1 May 1536 – A May Day joust ends badly – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

This day in 1536 was the day of the annual May Day joust. All seemed normal and happy, and nobody watching could have known that the leaders of the challengers and defenders would soon be imprisoned.

Find out what happened at the joust, and what happened when the king left abruptly with his good friend and groom of the stool, in today’s video.

I’m doing these “Fall of Anne Boleyn” videos daily until 19th May and I started on 24th April. You can catch up with them on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society Youtube Channel.

You can find out more about my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown at http://getbook.at/fallanneboleyn.

If you prefer reading articles to watching videos, you can click here to read my article from a few years ago.

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21 thoughts on “1 May 1536 – A May Day joust ends badly – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”
  1. Happy May Day. I have an assessment for PIP today and am currently waiting for the quack to arrive. I have decided to use the thing against them that the DWP fears the most, my intelligence. Went to a tribunal for DLA years ago and the DWP complained to my representative that I was using my intelligence against them. Had to wait for us to stop laughing before we went in. Steve has one on next Tuesday. It’s at 10 a.m. Goodluck with that. At least his bag is quiet in the morning, but if he has to do an emergency change, they will have to wait.

    Anyway, sorry but I am a bit nervous as the last one was really abusive and lied, so I am recording this one.

    I think Henry must have been told Smeaton had confessed and named Norris. Together with the conversation with Anne, Norris now looked as if he was having an affair with his wife. If Henry believed it, it would be natural that he was angry. I am sorry, I can’t concentrate, so will have to come back.

      1. Hi Christine, they didn’t even turn up. Should have come between 11 a.m and 1p.m. Waiting until after 2/30 p.m. No sign of them and had a doctor appointment so had to go. I can’t rearrange it so the invisible doctor will have to give me a good report. I am not even surprised. In the past had them come on the wrong day, not turn up on correct day, put down I was deranged, which was actually quite good, become aggressive when I was too ill to see them downstairs and one who came twice was marvellous. I got physically hurt by one we went to see and another one lost our records and made a decision without any information. That took two years to get back. The only time Steve saw one, he said he couldn’t be incontinent as he didn’t smell. Yeah, that’s kinda the idea of scented sterile pads! I threatened to save them all and send them in if they didn’t believe me! They soon changed their mind! Our rep is very good and sorting them out tomorrow. Well I guess they are afraid of my intelligence. Ha! What a joke!

  2. In movies and fiction it has one of the Kings servants whispering in the Kings ear and he turning white with shock, he then as its true to the account of that day, abruptly gets up and leaves, taking Norris with him, and leaving Anne to preside over the rest of the celebrations, the 1st of May 1536 was the beginning of the end for Queen Anne Boleyn, yet everything seemed to be going fine and the King was openly supporting her, he was as De Carles says in a good mood and chatting to many, Anne herself must have felt better than she had for a long time the warmth of the May Day entwined with the jollity of the festivities must have enhanced her mood, then without warning the King leaves her side not speaking one word to her, she must have thought it odd and so did others, there must have been many a curious glance in his direction as he called for his horse and bid Henry Norris ride with him all the way to Westminster, Anne may have felt the first tremors of alarm, why did he leave so abruptly without so much as an explanation, but there was little she could do but carry on as if nothing had happened, and when the festivities were over, she returned to the palace of Greenwich with her ladies, Henry and Norris whilst cantering over the new May grass maybe chatted a little whilst over mere sundries and then all unknowing to Norris dropped his bombshell, was his groom of the stool his old friend having an affair with his queen he wanted to know? He then said he would pardon him if he were to confess, Norris must have been shocked and really old friends know when their lying, Henry must have known deep down Norris was speaking the truth when he denied the accusation, he had known him for many years and he was engaged to the queens cousin, said to be a lovely girl whom he was very fond of, why should he wish to ruin that by sleeping with the queen, Henry was deaf to his old friends pleas of innocence and he had him sent to the Tower, historians have wondered why Henry chose to question Norris and offer him a pardon when he did not the others, was it because he was fond of his old friend and whilst wanting to get rid of his queen, wanted to save his friend? Or was he trying to get him to blacken the queens name further by admitting to adultery (even though Smeaton had named him already) as he wanted his actual admittance of guilt? What we do know of Henry V111 was that he always believed what was convenient for him, and so he chose to believe Henry Norris was guilty of adultery with his queen as it suited his purpose, he chose to sacrifice one of his oldest friends in doing so and whilst more than likely, he mourned the loss of his old friend who would now surely die, he told himself he was guilty and must put sentiment aside, he also did not let sentiment affect his treatment of his queen in the next few weeks, he gave no thought to his young daughter the Princess Elizabeth who was not yet three and who would suffer the most at the loss of her mother, just like when he had refused to let his eldest Mary attend her mother Katherine when she was ill and later dying, and neither was she allowed to attend her funeral, so he did the same with Elizabeth and he must have put her from his mind, as he returned to Westminster the King must have been in session with his ministers whilst his wife dined alone under her chair of state, and we can only imagine what she was feeling, maybe she tried to brush it of, maybe he had suddenly fallen ill yet she would have known Norris had accompanied him, and why had he not said one word to her, May Day 1536 called ‘the solemn joust’ as that was when Anne Boleyns downfall actually began, was also the day when for centuries young girls in villages up and down the country had danced round the maypole, and there had been one crowned queen of the May Day, for Anne her crown was toppling but she could not have known how or when it would happen, she must have wondered where Mark Smeaton was as she always liked him to play for her in the evenings, where was Norris also ? These questions she would soon have the answer to for on the following day she herself would also reside in the Tower of London, and she would never see her husband or her daughter again.

