Did Sir Francis Bryan really exist and how can we prove it?

+8 votes
Sir Francis Bryan b. in Ireland, married and had son William Smith Bryan, 'Prince of Ireland', did he exist? Some claim that he was the son of Sir Francis Bryan aka Vicar of Hell, but other than a brief mention of a son, there is no evidence that this son inherited property in Ireland. Why is there no record of him, his wife, his family, his land, his death, his children? Is it possible for a Knight to live from 1549 to 1640 to hold land in County Clare, and be completely off the record? Or is it more likely that he is a mythical bridge from the old world to the new? Can we find any proof that this man lived? Should we declare him a mythical figure?
WikiTree profile: Francis Bryan
in Genealogy Help by Jeanie Roberts G2G6 Pilot (127k points)
retagged by Paula J

All of the yDNA evidence I have seen seems to suggest that the partrilineal ancestry of Morgan Bryan is Gaelic, however, there is a historical precedent for Cambro-Norman Bryans settling in Kilkenny, Ireland as the information on this website supports.  (Unfortunately the webpage format needs to be updated):


...The records that have come to light only refer to the line of primogeniture in matters of land transference. We must presume that all other Cambro-Norman Bryans in Kilkenny and subsequently in Wexford are derivative of this parent stock. Caution is urged in researching this Bryan line, for a common Anglicization of both O’Brien and O’Byrne has periennially been "Bryan/t." It cannot therefore be taken for granted that a North American Byan found not to descend from William Smith Bryan will be a descendant of the Kilkenny Bryans.

Chev. Charles Bryant-Abraham, Ph.D.
The Knight de Bryan
Secretary General of the Imperial House of Sellassie


Thank you for sharing that information. I was not aware of the Kilkenny Bryan's/Bryant's and am going to look into that more. From the DNA research I have done thus far, Bryan's did match some Bryant's and that makes sense as both surname versions were used. However O Brien did not match either and that also makes sense as the O Brien line is different. Now here comes the tricky part. Amy O' Brien is Joan Fitzgerald's mother. At one time her pedigree was intact then it disappeared, but Joan Fitzgerald who married Sir Francis Bryan would give descendants both Bryan and O Brien to sort out and sort it out I did. My cousin inherited the O Brien DNA segment in matches and I inherited both. (Random DNA recombination at work again).  The Bryan/Bryant matches were spot on. I have no doubt that the DNA segment on chromosome 2 is the Bryan/Bryant line. O Brien, looking fairly solid would be more reassuring if other's could also map their O Brien' as there as several matches on different chromosomes for the older O Brien line and it appears there is a cluster of ancestors associated with that line. I am going to research surname Byrne and see if I find any matches that also match Bryan/Bryant. Thanks again for sharing.

Y haplogroups can't tell you anything on the relevant timescale.

Supposedly we have documentary evidence that Morgan Bryan's unnamed father was a Dane, born and raised in Denmark.


If genuine, this rests on family tradition, but an early tradition.

Before that, there's nothing that wasn't demonstrably invented in the 20th century, with never a shred of evidence.

It's a total mystery why people keep hunting for evidence to prove made-up stuff, because made-up stuff never turns out to be true.

From what I have been reading, the Norman Bryans and Fitzgeralds that settled in Ireland had adapted so well to Irish customs that many were considered "more Irish than the Irish themselves," so its not surprising that the landed gentry and nobility intermarried with O'Briens.   I would disagree with the statement "Y haplogroups can't tell you anything on the relevant timescale."  As I pointed out previously, surname descendants of Morgan Bryan share a haplogroup with a clan that is closely associated with the O'Brien dynasty concentrated in County Clare.  This would indicate that Morgan Bryan's paternal ancestors possibly did indeed migrate from that part of Ireland.  The names of those ancestors could very well be made-up stuff, though.

Here is some history of Morgan Bryan's (possible) genetic, patrilineal ancestors up to the point of the Williamite War and their loss of land:


The Mac Namaras attained early fame as warriors (they are described by an early historian as "princely chiefs of well-fought battles"), and castle-builders. They held some 56 castles in Clare, many in ruins today (e.g. Cratloe), but at least two restored to their early glory and much visited by tourists (Bunratty and Knoppogue). As warriors, Mac Namaras engaged in continual internecine warfare with rival Dalcassions, driving the O'Gradys and O'Kennedys among others out of Clare, allying themselves with the O'Brien dynasty and as hereditary Marshalls of Thomond, defending the legitimate inheritors of the thrones of Thomond and Munster over pretenders (losing in these encounters hundreds of chieftains and their sons), and finally, in the 1640's joining in the battles against Cromwell's armies and in the hapless campaign against William of Orange waged by James II.

