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
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.
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!).
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
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
‘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
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.
All Things Tudor is happy to let you know about the latest podcast announcement from History Hit and renowned historian Suzannah Lipscomb….Not Just the Tudors
In the podcast Professor Suzannah Lipscomb talks about everything from the Aztecs to witches, Velázquez to Shakespeare, Mughal India to the Mayflower. Not, in other words, just the Tudors, but most definitely also the Tudors. Each episode Suzannah is joined by historians and experts to reveal incredible stories about one of the most fascinating periods in history.
In Not Just the Tudors, Suzannah Lipscomb talks about everything from the Aztecs to witches, Velázquez to Shakespeare, Mughal India to the Mayflower. Not, in other words, just the Tudors, but most definitely also the Tudors!
In every episode, Suzannah is joined by historians and experts to delve into the incredible stories about one of history’s most fascinating periods.
About Professor Suzannah Lipscomb
Suzannah Lipscomb is an historian, author, broadcaster, and award-winning professor of history at the University of Roehampton.
Subjects she has covered on TV include Elizabeth I, the Great Fire of London and witch hunts. Suzannah is a regular panelist on the BBC quiz show, Insert Name Here with Sue Perkins.
Suzannah presented the award-winning podcast series for Historic England, Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places and the podcast series History’s Lost Speeches for Audible.
She is author of The Voices of Nîmes: Women, Sex, and Marriage in Reformation Languedoc, Witchcraft, The King is Dead: The Last Will and Testament of Henry VIII, A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England, and 1536: The Year that Changed Henry VIII. She writes a regular column for History Today, and her articles have appeared in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, The Times, The Daily Mail, BBC History Magazine, and the Times Literary Supplement.
History Hit has been producing high quality podcasts for history fans for more than five years. During that time Dan Snow’s History Hit has become the UK’s most listened to podcast with more than 3.5 million downloads a month. Other shows include The Ancients and Warfare.
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
One of the most famous Kings of England, perhaps one that epitomises the Tudor period the most, was Henry VIII. His reign was dominated by the Reformation which shared the spotlight with his tumultuous and well-documented private life.
His son and heir, young Edward, son of Jane Seymour looked set to be inheriting a disjointed and divided legacy from his father. King Henry VIII knew that before his death he needed to unite the different factions that were jostling for power, so that Edward’s inheritance would not be the continued infighting and factionalism that had dominated his reign.
King Henry VIII
Unfortunately, his pleas for unity were too late and on 28th January 1547 he passed away.
With Henry VIII’s infamous reign now over, Edward at the age of nine was now the new king.
Whilst Henry VIII was laid to rest at Windsor alongside Edward’s long since deceased mother, Jane Seymour, four days later Edward became Edward VI in a coronation ceremony at Westminster Abbey.
The Archbishop Thomas Cranmer presided over the ceremony declaring Edward the leader of the Church of England, destined to continue the difficult and complex process of the Reformation.
With Edward now formally king however, his youth would mean that power would reside in a council that would, until he came of age, make the decisions.
Only a few months earlier, whilst Henry VIII was on his deathbed, a new will and testament had been produced, however such a document resulted in controversy and speculation as Henry’s signature was the work of a scribe rather than his own.
In this context the will would be easy to contest and remain under scrutiny as the men gathering around Henry saw fit to control the new young monarch Edward.
One of the principal characters who would rise to the occasion was Edward’s own uncle, Edward Seymour, the self-styled Duke of Somerset who would also serve as the Lord Protector until Edward was older.
Such an arrangement however, had not been agreed by Henry, who believed that a Protector held too much power and instead arranged for a “Council of Regency” to be appointed. Nevertheless, only days after Henry’s death, Edward Seymour was able to seize power, with thirteen out of the sixteen executors agreeing to his role as Protector for Edward VI.
Edward Seymour’s power grab was successful, his popularity and previous military successes held him in good stead and by March 1547, he had obtained letters patent from Edward VI giving him the right to appoint members to the Privy Council, a monarchical right which essentially gave him power.
With the power behind the throne held by Edward Seymour, what could be said of the figurehead, nine year old Edward?