  3. The scene in Anne of a Thousand Days is the best because Henry was told by Cromwell to go to the joust and watch as he may see something interesting. Here Norris gets all hot and sweaty and Anne drops her handkerchief. He wipes his brow and then gives it back and she kissed it. This of course is filmed in such a way as to look suspicious and Anne is laughing, is wiping her neck and her sixth finger falls out from under her long sleeve. Henry gets up and storms off, barking orders for arrests. Anne is abandoned. This of course isn’t entirely made up as it’s from the Spanish Chronicle.

    Most other accounts have Henry in a good mood, the day appears to be going well, but then there is someone who says something, he gets up, storms off and later questions Sir Henry Norris whom he now suspected of sleeping with his Queen. The fact that there was a certain conversation the day before made Norris look like a plausible candidate and he was given up by Smeaton. Now this confession and everything made sense. At least that is what we are meant to think. Did Cromwell really expect anyone to actually confess or was his mandate from the King so powerful that he pushed on purpose until someone gave in, choosing the most vulnerable person to interrogate on purpose? Now these are rhetorical questions and I really don’t expect an answer, but it shows that we still know so little about this period and who did what in the run up to the arrests that it is impossible to know what motivation either party had. Norris may well have been the surprise outsider as a potential lover, although he was a good candidate being around both Anne and Henry so often. Norris more or less made Cromwell’s case for him. He was to be tricked into a confession which he later recanted but we don’t know what he said and he denied the actual charges, even when challenged by the King and offered a pardon. A guilty man may well have accepted.

  4. I poste my comment on YouTube so have nothing to offer here except is anyone else feeling that these videos commemorating Anne’s execution are making the event seem much more immediate and real than just reading about it?

  5. I tend to believe that Henry Norris knew the King well enough to realize he would be charged with adultery no matter what he said. Surely from past experience he saw other men make up confessions to gain a pardon and be executed. No doubt, that was the case with Mark Smeaton. Norris was too honorable to throw Anne Boleyn under the bus. I’m not sure he was that smitten with Madge Shelton, but he certainly had enough sense not to sleep with the King’s wife.

  6. He may not have been he had been married before and had two sons and he appeared to be taking his time about marrying Madge, of course this was twisted round to suggest Norris was carrying on with the queen and that he was enamoured of her, as had come out earlier in a conversation said in all innocence, between the queen and Weston, every little word every look was interpreted as something bad and treasonous, the court must have been in a state of very real anxiety during those dreadful early May days.

