Traitor's Gate, Tower of London

Sir Richard Page is mentioned, along with Sir Thomas Wyatt, as being imprisoned in the Tower in a letter from Sir William Kingston to Thomas Cromwell, which is undated and badly damaged by fire but which is thought to have been written on the 5th May1. But who was Sir Richard Page and how did he get tangled up in this coup?

Sir Richard Page

According to Paul Friedmann, in “Anne Boleyn”:-

“Sir Richard Page, a gentleman of the privy chamber, had been, like the other prisoners, on very friendly terms with Anne, to whom he had rendered little services, which she had requited with gifts and otherwise”2

The notes at the back of Friedmann’s book, edited by Josephine Wilkinson, say that these gifts are recorded in Anne Boleyn’s debts.

Alison Weir, in “The Lady in the Tower”3, describes Page as a member of the Privy Chamber, a man who had been knighted in 1529, a former secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, the Recorder of York between 1527 and 1533, vice-chamberlain to the Duke of Richmond (Henry’s illegitimate son) and a captain of the King’s bodyguard. He was also related to Henry VIII by marriage, through his wife Elizabeth Bourchier who was a cousin of the King. Weir also comments that Page was opportunistic in that Wolsey secured Page’s promotion to the Privy Chamber, yet Page paid Wolsey back by becoming a friend of the Boleyns, who were no friends of the Cardinal’s. He was also one of Cromwell’s men, becoming a favourite of Cromwell in the early 1530s.

Weir writes that neither Page nor Wyatt were formally charged with any crime and that both of their families petitioned for their release. Both Wyatt and Page were released from the Tower in June 1536, but Page was punished by being banished from court and the King’s presence for ever:-

“Mr. Payge and Mr. W[y]at are in the Tower, but it is thought without danger of life, though Mr. Payge is banished the King’s court for ever.” John Husee’s letter to Lord Lisle, 12th May 15364

As Husee reported, Page was in fact released on the condition that he stayed away from the King and court, but Henry VIII had other ideas and actually invited Page back to court. Page decided to keep away for a while, until things had settled down, but in late 1536 he was made Sheriff of Surrey and in 1537 Henry VIII made him chamberlain to baby Prince Edward. Further signs of favour include the granting of the dissolved priory of St Giles-in-the-Wood, property of the Knights of St John in Kilburn and various other grants and offices. Page was also honoured by a visit from Edward when he became Edward VI. He died in 1548, a wealthy man, leaving his daughter Elizabeth to inherit5.

Page and Wyatt were not the only men to be caught up in the coup, but escape execution, Sir Francis Bryan was also questioned.

Thomas Cromwell, the man who nicknamed Bryan "the Vicar of Hell"

Sir Francis Bryan (1490-1550)

Although Sir Francis Bryan was not arrested and taken to the Tower of London, the courtier and diplomat was ordered to London for questioning.

This one-eyed courtier (he lost his eye in a joust), who was nicknamed the “Vicar of Hell” by Thomas Cromwell (in a letter to Gardiner6, was a second cousin to both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, and was the son of Sir Thomas Bryan and Margaret Bourchier (Lady Bryan). He was a prominent member of the King’s Privy Chamber, along with his friend and brother-in-law Sir Nicholas Carew. Although his return to the Privy Chamber in 1528, after having previously been removed during Wolsey’s purge, was probably due to the influence of Anne Boleyn, it seems that he felt no guilt in conspiring with Cromwell to bring down the Boleyn faction. Cromwell’s move, in ordering Bryan back to London for interrogation, was probably done for show, a tactical move. Alison Weir, in “Henry VIII: King and Court”, writes that his interrogation “may have been a charade to lend credibility to the other arrests, since Bryan was unquestionably Anne’s enemy and in fact profited from the fall of her co-accused.”7

Robert, Abbot of Woburn, made a declaration in 1538 regarding Sir Francis Bryan’s involvement in the fall of Anne Boleyn, which he likened to the fall of Lucifer. Of Bryan, he said:-

“At the fall of queen Anne Mr. Bryan was sent for by the lord Privy Seal in all haste “upon his allegiance.” At his next repair to Ampthill the abbot went to visit him, being in the Court with lord Grey of Wilton and others. Sir Francis espied the abbot at the gate, and of his gentleness came to meet him. Said, “Now welcome home and never so welcome.” He, astonished, asked, Why so? Said he would explain at leisure. Afterwards, in the great chamber with the others, drew a parallel between the fall of Lucifer and that of queen Anne, congratulating Sir Francis that he was not implicated. He replied it was true that when he was suddenly sent for he marvelled; but knowing his truth to his prince he never hesitated but went straight to my lord Privy Seal, and then to the King, and there was “nothing found” in him.”8

How Did Sir Richard Page and Sir Francis Bryan Escape Execution?