Henry VIII, Jane Seymour (posthumous) and Edward
Born on 12th October 1537, he was the only legitimate son of Henry VIII, born to his third wife, Jane Seymour who sadly died only a few days after his birth.
Without his mother, he was placed in the care of Lady Margaret Bryan, whilst Henry doted on and invested in securing the future of his son and heir.
Edward was given comfort, a good education and luxury, trained in typical medieval kingship skills such as riding and fencing. He was also given a well-rounded education, learning both Latin and Greek by the age of five.
In terms of his personal relationships, Edward had become close to Henry VIII’s wife Catherine Parr and was influenced by her Protestant ideals. Meanwhile, he had grown close to his sisters, both Elizabeth and Mary, although Mary’s Catholicism would bring distance to their relationship later.
King Henry VIII, his children Edward, Mary and Elizabeth, and his jester Will Somers
The religious divide between Catholicism and Protestantism would permeate Edward’s short six year reign as despite his father’s break from Rome residual elements of Catholic worship still existed whilst the new Protestant doctrine was introduced.
Nevertheless, Edward was a devout Protestant and embraced it wholeheartedly.
Aside from the Reformation, Edward found his reign marred by continued conflict with both Scotland and France as well as economic issues.
Under the Lord Protector, the war which had pervaded Henry VIII’s reign would look set to continue, with the principal aim of implementing the Treaty of Greenwich which had been signed in 1543 with two main goals, establishing peace between Scotland and England as well as securing the marriage of Edward VI and Mary, Queen of Scots.
At the Battle of Pinkie in September 1547, held on the banks of the River Esk, the English forces would secure a blinding victory against the Scottish. It would be the last pitched battle between the two before the Union and became well-known thanks to an eyewitness account that was published.
Edward Seymour, Lord Protector
The defeat for the Scots became known as “Black Saturday” and resulted in the young Queen Mary being smuggled out of the country. She would be betrothed to the Dauphin of France. Edward Seymour saw fit to occupy large parts of Scotland.
His choices however would prove to be detrimental to the cause, as such an occupation weighed heavily on the Treasury finances. Moreover, such a victory ultimately drove the Scottish closer to England’s other enemy, France, and the next summer the French king, in support of Scotland sent around 6,000 troops and declared war on England.
Seymour’s foreign policy was close to collapsing, bringing unity and a sense of purpose to England’s enemies as well as draining the Treasury.
Meanwhile, another central goal during Edward VI’s time as monarch was the establishment and implementation of the Protestant church. This was pursued with a rigour and voracity by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.
Cranmer’s Protestant ambitions were really beginning to take shape and by July 1547, established forms of Catholic worship were banned.
The enforced iconoclasm of the period resulted in a sweeping prohibition of typical Catholic idolatry such as bell ringing, stained glass windows, painting and decoration. Under the Act of Uniformity, these measures were legally enforceable and marked a swift and decisive move towards Protestantism.
Whilst England remained in a state of religious transition, social unrest began to breed, particularly with the publication of Cranmer’s ‘Book of Common Prayer’ which resulted in an uprising in the West Country. The Catholic defence even led to the city of Exeter being besieged whilst across the country in East Anglia, more social drama was unfolding in the form of land enclosures.
This was the beginning of the end for Edward Seymour, with peasants rising up in defiance of their landowners, resulting in the Kett’s Rebellion of 1549, whereby a group of rebels amounting to almost 20,000 stormed the city of Norwich.
Later that year, Somerset was visibly losing support from the council. Religious controversy, economic weakness and social discontent would ultimately bring an end to Edward Seymour’s autocratic governance.
In October 1549 a coup was initiated by John Dudley, the 2nd Earl of Warwick which resulted in the successful expulsion of Seymour from office.
With Seymour out of the way, Dudley now declared himself the Lord President of the Council and by the beginning of 1550 was the new man in central authority. Dudley, with a new title of the Duke of Northumberland dealt with the grievances spilling over from Seymour’s time, dealing with the conflicts with Scotland and France.
Meanwhile, what could be said of young King Edward VI?
