The Death of Hans Holbein

by Franny Moyle

What do we know of Holbein’s Death?

Leonardo da Vinci died in the Chateau de Clos Lucé, apparently in the arms of the French King, Francis I. However, the place and circumstances of Leonardo’s near contemporary Hans Holbein the Younger, beloved by Henry VIII, has eluded art historians. As Holbein’s most recent biographer, I found myself facing this puzzle and to my surprise, I discovered that a simple mistake has allowed crucial details about Holbein’s death, once in common currency, to vanish from history.

Hans Holbein spent the last decade of his life, from 1532 to 1543, living in London, painting the defining portraits of the Tudor court. A celebrity avant la lettre, he was honoured with the title of Henry VIII’s ‘King’s Painter’.

Records from 1541 locate Holbein paying taxes in the parish of St Andrew Undershaft, in Aldgate.  His will, dated two years later, cites his home in the same location. My research suggests the painter may have had a prestigious address there, shared by Sir Thomas Audley, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor

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Hans Holbein the Younger, self portrait.

Audley has significant property interests in Aldgate. In 1533 he acquired Holy Trinity Priory there, and converted this former religious institution into a prestigious urban estate which became known as Cree-Church Mansion, so named after the nearby church St Katherine Cree. This gated community comprised not just Audley’s considerable dwelling, but leasehold residential properties, along with business premises. Audley enjoyed his London mansion until his death in 1544. Then, when the Fourth Duke of Norfolk married Audley’s daughter Margaret in 1558 the complex passed into his ownership and was called Duke’s Place thereafter.

Evidence of Holbein’s professional association with Audley lies in the miniature he painted of the Chancellor’s wife, Elizabeth, probably in 1538. Londoners have long believed that Holbein lived and died on Audley’s property at Cree-Church Mansion. This was noted as late as 1827, in the History & Antiquities of London. When I checked old maps, although the majority of the Mansion complex fell into the parish of St Katherine Cree, its westernmost flank fell into the parish of St Andrew Undershaft. So Holbein could indeed have been a parishioner of the latter, and part of the Cree-Church Mansion community, were he a leaseholder in Berry St.

So why has recent scholarship ignored this? George Vertue, the 18th century engraver who copied Holbein’s work, believed Holbein died in Cree-Church Mansion. But Vertue referred to it as it was known in his day– Duke’s Place. The art historian Horace Walpole therefore dismissed Vertue’s claim, on the basis that Duke’s Place dated to 1558, after Holbein’s death, and noting Holbein’s association with the Third Duke – whom he portrayed – not the Fourth. In his Holbein biography of 1867, Ralph Wornum repeated Vertue’s claim, and demolished it with the same arguments. With considerable oversight both Walpole and Wornum failed to grasp that Holbein could have lived in Duke’s Place in its earlier incarnation, when it was known as Cree-Church Mansion. But Wornum’s word was apparently the last, and thus the fascinating connection between Holbein and Audley’s building became lost.

If one mystery is solved, another remains. Why is there no gravestone commemorating the great Holbein? The answer is the plague. Shortly after Henry VIII married his sixth wife Catherine Parr, in July 1543, London was stricken. Aldgate was the epicentre of the epidemic. Plague pits were dug because local churches could not cope with individual burials. On October 7th 1543 Holbein wrote his will. On 29th November it was executed. Whether Holbein succumbed to the pestilence or not (and surely he did?), any burial at this moment would have been communal.

The pit for those who died in Cree Church Mansion was at St Katherine Cree. So was it here Holbein was laid to rest in the late Autumn of 1543? Though no record of Holbein’s burial survives, once again supporting evidence emerges if one looks hard enough. In 1668 Mayor Payne Fisher made a catalogue of tombs and inscriptions in London’s churches. In St Katherine Cree he noted one to ‘Hans Holben’, most likely part of a wider list of the plague dead. Perhaps made in haste, much like the burials, this inscription simply wore away? Maybe it was removed during church renovations in 1878?

Holbein’s death lacks the romance of Leonardo’s. He did not live a long life, nor die in a French chateau. He certainly did not enjoy the company of a king in his final hours. Holbein died at forty six, in the midst of plague ridden London. But he was perhaps in an English mansion, with the King’s Lord Chancellor looking on.

