1 May 1536 – A fun May Day joust turns sour – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Posted By on May 1, 2021

1st May was the day of the annual May Day joust at the Tudor court and 1536 was no exception.

The jousting began at Greenwich, and all seemed happy and normal, but a storm was brewing. The leaders of the challengers and defenders would soon be arrested.

Find out what happened at this joust, including King henry VIII leaving abruptly with his groom of the stool…

Here is the transcript:

1st May 1536 was the day of the annual May Day joust, which King Henry VIII and his wife, Queen Anne Boleyn, attended at Greenwich Palace.
George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, the queen’s brother, led the challengers and Sir Henry Norris, the king’s groom of the stool and good friend, led the defenders. Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, describes in his poem on Anne Boleyn’s life and death how everything seemed perfectly normal and happy at first:

“The King was amicable with everyone,
And touched them with his own hands,
Cloaking their impending ruin.
Seated high up, the Queen watched
The combatants, and often sent
Her sweet regards, to embolden the heart
Of each of them to become the champion.”

He writes of how when Norris’s horse refused to run that the king stepped in and offered his friend his own horse so that he could compete. However, all of a sudden the king got up and left the joust, heading for Westminster and taking Norris with him. George Constantine, one of Norris’s servants, describes how the king interrogated Norris on their ride and “promised him a pardon in case he would utter the truth”. But, as Constantine says, Norris “would confess no thing to the king”.

Had the king heard of Anne’s conversation with Norris, the one in which she’d mentioned “dead men’s shoes”? It’s hard to know. But Norris was taken to the Tower of London the following morning.

2 thoughts on “1 May 1536 – A fun May Day joust turns sour – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”

  1. Christine says:

    Henry must have been informed that Smeaton was in the Tower having confessed to adultery with the queen and maybe he implicated Norris? I can see his interrogators trying to get him to name others but maybe the king had overheard the silly chatter Anne had with Norris about his own death, but Henry could have heard about that already, hence the heated argument in the gardens the day before, so much speculation, all we know is the king to the amazement of the queen and the crowd, abruptly left the May Day tournament leaving Anne to reside over the event on her own, what was stranger he ordered Henry Norris to ride back with him to Westminster, both he and Anne were thus doomed, though the queen had no idea of what was happening, she tried to concentrate on the jousting but her heart must have been heavy against the warm sunshine, as for Norris one time faithful retainer of King Henry V111, the day ended with him being rowed to the grim and forbidding Tower of London, where all traitors go and rarely leave alive, Henry asked him and how we wish we knew his exact words, that if he confessed to adultery with the queen he would spare his life, so he had already decided in his heart he was guilty, so much for years of loyalty and steadfast devotion, he wanted rid of his queen but wanted to save his friends life, of course Norris refused to implicate the queen he was not guilty, he was in fact in love with his fiancée for all we know, and he was not having an affair with the kings wife who just happened to be the cousin of his fiancée, any other husband in normal circumstances would have been gladdened to hear refusal of any wrongdoing but of course, Henry V111 was not a normal husband and needed Norris to help him put his wife away, Norris have been shocked at what the king was saying to him, and it says a lot about the loyalty and integrity of this man that he was willing to forgo his own life rather than discredit the queen, it was something Elizabeth 1st remembered years later as she was always kind to the two sons he left behind, the next day was the queens turn to go to the Tower, it had started of as a normal May Day with the bustling crowds the ladies seated, and their men on their horses wearing their colours, the king and queen high up on the dais, yet it was to be a May Day like no other, there is a tale that Norris rode up to Anne and she gave him her kerchief, which he wiped his brow with and they both exchanged smiles, all under for Henry’s watchful jealous gaze, but it is a myth, no such exchange happened, Henry was laughing and joking and even lent his old friend his horse, there was nothing about Henry’s mood to explain why he suddenly left, it was the beginning of the end for Anne Boleyn.

  2. Banditqueen says:

    Henry may well have been waiting for the note, which probably told him that Mark Smeaton had confessed after being interrogated and possibly tortured by Thomas Cromwell at his house at Austin Friars. Mark has been arrested, questioned over and over for 24 hours and he had admitted to adultery with Queen Anne Boleyn on at least three occasions and to getting gifts from her and so on. Henry had also had a fight with Anne, probably over her remarks to Henry Norris about him seeking dead mens shoes, although he showed no signs of anger that May Day morning as the royal couple watched the tournament and Henry had been in high spirits. He had lent Norris his own horse and he was enjoying himself when the messenger arrived. Henry’s mood suddenly changed and he abandoned the tournament, leaving Anne on her own. On the road back to Court he challenged Henry Norris who denied any wrongdoing and later he too was arrested and sent to the Tower of London. Henry was a changed man. As far as he was concerned his wife had betrayed him and his world collapsed. At least that was the story the world would receive.

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