By this point he was now fourteen years of age and showing clear signs of rapidly declining health. With no heirs and no prospect of him being able to produce heirs, his successor was destined to be his sister Mary.
There of course was only one slight problem with such a prospect: she was a devout Catholic.
Suddenly, a chaotic scene presented itself at the prospect of newly reformed England having all of its policies reversed by a Catholic Queen.
Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland realised that simply disinheriting her on the grounds of illegitimacy would also result in Elizabeth facing the same fate although she was Protestant.
Instead Dudley made alternative arrangements in the form of Lady Jane Grey, the 15-year-old granddaughter of Henry VII’s daughter Mary. In a move of ever-increasing political ambition, he made sure to arrange an advantageous marriage for his son, Guildford Dudley who was to be married to Lady Jane, the future queen.
Lady Jane Grey
Edward VI was thus consulted on this new plan which he agreed to, naming Lady Jane Grey as his successor in a document called “My devise for the Succession”.
After some initial controversy, the document was signed by several members and passed on to parliament.
Edward in the meantime was deteriorating rapidly, summoning his sister Mary before he died. Nevertheless, Mary, sensing that this was a trap, chose to travel to her estates in East Anglia.
On 6th July 1553, at the age of fifteen King Edward VI died, leaving Lady Jane as his successor, a fate that would see her reign last for just nine days.
Edward VI, the boy king, a monarch with a famous and imposing father, was never able to attain real power as king. His reign was dominated by others, symptomatic of the power-plays and infighting dominating the court. Edward VI was a figurehead, nothing more, in a time of great change.
Published courtesy of Historic UK. Jessica Brain is a freelance writer specialising in history. Based in Kent and a lover of all things historical.
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.
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.
On turning over in my mind the contents of your last letters, I have put myself into great agony, not knowing how to interpret them, whether to my disadvantage, as you show in some places, or to my advantage, as I understand them in some others, beseeching you earnestly to let me know
expressly your whole mind as to the love between us two. It is absolutely necessary for me to obtain this answer, having been for above a whole year stricken with the dart of love, and not yet sure whether I shall fail of finding a place in your heart and affection, which last point has prevented me for some time past from calling you my mistress; because, if you only love me with an ordinary love, that name is not suitable for you, because it denotes a singular love, which is far from common. But if you please to do the office of a true loyal mistress and friend, and to give up yourself body and heart to me, who will be, and have been, your most loyal servant, (if your rigour does not forbid me) I promise you that not only the name shall be given you, but also that I will take you for my only mistress, casting off all others besides you out of my thoughts and affections, and serve you only. I beseech you to give an entire answer to this my rude letter, that I may know on what and how far I may depend. And if it does not please you to answer me in writing, appoint some place where I may have it by word of mouth, and I will go thither with all my heart. No more, for fear of tiring you. Written by the hand of him who would willingly remain yours,
Though it is not fitting for a gentleman to take his lady in the place of a servant, yet, complying with your desire, I willingly grant it you, if thereby you can find yourself less uncomfortable in the place chosen by yourself, than you have been in that which I gave you, thanking you cordially that you are pleased still to have some remembrance of me. 6. n. A. 1 de A. o. na. v. e. z.
Although, my Mistress, it has not pleased you to remember the promise you made me when I was last with you — that is, to hear good news from you, and to have an answer to my last letter; yet it seems to me that it belongs to a true servant (seeing that otherwise he can know nothing) to inquire the health of his mistress, and to acquit myself of the duty of a true servant, I send you this letter, beseeching you to apprise me of your welfare, which I pray to God may continue as long as I desire mine own. And to cause you yet oftener to remember me, I send you, by the bearer of this, a buck killed late last night by my own hand, hoping that when you eat of it you may think of the hunter; and thus, for want of room, I must end my letter, written by the hand of your servant, who very often wishes for you instead of your brother.
