Dormer, Jane (DNB00)

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DORMER, JANE, Duchess of Feria (1538–1612), the second daughter of Sir William Dormer, by his first wife, Mary, eldest daughter of Sir William Sidney, was born at Heythrop, Oxfordshire, 6 Jan. 1538. On the death of her mother in 1542 she was placed under the care of her grandmother, Jane, lady Dormer, daughter of John Newdigate, and remained with her till she was taken into the household of Princess Mary. In her early years she was the playfellow of Edward VI, whose tutor, Jane's maternal grandfather, would constantly send for her to read, play, dance, and sing with his pupil. Between Jane and Mary there sprang up a strong friendship, which continued unimpaired until the latter's death. They were inseparable companions, and often shared the same bedchamber; during the two months of Mary's last illness Jane Dormer was ever at her bedside, and it was into her hands that the dying queen committed her jewels to be handed over to Elizabeth. When Philip II came to England to marry Mary, he was accompanied by Don Gomez Suarez de Figueroa of Cordova, count of Feria, between whom and the queen's favourite maid of honour arose the attachment which led to their ultimate union. Jane's remarkable beauty and the sweetness of her disposition caused her hand to be sought in marriage by several English noblemen, among whom were Edward Courtenay, earl of Devonshire, the Duke of Norfolk, and the Earl of Nottingham, but by Mary's advice they were one and all rejected in favour of the Spaniard. The queen took the greatest interest in the match, and at her wish the marriage was put off till Philip should return from Flanders, so that the ceremony might be invested with all the importance possible. But before Philip was ready to return, Mary died, and Jane Dormer went back to her grandmother, now lodging in the Savoy. The Count of Feria, who was in England at the time, having been sent by Philip when he heard of the queen's sickness, strongly urged an immediate union, and accordingly the marriage took place on 29 Dec. 1558. The reason for this haste was the count's anticipation that the catholic supremacy was now at an end, and that consequently his stay in England would not be long. His fears were justified, and on learning that Elizabeth's coronation ceremony would not be in strict accordance with catholic usage, he refused, notwithstanding the queen's personal entreaty, to be present on the occasion, and at Philip's command prepared to leave the country. After arranging for his wife to follow him, he set out for Flanders in May 1559. At his wife's suggestion he obtained leave of the queen, in face of much opposition, to take with him the members of certain religious orders, including the Carthusian monks of Sheen, the nuns of St. Bridget of Sion, and the Dominican nuns of Dartford. The Countess of Feria remained at Durham House till the end of July, when Don Juan de Ayala arrived to escort her to Flanders. After a fare well interview with Elizabeth, who is variously stated by catholic and protestant writers respectively to have rudely slighted her and to have received her with marked affection, she started on her way to the continent, accompanied by her paternal grandmother, Alvara de Quadra, bishop of Aquila, and six attendant gentlewomen, among whom were included Lady Margaret Harrington, a sister of Sir William Pickering, Mrs. Paston, and Mrs. Clarentia, the favourite waiting-woman of Queen Mary. The journey was a triumphal progress. At Calais, Gravelines, Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp the English party were officially received by the governors of the towns, and in each case the military were ordered out to salute them. Finally at the end of August the Countess of Feria rested at Mechlin, at the invitation of Philip's sister, the Duchess of Parma, and there on 28 Sept. she gave birth to a son, who was christened Lorenzo. She stayed at Mechlin till March in the following year (1560), when her grandmother left her to settle at Louvain, where she remained till the end of her life (July 1571). The countess started with her husband to their home in Spain. Among their attendants on this occasion was Sir William Shelley, grand prior of England. The sum of fifty thousand ducats was borrowed by the Count of Feria for the expense of the journey, which was conducted in regal state. Easter was spent in Paris with the Duke of Guise, and thence the count and his wife proceeded to Amboise, where Francis II and Mary of Scotland were residing. Between the latter and the Countess of Feria a strong attachment was formed, which, though they never saw one another again, lasted till Mary's death. They corresponded frequently, Mary signing herself ‘your perfect friend, old acquaintance, & dear cousin.’ In 1571 Mary endeavoured to persuade the countess to leave Spain for Flanders, to be nearer England. The count, at the instigation of his wife, had previously sent the queen of Scotland when in distress twenty thousand ducats. From Amboise the Ferias proceeded by easy stages to Spain, arriving in August at Toledo, where they were publicly received by the king and queen, and a few days later at Zafra in Estremadura, the count's principal estate. Here they settled down to domestic life, varied only by visits to other estates and by residence at court. They constantly corresponded with members of the catholic party in England on matters connected with the prosecution of their co-religionists, but they did not openly break with Elizabeth. A letter, dated August 1568, from the queen to the Duchess of Feria (her husband's rank had been raised in the preceding year), rebukes the latter for being forgetful of her duty, in not writing. In 1571 the Duke of Feria was appointed governor of the Low Countries, but immediately