Franny Moyle is the author of 

The King’s Painter: The Life and Times of Hans Holbein 

published by Head of Zeus.

Contents shared with special thanks to Aspects of History

Steve Veerapen, Writing, Scotland and Tudor History

Please welcome Steve Veerapen to All Things Tudor. Like most great relationships, we met on Twitter. He is from Glasgow, my husband’s home town, and it has been wonderful working with him. Recently, he took a few minutes to share insight into his fascinating career as a writer and historian.

What prompted you to choose to write about Mary Queen of Scots & Lord Darnley in your first book?

In my case, I was following the old strategy of ‘write what you know’. I’d been researching and teaching this period for years and it seemed fertile ground for trying fiction. Once I knew I wanted to write about Mary Queen of Scots and Lord Darnley, the choice of characters dictated the period.

What is your approach to researching your novels? Has the process changed over the years?

A great question! My approach is generally to start with a setting or event and then narrow research down to books and articles which cover those days, weeks, or months in depth. I try to also dip into research material which covers lifestyles in the period more generally. I’ve always tried to approach researching fiction in the same way I approach nonfiction (though I can get away with more in the former!). Academic study really teaches you to narrow in when researching.

Which other historical novelists do you admire?

There are loads. My friend Marie Macpherson (who has worked wonders in bringing John Knox to life), E C Fremantle, Paul Walker, John Pilkington, Patricia Finney, Anna Castle. And of course my favourite author, Daphne du Maurier, was no mean historical novelist.

When first sketching out an idea for a novel, which comes first – the protagonist, plot or history?

Protagonist and broad plot usually come had in hand (sometimes one or the other skipping ahead) and history last. Once I know what’s going to happen and to whom, I fit it into specific historical contexts.

Do you have a daily routine as a writer?

I don’t have a daily routine per se, but when I have a book on the go, I tend to write every day for a few hours. Each book seems to bring its own routine!

If you could choose to meet any historical figure from your period, who would it be and why?

I think it would have to be Mary Queen of Scots. I’d love to find out exactly what she knew of her husband’s murder (and what she really looked like – for the same reason, I’d love to get a glimpse of Anne Boleyn!).

Find Steven’s works here:

UK

US

About Steven Veerapen

Steven Veerapen was born in Glasgow and raised in Paisley. Pursuing an interest in the sixteenth century, he was awarded a first-class Honours degree in English, focussing his dissertation on representations of Henry VIII’s six wives. He then received a Masters in Renaissance studies, and a Ph.D. investigating Elizabethan slander.

He writes historical fiction set in the early modern period, covering the reigns of Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and James VI and I; additionally, he has written nonfiction studies of Mary Queen of Scots’ relationship with her brother; Elizabeth I and her last favourite, the Earl of Essex; and an academic study of slander and sedition in the reign of Elizabeth.

He has also published a variety of academic articles in literary and historical journals and magazines and teaches English literature at the University of Strathclyde. Steven remains fascinated by the glamour and ghastliness of life in the 1500s and 1600s, and has a penchant for myths, mysteries and murders in an age in which the law was as slippery as those who defied it.

Steven’s latest work is The Queen’s Gold: A Christopher Marlowe Spy Thriller

England, 1585.

The Sparrowhawk, one of Drake’s lost treasure ships, is found wrecked in Devon. Rumours spread through England of its booty, including a mysterious treasure: El Sol Dorado.

Thomas Lewgar, the resentful roommate of aspiring playwright Christopher Marlowe, hears of the rumours. He discovers, too, that the boastful Marlowe is engaged in a web of espionage.

Intrigued and repelled by the irreverent Marlowe, Lewgar joins the poet in seeking the lost treasure. If they can find it, they will be richly rewarded by queen and court.

But they are not the only ones hunting the prize.

A crooked courtier, Henry Howton, has also heard the rumours. In the secret employ of the Spanish, he hopes to find the treasure himself – and he will stop at nothing to get his hands on it.

Racing their Spanish-backed enemy and his dangerous associates, Lewgar and Marlowe must discover the strange history of the ghostly wreck. Their journey will lead them into the rotting carcass of the Sparrowhawk, into the presence of sea-dogs Francis Drake and Walter Raleigh, and through the ravaged home of spiritualist Dr John Dee.