As a consequence of these 17th century adventures, the Mac Namaras lost virtually all of their lands, which under the Acts of Settlement were then distributed among followers of Cromwell and William, apostate members of the O'Brien and other Dalcassion clans (among them a few Mac Namaras), and to 'innocent Papists'....

You can't assume that Morgan Bryan's haplogroup only existed in one place in his day.  You'd have to go a long way back to a time when it only existed in one place.  Plenty of time for a stray R-DC191 to have reached Denmark or anywhere else.

Nor can you assume that the haplogroup only belonged to one surname.  When ordinary people adopted clan surnames, they chose who they wanted to be descended from.
I'm not making any assumptions, that's why I used the word 'possible'.  The ancestors could have used any of a number of surnames, but the association between the MacNamara clan and the O'Brien dynasty goes back 10 centuries and could provide a possible explanation for why some Morgan Bryan biographers have dwelled on the O'Brien legacy.   Also, the historical context of what happened to both the MacNamara and O'Brien land rights after the Cromwellian invasion could provide a possible basis for the stories about ancestors being expelled from Ireland and returning to County Clare to attempt to reclaim their land.

I also want to correct the statement by RJ Horace that would lead one to believe that there is no evidence of any relatively recent ties to Ireland, other than what was made up stuff in the 20th century.  In fact the pension application he cited includes this statement by Luke Bryan:  

"[Luke Bryan submitted the following with his mother’s application for a pension, and he deposed that it was written by his father, Samuel Bryan.] My great grandfather Bryan was a Dane born in Denmark & rais’d in that Kingdom where he married a wife & lived untill he had a sone born whome he called Morgan after which he remov’d to Ireland where he lived untill said Morgan came to manhood who left his father in Ireland & came to Pensylvania in Amerricia where he Married a woman by the name of Martha Strode the daughter of a man by the name of Strode a Hollander..."

This evidence that Morgan's father may have removed to Ireland from Denmark, together with the evidence of a yDNA Dalcassian haplogroup, could lead to a probability that Morgan did have recent ancestors who had lived in Ireland.

Thank you Keith.
DNA experts need to confirm this, down the female line to a living relative via an uncontaminated specimen from Francis Bryan and you.  If not, then nothing is conclusive.

7 Answers

+2 votes
Knights of England has Dudley 1645, Francis 1618, Henry 1509, 1513, Thomas 1537, Thomas 1549. https//archive.org/details/knightsofengland02/page250. No idea yet who Dudley and Henry were.
by C. Mackinnon G2G6 Pilot (272k points)
+3 votes

I am currently working on the line from Mary Bourchier to Magna Carta sureties, but have not got this far back yet. When I do, I may have more to add.

by Michael Cayley G2G6 Pilot (119k points)
edited by Michael Cayley
+2 votes
This might be disproved by the yDNA studies for Bryan descendants of  Morgan Bryan: https://www.familytreedna.com/public/Bryan?iframe=yresults

Notice starting at line 186 that several descendants claiming Morgan Bryan as an ancestor belong to haplogroup R-DC191 a "Dalcassian" haplogroup more strongly associated with Gaelic natives of Ireland.  Sir Francis Bryan I did not have this ancestry, although he was married to Lady Joan, Countess of Ormond who did.  However, y chromosones do not usually get passed down from females.

...AND I just noticed that DC191 may be associated with the surname Fitzgerald:  https://www.ytree.net/DisplayTree.php?blockID=1583  My understanding is that Lady Joan Fitzgerald had always wanted to marry her cousin Gerald Fitzgerald, who she did ultimately marry after her first husband was poisoned and her second husband, Sir Francis Bryan I, had mysteriously died.  Hmmm.....
by Keith Schindler G2G2 (2.1k points)
edited by Keith Schindler
+2 votes
I think the basic question is who was this person really. I think there's no doubt that "he" existed, it's just where he came from that's contested.

The history of Parliament website does say about Sir Francis Bryan also known as vicar of hell, that he had at least one illegitimate son.
by Porter Fann G2G6 Mach 5 (54.7k points)

And that's all it says. But, if this man inherited land in Ireland and was knighted by the King of England, there would be a record of him somewhere. 

I went ahead and made indicated changes.

