Francis Bryan Wolf HallOn this day in history, 2nd February 1550, Sir Francis Bryan, courtier, diplomat, poet and a man nicknamed “the Vicar of Hell”, died suddenly at Clonmel in Ireland. He had settled in Ireland after marrying Joan Butler, Dowager Countess of Ormond, and had travelled to Tipperary as Lord Justice “to check the incursions of the O’Carrolls”. His last words were allegedly “I pray you, let me be buried amongst the good fellows of Waterford (which were good drinkers)”.

Bryan had only one eye. He lost an eye jousting in 1526 and historian Susan Brigden writes of how he joked about it, saying of Pilgrimage of Grace rebel Robert Aske, who also had only one eye, “I know him not, nor he me… yet we have but two eyes”.

Bryan had served Henry VIII as a diplomat during the King’s Great Matter, as Ambassador to Francis I in 1538, as Vice-Admiral in 1543 and as Ambassador to Charles V in 1543. He was made Knight-Banneret in 1547 for his role in the expedition against the Scots as commander of the horse and then appointed Lord Marshal in January 1549, leading Edward VI’s forces in Ireland. In December of that year, he was appointed Lord Justice, but died less than two months later.

Click here to read more about Sir Francis Bryan.

Taken from On this Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway.

Image: Felix Scott as Sir Francis Bryan in BBC’s “Wolf Hall”.

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9 thoughts on “2 February 1550 – Death of Sir Francis Bryan, “the Vicar of Hell””
  1. I have often wondered why he was nicknamed “The vicar of hell”? Is it true that he was also known as “The Black Pope” too.

    1. Boleyn, I don’t know about him being called “Black Pope”, but I can guess what in his traits made him deserve the name “vicar of hell” .
      Actually, he was supposed not being made to administrate a church, a parish or another holy post but hell itself, rather.
      Regardless to his numerous qualities (diplomat, poet and so on), he was well known as being a mere debauched .
      His mother being half-sister (having been born by Elizabeth Tilney’s 1st wedding) to Queen Anne Boleyn’s mother and to Queen Catherine Howard’s father, he of course was much in favour during these two queens’ brief reigns.
      But it seems his favour outlived the two young queens’ fall because he would connive in K H’s “pleasures” – I don’t know if this one is true, but it shows what Francis Bryan was famed for .
      He married a Butler girl (so more or less connected with Anne’s grandmother) when being already old himself .

    2. Sorry, I was a bit quick to answer.
      Bryan took as his 2d wife Joan a born Fizgerald (Desmond line), widowed Butler.
      My mistake came from the claims of Thomas Boleyn about Ormond(e) (whose rights could be traced from the Butlers, he being son of a Butler heiress) …
      I just read on this site a most interesting – and complete -post about Francis Bryan.

        1. With pleasure – I am conscious there are lacking some stuff.
          About him being spoken of a debauched, it was just a common gossip at court.
          I too would like to get further information on his adventures.
          Well I mean of course as long as they keep being proper

  2. I find it very interesting that he was known as debauched, impious, the Vicar of Hell – but at the same time he was also a ‘staunch Catholic’ and the patron of scholars and translators. One wonders if the first was a persona he adopted to curry favour at court, or if it’s simply another example of the old saying ‘there’s no one more pious than a reformed sinner’.

  3. Sir Francis Bryan was my 7th great grandfather. While it is true that he was something of a scoundrel and a known “debaucher” if you will, he was also one of the most enlightened and accomplished men of his age. He was a poet and translator, a master of codes, a soldier, a sailor, a courtier, and the man who “had the ear of the king.” He had great influence at court and was the instigator of many of Henry VIII’s schemes. There is so much to his story that remains untold. When that information comes to light, I have no doubt that the name of Sir Francis Bryan will rank among the greatest in history.

    1. My children, William J. Bryan VII, and Cassandra C. Bryan are descended from Sir Francis Bryan as well. I find Sir Francis intriguing and wonder if you would direct me to resources for more information about him? Thank you.

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