Sir Francis Bryan: Vicar of Hell

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Born about 1490 to Margaret Bourchier and Thomas Bryan, Francis was the oldest of two surviving children. His sister, Elizabeth was married Nicholas Carew.

Through his mother he was related to Anne Boleyn and this is most likely why he helped to promote Henry’s matrimonial causes with the French and papal courts. His mother, Margaret Bourchier was half-sister with Elizabeth Boleyn (née Howard) – mother to Anne and wife to Thomas Boleyn.

Francis Bryan: Timeline

In 1513, as Captain of the Margaret Bonaventure, Bryan started his career. The royal ship was active during the first of Henry VIII’s wars in France.

Not only was Bryan a ship Captain but he was also an excellent jouster and an avid hunter who was a close friend of the King and was a lead participant in court entertainments.

Henry VIII made Bryan royal cupbearer in 1516, and in 1518 he became mast of the toils and gentleman of the privy chamber. As you can imagine, all these stations kept Bryan very near the king’s person.

Cardinal Wolsey tried to rid the court of Bryan when in May 1519, with the backing of the Royal Council banished him, Nicholas Carew (Bryan’s brother in law) and other “minions” from court saying they treated the king with “inappropriate familiarity” and had behaved dishonorable on recent embassy to France. By October of the same year Bryan was back at court and accompanied Henry VIII to the Field of Cloth of Gold in June 1520. It wasn’t until 1528 that he was restored to his post as gentleman of the privy chamber.

In 1522  he was knighted for his courage during the capture of Morlaix in Brittany. Bryan served under the Earl of Surrey (Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk).

In 1522, he served under Thomas Howard – future 3rd Duke of Norfolk in Brittany and in Scotland in 1523.

By 1526, Sir Francis Bryan was Master of Henchman and Chief Cupbearer. It was also the same year that he lost an eye in a jousting match. The eye patch we know him by today had definitely added to his “bad boy” image.

Bryan spent a majority of his time at the court of Henry VIII. There he gained the reputation for gambling and dissolute living. These are the things we remember him most by today.

In August 1533, it was Bryan who informed the King that he had been excommunicated from Rome.

Like most who were close to the king they had an agenda of their own – Bryan was able to further himself by becoming Justice of the Peace in Hertfordshire (among other counties). He also sat for Buckinghamshire in the 1534 session of the Reformation Parliament.

When Bryan sensed the King’s change toward Anne Boleyn he was wise enough to pull away from the Boleyn clan. He began a quarrel with George Boleyn, Lord Rochford in late 1534.

When all of Anne Boleyn’s relatives were called to court in May 1536, Bryan was on the list of those to be questioned. He was not arrested and actually became Chief Gentleman of the Privy Chamber.

Thomas Cromwell wrote a letter to Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester where he referred to Bryan as the “vicar of hell.” There have also been claims made that Henry VIII called him by this name and that is possibly where Cromwell got the name from.

On the 17 May 1536, it was Sir Francis Bryan who brought word to Jane Seymour of Anne Boleyn’s sentence.

After the execution of Anne Boleyn, Bryan was suspected of supporting Lady Mary in being reinstated as Princess. As you can imagine that would have turned off many close to the King at the time. Months later, in the fall of 1536, Bryan found himself in the King’s favor again when he led forces against the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Reginald Pole had become a problem for Henry VIII after he married Anne Boleyn – in 1537, the King sent Bryan to convince King Francis I to refuse audience to Pole. Instead he requested an arrangement to have Pole abducted, or killed. Fortunately (or unfortunately) Pole was warned and escaped.

Roughly a year before the death of the King, Bryan turned his allegiance from his Howard family to the Seymours – Bryan understood that the Seymours would have great power with their nephew on the throne. It was also the same time the Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and his son, Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey were implicated in treason – so this would have been a very wise choice for Bryan.

After the execution of the Earl of Surrey (19 Jan 1547), Bryan received some of his property and he was also created a freeman of London.

In 1548 he married his second wife, Joan Butler, dowager Countess of Ormond. This match gave him much influence in Ireland, where he commanded royal forces as Lord Marshall and won appointment as lord justice, despite the protests of the lord deputy.

Sir Francis Bryan died in Ireland on 2 February 1550.

His last words were supposedly: “I pray you, let me be buried amongst the good fellows of Waterford (which were good drinkers).” An autopsy was unable to determine a cause of death.


