Tipperary’s “Vicar Of Hell”.

For a relatively small almost landlocked realm; Co. Tipperary has had a long and close historical association with the British Royal Family; going back in this instant, described hereunder, to the late 15th century.

Sir Francis Bryan “Vicar Of Hell”.

Sir Francis Bryan was born on June 1st 1490, in Buckinghamshire, England; the son of Sir Thomas Bryan, latter who made his career at court, where he was an ‘Esquire of the Body’ (or personal attendant and courtier) to Henry VII and Henry VIII, and vice-chamberlain to Queen Catherine of Aragon and his later to be wife, Margaret Bourchier, mother of Sir Francis Bryan.

Sir Francis Bryan was regarded as a distinguished Diplomat, Soldier, Sailor, Cipher, Man of letters, and Poet. However, he also had a lifelong reputation as a witty person who pursued sexual depravity, and was rumoured to be an accomplice in the extramarital affairs of King Henry VIII; latter best known for his six marriages and for separating the Church of England from the then existing papal authority.
Indeed King Henry trusted Sir Francis sufficiently to send him to Rome to discuss the annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, with then Pope Clement VII. Here one of Bryan’s non-conforming methods of diplomacy included sleeping with a prostitute in Rome, to find out what the pope’s views were with regard to King Henry’s marriage issues. Despite the diplomatic ability of Sir Francis, Pope Clement refused to annul Henry’s marriage.

Sir Francis first came to court at a young age, together with his brother-in-law Nicholas Carew, joining the Privy Chamber during the reign of King Henry VIII. Both were well known for their avoidance of moderation and excessive indulgences, especially in alcohol use. However, they held much influence with King Henry and were rewarded for their friendship with a number of public offices, by the king; e.g. “Master of the Toils” (1518–48), “Constable of Castles” at Hertford, Harlech and Wallingford, (1518–36), “Cipherer of the Household” (1520), “Gentleman of the Privy Chamber” one year later in 1521 and “Esquire of the Body” by 1522 [latter post a personal attendant and courtier to the King of England.]
Sir Francis Bryan also sat in the English Parliament, as a Member for Buckinghamshire, certainly in the parliaments of 1539, 1542 and 1545.

In 1519, Bryan and Sir Edward Neville disgraced themselves during a diplomatic mission to Paris, having been found throwing eggs and stones at poor smallholders and labourers of lower social status. Correspondence sent by him, in or about this period, requests that Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle, the Captain of Calais, (then in English hands), should find Bryan a ‘soft bed and a young woman’.

On returning from France back to England both men behaved as French men in their eating and drinking habits and also in their newly found fashion attire.
Under the Eltham Ordinance (named after Eltham Palace) of January 1526; [latter was a failed attempted reform of the English court of Henry VIII by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey], they were removed from the Privy Chamber on the grounds that ‘after their appetite’ they ‘governed the King’.

About the same time, in or about 1526, Sir Francis lost an eye in a Jousting Tournament at Greenwich, forcing him to wear an eyepatch for the rest of his life.

In 1528, following the death of Sir William Carey, [latter was married to Mary Boleyn, sister of King Henry’s second wife Anne Boleyn, a known mistress of King Henry VIII], a vacancy occurred once again within the Privy Chamber, and Bryan returned, aided possibly through the influence of his half cousin Anne Boleyn, latter commonly then referred to as “the king’s whore” or the “naughty paike [prostitute]”.

Later, King Henry XIII would accuse Anne Boleyn of adultery, incest, and high treason and would commute Anne’s death sentence from being burnt alive at the stake, to being beheaded, and rather than have a queen beheaded with the common executioners axe, he brought an expert swordsman from Saint-Omer in France, to perform her execution.

It was Thomas Cromwell who first coined Sir Francis Bryan’s nickname, “Vicar Of Hell”, in his letter to the Bishop of Winchester [referring to his total abandonment of his half cousin Anne Boleyn].
Later Thomas Cromwell was also himself beheaded on the orders of King Henry VIII and following Cromwell’s execution, Sir Francis Bryan became vice-admiral of the fleet, and later, during the reign of Edward VI, Lord Justice of Ireland.

In his private life in March of 1522, Sir Francis Bryan had married Philippa Spice, (1492 – 1548), only daughter of Humphrey Spice of Black Notley, Essex, latter the former wealthy widow of Sir John Fortescue of Ponsbourne, in March 1522.
After her death the same year, on August 1st 1548, Sir Francis Bryan married Lady Joan Fitzgerald, the widow of James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond, ( James the Lame, – leg wound received at the siege of Thérouanne in 1513); former already the mother of seven sons.

After 1534 James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond had been created Viscount Thurles. Twelve years later on October 17th 1546, he was in London with many of his household. They were invited to dine at Ely Palace in Holborn, where he was poisoned along with his steward, James Whyte, and 16 of his household. He died nine days later, on October 28th, leaving Lady Joan Fitzgerald a widow in her thirties. His poisoning was believed to have been brought about as a result of a previous heated argument with the quarrelsome and unpopular, Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Anthony St Leger, latter also a favourite of King Henry VIII.

The marriage by Sir Francis Bryan to Lady Joan is believed to have been a political manoeuvre to prevent Lady Joan from marrying her cousin, the 15th Earl of Desmond. However, their union was believed to have been not the happiest of relationships.
After Bryan’s death in Clonmel, Co. Tipperary, on February 2nd 1550, aged 60; Lady Joan Fitzgerald-Bryan did eventually marry Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond in 1551, with latter groom being many years her junior.

Despite Bryan’s expressed desire to be buried in Co. Waterford, his body was interred in Old St. Mary’s Churchyard, Clonmel, County Tipperary, latter the jewel in the crown of today’s Clonmel historic sites.
Alas, today the oldest headstone that is readable in the graveyard, dates only back to 1625 and no known portrait of Sir Francis Bryan, or his poetic verse is known to exist.


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