Betrayal, falsehood, and deceit lie in wait.

Can they discover the lost treasure and unravel the mystery of El Sol Dorada before the Spanish?

Praise for Steven Veerapen:

A Dangerous Trade

‘A slow-burn character driven spy story that grips like a thumbscrew tightened by twist after twist towards the end – Le Carre transported to the 1560’s. Brilliant work, based in impressively wide research and the kind of competition that I and a good number of others could well do without!’ Peter Tonkin, author of The Ides

The Abbey Close (Book One of the Simon Danforth Mysteries)

‘The author balances gimlet-eyed research with narrative drive and clever reveals… Danforth is a strong yet torn central character… I look forward to reading the second book in the series.’ Richard Foreman, author of The First Crusade series

Blood Feud: Mary Queen of Scots and The Earl of Moray

‘Much-needed analysis of a sinister sibling rivalry.’ Marie Macpherson

Elizabeth and Essex: Power, Passion and Politics

‘A sensitive and lively account of one of the most politically significant relationships of the Elizabethan age.’ Lisa Hopkins

Assassination

‘Both a crime and spy thriller.’ Richard Foreman, author of The First Crusade series

‘From its tense beginning to satisfying end, Steven Veerapen skilfully weaves historical fact into a gripping tale, making a superb contribution to 17th century fiction.’ John Pilkington, author of The Ruffler’s Child

Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Primary Sources with Dr Joanne Paul

Dr Joanne Paul is Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History at the University of Sussex. Her work focuses on politics and culture of the Renaissance period, largely in England, and she has published on topics from Hobbes to Shakespeare, gender to temporality. Her first book, Thomas More (Polity, 2017) is an overview of More’s writing and ideas and her second, Counsel and Command in Early Modern English Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2020) traces the role of political counsel from the early Tudor period to the English Civil War.

She is currently working on a number of projects, including a history of the Dudley family, to be published with Michael Joseph (Penguin, 2022 )and two modern editions of sixteenth century texts: Anne Dowriche’s The French Historie and Thomas More’s Utopia.

Dr Paul has also shared her research more widely, appearing on a variety of television and radio programmes and featuring in magazine articles and podcasts.

She has recently launched her own podcast: Primary Sources: Conversations with History Makers, which can be found on all major streaming sites. She has recently spoken with historians Greg Jenner, Helen H. Carr, Hallie Rubenhold.

Today – May 21 – she is with Nathen Amin who wrote Tudor Wales, and a biography of the Beaufort family, The House of Beaufort. He also discusses how he wrote Henry VII and the Tudor Pretenders.

Click here to access. This is a Viral History podcast.

Follow Dr Paul at these sites:

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King and Collector

‘Packed with absorbing detail and brilliant insights … I was gripped from the first paragraph’ Alison Weir 

‘Beautifully written and impeccably researched … Exquisite’ Tracy Borman 

‘If you are visiting Tudor England, this book will be a sure guide to what to look at and how to look at it’. Hilary Mantel

This is a book about Tudor art – the stories within and around each artwork – and the story of Henry himself, as we follow his path from handsome prince to crippled tyrant.  The works reveal much about both his kingship and his insecurities. King and Collector tells this unique story of art and power, peeling back the layers of propaganda to show the true face of this most notorious of Tudor monarchs.

King & Collector is a sumptuous guide to the art of Henry VIII—with analysis of what his collection of paintings and artworks reveal about the man and his reign

No English king is as well-known to us as Henry VIII: famous for six marriages; for dissolving the monasteries and creating the Church of England; and for the ruthless destruction of those who stood in his way. But Henry was also an ardent patron of the arts whose tapestries and paintings, purchased in pursuit of glory and magnificence, adorned his lavish court and began the Royal Collection. In contrast to later royal collectors, this king was more interested in storytelling than art for its own sake, and all his commissions relate to one central tale: the glorification of Henry and his realm. His life can be seen through his art collection and the works tell us much about both his kingship and his insecurities. 

King and Collector by Linda Collins and Siobhan Clarke tells a unique story of art, power, and propaganda in Tudor England.

Purchase here

Amazon pre-order

Short Bios

Linda Collins is an accredited lecturer for the Arts Society and a member of the Association of Art Historians. Siobhan Clarke is a Guide Lecturer at Hampton Court Palace. Both authors worked for Historic Royal Palaces for 20 years and both appeared in PBS Television’s ‘Secrets of Henry VIII’s Palace’. They have also written: The Tudors: The Crown, The Dynasty, The Golden Age.

