Men Behaving Badly: Lord Lisle and Sir Francis Bryan



Sometimes while doing research you will come across a little treasure that you never knew existed. This has happened to me quite often but this time what I found truly caught me by surprise, made me blush and left me wondering what the event or events were that provoked this letter.

I can figure out the rough year of this letter by the mention of the marriage of the Duke of Orleans and the niece of the Pope, which references the future Henri II of France and Catherine de Medici, who were married 28 October 1533. That was the same year that Arthur Plantagenet became Lord Deputy of Calais.

As you will notice while reading said letter I have given you notes after certain words to help explain better what is being said – sometimes it can be confusing if you’re not familiar with the way they wrote.




Sir Francis Bryan to Lord Lisle (Arthur Plantagenet)

My good lord, after my hearty recommendation, this shall be to advertise you that I have received your letter, by the which I do not only perceive that ye would be glad of my return but also my Lady, your bedfellow, whom I do heartily thank. Sir, whereas in your last letter I perceive that in Calais ye have sufficient courtezans (A woman prostitute, especially one whose clients are members of a royal court or men of high social standing) to furnish and accomplish my desires, I do thank you of your good provision, but this shall be to advertise you that since my coming hither (referring to Marseille) I have called to my remembrance the misliving that ye and such other hath brought me to; for the which, being repented, have had absolution of the Pope. (What did Lisle and someone else do?) And because ye be my friend, I would advertise you in likewise to be sorry of that ye have done, and ask my lady, your wife forgiveness, and that forgiveness obtained, to come in all diligence hither to be absolved of the Pope, who I think will not tarry here much longer than Hallowmas, ere (before) which time shall be married the Duke of Orleans (future Henri II of France)to the Pope’s niece (Catherine de Medici), who arrived yesterday in this town, accompanies with fourteen or fifteen gentlewomen, which gentlewomen nor mistress be not as fair as was Lucrece (Lucretia). And thus heartily fare ye well, my good lord. From Merseles (Marseille), the 24th day of October.

I beseech you this letter many commend me to mr. porter (Sir Thomas Palmer) & my Lady his wife.

Your loving brother of world, Francis (he spelled ffranssys) Bryan


The question I have after reading this letter was this: Was Sir Thomas Palmer the person mentioned in this statement?:

“I have called to my remembrance the misliving that ye and such other hath brought me to; for the which, being repented, have had absolution of the Pope…”

What kind of incident happened that Sir Francis Bryan felt he had to get absolution from the Pope?

If we look at it from the other side, what type of sin would cause someone to seek absolution from the Pope? Absolution refers to forgiveness of mortal sins, especially grave sins to be forgiven. The Ten Commandments are examples of mortal/grave sins that would require absolution. If you are unfamiliar, here is an example of the Ten Commandments:

  1. I, the Lord, am your God. You shall not have other gods besides me.
  2. You shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain
  3. Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day (Sabbath)
  4. Honor your father and your mother
  5. You shall not kill
  6. You shall not commit adultery
  7. You shall not steal
  8. You shall not bear false witness
  9. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife
  10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods

So, one can only imagine what happened for Sir Francis Bryan to seek absolution. Until I can find out more, we’ll have to use our imaginations. What do you think happened?

Sources/References:

Lisle Letters, Edited by Muriel St. Clare Byrne; page 22 section, #3
Catholic Bible 101 (Ten Commandments)
Sir Thomas Palmer – Wikipedia (confirming he was knight-porter)
Henri II of France – Wikipedia (referencing title Duke of Orleans)
Catherine de Medici – Wikipedia (confirming she was niece to the Pope)


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9 thoughts on “Men Behaving Badly: Lord Lisle and Sir Francis Bryan

  1. The Second Commandment is “not to make graven images”, and then the rest of them. Your ninth commandment “not to covet your neighbour’s wife” is combined into the tenth commandment.

  2. Didnt francis bryan betray his cousin anne boleyn if he was getting ladies for the king to meddle with as well he had plenty to get forgiveness for thats only what we do know about it

  3. I wonder whether the involvement of the Pope isn’t so much an indicator of the seriousness of the transgression so much as simply a result of his having been in town, and a rare opportunity to go to the organ grinder rather than the monkey. The letter says that the Pope won’t be in town much longer.

  4. There are only a tiny number of ‘reserved’ sins that require papal absolution, but all but one only apply to priests (and Vicar of Hell or not Bryan was still a layman). The only one a layman can commit is discarding the Host or using it in a sacreligious manner.

    I rather suspect, though, that Bryan was being facetious about absolution and was instead suggesting Lisle visit Rome for other more earthy reasons.

  5. Since Bryan provided his sister to Henry VIII for physical pleasure I doubt he was too disturbed about committing Adultery. Elizabeth Bryan was called the “Younger Wife” and though she bore Tudor a child, there was no action taken to legitimize him. His name was also Francis after his Uncle. He had no children. Elizabeth received many fine jewels from Henry with her brother’s blessing so I think Bryan must have had a part in MURDER…most likely to please the King? DCR

  6. Knowing a little of Sir Francis Bryan I would almost sure it was the 9th, but very common place with men of that time I would have guess it was more serious. I would say the 5th Thou shall not kill. I would think at that time they would have to confess to the Pope. However, he did say to ask pardon of his wife so guess we will never know unless you find and accidental find.

  7. Thank You for posting this. Arthur Plantagenet is my 14th Great Grandfather. I like to read whatever I can find (which is not a whole lot.) Although, I do have the book, the Lisle Letters.

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