  7. Yes, I think at that point the court was twisting around everything to benefit the King’s plan to kill Anne. I also tend to believe that Norris’ so-called confession may have been a mention of the conversation with Anne trying to explain it meant nothing. At that time he only had a son and a daughter. His other son had died the year before his wife.

    1. Did Norris have a daughter I thought he just had the two sons? Yes Norris’s confession could have been about his conversation with Anne, certainly his words were twisted I should imagine the interrogation he received was quite brutal and it kept on for quite a time, these men – servants very likely of Cromwells were told to get a confession, at any cost he meant to bring down the queen and he was quite ruthless the way he went about it.

  8. He had three children, Edward, Henry and Mary. His daughter, Mary married Sir George Carew who died in the sinking of the Mary Rose in 1545. And of course, Henry became a respected courtier for Queen Elizabeth. I’m currently writing a fiction book about Norris (he’s my 12th Great Grandfather), and it’s quite a puzzle putting his life story together. I’m on the second draft of my book. It’s a real labor of love and has quite a way to go.

    1. Wow, you are related to Sir Henry Norris, wow that is really good. All the best with your research and good luck with your book.

    2. How interesting that your a descendant of the ill fated Henry Norris, good luck with your book, I may read it when it’s published.

      1. Thank you. It is titled, “Death of a Courtier” and will probably be on Amazon by the end of summer.

  9. Henry wanted Anne gone and Cromwell had to find a way to end things permanently. I don’t think the men targeted were just random, although careless talk helped his case. The tension around the Court those last few days of April 1536 must have been terrible. People may have been trying to stay alert but dropped their guard and unfortunately gave Cromwell the “evidence” he needed . His case had to at least sound convincing. Anne could not be seen just sleeping with anyone, that would be ridiculous, even though one rumour later made it seem that way. Henry Norris was plausible as a potential target because he admitted that he admired the Queen, he was often in her quarters, his courtship of her cousin a convenient reason to pay a visit, her friendship with his family was well known, they had common interests, they were reformers, Norris was close to the King so accessible to both persons and he was in that in set who were around Anne and Henry daily. It is possible that he may have loved her from afar, but that game Queens played, it was that game of love which backfired and in the tensions of an atmosphere lit by suspicion, a few foolish retorts opened the door to charges of treason. The conversation between Norris and Anne might have been overlooked, dismissed, even by an angry King but two things changed everything. The confession of Mark Smeaton made the case for the prosecution and it is believed that he named Norris, making it impossible for him to escape being investigated and the King saw more significance in his friend’s words. Maybe Henry was trying to blacken Anne’s name even further, but I think he believed him to be guilty, especially as he had been in the frame twice now. Now he couldn’t let anything go and his mood darkening, Henry wanted one chance to save Norris. When Norris “lied” through denial, Henry sacrificed him. Cromwell could have him if he was so thoughtless and obstinate. Henry turned his back on an old and dear friend, who would not dishonour the Queen, because Norris had more honour than his King. He was a true knight and his common sense told him the Queen was out off bounds. He did also know Henry, better than most people, intimately, which makes me agree that he also decided that a confession would be useless. A few people had noticed that Henry had changed in recent years, had become less merciful, more unpredictable, hard and impatient and no false confession was going to save him. Even if Henry did pardon Norris in return for a confession about his wife, that would not help the Queen, because he would only provide more “evidence” against Anne. Henry put Norris in a terrible situation; we don’t know if he was motivated by friendship or if it was another trap, but at least Norris didn’t fall into it again.