Songbird

Songbird

Series: The Tudor Court, Book I

By Karen Heenan

Blurb

She has the voice of an angel…

But one false note could send her back to her old life of poverty.

After her father sells her to Henry VIII, ten-year-old Bess builds a new life as a royal minstrel, and earns the nickname “the king’s songbird.”

She comes of age in the dangerous Tudor court, where the stakes are always high, and where politics, heartbreak, and disease threaten everyone from the king to the lowliest musician.

Her world has only one constant: Tom, her first and dearest friend. But when Bess intrigues with Anne Boleyn and strains against the restrictions of life at court, will she discover that the biggest risk of all is listening to her own stubborn heart?

Buy Links:

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Narrated by Jennifer Summerfield

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Author Bio

Karen Heenan

Karen Heenan was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. She fell in love with books and stories before she could read, and has wanted to write for nearly as long. After far too many years in a cubicle, she set herself free to follow her dreams—which include gardening, sewing, traveling and, of course, lots of writing.

She lives in Lansdowne, PA, not far from Philadelphia, with two cats and a very patient husband, and is always hard at work on her next book.

Connect with Karen:

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A Note from the Author

The Life of a Minstrel at the Court of Henry VIII

He told me I was now a member of the King’s Music, a group of performers kept for court entertainments. It was a great privilege; the king was very particular about the musicians in his employ. Songbird, chapter 1

While minstrels were considered royal servants, they were a cut above the other servants who made the life comfortable for the inhabitants of the court. A minstrel provided both comfort and beauty, and in Henry’s court, beauty was at least as important as comfort.

Minstrels were provided with food, lodging, and clothing or livery, as were all court servants, but because they were also frequently in the royal presence, their attire was of better quality, and they were often costumed to take part in masques, or evening entertainments for the court.

Henry loved music, and before his brother’s death, he had been permitted only two. When he became Prince of Wales, and then king, he acquired musicians at a speed which would put jokes about his later wife-gathering to shame. The number of musicians in the royal household was generally sixty, but he was always willing to add more.

[Illustration #2] Some minstrels were specialized—playing the lute, harp, or virginals—but there were also general purpose entertainers, acquired each year at the Lenten schools of minstrelsy, who were also acrobats, storytellers, or who worked with animals. I did not cover this in Songbird because each time I tried, the research rabbit hole yawned wider, and I could see the story rapidly losing its shape.

In addition to minstrels, there were other types of musician at court. There were the choristers of the Chapel Royal—men and boys—who sang mass several times each day. There was another, smaller choir, who traveled with the king. There was the Music, the general minstrels, and then there were special musicians, imported (or occasionally lured away) from other countries and courts.

A core group of minstrels always traveled with the king, because he would not want to be caught without music. They went on progress with him, and, in 1520, when the king and most of his courtiers journeyed to France for the Field of Cloth of Gold, it would have been unspeakable to leave them home. Henry took every weapon in his arsenal to impress the French, and the quality of his musicians would have definitely been a point in his favor.

He also took the Chapel Royal choir, because they were made to do musical gymnastics with the French choir—for a final mass, the English choir sang with the French organist, and vice-versa, in one of those “it sounded like a good idea at the time” performances that no doubt had choristers on both sides muttering under their breath.

Songbird came about because I discovered that one of the ways Henry added to the choir and the Music was to buy children. These were most likely poor, musically talented children whose parents were more than happy (or as happy as you can be, surrendering a child, even to a promising future) to trade their child for security for the rest of their family. More than likely the children were boys, and destined for the choir, but in the case of Songbird, I made the child a girl, and Bess Llewelyn was born.

Edward Gresham

Edward Gresham, practitioner of astrology, medicine and maker of magic was born on this day in 1565. He is known for his treatise Astrostereon and many believed his almanacs and ‘predictions’ foretold the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 – to the point that he was implicated in them. His astrological almanacs were published 1603-1607.

