "I fear, rather, I shall see thee hanged."

When later Sebastian did indeed enter Charterhouse, his sister was so far from believing this to be a genuine act that she went to see the Prior and advised against admitting him. She was proved wrong and her brother was faithful to his vows, being ordained deacon, then priest, and finally suffering torture and execution for refusing to accept the King's supremacy in the church.

The younger Jane became, at sixteen, a lady-in-waiting to Mary I. Through this association she met her future husband, Philip II's first ambassador to England: El Conde Don Gomez de Figueroa y Cordova, afterwards the Duke of Feria. Jane's biographer remarks that "great men of Spain seldom marry out of their own rank and nation", but he was "moved thereto by the favour she had with the queen, and the grace and beauty of her person".

This biography, written by one who held an official position in her household, follows Jane through her long life with frequent digressions to portray the characters of members of her family and important personages of the day, such as Queen Mary and the Princess Elizabeth, Mary Queen of Scots and Philip II.

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The Dunnett connection:

Jane Dormer is one of the historical characters who appears in The Ringed Castle, the penultimate book in Dorothy Dunnett's series about Frances Crawford of Lymond.

At the time that the novel is set, Jane was a sixteen year old lady-in-waiting to Queen Mary. Despite her youth, her character and devout faith drew her close to the troubled Queen, and she became the latter's close friend and confidante. Jane makes a good contrast to the (fictional) principal female character in the novel, Philippa, and I was intrigued to learn more about her.