MY MISTRESS & FRIEND, my heart and I surrender ourselves into your hands, beseeching you to hold us commended to your favour, and that by absence your affection to us may not be lessened: for it were a great pity to increase our pain, of which absence produces enough and more than I could ever have thought could be felt, reminding us of a point in astronomy which is this: the longer the days are, the more distant is the sun, and nevertheless the hotter; so is it with our love, for by absence we are kept a distance from one another, and yet it retains its fervour, at least on my side; I hope the like on yours, assuring you that on my part the pain of absence is already too great for me; and when I think of the increase of that which I am forced to suffer, it would be almost intolerable, but for the firm hope I have of your unchangeable affection for me: and to remind you of this sometimes, and seeing that I cannot be personally present with you, I now send you the nearest thing I can to that, namely, my picture set in a bracelet, with the whole of the device, which you already know, wishing myself in their place, if it should please you. This is from the hand of your loyal servant and friend,
For a present so beautiful that nothing could be more so (considering the whole of it), I thank you most cordially, not only on account of the fine diamond and the ship in which the solitary damsel is tossed about, but chiefly for the fine interpretation and the too humble submission which your goodness hath used towards me in this case; for I think it would be very difficult for me to find an occasion to deserve it, if I were not assisted by your great humanity and favour, which I have
always sought to seek, and will seek to preserve by all the kindness in my power, in which my hope has placed its unchangeable intention, which says, Aut illic, aut nullibi.
The demonstrations of your affection are such, the beautiful mottoes of the letter so cordially expressed, that they oblige me for ever to honour, love, and serve you sincerely, beseeching you to continue in the same firm and constant purpose, assuring you that, on my part, I will surpass it rather than make it reciprocal, if loyalty of heart and a desire to please you can accomplish this.
I beg, also, if at any time before this I have in any way offended you, that you would give me the same absolution that you ask, assuring you, that henceforward my heart shall be dedicated to you alone. I wish my person was so too. God can do it, if He pleases, to whom I pray every day for that end, hoping that at length my prayers will be heard. I wish the time may be short, but I shall think it long till we see one another.
Written by the hand of that secretary, who in heart, body, and will, is, Your loyal and most assured Servant,
TO MY MISTRESS. Because the time seems very long since I heard concerning your health and you, the great affection I have for you has induced me to send you this bearer, to be better informed of your health and pleasure, and because, since my parting from you, I have been told that the opinion in which I left you is totally changed, and that you would not come to court either with your mother, if you could, or in any other manner; which report, if true, I cannot sufficiently marvel at, because I am sure that I have since never done any thing to offend you, and it seems a very poor return for the great love which I bear you to keep me at a distance both from the speech and the person of the woman that I esteem most in the world: and if you love me with as much affection as I hope you do, I am sure that the distance of our two persons would be a little irksome to you, though this does not belong so much to the mistress as to the servant.
Consider well, my mistress, that absence from you grieves me sorely, hoping that it is not your will that it should be so; but if I knew for certain that you voluntarily desired it, I could do no other than mourn my ill-fortune, and by degrees abate my great folly. And so, for lack of time, I make an end of this rude letter, beseeching you to give credence to this bearer in all that he will tell you from me.
Written by the hand of your entire Servant,
DARLING, these shall be only to advertise you that this bearer and his fellow be despatched with as many things to compass our matter, and to bring it to pass as our wits could imagine or devise; which brought to pass, as I trust, by their diligence, it shall be shortly, you and I shall have our desired end, which should be more to my heart’s ease, and more quietness to my mind, than any other thing in the world; as, with God’s grace, shortly I trust shall be proved, but not so soon as I would it were; yet I will ensure you that there shall be no time lost that may be won, and further can not be done; for ultra posse non est esse. Keep him not too long with you, but desire him, for your sake, to make the more speed; for the sooner we shall have word from him, the sooner shall our matter come to pass. And thus upon trust of your short repair to London, I make an end of my letter, my own sweet heart.
Written with the hand of him which desireth as much to be yours as you do to have him.
MY LORD, in my most humblest wise that my heart can think, I desire you to pardon me that I am so bold to trouble you with my simple and rude writing, esteeming it to proceed from her that is much desirous to know that your grace does well, as I perceive by this bearer that you do, the which I pray God long to continue, as I am most bound to pray; for I do know the great pains and troubles that you have taken for me both day and night is never likely to be recompensed on my part, but alonely in loving you, next unto the king’s grace, above all creatures living. And I do not doubt but
the daily proofs of my deeds shall manifestly declare and affirm my writing to be true, and I do trust you do think the same.
