The tragedy of Anne Boleyn: more arrests

The tragedy of Anne Boleyn was also connected with the tragedies of several other people – her alleged lovers, including her own brother – George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford.

On 5th of May 1536, Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, who was a famed court poet, and Sir Richard Page, who was a gentleman of the Privy Chamber and Vice-Chamberlain in the household of Henry FitzRoy, were apprehended.  From that moment, there were several hapless inhabitants of the Tower of London, 8 in total, each of them accused or suspected of being Anne’s paramour.   They included: George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Sir Thomas Wyatt, and Sir Richard Page, in addition to Queen Anne Boleyn.

       The infamous entrance to the Tower of London – Traitors’ Gate

Sir Francis Bryan was commanded by Cromwell’s men to return to London for questioning.  A turncoat by nature who managed to always remain in the favor of the mercurial English monarch, Bryan distanced himself from the Boleyns and did not join the others in the Tower.  It seems that Bryan backed the right horse, having aligned with the Seymour faction that was getting more powerful with every day passing.  A man like Bryan would never have fallen with the Boleyns.

Medallion of Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland

At the same time, Thomas Cromwell resurrected the issue of Anne’s alleged pre-contract to Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.  Seeking for a way to annul his sovereign’s marriage to Anne, the chief minister put pressure on Percy to admit to a pre-contract.  In fear for his life, Percy wrote to Cromwell on the 13th of May 1536, denying the existence of any pre-contract between Anne and him.  Several years ago, Percy had already denied the existence of such a pre-contract most vehemently when he had been interrogated by the Duke of Norfolk and the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1532, having sworn an oath on the Sacrament.  Therefore, Henry Percy could have also been arrested because of his past with Anne, but he evaded such an unfortunate destiny.

In a letter to Arthur Plantagenet, Viscount Lisle on the 12th of May 1536, John Hussey, 1st Baron Hussey of Sleaford described the event:

“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.”

      Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder

Thomas Wyatt appears to have been arrested because of his rumored affair with Anne and his infatuation with the queen, to whom he clearly dedicated several poems.  However, Thomas himself or his family were on good terms with Cromwell, who at the time supported the king’s marriage to Lady Jane Seymour.  This must have saved Wyatt from prosecution and condemnation, although he had to languish in the Tower for quite some time.  As for Sir Richard Page, he was probably apprehended for questioning only, or more for show than anything else, for no formal charges were leveled against Page. During this imprisonment Wyatt witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn on the 19th of May 1536.

Later both Wyatt and Page were released from the Tower.  For some time, Thomas Wyatt even returned to his court duties.  Restored to the king’s favor, Wyatt was made ambassador to the Spanish court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Spain, but he returned to England in June 1539, and later that year was again ambassador to Charles until May 1540.  In 1541, Wyatt was charged with treason on a revival of charges originally brought against him in 1538 by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, but the charges were again lifted.

All images are in the public domain.

Text © 2020 Olivia Longueville