He studied at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was also involved in courtly intrigues, one being the divorce of Robert Devereux, third Earl of Essex, another the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury. Gresham was an adherent of the heliocentric theory of the universe. He expressed this belief in his almanacs and writings. The complete account of Gresham’s astronomical beliefs can be found in his manuscript Astrostereon or the Discourse of the Falling of the Planet, 1603. 

There are several topics addressed in the Astrostereon. The treatise contains a set of well-articulated arguments in favor of a sun centered cosmos and solar system, which was a new philosophy. Gresham believed that planets are made of the same material as Earth and he was controversial in that his writings stated that his views of the earth and solar system didn’t oppose biblical teaching. 

As a scientist, the Astrostereon is a prime example of an Elizabethan mindset in that he attempted to reorganize the fundamentals of astrology to fit into their ‘new’ system of the universe. 

References:

Cambridge.org

Royal Society

Essex – Tudor Rebel

Book two of the Elizabethan Series

New from Tony Riches, Author of the best-selling Tudor Trilogy

Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is one of the most intriguing men of the Elizabethan period. Tall and handsome, he soon becomes a ‘favourite’ at court, so close to the queen many wonder if they are lovers.

The truth is far more complex, as each has what the other yearns for. Robert Devereux longs for recognition, wealth and influence. His flamboyant naïveté amuses the ageing Queen Elizabeth, like the son she never had, and his vitality makes her feel young.

Robert Devereux’s remarkable true story continues the epic tale of the rise of the Tudors, which began with the best-selling Tudor trilogy and concludes with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

Author Bio

Tony Riches at Pembroke Castle

Tony Riches is a full-time UK author of best-selling Tudor historical fiction. He lives in Pembrokeshire, West Wales and is a specialist in the history of the Wars of the Roses and the lives of the early Tudors. Tony’s other published historical fiction novels include: Owen – Book One Of The Tudor Trilogy, Jasper – Book Two Of The Tudor Trilogy, Henry – Book Three Of The Tudor Trilogy, Mary – Tudor Princess, Brandon – Tudor Knight and The Secret Diary Of Eleanor Cobham. For more information about Tony’s books please visit his website tonyriches.com and his blog, The Writing Desk and find him on  Facebook and Twitter @tonyriches

Purchase sites:

AMAZON US

AMAZON UK

Reveal: The Project

Ralph Sadler was born in Hackney, Middlesex, the elder son of Henry Sadler, a minor official. At approximately seven years of age, Sadler was placed in the household of Thomas Cromwell. He was an intelligent and resourceful child who was taught many skills-learning to read and write, becoming fluent in French, Latin and Greek, and given knowledge of the law. He eventually became a courtier and diplomat who served four Tudor monarchs: Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I. 

Sir Ralph and Mary Queen of Scots

In April 1540, Sadler was made principal secretary to King Henry VIII. In the same year, he was knighted, made a privy councillor, and began more than 30 years of service. Sadler survived Cromwell’s fall from power and execution but during the power struggle following Cromwell’s death he was arrested and sent to the Tower for a time. He was able to clear himself and was released in a few days, returning to the council chamber. He played a leading role in the examination of Catherine Howard and her relatives in November 1541, regained the King’s trust and was knighted for his part in holding matters of state while the court went on a summer progress.

On the accession of Mary I to the throne, after the resolution of the succession crisis, Sadler lost most of his offices, including master of the great wardrobe, he was removed from the commissions of the peace and excluded from the Privy Council. For a short time in 1553 he was under house arrest. For the rest of Mary I’s reign he did not sit in any parliament, remaining in semi-retirement at Standon, Hertfordshire.

During the reign of Elizabeth I he was restored to favor and sent to Scotland in 1559 to arrange an alliance with the Scottish Protestants. He eventually became one of the architects of the Treaty of Edinburgh. In 1568 he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. When Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England, Sadler was unwillingly appointed to meet with Scottish commissioners, becoming a reluctant jailer of the Scottish Queen. From summer 1584 to spring 1585, Mary was housed at Wingfield Manor and Tutbury Castle, under Sadler’s charge. During that time, Elizabeth grew increasingly disturbed by the presence of Mary Stuart on English soil and Sadler was instructed to restrict her freedom, being required to post guards around the area where Mary was held. Eventually, Sadler sat on the council that sentenced Mary to death.

