Margaret Bryan

Margaret Bryan, Baroness Bryan (c. 1468 – c. 1551/52) was lady governess to the children of King Henry VIII of England, the future monarchs Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Edward VI, as well as the illegitimate Henry FitzRoy.[1] The position of lady governess in her day resembled less that of the popular modern idea of a governess, more that of a nanny.

She was born Margaret Bourchier in about 1468 in Beningbrough, Yorkshire, England. Her mother was Elizabeth Tilney and her father was Sir Humphrey Bourchier, who was killed at the Battle of Barnet on 14 April 1471 during the series of dynastic civil wars now known as the Wars of the Roses.[2] Humphrey Bourchier was heir to the title Baron Berners but having predeceased his father John Bourchier, 1st Baron Berners, Margaret's brother John instead succeeded to the title as second Baron Berners. Humphrey Bourchier and Elizabeth Tilney had one further daughter who survived to adulthood. Margaret's younger sister was Anne Bourchier (1470–1530) who married Thomas Fiennes, 8th Lord Dacre[3] in 1492. Their son, also Thomas, was the 9th Lord Dacre who was executed for murder in 1541.


Margaret Bourchier was married three times. Her first husband, with whom there may only have been a marriage agreement (a ‘pre-contract’), was Sir John Sandes (or Sandys). The marriage agreement was signed when Margaret was 10 or 11 years old on 11 November 1478.[4] Pre-contracts were not unusual among the Tudor period aristocracy and gentry, and it need not have resulted in a consummated marriage.[5]

She married Sir Thomas Bryan sometime before 1490. Margaret Bryan was a lady-in-waiting to Catherine of Aragon and was present at Catherine's wedding to Henry VIII in 1509.[6] Margaret Bryan claimed[2][7] to have been made Baroness Bryan suo jure on 18 February 1516, upon the birth of Henry and Catherine's daughter Mary, when she was appointed the infant's lady governess.[8]

Sir Thomas Bryan died sometime before 1517,[9] and Margaret Bryan married her final husband, David Souche (or Zoche) in or before 1519. In July 1519, there is a record in the archives of Henry VIII's court that notes the payment of an annuity of 50 pounds to "MARGARET BRYAN, widow of Sir Thomas Bryan, and now wife of David Soche." The annuity paid "for services to the King and queen Katharine" included "one tun of Gascon wine yearly, out of the wine received for the King's use."[10] David Souche may have died in 1526[11] or in 1536.[7]

Lady governessEdit

Margaret Bryan became the lady governess for Mary in February 1516. More well known primary evidence exists to connect her with Henry's younger children, Elizabeth and Edward. From August 1536, there is a widely quoted letter from her to Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's chief minister, in which she complains of the economic difficulties of the household of "lady Elizabeth" since the change in her status (from legitimate to illegitimate) following the annulment of the King's marriage to her mother Anne Boleyn, and Anne's execution in May.

Now, as my lady Elizabeth is put from that degree she was in, and what degree she is at now I know not but by hearsay, I know not how to order her or myself, or her women or grooms. I beg you to be good lord to her and hers, and that she may have raiment, for she has neither gown nor kirtle nor petticoat, nor linen for smocks, nor kerchiefs, sleeves, rails, bodystychets, handkerchiefs, mufflers, nor "begens."[12]
(The more obscure items in this list are identified by the Oxford English Dictionary (2nd edn) as: rails = nightdresses; bodystychets = corsets; begens = nightcaps.)

She also reports that: "My lady has great pain with her teeth, which come very slowly."[12] (Elizabeth was to have serious difficulties with her teeth on and off for much of her life.)

Margaret Bryan passed over responsibility for Elizabeth to Catherine Champernowne in October 1537 following the birth of Prince Edward, who became her new charge. A second letter to Cromwell, dated 11 March 1539, describes the Prince.

My lord Prince is in good health and merry. Would to God the King and your Lordship had seen him last night. The minstrels played, and his Grace danced and played so wantonly that he could not stand still ...[13]

A late mention of Margaret Bryan in the archives is a note referring to the payment of a 20-pound annuity to "Lady Margaret Bryane, the King's servant" in 1545.[14]

She died in Leyton, now a suburb of London but at the time a village in Essex.[15]

Family connectionsEdit

Margaret Bryan had royal Plantagenet bloodlines through her paternal great-grandmother, Anne of Gloucester, who was the granddaughter of King Edward III. She was also the maternal aunt of Henry VIII's wives Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard as well as a member of the wider circle of kin and dependents around the Howard family.[16]


The only children Margaret Bryan had were from her marriage to Sir Thomas Bryan. Three of their surviving children were: Margaret Bryan, who married Sir Henry Guildford, Elizabeth Bryan, who became the wife of Sir Nicholas Carew, and Sir Francis Bryan, who became Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. Through her daughter, Elizabeth, she was the great-grandmother of Elizabeth Throckmorton, Lady Raleigh, wife to Walter Raleigh and chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth I.

