On May 8, 1536, Sir Richard Page had arguably the worst day of his life: he found himself a prisoner in the Tower, caught up in the flurry of arrests that would end in the deaths of Anne Boleyn, her brother, and four other men. Page, along with his fellow arrestee Thomas Wyatt, would emerge from the Tower with head intact. Who was the mysterious Sir Richard, the man who served Henry VIII and both his sons and who came so close to losing his life in 1536?
Page’s parentage is unknown. He had a sister, Margaret Page, whose married name was Margaret Smart, and cousins named John Carleton and Anthony Sondes. Page also refers in a letter to William Fitzwilliam, whose father had been a merchant tailor and the sheriff of London, and his wife, Anne, the daughter of Richard Sapcote of Elton, Huntingdonshire, as his nephew and his niece, but it is not clear which spouse was Page’s blood relation. In the 1520’s, he worked his way up through the ranks of royal servants, serving as Vice Chamberlain to Henry VIII’s natural son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond, whose arms he was tasked with devising.
Page sat on commissions of the peace in Middlesex and Surrey in 1526. In July 1528, he wrote to Cardinal Wolsey to report on the difficulties of Sir Thomas Cheyny, who was evidently embroiled in a dispute: the king had decreed that Cheyny “shall never come into the Chamber until he has confessed his fault and agreed with Mr. Russell; for he will have no grudge amongst his gentlemen.”
In April 1529, as a gentleman of the privy chamber, Page received an annuity of a hundred pounds. That same year, he was knighted “at the Parliament time.” On December 3, 1530, as a knight of the body, Page received a grant of the site of the late priory of St. Leonard, Thoby, Essex, and the manors of Thoby and Bluntzwall, Essex, once the property of the dead and attainted Cardinal Wolsey.
It was the hapless Wolsey who gives us Page’s first association with Anne Boleyn. On May 17, 1530, Thomas Cromwell wrote to Wolsey, “”Mr. Page received your letter directed unto my lady Anne, and delivered the same. There is yet no answer. She gave kind words, but will not promise to speak to the King for you.”
It was likely sometime around this period that Page married. His bride was Elizabeth Bourchier, who had three previous marriages to Henry Beaumont, a husband known only as Verney, and Edward Stanhope. She had a daughter from each of her second and third husbands: Katheryn Verney and Anne Stanhope. In 1557, when Elizabeth died, she was survived by her daughter by Page, Elizabeth Skipwith, who was aged 30 or more.
Though we know little of Richard himself, his access to the powerful meant that he wrote to intercede on behalf of other people, such as his letter on behalf of his unfortunate niece:
23 Sept. 1534 1180. Sir Ric. Page to Cromwell.
Whereas you promised me at Langley to be good to my nephew Fitzwilliam concerning the misordering of his wife and other gentlewomen by the butcher of Hoddesdon if it be proved that he struck her, it will be duly proved by Mr. Cook, my nephew Fitzwilliam and Mr. Ogle. The butcher did not only strike my niece, but beat her with his fist, so that she fell in a swoon, and he rudely handled Mrs. Cook and other gentlewomen. If you are too busy to attend to this, be good master to their husbands when it is brought into the Star Chamber or elsewhere. As they are his tenants, my lord of Essex will do what he can to stop the punishment. Woodstock, 23 September.
You have honored ladies and gentlewomen too much to see them take shame by a villain.
[The story behind this letter requires a blog post in itself, and will duly receive one.]
Several of Page’s letters figure in the Lisle correspondence. On October 15, 1533, he wrote to Honor Lisle, the wife of Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle (the illegitimate son of Edward IV) on behalf of Thomas Stockwhite, who had fallen into debt. Writing from the royal palace of Greenwich, Page explained, “The poor man dwelleth by me and hath a house full of children, and if he be troubled all they are like to fare much the worse or perish.” He added, “Here is no news but that the King’s Highness and the Queen’s Grace are merry.” (Anne Boleyn, now queen, had recently given birth to the future Elizabeth I.)
On June 13, 1535, Page enlisted Lord Lisle’s help in trying to collect two debts: a fifteen-year-old debt from Lord Edmund Howard, whose daughter Katherine would be Henry VIII’s fifth queen, and one from Francis Hastings. Page hoped that Lord Lisle could “take some order with him” for the debt from Howard, and thought that if “your lordship will be somewhat round with” Hastings, he would soon pay up.
Lord Lisle himself wrote to Page on April 22, 1536, asking Page to be his ally in a matter involving the “Spear rooms” at Lisle’s disposal at Calais. Page, however, would soon be in no case to answer him. According to the lost journal of Antony Antony, notations from which were preserved by Thomas Tourneur, on May 8, 1536, Page was imprisoned in the Tower, where Anne Boleyn, accused of adultery, had gone as a captive a few days before.
Neither Page nor Thomas Wyatt, who was also arrested, was ever charged with a crime, and what entangled Page in this royal scandal remains a mystery. On May 12, 1536, John Husee wrote to Lord Lisle that Henry Norris, Francis Weston, William Brereton, and Mark Smeaton had been arraigned and condemned to die. He added, “Mr. Page and Mr. Wyatt are in the Tower, but as it is said, without danger of death: but Mr. Page is banished the King’s presence and Court for ever.” The next day, however, Husee was less certain. He reported that a “Harry Webbe” might be arrested in the West County and noted “some other say that Wyat and Mr. Page are as like to suffer as the others.” On May 19, 1536, having reported the executions of Anne and the rest, he wrote, “And touching Mr. Page and Mr. Wyat, they remain still in the Tower. What shall become of them, God knoweth best.”