My lord, I do assure you, I do long to hear from you news of the legate; for I do hope, as they come from you, they shall be very good; and I am sure you desire it as much as I, and more, an it were possible; as I know it is not: and thus remaining in a steadfast hope, I make an end of my letter.
Written with the hand of her that is most bound to be
Your humble Servant,
The writer of this letter would not cease, till she had caused me likewise to set my hand, desiring you, though it be short, to take it in good part. I ensure you that there is neither of us but greatly desireth to see you, and are joyous to hear that you have escaped this plague so well, trusting the fury thereof to be passed, especially with them that keepeth good diet, as I trust you do. The not hearing of the legate’s arrival in France causeth us somewhat to muse; notwithstanding, we trust, by your diligence and vigilancy (with the assistance of Almighty God), shortly to be eased out of that trouble. No more to you at this time, but that I pray God send you as good health and prosperity as the writer would.
By your loving Sovereign and Friend,
There came to me suddenly in the night the most afflicting news that could have arrived. The first, to hear of the sickness of my mistress, whom I esteem more than all the world, and whose health I desire as I do my own, so that I would gladly bear half your illness to make you well. The second, from the fear that I have of being still longer harassed by my enemy, Absence, much longer, who has hitherto given me all possible uneasiness, and as far as I can judge is determined to spite me more because I pray God to rid me of this troublesome tormentor. The third, because the physician in whom I have most confidence, is absent at the very time when he might do me the greatest pleasure; for I should hope, by him and his means, to obtain one of my chief joys on earth — that is the care of my mistress — yet for want of him I send you my second, and hope that he will soon make you well. I shall then love him more than ever. I beseech you to be guided by his advice in your illness. In so doing I hope soon to see you again, which will be to me a greater comfort than all the precious jewels in the world.
Written by that secretary, who is, and for ever will be, your loyal and most assured Servant,
H. (A B) R.
The uneasiness my doubts about your health gave me, disturbed and alarmed me exceedingly, and I should not have had any quiet without hearing certain tidings. But now, since you have as yet felt nothing, I hope, and am assured that it will spare you, as I hope it is doing with us. For when we were at Walton, two ushers, two valets de chambres and your brother, master-treasurer, fell ill, but are now quite well; and since we have returned to our house at Hunsdon, we have been perfectly well, and have not, at present, one sick person, God be praised; and I think, if you would retire from Surrey, as we did, you would escape all danger. There is another thing that may comfort you, which is, that, in truth in this distemper few or no women have been taken ill, and what is more, no person of our court, and few elsewhere, have died of it. For which reason I beg you, my entirely beloved, not to frighten yourself nor be too uneasy at our absence; for wherever I am, I am yours, and yet we must sometimes submit to our misfortunes, for whoever will struggle against fate is generally but so much the farther from gaining his end: wherefore comfort yourself, and take courage and avoid the pestilence as much as you can, for I hope shortly to make you sing, la renvoyé. No more at present, from lack of time, but that I wish you in my arms, that I might a little dispel your unreasonable thoughts.
Written by the hand of him who is and alway will be yours,
Im- H. R. -mutable.
The cause of my writing at this time, good sweetheart, is only to understand of your good health and prosperity; whereof to know I would be as glad as in manner mine own, praying God that (an it be His pleasure) to send us shortly together, for I promise you I long for it. How be it, I trust it shall not be long to; and seeing my darling is absent, I can do no less than to send her some flesh, representing my name, which is hart flesh for Henry, prognosticating that hereafter, God willing, you may enjoy some of mine, which He pleased, I would were now.
As touching your sister’s matter, I have caused Walter Welze to write to my lord my mind therein, whereby I trust that Eve shall not have power to deceive Adam; for surely, whatsoever is said, it cannot so stand with his honour but that he must needs take her, his natural daughter, now in her extreme necessity.
No more to you at this time, mine own darling, but that with a wish I would we were together an evening.
