Last night I rewatched the season three finale of “The Tudors,” as I’m counting down the days until the new and final season starts. My husband drifted into the room as Alan van Sprang and his eye patch drifted onto the screen. He watched for a few minutes and said, “Well he’s like the Han Solo of this production, isn’t he?”
Van Sprang does bring a certain charisma to the Showtime version of history. He seems as though he’s about to start swashbuckling at any moment, and then go off for a few beers with his friend D’artagnan. But who was the real Sir Francis Bryan?
Briefly, Bryan really was quite a character! He dressed sumptuously and spoke his mind. A womanizer with a questionable moral compass, he was an intellectual and poet (came in handy for the womanizing, I’m sure), as well as a translator, sailor, soldier, and political shining star. Most importantly, he was a favorite of Henry VIII.
He’d first come to court in the early 1500s but was kicked out in 1519, came back like a boomerang as a member of the Privy Chamber, and was again kicked out in 1526 along with many other Privy Chamber gents. Cardinal Wolsey was behind this reduction in force, as he wanted to limit the number of enemies he had at court.
In 1536, Bryan and Thomas Cromwell schemed together to off Anne Boleyn (Bryan’s cousin), a move that earned Bryan the nickname “The Vicar of Hell.” He later rose to the rank of Gentleman of the Privy Chamber (i.e., “important nobleman who had access to the king personally,” not to be confused with the “groom of the stool” in the privy chamber, who had access to the king’s bottom and what came out of it). When Cromwell decided to clean house, he kicked Bryan to the curb, but the dashing rogue bounced back again and went on to a distinguished career in sailing and diplomacy.
If the real Sir Francis Bryan weren’t colorful enough, it turns out that his eye patch isn’t just a fabrication of Showtime’s costume department. He really did lose his eye while jousting at Greenwich. I would think losing your eye in a joust earned a certain level of props at a 16th century court, especially when you could still score so easily in other areas.
So yes, in Sir Francis Bryan we have a disguished man of letters, languages, politics, and ambition — but we can also cerrtainly view him as a delicious scoundrel. I’d bet, like Han Solo, he’d appreciate it.