Sadler married Ellen Mitchell circa 1534. They had three sons and four daughters, one being Sir Thomas Sadler who was named for Cromwell. Sir Ralph died March 1587 and was rumored to be the wealthiest commoner in England. His aging tomb is in St. Mary’s Church, Standon Hertfordshire.

Tomb of Sir Ralph Sadlier

Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-87), the great Tudor statesman and long-time resident of Standon, England asked to be buried ‘not with anie pompe after the worldly manner, but in such sorte as shall be seemlie and requisite for a Christian man’. His son, Sir Thomas, decided to ignore his wishes and commissioned elaborate, ornate tombs for his father and himself commissioned from the leading London workshops of the Tudor Era. The magnificent tombs of Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-1587), his eldest son Thomas and the latter’s wife Gertrude are a part of the rich heritage of the Tudor Era.

Sir Ralph, described on his memorial as ‘’faithful to the state and beloved of his countrie’’, served Tudor monarchs as courtier, soldier and statesman. The passage of over 400 years has left the memorials in need of repair and refurbishment. Sadlier’s part in the acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy by Hilary Mantel–in which he features prominently–has acted as a catalyst to get the needed repairs made.

DONATE TODAY to Sadlier Tombs Refurbishment Project!

Unidentified man by Hans Holbein, thought to be Ralph Sadlier

Nikolaus Pevsner, the noted twentieth century art historian and author of the Buildings of England series, wrote enthusiastically about the Sadleir tombs in the volume on Hertfordshire.

Patrons of this project include renowned author Hilary Mantel whose works include the acclaimed Wolf Hall trilogy tracing the life of Thomas Cromwell.  The first two books, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, both won the Man Booker Prize. The third, The Mirror and the Light, has been described by the Financial Times’ critic as ‘majestic and often breathtakingly poetic’.  A major character in all three is Rafe Sadler (Sir Ralph Sadleir) who grew up in Cromwell’s household and served Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I.

Ms. Mantel writes of him, ‘Ralph Sadleir was a great Tudor survivor whose story should be better known, and I am proud to have been able to play a part in introducing him to the reading public. What I would like to see is a full modern biography, surely overdue – but meanwhile I can think of no better project than to conserve his family monuments’

Dame Hilary Mantel

PATRONS

-DAME HILARY MANTEL, DBE FRSL

Author of the double Booker Prize winning Wolf Hall trilogy

-THE COUNTESS of VERULAM, CVO DL

Artist & former Lord Lieutenant of Hertfordshire 

-THE VISCOUNTESS TRENCHARD

Resides at Standon Lordship & is a former High Sheriff of Hertfordshire

These pictures show examples of the conservation, repair and refurbishment required.

DONATE

Sir Francis Bryan

Image courtesy of The Tudors

Sir Francis Bryan (or Bryant), an English poet and warrior, was born of a genteel family, educated at Oxford, and afterwards spent some time in travelling abroad.

Thus begins the entry for Sir Francis Bryan, a lifelong friend and companion to King Henry VIII, in General Biographical Dictionary, by Alexander Chalmers, 1812–1817.

Why is there a cloak of mystery around one of the most visual companions to King Henry VIII?

“No portrait survives so we know nothing of his appearance. Bryan was a typical Renaissance courtier, a poet and man of letters who was also to distinguish himself as a soldier, sailor and diplomat. His irresistible charm disguised an incorrigible intriguer who was two-faced, manipulative and promiscuous; once, on a trip to Calais, he demanded “a soft bed then a hard harlot”. He was full of pent-up energy; highly articulate and viciously witty. Observers were astonished at the familiarity he used towards the King, both in speaking his mind and telling jokes. Bryan was no creature of principle; by altering his loyalties and opinions to conform to the King’s changes of policy, he managed to remain in favour throughout the reign”

We have an equal supply of myths and documented information.

He was the son of Sir Thomas Bryan and Margaret Bourchier. Through his mother, he was a descendant of King Edward III, therefore giving him a royal Plantagenet pedigree.

We know he lost an eye in a joust. From that day he wore an eye patch. Did you know it is rumored that Alexander Dumas based the villain in The Three Musketeers on Sir Francis Bryan?

Sir Francis was a legendary carouser; known as one of the King’s minions. His behavior led Cardinal Wolsey to banish him from the Privy chamber. King Henry and Queen Anne saw to it that he was received back by 1528.