By July 18, 1536, however, Page was a free man. That day, he wrote to Lady Lisle:
Good Madam, I most heartily thank you for your kind remembrance, which is to me as welcome as anything can be; and do ascertain you that I am long ago at liberty and the King my good and gracious lord, but hitherto I have not greatly essayed to be a daily courtier again. And the King being so much my good lord as to give me liberty, I am more meet for the country than the Court. And to such a poor cabin as I have there, there is no lady nor gentlewoman in England shall be more welcome than ye shall be; beseeching you, if your chance be to come into these parts, ye will so take it, and me too. For yours shal I be, with all the service that may lie in my possible power. And pray your good ladyship to make my hearty recommendations unto my good lord your husband.
From London, this xviiith day of July.
by yours most bouwnden,
Just as we don’t know what brought Page to the Tower, we don’t know what he or his friends did to clear his name. The fact that he was able to clear his name, though, raises an interesting question: Was there a genuine belief that Anne and her circle were guilty? As G. W. Bernard has pointed out, the fact that Page and Wyatt were released without having been charged suggests there was a good-faith investigation and that guilt was not necessarily a foregone conclusion. Furthermore, if the charges against Anne and her circle were trumped up and the Seymours were among the clique attempting to destroy these people, as some have claimed, Page was an unlikely victim. His stepdaughter, Anne Stanhope, had married Edward Seymour by 1535 and had been chaperoning Jane Seymour when she received visits from Henry VIII. It has been suggested that it was the Seymour connection that saved Page from execution, but in light of this connection, why imprison him in the first place unless there was a genuine suspicion that he was guilty? This is not to say that Page, Anne Boleyn, or any of the rest were actually guilty, but it may be that Henry VIII and/or Thomas Cromwell thought that they were and proceeded accordingly.
Wisely for him but sadly for us, Page seems to have maintained a judicious silence about the events of 1536. His discretion served him well, for by November 1536 he had been made sheriff of Surrey and Sussex. By June 1537, he was entertaining the Lady Mary (the future Mary I) at his home, where the king’s sackbut played and was rewarded by Mary. That same month, Lady Page sent cream and strawberries to the Lady Mary, who must have enjoyed them, for Page sent more strawberries to her later that month. In 1544, he was appointed as chamberlain at Hampton Court for Prince Edward. When Prince Edward became king, Page was appointed as one of his governors while the king’s uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, Lord Protector, went to Scotland in 1547. Page’s appointment was resented by Thomas Seymour, Edward VI’s other uncle, who was later quoted as saying that he disliked “the protector not appointing him to have governance of the king before so drunken a soul as Sir Richard Page.” No evidence corroborates Thomas Seymour’s description of Richard Page as a drunkard, and it seems rather unlikely that either Henry VIII or Edward Seymour would have entrusted Edward to the care of such a man.
Page, however, was not destined to serve Edward VI long, for he died in February 1548. In his will, dated September 22, 1547, he asked that he be buried at either the church of St. Mary on the hill besides Bishopgate in London, of which he was a patron, or at the parish church of Flamstede, where he had a manor. Most of his bequests went to his widow and to his daughter Elizabeth Skipwith: their gifts included a hundred pounds in old angels. Page had several granddaughters by Elizabeth Skipwith, two of whom were named Mabel and Frances. He gave his stepdaughter Katheryn Verney twenty pounds toward her marriage. Page left nothing to his other stepdaughter, Anne Seymour, but Anne, now the Duchess of Somerset, hardly needed anything. To the Protector himself Page gave a silver and gilt cup enameled after the antique fashion, with five lions standing upon castles to bear up the foot.
Somerset was executed in 1551, along with Lady Page’s stepson Michael Stanhope. Richard Page’s stepdaughter, Anne, was imprisoned in the Tower and remained there until Queen Mary’s reign. Had Richard Page not died when he did, he might well have been caught up in the events that led to Somerset’s imprisonment and execution. As it was, he died in his bed—once again, a lucky man.
Will of Richard Page, PROB 11/34
G. W. Bernard, Anne Boleyn, Fatal Attractions. Yale University Press, 2010
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Muriel St. Clare Bryne, ed., The Lisle Letters. University of Chicago Press, 1981.
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Letters and Papers of Henry VIII
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Frederick Madden, ed., Privy Purse Expenses of the Princess Mary. London: William Pickering, 1831.
George William Marshall, ed., The Visitations of the County of Nottingham in the years 1569 and 1614. London, 1871.
Beverley A. Murphy. Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son. Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2001.
John Gough Nichols, Literary Remains of King Edward the Sixth. Part I. London: J. B. Nichols and Sons, 1857.
‘Parishes: Flamstead’, A History of the County of Hertford: volume 2 (1908), pp. 193-201. URL: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=43269&strquery=Page Date accessed: 05 May 2012.
State Papers, Henry VIII, Vol. I, Parts 1 and 2, 1831.
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