With the hand of yours,
Since your last letters, mine own darling, Walter Welshe, Master Browne, Thos. Care, Grion of Brearton, and John Coke, the apothecary, be fallen of the sweat in this house, and, thanked be God, all well recovered, so that as yet the plague is not fully ceased here, but I trust shortly it shall. By the mercy of God, the rest of us yet be well, and I trust shall pass it, either not to have it, or, at the least, as easily as the rest have done.
As touching the matter of Wilton, my lord cardinal hath had the nuns before him, and examined them, Mr. Bell being present; which hath certified me that, for a truth, she had confessed herself (which we would have had abbess) to have had two children by two sundry priests; and, further, since hath been kept by a servant of the Lord Broke that was, and that not long ago. Wherefore I would not, for all the gold in the world, clog your conscience nor mine to make her ruler of a house which is of so ungodly demeanour; nor, I trust, you would not that neither for brother nor sister, I should so destain mine honour or conscience. And, as touching the prioress, or Dame Eleanor’s eldest sister, though there is not any evident case proved against them, and that the prioress is so old that for many years she could not be as she was named; yet notwithstanding, to do you pleasure, I have done that neither of them shall have it, but that some other good and well-disposed woman shall have it, whereby the house shall be the better reformed (whereof I ensure you it had much need), and God much the better served.
As touching your abode at Hever, do therein as best shall like you, for you best know what air doth best with you; but I would it were come thereto (if it pleased God), that neither of us need care for that, for I ensure you I think it long. Suche is fallen sick of the sweat, and therefore I send you this bearer, because I think you long to hear tidings from us, as we do likewise from you.
Written with the hand de votre seul,
The approach of the time for which I have so long waited rejoices me so much, that it seems almost to have come already. However, the entire accomplishment cannot be till the two persons meet, which meeting is more desired by me than anything in this world; for what joy can be greater upon earth than to have the company of her who is dearest to me, knowing likewise that she does the same on her part, the thought of which gives me the greatest pleasure.
Judge what an effect the presence of that person must have on me, whose absence has grieved my heart more than either words or writing can express, and which nothing can cure, but that begging you, my mistress, to tell your father from me, that I desire him to hasten the time appointed by two days, that he may be at court before the old term, or, at farthest, on the day prefixed; for otherwise I shall think he will not do the lover’s turn, as he said he would, nor answer my expectation.
No more at present for lack of time, hoping shortly that by word of mouth I shall tell you the rest of the sufferings endured by me from your absence.
Written by the hand of the secretary, who wishes himself at this moment privately with you, and who is, and always will be,
Your loyal and most assured Servant,
H. no other A B seek R.
DARLING, I heartily recommend me to you, ascertaining you that I am not a little perplexed with such things as your brother shall on my part declare unto you, to whom I pray you give full credence, for it were too long to write. In my last letters I writ to you that I trusted shortly to see you, which is better known at London than with any that is about me, whereof I not a little marvel; but lack of discreet handling must needs be the cause thereof. No more to you at this time, but that I trust shortly our meetings shall not depend upon other men’s light handlings, but upon our own.
Written with the hand of him that longeth to be yours.
MINE own SWEETHEART, this shall be to advertise you of the great elengeness that I find here since your departing; for, I ensure you methinketh the time longer since your departing now last, than I was wont to do a whole fortnight. I think your kindness and my fervency of love causeth it; for, otherwise, I would not have thought it possible that for so little a while it should have grieved me. But now that I am coming towards you, methinketh my pains be half removed; and also I am right well comforted in so much that my book maketh substantially for my matter; in looking whereof I have spent above four hours this day, which causeth me now to write the shorter letter to you at this time, because of some pain in my head; wishing myself (especially an evening) in my sweetheart’s arms, whose pretty dukkys I trust shortly to kiss.