In fictionEdit

Margaret Bryan makes an appearance in Kathryn Lasky's novel for young readers, Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor. In the book she is nicknamed "Muggie" by the four-year-old Princess Elizabeth.[17] She also appears in The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir.

In the TV series The Tudors, the role of "Lady Margaret Bryan" is played by Jane Brennan. Like many of the characters in the show, she is a composite of the woman on whom she was based and also of Anne Shelton, who was in overall charge of Princess Elizabeth's household. Unlike Margaret Bryan, Anne Shelton had a very difficult relationship with Mary Tudor when she was living in Elizabeth's household.[18]


  1. ^ She was also Lady Governess to Henry's illegitimate but acknowledged son Henry FitzRoy, assuming her words of "When my lady Mary was born it pleased the King’s grace [to make] me lady mistress, and made me a baroness, and so I have been a m [other to the] children his grace have had since" are correct and her grammar is not incorrect as Henry VIII had no children between Mary and Elizabeth. If she had responsibility also for Henry FitzRoy that would have made her tenure as Mary's Lady Governess fairly short. Henry was born 15 June 1519, less than two and a half years after Mary. She was Lady Governess to Elizabeth for four years.
  2. ^ a b See Ref i179938
  3. ^ See Ref i28719
  4. ^ Douglas Richardson, Thread: 'Complete Peerage Additions/Corrections: Margaret Bourgchier, Lady Bryan', (Mail dated 5 Apr 2007) [1], accessed 30 March 2009
  5. ^ See for example the comments on pre-contract marriages in Woman under the English law, from the landing of the Saxons to the present time, Arthur Rackham Cleveland p132 & p217 [2]
  6. ^ 'Henry VIII: June 1509, 16–30 ', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 1: 1509–1514 (1920), pp. 36–55. "Lady Bryan" Date accessed: 31 March 2009
  7. ^ a b "Margaret, lady Brian, was the widow of Sir Thomas Brian, and having been made, as here stated, a baroness (though the fact is not noticed by our Peerage Historians), she was still called lady Brian after she had taken as her second husband David Soche. See Vol. III., No. 361. Apparently, this letter was written on David Soche's death." Footnote 1 to: 'Henry VIII: August 1536, 1–5', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 11: July–December 1536 (1888), pp. 90–103. "Lady Bryan" Date accessed: 31 March 2009.
  8. ^ "When my lady Mary was born it pleased the King’s grace [to make] me lady mistress, and made me a baroness, and so I have been a m [other to the] children his grace have had since"
  9. ^ See Ref i179939
  10. ^ Henry VIII: July 1519, 1–15', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 3: 1519–1523 (1867), pp. 121–136. "margaret bryan" Date accessed: 31 March 2009.
  11. ^ See Ref i180089
  12. ^ a b 'Henry VIII: August 1536, 1–5', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 11: July–December 1536 (1888), pp. 90–103. "Lady Bryan" Date accessed: 31 March 2009.
  13. ^ 'Appendix', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 14 Part 2: August–December 1539 (1895), pp. 359–372. "Lady Bryan" Date accessed: 31 March 2009
  14. ^ 'Henry VIII: January 1545, 26–31', Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 20 Part 1: January–July 1545 (1905), pp. 38–59. "Margaret Bryane" Date accessed: 1 April 2009.
  15. ^ 'Leyton: Introduction', A History of the County of Essex: Volume 6 (1973), pp. 174–184. "margaret bryan" Date accessed: 31 March 2009.
  16. ^ L. G. Pine, The New Extinct Peerage 1884–1971: Containing Extinct, Abeyant, Dormant and Suspended Peerages With Genealogies and Arms (London, U.K.: Heraldry Today, 1972), page 9.
  17. ^ Kathryn Lasky, Elizabeth I, Red Rose of the House of Tudor (Scholastic Inc. 1999). See page 24.
  18. ^ See the Internet Movie Database

Further readingEdit

  • The Spear and the Spindle: Ancestors of Sir Francis Bryan (D.1550) by Terry A. Fuller
  • Susan Brigden, ‘Bryan, Sir Francis (d. 1550)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, (Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, January 2008) [3], accessed 28 August 2008

External linksEdit