Oxford Historian, Susan Bridgen, writes of how he bedded a courtesan at the papal court to gain intelligence for King Henry VIII during the Great Matter of his divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon.

His nickname, “the Vicar of Hell”, was given to him by Thomas Cromwell, due to the vindictiveness he displayed during the downfall of his own relative, Queen Anne Boleyn.

Sir Francis was a relative of both Queen Anne Boleyn and Queen Jane Seymour. As commanded by King Henry, he delivered a message to Jane Seymour when Queen Anne was sentenced, and he told Jane once the execution was completed.

A celebrated poet during his lifetime, the only documented copy which has survived until today is “The proverbes of Salmon do playnly declare” found in “The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature: 1485-1603”.

He was questioned but not arrested during the Boleyn investigations.

It is rumored that the last words of King Henry VIII were, “Bryan all is lost.” This is based on family stories and I cannot find it documented.

At the time of his death, he was Lord Chief Justice of Ireland due to his marriage to Lady Joan Fitzgerald, widow of James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormond. Their son, Francis Bryan II, served Queen Elizabeth I.

This is where the American legacy enters the picture. According to various family histories and the Register of Kentucky State Historical Society (4), the grandson of Sir Francis Bryan, William Smith Bryan, attempted to gain the throne of Ireland. Due to this, Oliver Cromwell deported him in 1650 as a troublesome subject. “He landed at Gloucester Beach, Virginia, and his twenty-one sons and grandsons settled Gloucester County.” An article in “The Thoroughbred Record” credits him with being among the first to bring thoroughbred horses to America.

It gets really interesting when the son of William Smith Bryan returned to Ireland in an attempt to regain the family estates. Long story short, it didn’t work. His two sons, William and Morgan, returned to Virginia.

This is where we will leave the details of this family story for another day. It should be noted that the daughter of Morgan Bryan, Rebecca, married an American frontiersman. That frontiersman is none other than the legendary, Daniel Boone.

So, we see how information may be lacking for the works and details of the life of Sir Francis Bryan. Would we be safe to assert that he had an eye for opportunity? (Pun intended.) He was known for his ability to survive, at a time when others could not be as adaptable. Now we see how his legacy lived on in the New World and played a part in shaping the character of a new country.

SOURCES:

Francis Meres, Palladis Tamia, 1598.

Henry VIII: The King and His Court, Ballantine Books, 2001.

J. le Grand, Histoire du Divorce de Henri VIII, 1688.

Michael Drayton, Heroicall Epistle of the Earl of Surrey to the Lady Geraldine, 1629.

Sidney L. Lee. “Sir Francis Bryan”. Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. VII. Leslie Stephen, ed. New York: Macmillan and Co., 1886. 150-52.

The Oxford Handbook of Tudor Literature: 1485-1603.

1812 Chalmers’ Biography / B / Sir Francis Bryan (?–1550) [vol. 7, p. 203]

Alison Weir, Henry VIII and his Court, 2001.

Register of Kentucky State Historical Society, Volume 40, No. 132, pp. 318-322. C1974 KY State Historical Society, Frankfort, KY.

*Portions originally published via Tudor Times

Tudor Christmas

A Tudor Christmas

by Ben Johnson

Long before the birth of Christ, midwinter had always been a time for merry making by the masses. The root of the midwinter rituals was the winter solstice – the shortest day – which falls on 21st December. After this date the days lengthened and the return of spring, the season of life, was eagerly anticipated. It was therefore a time to celebrate both the end of the autumn sowing and the fact that the ‘life giving’ sun had not deserted them. Bonfires were lit to help strengthen the ‘Unconquered Sun’.

For Christians the world over this period celebrates the story of the birth of Jesus, in a manger, in Bethlehem. The scriptures however make no mention as to the time of year yet alone the actual date of the nativity. Even our current calendar which supposedly calculates the years from the birth of Christ, was drawn up in the sixth century by Dionysius, an ‘innumerate’ Italian monk to correspond with a Roman Festival.

Detail from Holbein
Detail from the Oberried Altarpiece, ‘The Birth of Christ’
Hans Holbein c. 1520

Until the 4th century Christmas could be celebrated throughout Europe anywhere between early January through to late September. It was Pope Julius I who happened upon the bright idea of adopting 25th December as the actual date of the Nativity. The choice appears both logical and shrewd – blurring religion with existing feast days and celebrations. Any merrymaking could now be attributed to the birth of Christ rather than any ancient pagan ritual.