In “The Lady in the Tower”, Alison Weir writes that some people have suggested that Page escaped because his stepdaughter, Anne Stanhope, had recently married Edward Seymour, Jane Seymour’s brother, but she is quick to point out that they had actually married two years earlier so surely Page wouldn’t have been arrested in the first place if the Seymours had anything to do with it.

Alison Weir believes that it was Cromwell’s intention all along to free Wyatt, Page and Bryan, “perhaps emphasising the “genuine” guilt of the rest”9, whereas G W Bernard is of the opinion that the fact that Wyatt, Page and Bryan were freed “strongly suggests that when allegations of Anne’s adulteries came to light, they were carefully investigated. And when nothing incriminating was found, men were set free. In turn, this should encourage us to take seriously the charges against those who were tried and convicted”10. I can see where Bernard is coming from but I don’t think it means that the others were guilty, Cromwell may well have been trying to make it look like he was doing thorough investigations and ruling out various men as evidence came to light.

Jane Seymour

Sir Francis Bryan was probably never in any danger, after all, he had allied himself with the Seymours and the anti-Boleyn faction. He was probably hoping to profit from Jane Seymour’s rise, just as he had with his other cousin, Anne Boleyn. Weir writes of how he had always been close to Jane Seymour and that it was Bryan who was responsible for securing her position as a maid-of honour to Catherine of Aragon and later to Anne Boleyn. Although he had been a one-time member of the Boleyn group, his true sympathies lay with Catherine of Aragon and the Lady Mary and Weir writes of how “he had deliberately picked a quarrel with Lord Rochford”11 in 1534 to distance himself from the Boleyns. Although Lady Bryan was Princess Elizabeth’s governess in 1536, Bryan was part of the group, along with Sir Nicholas Carew, who were encouraging and coaching Jane Seymour.

The fact that just three hours after Anne Boleyn’s condemnation Bryan was sent to tell Jane Seymour the news is proof indeed that he was never in any real danger and after the fall of Anne Boleyn he replaced the late Sir Henry Norris as Chief Gentleman of the King’s Privy Chamber, getting his share of the spoils. In 1539, Bryan was removed from this post as Cromwell turned against him and others of that faction, but he gained favour again after Cromwell’s fall and became vice-admiral of the fleet and then, during the reign of Edward VI, he was made Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. He died in 1550 in Ireland.

Notes and Sources

1 – L&P x.798
2 – Anne Boleynby Paul Friedmann, ed. Josephine Wilkinson, p235
3 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p158
4 – L&P x.855
5 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p290
6 – L&P x.873 Letter from Cromwell to Gardiner and Wallop
7 – Henry VIII: The King and His Court, Alison Weir
8 – L&P xiii. part 1 981
9 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p166
10 – Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions , G W Bernard, p175
11 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p32
12 L&P x.908, Letter from Chapuys to Charles V

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9 thoughts on “Sir Richard Page and Sir Francis Bryan”
  1. Hello very interesting point you made about bryan, wyatt, and page being set free. it makes the cromwell investigation look more thorough: adding credence to the accusations. on the other hand, there is evidence against the 3; so , where is the evidence against the men condemned. the records are always in an uneven balance – against anne. even if they were interpreted differently; there is just not enough that survived to make anything clear

  2. It is interesting that all of the records disappeared, perhaps they were destroyed in the same fire that damaged Kingston’s letters to Cromwell or perhaps they were destroyed on purpose. All we can do is look at what evidence there is and draw our own conclusions and that’s how historians like Bernard can think that Anne was guilty and others think that she was innocent, it depends what you read and how you interpret it and it’s all very frustrating!

