12 May 1536 – The trial of 4 courtiers

Posted By on May 12, 2021

On this day in Tudor history, 12th May 1536, courtiers Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton were tried for high treason at Westminster Hall. They were, of course, found guilty and sentenced to death.

Find out more about that awful day in 1536 in this video:

You can find out about the members of the jury, the commission that tried these men here, and you can find out more about the men who fell with Queen Anne Boleyn in this video from Clare Cherry:

Here’s the transcript of my video:

On this day in 1536, the 12th May, Sir Henry Norris, Henry VIII’s groom of the stool; Sir Francis Weston, a gentleman of the king’s privy chamber; William Brereton, a powerful and influential man in North Wales and Cheshire, and Mark Smeaton, a court musician were taken by barge on the River Thames from their prison at the Tower of London to Westminster Hall to stand trial for high treason.

This was just a day after the Kent Grandy Jury had met and only eight days after the arrests of Weston and Brereton. Things had moved incredibly quickly.

These four men were tried by a special commission of oyer and terminer, whereas Queen Anne Boleyn and her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, as members of the aristocracy, were entitled to be tried in the court of the Lord High Steward of England by a jury of their peers.

The men’s hearts must have sunk when they saw who the commissioners were. Although the jury included Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, someone who would certainly not benefit from these men being found guilty when it would prejudice the trial of his son and daughter, it also included men who owed Cromwell or King Henry VIII a favour, and those who would love to see the Boleyn faction spectacularly brought down. This was definitely a hostile jury.

Unsurprisingly, the jury returned a verdict of guilty and all four men were sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the usual punishment for high treason, to be carried out at Tyburn.

Eustace Chapuys, the imperial ambassador, reported to his master Charles V, that the men “were condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession.”

Also, on this day in 1536, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, maternal uncle of Anne and George Boleyn, was appointed Lord High Steward of England in readiness for presiding, as Lord President, over their trials.

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