Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Page, Francis

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PAGE, Sir FRANCIS (1661?–1741), judge, the second son of Nicholas Page, vicar of Bloxham, Oxfordshire, was admitted to the Inner Temple on 12 June 1685, and called to the bar on 2 June 1690. In February 1705 he appeared as one of the counsel for the five Aylesbury men who had been committed to Newgate by the House of Commons for the legal proceedings which they had taken against the returning officer for failing to record their votes (Howell, State Trials, 1812, xiv. 850). The House of Commons thereupon resolved that Page and the other counsel who had pleaded on behalf of the prisoners upon the return of the habeas corpus were guilty of a breach of privilege, and ordered their committal to the custody of the sergeant-at-arms (Journals of the House of Commons, xiv. 552). Page, however, evaded arrest, and parliament was soon afterwards prorogued in order to prevent a collision between the two houses. At the general election in May 1708 Page was returned in the whig interest to the House of Commons for Huntingdon. He continued to represent that borough until the dissolution in August 1713, but no report of any speech by him is to be found in the ‘Parliamentary History.’ He was elected a bencher of the Inner Temple in 1713, and, having been knighted by George I on 21 Jan. 1715, was made a king's serjeant on the 28th of the same month. On 15 May 1718 he was appointed a baron of the exchequer in the room of Sir John Fortescue Aland [q. v.] Page was charged by Sir John Cope in the House of Commons on 1 Feb. 1722 ‘with endeavouring to corrupt the borough of Banbury in the County of Oxon for the ensuing election of a Burgess to serve in Parliament for the said borough’ (ib. xix. 733). After the evidence had been heard at the bar of the house he was acquitted, on 14 Feb., by the narrow majority of four votes (ib. xix. 744, 745; see also Parl. Hist. vii. 961–5). On 4 Nov. 1726 Page was transferred from the exchequer to the court of common pleas, and in September 1727 he was removed to the king's bench, where he sat until his death. He died at Middle Aston, Oxfordshire, on 19 Oct. 1741, aged 80, and was buried in Steeple Aston Church, where he had previously erected a huge monument, with full-length figures of himself and of his second wife by Peter Scheemakers [q. v.]

Page has left behind him a most unenviable reputation for coarseness and brutality, which is hardly warranted by the few reported cases in which he took part. Among his contemporaries he was known by the name of ‘the hanging judge.’ Pope thus alludes to him in the ‘Dunciad’ (book iv. lines 27–30):

    Morality, by her false Guardians drawn,
    Chicane in Furs, and Casuistry in Lawn,
    Gasps, as they straiten at each end the cord,
    And dies, when Dulness gives her Page the word.

And again in his ‘Imitations of Horace’ (satire i. lines 81–2):

    Slander or poison dread from Delia's rage,
    Hard words or hanging if your judge be Page.

Though the name was originally left blank in the last line, Page, according to Sir John Hawkins, sent his clerk to complain of the insult. Whereupon Pope ‘told the young man that the blank might be supplied by many monosyllables other than the judge's name. “But, sir,” said the clerk, “the judge. says that no other word will make sense of the passage.” “So then, it seems,” said Pope, “your master is not only a judge, but a poet: as that is the case, the odds are against me. Give my respects to the judge, and tell him I will not contend with one that has the advantage of me, and he may fill up the blank as he pleases”’ (Johnson, Works, 1810, xi. 193 n.) Fielding makes Partridge tell a story of a trial before Page of a horse-stealer who, having stated by way of defence that he had found the horse, was insultingly answered by the judge: ‘Ay! thou art a lucky fellow. I have travelled the circuit these forty years, and never found a horse in my life; but I will tell thee what, friend, thou wast more lucky than thou didst know of; for thou didst not only find a horse, but a halter too, I promise’ (The History of Tom Jones, bk. viii. chap xi.). Johnson, in his account of the trial of Richard Savage for the murder of James Sinclair, refers to Page's ‘usual insolence and severity,’ and quotes his exasperating harangue to the jury (Johnson, Works, x. 307–8); while Savage himself wrote a bitter ‘character’ of him, beginning with the words ‘Fair Truth, in courts where justice should preside’ (Chalmers, English Poets, 1810, xi. 339). As Page was tottering out of court one day towards the close of his life, an acquaintance stopped and inquired after his health: ‘My dear sir,’ he answered with unconscious irony, ‘you see I keep hanging on, hanging on.’

Page took part in the trials of John Matthews for high treason (Howell, State Trials, xv. 1323–1403); of William Hales for forgery (ib. xviii. 161–210); of John Huggins, warden of the Fleet Prison, for the murder of Edward Arne (ib. xviii. 309–370); and of Thomas Bambridge [q. v.], warden of the Fleet Prison, for the murder of Robert Castell (ib. xviii. 383–95). His judgment in Ratcliffe's case on appeal to the lords delegates from the commissioners for the forfeited estates is given at some length in Strange's ‘Reports’ (1795), i. 268–77.

Page married, first, on 18 Dec. 1690, Isabella White of Greenwich, Kent, who was buried at Bloxham, Oxfordshire. He married, secondly, on 11 Oct. 1705, Frances, daughter of Sir Thomas Wheate, bart., of Glympton, Oxfordshire, who died on 31 Oct. 1730, aged 41. He left no issue by either wife. By his will, which was the source of much litigation before Lord-chancellor Hardwicke, he devised his Oxfordshire estates to his great-nephew, Francis Bourne, on condition that he took the surname of Page only. Bourne, who duly assumed the name of Page, matriculated at New College, Oxford, on 29 April 1743, and was created M.A. 1747 and D.C.L. 1749. He was M.P. for Oxford University from 1768 to 1801, and died unmarried at Middle Aston on 24 Nov. 1803. Soon after his death the Middle Aston estate, which had been purchased by his great-uncle about 1710, was sold to Sir Clement Cottrell Dormer, and the house in which the judge had lived was pulled down.

Page is said to have written ‘various political pamphlets’ in his early days at the bar (Granger, ed. Noble, iii. 203), but of these no traces can be found. His judgments and charges seem to have been remarkable more for the poverty of their language than for anything else. ‘The charge of J——P——to the Grand Jury of M——x, on Saturday May 22, 1736’ (London, 1738, 8vo), a copy of which is in the library of the British Museum, is probably a satire. There are engravings of Page by Vertue, after C. d'Agar, and J. Richardson. The massive silver flagon which Page presented to Steeple Aston Church on his promotion to the bench is still in use there.

[Wing's Annals of Steeple Aston and Middle Aston, 1875; Foss's Judges of England, 1864, viii. 143–6; Luttrell's Brief Historical Relation of State Affairs, 1857, v. 518, 524, vi. 20, 118, 510; Historical Register, 1715, Chron. Diary, p. 31, 1718 Chron. Register, p. 22, 1726 Chron. Diary, p. 41, 1727 Chron. Diary, p. 48; Granger's Biogr. Hist. of England, continued by Noble, 1806, iii. 203–5; Hone's Year Book, 1832, pp. 613–14; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iii. 284–5, 295, 482, iv. 191–2, v. 257–8, ix. 143; Martin's Masters of the Bench of the Inner Temple, 1883, p. 63; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, iii. 1056; Official Return of Lists of Members of Parliament. pt. ii. pp. 11, 21, 141, 154, 167, 180, 192, 206; Notes and Queries, 3rd ser. i. 13, 153, 237, ii. 383, xii. 401, 6th ser. i. 345, 518, 8th ser. iv. 68, 275, 513, v. 93.]

G. F. R. B.