Wagner, John A. and Walters Schmid, Susan; Encyclopedia of Tudor England, Volume 1

Susan Brigden, ‘Bryan, Sir Francis (d. 1550)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Nicholas Sander, Rise and Growth of the Anglican Schism

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Elizabeth Carew: Wife of Treason


Being raised at court, Elizabeth Bryan’s parents both held offices in the royal household – her mother, Margaret within the house of Katherine of Aragon and her father, Thomas as Vice Chamberlain.

Elizabeth Bryan and her future husband, Nicholas Carew, were members of Henry VIII’s inner circle. They performed in the masques and dances at court on a regular basis. It’s almost certain that Henry arranged the marriage between the two. Henry actually attended their wedding which was very rare for a monarch to do. As a gift, he gave the couple 50 marks worth of land. It was also said that the king showered Elizabeth with “beautiful diamonds and pearls and innumerable jewels.”


After the execution of her husband, Elizabeth and her family quickly petitioned Cromwell and the king to be provided with an adequate living for her and her children.

This letter was written by Elizabeth Carew to Lord Cromwell in 1539:

In the most humblest wise I beseech your lordship to be good lord to me and my poor children, to be a mediator unto the king’s grace for me, for my living and my children’s’ and that your lordship would speak to his grace, that I may enjoy that which his gave me, which is Bletchingly and Wallington, trusting that his grace will not give it from me. And I humbly desire your good lordship to speak a good word to his grace for me, that I may enjoy it according to his grace’s grant. And, to advertise your lordship, I have but twenty pounds more of my husband’s lands, which is a small jointure; and if he had not offended the king’s grace and his laws, I should have had an honest living, which should have been the third part of his lands; but now I cannot claim that, by reason that he is attained. I trust his grace will be good to me and my poor children, to reward me with some part of it. Also, I humbly pray your good lordship to speak to his grace to give me the lands in Sussex, which is in value six score pound and ten, to that I have by his grace and my husband, altogether amounteth a little above three hundred marks, the which I ensure your lordship I cannot live honestly under. All that I have had in my life hath been of his grace, and I trust that his grace will not see me lack; but whatsoever his grace or your lordship shall appoint me, I both must and will be content. I pray your lordship not to be miscontent with me for this my bold writing, to put your lordship to so great trouble and pains. And for your lordship’s aid, help and furtherance in this my suit, you bind me and my children to pray for your lordship and to have our poor hearts and services during our lives. And thus the Holy Ghost have you in his keeping, and send you long prosperous life.

Written at Wallington, the 11th day of March,

By your poor beadwoman,

Elizabeth Carew


Next we see part of a letter from Elizabeth’s mother, Lady Margaret Bryan giving thanks for Cromwell for his kindness:

My lord, I most humbly thank your good lordship for the great goodness you showed my poor daughter Carew, which bindeth me to owe you my true heart and faithful services while I live. She sends me word that it is the king’s pleasure she shall have lands in Sussex, which is to the value of six score pounds, and somewhat above, which I heartily thank his grace and your lordship for; but, good my lord, there is never a house on it that she can lie in. Wherefore, an it would please the king’s grace, of his most gracious and charitable goodness, to let her have that his grace hath appointed now, and Blechingly, which his grace gave her without desiring of her part, which grieveth her sore to forego it. And if it will please his grace to let her have those two, to her and to her heirs males, she shall be the most bound to his grace that ever was woman; for then I trust she shall be able to live and pray for the prosperous life  of his grace and all his, and you, my good lord, and somewhat to comfort her poor children withal, which hath no succour but of the king’s grace and you, my lord, most tenderly beseeching your good lordship of your goodness now to comfort two troubled hearts; for, my lord, unfeignedly you have, and shall have our true prayers and hearty service during our lives. Alas! my lord, nothing have I to comfort her withal, as your lordship knoweth what case I am in, but only to sue to your lordship for her and hers, which I, being her mother, and she being so kind a child to me as she hath been, I cannot for pit do no less. My lord, next the king’s grace, in your lordship is all our trust, or else I durst not be so bold to troulbel you with these matter; beseeching you , my good lord, take no displeasure with me that I so do.

She goes on to say that she wished she could help her daughter but her current situation, as he knows, does not allow it. She also says that Elizabeth is a kind daughter and as a mother the least should could at least write on her behalf.

What happened to the lands that Elizabeth was asking for? Did she receive the lands she asked for?


Everett Green, Mary Anne; Letters of royal and illustrious ladies of Great Britain, Volume 3

Wagner, John A., Walters Schmid, Susan; “Encyclopedia of Tudor England, Volume 1”

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Lady Margaret Bryan: Governess of Prince Edward


Lady Margaret Bryan is best known as Governess to Princess Mary, Princess Elizabeth and Prince Edward. She was given a very important charge – the care of three future monarchs. In this article we are looking at who Margaret Bryan was and letters from her time as Governess of Prince Edward.