  3. I think personally that Cromwell wanted to make it look as if he was doing his job by interrogating these eight men, One of whom being the Queens brother Lord Rochford but I do beleive that his plans aswell as actions were all mapped out, He foreknew what he was doing in all retrospect, He also knew alas whom he was going to convict and who also as a result would not be set free from the tower along with who would be set free once all was contemplated, Dealt with and above all else finished with. It is a pity that no more documentation survives wether as a result of being destroyed by fire or as a result of being misplaced and as a result lossed, Lossed forever. It is probable that some of the writings, hence documents were destroyed not long after after the condenmeds executions as it was relatively known that after an execution that anything related to or to do with the executionees would be destroyed afterwards aswell as the remainder of the family/ies that were still surviving would fall from favour as a result, Sadly. Though just to come back on a note not everything was destroyed after ones death as there are still some things belonging to the executed of the day and time that was kept and hence not destroyed aswell as still survives today but some things were not, I suppose it all depended on the careful or carelesness of the people aswell as if the belonging had some value to it or some kind of sentimental value to it aswell as things that just wnet amiss to the blind eye.

  4. Tudorrose, I agree with you that Cromwell set the whole thing up and probably destroyed any incriminating documents. I suppose the lack of evidence could support guilt or innocence so you need to look at the whole scenario to figure out who profited and who lost out as a result of Anne’s trial.

  5. My personal feeling is that Cromwell might well have destroyed much of the incriminating “evidence” he had manufactured against Anne and the other victims, because he didn’t want any of what remained of the Boleyn faction, or possibly even Henry himself to look at it and realize that the whole case was nothing but smoke and mirrors.

  6. I’ve read up on the character of Sir Francis Bryan since Alan Van Sprang’s depiction of him in the Tudor series. It’s a shame they didn’t give him more play and have him throughout the series as the historical Francis was. He was a rathering interesting character and supposed one of Henry’s last words were ” Bryan, we’ve lost everything”. The series was good but played with some facts. With this crew, they didn’t have to. They made their own real life drama.

  7. Someone I work with visits your site frequently and recommended it to me to read as well. The writing style is great and the content is relevant. Thanks for the insight you provide the readers!

  8. Sir Thomas Wyatt was saved because he was too obvious and had given Anne up to Henry as his poems indicate. He also had the good luck of being the friend of Thomas Cromwell.

    Sir Richard Page was not in the frame from the start and most likely there was no real connection that placed him in an intimate embrace with Anne. If nothing was found, then why pursue the case?

    As for Francis Bryan; well I think that he was too ugly for to be taken seriously as a lover of Queen Anne and Henry seems to have had other uses for him. His connections also worked in his favour. Again, no-one brought any compromising accusations that placed him in intimate relations with Anne on any day or time, so he could not be pursued as a lover of the Queen. The case had to be dropped.

    1. If Richard Page was released because there was no solid evidence against him then a similiarly intense investigation would have exonerated at least some of the others who were executed. Before the trial, it was decided who would be executed and who would be exonerated. Evidence, therefore, was moot. Significantly, all of the men released were unrespectable and in any normal case would be considered reckless enough to do commit adultery with a queen. Page was Bryan was notorious for his vices, and Wyatt, a married man, had been willing to dally with Anne when she was beginning to attract the king’s notice. These men knew that they would the first suspects in any scandal involving the queen so they probably were able to provide insider information about Anne, indicated who else to pressure for damaging testimony, and had enough dirt on others to keep people from being outraged at their release. Bryant may have been willing to even act as an agent provocateur to get Anne or George to make unwise statements. As for Mark Smeaton, he was the equivalent of good-looking, sexy rock star who had ladies-in-waiting as groupies. He did not need to get presents from Anne because he was probably getting enough presents from other infatuated noblewomen. Anne was wanted to believe every man was enamored of her; a trait her daughter Elizabeth shared. It would be consistent for her to say to the ladies that, although they lusted after him, he was the most interested in her. Smeaton, like the courtiers of Elizabeth I, probably played along with enough courtly love gestures to feed the illusion. Anne Boleyn was not a woman driven lust. We think of Henry VIII as the gross figure he later became. During his courtship of Anne he was young, good-looking and fit. Anne, however, was so cold that she was not even tempted to give in to his entreaties. She obviously was not a woman ruled by passion.

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