Dame Juliana Berners

This purported portrait of Berners was created by an anonymous artist.

Dame Juliana Berners, a fifteenth-century English nun, is often credited as the author of A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle. This treatise was published in 1496, and for many years it was thought to be the earliest written work of fly-fishing instruction. Historians and scholars now believe that beyond the publication date of the work, little else is true.

The existence of the woman Dame Juliana Berners is difficult to prove. There have been three spellings of her name (Berners, Barnes, and Bernes), and no historical records can be found to validate or confirm any of them. Historians also claim that mentions and notations about Berners in the years and centuries that followed publication of the Treatyse were all based on a single mention that, again, cannot be confirmed as fact.

Although Dame Juliana Berners is more than likely not the author of the Treatyse, and although no documents have been found to support her existence, the myth of a noble-born fly-fishing nun will forever be part of women’s history in fly fishing.