    Anne was innocent, Norris was innocent, but Cromwell had now framed them to look guilty, Henry had his way out of his marriage and the prosecution would now do the rest. Susanna Lipscomb believes that Henry still loved his wife but that he genuinely believed she had betrayed him, that it was merely gossip which had brought her down, that Anne behaved in a way which made her look guilty. It was her flirtatious nature, the very game of love that attracted Henry to her in the first place which was easily turned against her. Now there is something in this, because that conversation with Norris started out in that way, until Anne over stood the mark. It was a series of mishaps, taken out of context, that gave the government the fuel for the fire used to cleanse the Court of slander growing up around the Queen. Anne was too free with her person, perhaps, even though it was all in fun, but a deeply fractious environment could misinterpret anyone and anything. It was these misunderstandings that led to the arrests, the confession of Smeaton being used as evidence against the others and other bits of interrogations being used to weed out further pieces of evidence. Faced with an overwhelming amount of evidence by Cromwell, Henry was deeply shocked and could only do the right thing for his own honour, order a trial. He truly believed himself to be betrayed by those around him and had no choice but to condemn them after they were found guilty of salacious adultery and high treason. Yeap, and what about the legal mechanisms being put into place in advance and who ordered the interrogation in the first place? No for me, while things almost fell nicely into place for Cromwell and the King, much of this was put together before the original arrest and it is not one theory or the other which fits the bill, but two or three things coming together.

  10. Thank you for your good wishes. Fortunately since I’m writing the book in the viewpoint of Norris, he only knows what he is told about the arrest, so I don’t have to go into the details of the other players as much, and how they set it up because it was most certainly a quagmire of evil and greed. I think the King just wanted Anne dead and left it up to Cromwell to work out the details. The fact that Norris was one of those trapped in the net may have been a bit disturbing to the King, but not enough to save him. Whether or not his offer of a pardon was a genuine gesture or just another way to keep him in trapped is anyone’s guess.

  11. I think Alison Weir Had a theory that Jane Seymour was one of those whispering in the kings ear against Ann Alison thought that Jane might have been pregnant or faked a pregnancy or was in love with Jane that might have been why he moved so quickly against Ann I am not sure if he still loved Ann but I think it was planned myself but I suppose he had lots of practice on other people

  12. I think Alison Weir Had a theory that Jane Seymour was one of those whispering in the kings ear against Ann Alison thought that Jane might have been pregnant or faked a pregnancy or King Henry was in love with Jane that might have been why he moved so quickly against Ann I am not sure if he still loved Ann but I think it was planned myself but I suppose he had lots of practice on other people

    1. Yes, in his diplomatic letters in late March and early April 1536,_Calender of Letters and Papers of Spain, Volume 5,_Chapuys writes quite a bit about Henry and his courtship of Jane Seymour and his courtiers who backed her. She was encouraged to tell Henry that his marriage to Anne was unpopular and to promote the cause of the Princess (Mary) and herself as an alternative. It was the very same tactic as Anne had used, encouraging Henry, removing herself from the situation when he upped the pressure to be his mistress, because she learned much from both Anne and Katherine, but Jane was now the head of a powerful, if odd faction. Alison Weir is not far off, because Jane was certainly giving Henry tea and sympathy and encouraged by Nicholas Carew was indeed putting into his mind ideas which fed his doubts about his second marriage. We don’t know exactly what if anything Jane said to Henry, but Gertrude Courtney, Lord Henry Montague and the old traditional families had told Chapuys that she promoted Mary and she was determined in her own mission and told Henry what the people said about Anne and his marriage. From the moment Jane returned the letter Henry sent to her in March and refused the purse he sent, she was the woman he wanted as wife no three. From now on he treated her with the utmost respect and only saw her in the presence of a member of her family.

      There isn’t any concrete evidence for Jane being pregnant or even pretending to be pregnant and the latter is unlikely as Henry hated being deceived. He stated that he was giving up on even having children with Jane because of his age, because it was some time before she became pregnant. It’s a popular theory, there were probably rumours at the time, given the haste with which he married Jane. I agree that Henry decided well ahead of these arrests and he wanted his marriage to Anne ended as quickly as possible and as permanently as possible. Cromwell found the perfect solution and brought the details together but Henry was the one in charge and this was his will, so in that sense yes, this was planned, although when it began, historians are unclear about. Much of the planning was in secret and we don’t really know much, but so many things were put in place, like the Commission of Oyer and Terminer and it was all very fast as well. Anne might even have been doomed from the moment Jane sent that letter back unopened. She may well have unwittingly set the wheels of doom in motion by refusing Henry’s intimate advances.

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