Should any proof ever emerge, it's an easy fix.
+1 vote
With regard to William Smith Bryan...if he too did not exist - who is buried in his grave on Bryan's Island, Gloucester Va?  Is that bogus?

How do you know he is buried there? Because someone created a memorial to him on Find a Grave? Where is the evidence to support that that he was buried on that island? 

Good point. Would U.S and International Marriages of 1560 - 1900 be a reliable source?  In there is a record of a William Smith Bryan and a Catherine Morgan...and don't beat me up...lol, just asking.

U.S. and International Marriages of 1560-1900 is a database of made up of a variety of sources, including undocumented ancestry trees. It is not a reliable source. 

If you are interested, here is some of my research on William Smith Bryan and his supposed ancestors. https://www.jeaniesgenealogy.com/2019/02/william-smith-bryan-lesson-in-17th.html


Very interesting.  Thank you for that link.  I know you state that you began this site in order to share your family history with children and relatives.  What is the Bryan connection?  I have been told (by the Boone Society) that my 6th great- grandmother Mary Catherine (Bryan) Bush [married Phillip Bush] is the daughter of William Bryan (not the debated William Smith Bryan) of what is now Salem, Virginia.  I live in Roanoke, 3 miles from his grave.
Hi Rick it's a long story, and I won't bore you with the details, but I personally have no relationship with the Bryan Family.
There is a Headstone naming 3 or 4 generations located there.  One might assume they are indeed buried at that location.  Now, whether it is the exact spot, maybe not but buried there I do believe so.
+1 vote

If we can set aside the relationship to the Vicar of Hell for a moment, I don't know if the following (vanity?) pedigree has been vetted:

Whitfield, Theodore Marshall, editor. Whitfield, Bryan, Smith, and related families. Compiled by Emma Morehead Whitfield, assisted by many members of these families. Appendix. Vol 2. 1948-50, p. 407-8. Westminster, MD.

See especially footnote 23 regarding the: ''Pedigree of Edward Bryan'' which starts with Sir Francis Bryan, Knight Banneret, Chevallier, Baronet and Lord of Tor Bryan (1490-1550). It cites another source as providing further ancestry than the line that begins with Sir Francis Bryan: MacKenzie, Colonial Families of The United States, etc. II, p. 150+. (A source with which I am unfamiliar, and cannot look up right now.)

I happened across this because I was working this line that directly affects my ancestors.

Hopefully, this hasn't already been debunked. If so, my apologies. At any rate, the Charles Shepard Byran-prepared pedigree makes for an interesting read: his Sir Francis Bryan was quite accomplished, so something is amiss, somewhere. . . maybe the Colonial Families citation has sources or a name change or something that can explain this obvious hole in history.

by Porter Fann G2G6 Mach 5 (54.7k points)
The Colonial Families offers an unsourced pedigree. It is not a good source.

Good to know. Saved me from hunting that one down.

1. Thus, the pedigree that is cited among ancestors is brought into question, because the person who matches at the top that is presented is none other than the Vicar of Hell.

That relationship, however, is not completely ruled out, as the History of Parliament page does say for the documented Sir Francis Bryan that he had at least 1 illegitimate son. So that notion means that we cannot reject claims to paternity unless that paternity can be ruled out, right?

2. Is this reference, then, of any value, or do we hold that determination aside? Whitfield, Theodore Marshall, editor. Whitfield, Bryan, Smith, and related families. Compiled by Emma Morehead Whitfield, assisted by many members of these families. Appendix. Vol 2. 1948-50, p. 407-8. Westminster, MD.

+2 votes

I think this is probably an invented line somewhere back in the day (the bane of so many Americans-I won't even start on the Thomas Minor line, etc. in my family).  As many have pointed out below, scholarly sources don't list any children for Sir Francis.  He had many stepchildren, being married twice.  The WT profile for his first wife, Philippa Spice, provides a lot of good information.  Bryan's second wife, Lady Joan FitzGerald, was likewise a famous woman with many children by her first husband.  Here is Bryan's profile on "Genealogics," by Leo van de Pas and Ian Fettes: (I like to check this site whenever first encountering someone to research).  I'm trying to see if there's a will for Lady Joan FitzGerald, which should provide a conclusive answer.  The only sources that mention a William Smith Bryan/Francis Bryan connection are secondary sources without primary back-up, so I'd say the possibility of his being Sir Francis Bryan's son are extremely remote.

by K. Anonymous G2G6 Pilot (126k points)

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