During Henry VIII’s reign, those who were most loyal and the closest to the king did not often last long to enjoy the rewards of his friendship. However, there was one man who stayed in relatively good favor with the king throughout his reign. He was a sailor, a soldier, a diplomat, and acted as an English ambassador mostly in France. He was a cousin to a few of Henry VIII’s wives, a lover of wine, and an infamous womanizer. The name of this rather extraordinary man was Sir Francis Bryan and the story of how he survived the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII is told in Sarah-Beth Watkins’ latest biography, “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador”.
I would like to thank Sarah-Beth Watkins and Chronos Books for sending me a copy of this book. I have enjoyed Sarah- Beth Watkins’ previous books and this one sounded really interesting to me since I did not know a lot about Sir Francis Bryan before I read this book.
Unlike many of Henry’s closest allies, Sir Francis Bryan was born to help the king. His father, Sir Thomas Bryan of Ashridge, Hertfordshire, was a knight of the body to both King Henry VII and Henry VIII. His mother, Lady Margaret (Bourchier) Bryan, a lady in waiting to Katherine of Aragon and the governess to Henry VIII’s children, was related to Elizabeth Howard, which meant that Francis was related to both Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. It was these connections that would prove both a blessing and a curse in Bryan’s career.
Bryan’s career was mostly based abroad as an ambassador for Henry VIII. After his service to the king in Scotland, he was transferred to France where he would prove his loyalty to Henry by pushing his ideas on the French king. It was the way he handled certain situations that gained Bryan the nickname, “ the vicar of hell”. Not exactly flattering, but it helped Bryan keep his head when so many of his friends, allies, and family members did not.
Watkins’ biography on Sir Francis Bryan provides a great window into the life of such a colorful character in Henry VIII’s court who doesn’t get a whole lot of attention. But, it is one thing to tell about Bryan’s life and quite another to allow the readers to read transcribed letters that were either addressed to or about Bryan. They provide great insight into the decisions that Bryan made and his feelings about the events that were going on around him, including The Great Matter and the break from Rome.
Like Watkins’ other books, this one acts as a great introduction to the life of Sir Francis Bryan. It was extremely informative and well written for a small book, acting as a stepping stone for those who want to learn more about “the vicar of hell”. A best friend of King Henry VIII and loyal until the end to the Tudors, Sir Francis Bryan lived a remarkable life. “Sir Francis Bryan: Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Ambassador” by Sarah-Beth Watkins is a book that I highly recommend if you are a fan of Sarah-Beth Watkins or if you want to learn more about Sir Francis Bryan and how he survived the tumultuous reign of King Henry VIII.