Written by the hand of him that was, is, and shall be yours by his own will,
DARLING, Though I have scant leisure, yet, remembering my promise, I thought it convenient to certify you briefly in what case our affairs stand. As touching a lodging for you, we have got one by my lord cardinal’s means, the like whereof could not have been found hereabouts for all causes, as this bearer shall more show you. As touching our other affairs, I assure you there can be no more done, nor more diligence used, nor all manner of dangers better both foreseen and provided for, so that I trust it shall be hereafter to both our comforts, the specialities whereof were both too long to be written, and hardly by messenger to be declared. Wherefore, till you repair hither, I keep something in store, trusting it shall not be long to; for I have caused my lord, your father, to make his provisions with speed; and thus for lack of time, darling, I make an end of my letter, written with the hand of him which I would were yours.
The reasonable request of your last letter, with the pleasure also that I take to know them true, causeth me to send you these news. The legate which we most desire arrived at Paris on Sunday or Monday last past, so that I trust by the next Monday to hear of his arrival at Calais: and then I trust within a while after to enjoy that which I have so long longed for, to God’s pleasure and our both comforts.
No more to you at this present, mine own darling, for lack of time, but that I would you were in mine arms, or I in yours, for I think it long since I kissed you.
Written after the killing of a hart, at eleven of the clock, minding, with God’s grace, to-morrow, mightily timely, to kill another, by the hand which, I trust, shortly shall be yours.
To inform you what joy it is to me to understand of your conformableness with reason, and of the suppressing of your inutile and vain thoughts with the bridle of reason. I assure you all the good in this world could not counterpoise for my satisfaction the knowledge and certainty thereof, wherefore, good sweetheart, continue the same, not only in this, but in all your doings hereafter; for thereby shall come, both to you and me, the greatest quietness that may be in this world.
The cause why the bearer stays so long, is the business I have had to dress up gear for you; and which I trust, ere long to cause you occupy: then I trust to occupy yours, which shall be recompense enough to me for all my pains and labour.
The unfeigned sickness of this well-willing legate doth somewhat retard his access to your person; but I trust verily, when God shall send him health, he will with diligence recompense his demur. For I know well where he hath said (touching the saying and bruit that he is thought imperial) that it shall be well known in this matter that he is not imperial; and thus, for lack of time, sweetheart, farewell.
Written with the hand which fain would be yours, and so is the heart.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written July, 1527. “Aut illic, aut nullibi.” Either there, ornowhere.
The signature means “H. seeks no other (heart). R.”
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. This letter was written in July, 1527.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written February, 1528. “Ultra posse non est esse.” One can’t do more than the possible.
Anne Boleyn to Cardinal Wolsey. MS. Cott. Vitellius, B. xii. f. 4. Written June 11, 1528. Printed by Ellis as from Katherine of Arragon. There is another letter from Anne to Wolsey, thanking him for a present. It is very similar to this, and is found in MS. Cott. Otho. c. x. f. 218 (printed in Burnet, i, 104, and in Ellis, Original Letters, vol. i).
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written June 16, 1528.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. This letter was written June 20. “It.” The sweating sickness. This is the 1528 epidemic.
“Your brother.” George Boleyn, afterwards Viscount Rochford, executed 1536 on a charge of incest.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written about June 22, 1528. “Welze” is the same person as “Welshe” on p. xxx.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written July 6 (?), 1528. “Suche” is probably Zouch.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written July 20, 1528.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written July 21, 1528.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written August, 1528. “Elengeness.” Loneliness, misery.
“My book.” On the unlawfulness of his marriage with Katherine.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written August 20, 1528.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written September 16, 1528. Campeggio actually arrived at Calais on Monday, September 14.
Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn. Written at the end of October, 1528.
Originally published via Medium.com – All Things Tudor
With the 2015 U.S. release of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Americans were re-introduced to the lure of England’s King Henry VIII. Many of us have shared a passion for this era in history for a while, yet others learned of the intrigue and drama of this era for the first time. In Wolf Hall, Mantel paints a literary portrait of a very human Thomas Cromwell, a man who has been viewed by centuries of historians and authors as the henchman of King Henry. Cromwell was a common man who rose to prominence based on his own merits, unlike most of the courtiers at the Henrician Court whose power was a consequence of birth.