afterwards he died suddenly. He was one of Philip's council of state, and was captain of the Spanish guard. Like his wife he was an earnest supporter of catholicism, taking an especial interest in the Jesuit movement (De Backer, Bibl. des Ecrivains de la Compagnie de Jésus, iii. 154, ed. 1871). He seems to have entertained a strong personal dislike to Elizabeth, and when she refused to allow Jane, lady Dormer, his wife's grandmother, to return to England to collect her rents, he vainly urged Pius IV to excommunicate the queen, though his wife strongly opposed his action. The duchess had the stronger character of the two, and her husband, in his will, left her sole guardian of their son and manager of his estates. At the time of his death he was in debt to the extent of three hundred thousand ducats, the whole of which she had cleared off before her son came of age and entered into possession of his estates. As a widow she continued to further the papal cause with unexampled zeal. More than once spies were despatched from England to Spain to gain some insight into her supposed intrigues with the catholic church. At least four popes—Gregory XIII, Sixtus V, Clement VIII, and Paul V—personally corresponded with her. All catholics who came to Spain from England received a welcome at her house, and were provided according to their needs with food, clothes, or money. She used all her influence at court to procure the release of such fugitives as were imprisoned on their arrival; on one occasion she obtained freedom for thirty-eight Englishmen imprisoned at Seville, and among others who owed their release to her intercession was Sir Richard Hawkins. In all matters the piety of the Duchess of Feria took a practical form. She took the habit of the third order of St. Francis, and wore it and the scapulary as long as she lived. Every week, and sometimes oftener, she supplied a supper to a monastery of this same order, of which both she and her husband, while he lived, were generous patrons. They founded and built the monastery of Our Lady de Monte-Virgine, near Villalva, and repaired at considerable expense the houses of St. Onophrio de la Lapa and Our Lady del Rosario (Dominican). On the death of her grandmother, Jane, lady Dormer, which took place in 1571, at Louvain, the duchess caused a marble tomb to be built over her remains in the chapel of the Carthusians of that place, and devised a sum of a hundred florins to be paid annually to the order. Evidence is not entirely wanting that the ambition of the duchess was not only ecclesiastical but personal. In a confession made in 1592 to the lord keeper, Puckering, George Dingley, an imprisoned catholic, stated that a report having spread abroad that the Duke of Parma would be removed from his position as governor of Flanders, the Duchess of Feria made suit of the king that she might be appointed in his place. She then took measures to have her son appointed general of the army then preparing, and her wishes were about to be carried into effect when the king was informed that the scheme was an English papist plot, and put an end to the arrangements, ordering the duchess to keep her house. The only support to this improbable story is a letter written more than thirty years previously by Sir John Legh to Elizabeth, informing her that the then Count of Feria was very anxious his wife should have the regency of the Low Countries. The remaining years of her life were uneventful, and were passed in Spain. In 1609 she broke her arm by a singular accident, and never again fully recovered her health. She looked forward to death with remarkable equanimity, wearing a death's head fastened to her beads and causing a coffin to be made and kept in the house. For the twelve months preceding her death, which took place on 13 Jan. 1612, at Madrid, she was bedridden and gave her whole mind to religious works and exercises. There were with her to her end two members of the Society of Jesus, four Franciscan friars, one Dominican, and her private chaplain. The body was conveyed to Zafra and interred there with prolonged ceremonies in the monastery of St. Clara. The duchess is thus described by her servant, Henry Clifford: ‘She was somewhat higher than ordinary; of a comely person, a lively aspect, a gracious countenance, very clear-skinned, quick in senses; for she had her sight and hearing to her last hour. Until she broke her arm she was perfect in all her parts; her person venerable and with majesty; all showed a nobility and did win a reverent respect from all. I have not seen of her age a more fair, comely, and respectful personage, which was perfected with modest comportment, deep judgment, graceful humility, and true piety.’

[The Henry Clifford who wrote the words just quoted was the author of a biography of the Duchess of Feria, preserved in the possession of the Dormer family at Grove Park, and first published in 1887 under the editorship of the Rev. Joseph Stevenson, S. J. Clifford did not enter the service of the duchess till 1603, but he soon won her fullest confidence, and there is some internal evidence that the biography was projected under her direction. The manuscript as it stands was written in 1643, but it was probably prepared long before, and it remains the principal authority for the facts in the life of its subject. It is lacking in arrangement and sense of proportion; it is rather an ecstatic eulogy than a sober narrative, and it is too thickly coloured by the religious sympathies of the writer. But, outside of some chrnological inaccuracies, there is no reason for doubting the general correctness of the facts related. Also: Cal. State Papers (Foreign, 1558–74, passim, and Dom., 1547–1613, passim); Fuller's Worthies, ed. 1662, p. 126; Collins's Peerage, ed. Brydges, vii. 69.]

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