Lady Margaret Bryan

Born Margaret Bourchier, about 1468, in Yorkshire, she was the daughter of Elizabeth Tilney and Sir Humphrey Bourchier who was killed at the Battle of Barnet. The Battle of Barnet took place in 1471 and was one of many battles during the Wars of the Roses.

Elizabeth Tilney served as a lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth Woodville and later, Lady of the Bedchamber to Elizabeth of York.

Margaret was the middle child of her parent’s three children. She had an older brother, John who later became 2nd Baron Berners and a younger sister, Anne who later became Baroness Dacre when she married Thomas Fiennes, Baron Dacre.

After her father died in 1471, her mother, Elizabeth Tilney, married Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey. Because of this marriage Margaret Bourchier became the half-sister of Thomas Howard (future 3rd Duke of Norfolk) upon his birth in 1473 and Elizabeth Howard (mother of Anne Boleyn) when she was born in 1480, among other half-siblings.

Sometime before 1490, Margaret wed Sir Thomas Bryan and together they had two children that made it to adulthood: Sir Francis Bryan and Elizabeth Bryan (who married Nicholas Carew).

Both Margaret and her husband served Katherine of Aragon at court – Margaret as a lady-in-waiting and Thomas as vice-chamberlain.

Surrounded by nobles at court and within her family – Margaret would have been very familiar with  the customs, training and etiquette it would take to govern the young royals.

Prince Edward

As Governess of the future King of England Margaret was responsible for his person. She was to make sure that when visitors arrived that they saw the young prince in all his glory.

This letter is dated June 30, 1538 in Letters and Papers and discusses things the young prince would need and also updates Cromwell on his wellness:

My Lord,

After my most bounden duty I humbly recommend me unto your good lordship; and according to the king’s grace’s commandment and yours shall accomplish it to the best of my power with such things as here is to do it withal: which is but very bare for such a time. The best coat my lord prince’s grace hath is tinsel, and that he shall have on at that time; he hath never a good jewel to set on his cap; howbeit I shall order all things for my Lord’s honour the best I can, so as I trust the king’s grace shall be contended withal; and also Master Vice-Chamberlain and Master Cofferer I am sure will do the best diligence that lieth in them in all causes.

My lord, I thank Jesu my lord prince’s grace is in good health and merry, and his grace is in good health and merry, and his grace hath four teeth; three full out, and the fourth appeareth. And thus fare you well, my own good lord, with as much joy and honor as your noble heart can desire.

From Havering, with the hand of her that is your true beadwoman, and will be during her life,

Margaret Bryan


Here is a quote from Lord Chancellor Audley to Cromwell after his visit to the prince on the 8th of September 1538:

Posthumous portrait of Thomas Audley (c.1488–1544)
And I assure your lordship I never saw so goodly a child of his age – so merry, so pleasant, so good and loving countenance, and so earnest an eye, as it were a sage judgemental towards any person that repaireth to his grace; and as it seemeth to me, thanks be to our Lord, his grace increaseth well in the air that he is in, and albeit, a little his grace’s flesh decayeth (he is thinner), yet he shotyth out in length (has grown), and wexith firm and stiff, and can steadfastly stand, and would advance himself to move and go, if they would suffer him, but as me seemeth they do yet best, considering his grace is yet tender, that he should not strain himself, as his own courage would serve him, till he come above a year of age.

In the letter, Audley also states that he is glad to hear the King will remove Edward from Havering for the winter for the house will be very cold. The conditions at Havering are much better for the Prince’s health in the summer.

Later in March 1539, Lady Margaret Bryan wrote Cromwell again to tell him that Edward was in good health and merry and that she wished that he and the King had seen Edward the previous night. While the minstrels played young Edward “danced and played so wantonly that he could not stand still…”

Although Lady Bryan retained the title of lady mistress even after Edward’s succession in 1547, her last years were spent not at court but at her estate in Essex, where she enjoyed a generous annuity of £70 per year.

Margaret Bryan writes as a mother would – talking of accomplishments of her young son. I can imagine that for little Prince Edward that she was the closest thing to a mother that he could recall.

Lady Bryan died in 1552, living long enough to see Edward on the throne of England.

Through her daughter, Margaret was the great-grandmother of Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh, wife to Walter Raleigh and chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I.


Loach, Jennifer; “Edward VI”

Wagner, John A., Walters Schmid, Susan; “Encyclopedia of Tudor England, Volume 1”

Everett Green, Mary Anne; “Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain: From the …, Volume 3”

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