Tudor Christmas copyright Tudor Group

One such blurring may involve the Feast of Fools, presided over by the Lord of Misrule. The feast was an unruly event, involving much drinking, revelry and role reversal. The Lord of Misrule, normally a commoner with a reputation of knowing how to enjoy himself, was selected to direct the entertainment. The festival is thought to have originated from the benevolent Roman masters who allowed their servants to be the boss for a while.

The Church entered the act by allowing a choirboy, elected by his peers, to be a Bishop during the period starting with St. Nicholas Day (6th December) until Holy Innocents Day (28th December). Within the period the chosen boy, symbolising the lowliest authority, would dress in full Bishop’s regalia and conduct the Church services. Many of the great cathedrals adopted this custom including York, Winchester, Salisbury Canterbury and Westminster. Henry VIII abolished Boy Bishops however a few churches, including Hereford and Salisbury Cathedrals, continue the practice today.

The burning of the Yule Log is thought to derive from the midwinter ritual of the early Viking invaders, who built enormous bonfires to celebrate their festival of light. The word ‘Yule’ has existed in the English language for many centuries as an alternative term for Christmas.

Traditionally, a large log would be selected in the forest on Christmas Eve, decorated with ribbons, dragged home and laid upon the hearth. After lighting it was kept burning throughout the twelve days of Christmas. It was considered lucky to keep some of the charred remains to kindle the log of the following year.

Whether the word carol comes from the Latin caraula or the French carole, its original meaning is the same – a dance with a song. The dance element appears to have disappeared over the centuries but the song was used to convey stories, normally that of the Nativity. The earliest recorded published collection of carols is in 1521, by Wynken de Worde which includes the Boars Head Carol.

Carols flourished throughout Tudor times as a way to celebrate Christmas and to spread the story of the nativity. Celebrations came to an abrupt end however in the seventeenth century when the Puritans banned all festivities including Christmas. Surprisingly carols remained virtually extinct until the Victorians reinstated the concept of an ‘Olde English Christmas’ which included traditional gems such as While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night and The Holly and the Ivy as well as introducing a plethora of new hits – Away in a Manger, O Little Town of Bethlehem – to mention but a few.

The twelve days of Christmas would have been a most welcome break for the workers on the land, which in Tudor times would have been the majority of the people. All work, except for looking after the animals, would stop, restarting again on Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night.

The ‘Twelfths’ had strict rules, one of which banned spinning, the prime occupation for women. Flowers were ceremonially placed upon and around the wheels to prevent their use.

During the Twelve Days, people would visit their neighbours sharing and enjoying the traditional ‘minced pye’. The pyes would have included thirteen ingredients, representing Christ and his apostles, typically dried fruits, spices and of course a little chopped mutton – in remembrance of the shepherds.

Serious feasting would have been the reserve of royalty and the gentry. Turkey was first introduced into Britain in about 1523 with Henry VIII being one of the first people to eat it as part of the Christmas feast. The popularity of the bird grew quickly, and soon, each year, large flocks of turkeys could be seen walking to London from NorfolkSuffolk and Cambridgeshire on foot; a journey which they may have started as early as August.

A Tudor Christmas Pie was indeed a sight to behold but not one to be enjoyed by a vegetarian. The contents of this dish consisted of a Turkey stuffed with a goose stuffed with a chicken stuffed with a partridge stuffed with a pigeon. All of this was put in a pastry case, called a coffin and was served surrounded by jointed hare, small game birds and wild fowl. Small pies known as chewets had pinched tops, giving them the look of small cabbages or chouettes.

Pies for the Tudor Christmas table

And to wash it all down, a drink from the Wassail bowl. The word ‘Wassail’ derives from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Waes-hael’, meaning ‘be whole’ or ‘be of good health’. The bowl, a large wooden container holding as much as a gallon of punch made of hot-ale, sugar, spices and apples. This punch to be shared with friends and neighbours. A crust of bread was placed at the bottom of the Wassail bowl and offered to the most important person in the room – hence today’s toast as part of any drinking ceremony.

Shared courtesy of the author and Historic UK