Seeing Cromwell from a more humanist point of view made me curious about what history hides from us and what is revealed. I am impressed by blogs which tout Cromwell as being very American in his ambitions. We look at a pivotal piece of the Tudor puzzle, Queen Anne Boleyn, and know so little about her. Today, she is loved by many because of what has survived over the centuries. Her legacy of independence and her fiery nature invoke a camaraderie of spirit in a segment of contemporary females. But what of other members of the court? What do we really know about a few who were favourites of the King? If Cromwell is viewed across the centuries by our standards, how will we view others?
History tells us stories of Sir Francis Bryan, the ‘Vicar of Hell,’ as he was nicknamed by Cromwell, due to Bryan’s machinations in the downfall of Queen Anne Boleyn. Bryan played a role in the rise of Queen Jane Seymour – both of these women were his relatives. Stories of his loyalty to King Henry survive. Maintaining a friendship with this volatile ruler was no small feat in an era when many lost their lives due to his whims. Tales of Bryan’s life as a libertine and seducer of women still prevail.
Yet, this is the man King Henry VIII trusted to tell Katherine of Aragon that she was summoned to divorce court. He was sent to let Lady Jane Seymour know of the conviction of Queen Anne Boleyn and to tell her of the execution. Sir Francis Bryan was the man dispatched to bring Anne of Cleves to court. Would you send a known libertine and womanizer to attend your wives and girlfriends?
We will address this matter on another day.
During research, I found this notation to be amusing. J. le Grand, in his Histoire du Divorce de Henri VIII, 1688, writes of Sir Francis Bryan: “Neveu de Norfolc, et cousin germain d’Anne Boulen. On crût qu’avec cet apuy, il ne manqueroit pas de s’élever, et on le considera pendant quelque tems comme un favory naissant, mais il ne put se soutenir. Il aimoit boire et etoit fort sujet a mentir.”
This translates loosely as: “Nephew of Norfolk, first cousin of Anne Boleyn. One would think that with this background, he could not fail to advance, and for a time, he was considered the emerging favourite, but he could not support his position. He loved drinking and had a talent for mistruth.”
(And, to think Sir Francis favoured the French over the Spanish during his day. Little thanks he received, right?)
What I have found most intriguing about this man is his poetry. During the Tudor Era, he was known as a great poet and translator. Like many English Renaissance courtiers, he immersed himself in literary studies. According to scholars, he may be ‘Brian’ whom Erasmus mentions in his writings. He was a close friend of the poets Sir Thomas Wyatt and Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. Like them, he wrote poetry and was held in high regard for his literary achievements during his lifetime and into the 1600s. There is little to be found of his work today. What we do know is that Wyatt dedicated a satire to Sir Francis Bryan on the complexities of life of a courtier, and notes Bryan’s literary acumen.
Francis Meres describes Sir Francis Bryan as ‘the most passionate among us to bewail and bemoan the complexities of love.’ ‘Us’ being the great English poets of the day. The Stewart era poet, Michael Drayton, wrote…
whom the Muses kept,
And in his cradle
rockt him while he slept
Drayton also names Bryan as “honouring Surrey ‘in sacred verses most divinely pen’d.’”
The only surviving poem of Sir Francis Bryan is “The proverbes of Salmon do playnly declare.” The proverbes, as the basis for Sir Thomas Wyatt’s Third Satire, has been a fascination for historians and literati during the 20th century and continues today. I’ve found myself ensnared in this search for any of Sir Francis Bryan’s works. How could someone so prolific and renowned during their lifetime disappear from history with only one existing work surviving to the modern day?
Contemporary musician Sir Mick Jagger is quoted as saying, “Anything worth doing is worth overdoing.” Modern historians and authors have labelled Bryan with statements such as “an irresistible charm disguised an incorrigible intriguer.”
By the standards of his time, Sir Francis Bryan was considered the ideal courtier and poet. He remained loyal to King Henry VIII until his untimely demise, at which time it is believed he was poisoned by his wife. By our standards, if Cromwell is to be judged as American due to his ability to seize opportunities, then possibly, Sir Francis Bryan is the first rock star.
February 2, 1550 Sir Francis Bryan, controversial courtier, diplomat and poet died in Clonmel in Ireland.