Sir Francis Bryan was courtier, diplomat, soldier, translator,
and poet of Henry VIIIs court. His closeness in age, sharp
wit, and genial nature made him the perfect companion to join in
the kings pastimes. He also displayed bravery and
enterprise as a soldier in the royal army and rose to the rank of
vice-admiral in the kings navy. Henry often employed him on
emissarial missions to Italy, France, and the Empire since
Bryans position in the royal household required that he
fulfill diplomatic responsibilities as an official representative
of the crown. However, loyalty and good service were not
sufficient to protect against a sudden loss of favor.
Bryans survival depended on an ability to retain the good
will of a temperamental and ruthless monarch and on a willingness
to change sides at the right moment in the constant factional
rivalries at court.
As a diplomat, Bryan performed his duties with considerable
skill and his friendship with Francis I made him an excellent
intermediary between the French and English courts. However, he
was at his most effective when a policy on amity or
reconciliation was sought and was often unable to adopt a strong
line when discord arose. Nevertheless, despite occasional
criticism from his associates and his royal master, Bryan,
conducted himself creditably as the continuous employment by
Henry clearly demonstrates.
Francis Bryans nickname "The Vicar of Hell"
applied by Thomas Cromwell in 1536 may refer to his exceptional
callousness and cynicism toward the execution of his former
patroness Anne Boleyn. If this is true it is a sterner judgement
than Bryan deserves since his conduct during the affair was
certainly far less reprehensible than that of Cromwell, who
stage-managed the demise of Anne. However, the appellation may
also refer to his reputation as an uninhibited debauchee,
something that might well have offended a man of Cromwells
Undoubtedly Bryan could not have survived at
court unless he fully supported Henrys religious revolution of the 1530's. But his association with
both the Boleyn family and Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, makes
it unclear whether he was a Protestant sympathizer, a
conservative upholder of the religious and social order, or a
person totally without bias who followed the prevailing wind.
The evidence of his career suggests that he was a successful
man of affairs who combined practical ability as a official with
learning, literary talent, and courtly accomplishments. He served
Henry steadfastly throughout the reign and the general comments
of his contemporaries indicate he impressed others as a diligent
and honest official who maintained the amiable, ingratiating
qualities that characterized him throughout life.
1. " I CAME TO COURT A VERY YOUNG
"GENTLEMAN OF THE KINGS HOUSE"
"LET HIM KICK...FOR I DO IT NOT OF MALICE
BUT ACCORDING TO MY DUTY"
"I DO NOT KNOW WHETHER BRYAN BE MORE OF
AN ENGLISHMAN OR A FRENCHMAN"
"MAKE MORE READY FOR ME A SOFT BEDTHAN A
"A MAN WHOM THE POPE HOLDS IN MUCH
"THE MEETEST MAN HERE TO DO THE AFFAIRS
OF THIS COUNTRY"
"LET ME BE BURIED AMONGST THE GOOD
FELLOWS OF WATERFORD, WHO WERE GOOD DRINKERS"
"The Vicar of Hell?"
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