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

Related Post