William Fitzwilliam , Earl of Southampton

Today there has been a huge miscarriage of justice in our land and we now know that there is no absolutely no hope for Queen Anne Boleyn.

Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and Sir Francis Weston were all taken today by barge from the Tower of London to Westminster Hall to appear in front of a special commission of oyer and terminer where they were all arraigned for high treason. We can only imagine their fear and disappointment as they saw who made up the jury. Any hope of a fair trial disappeared as their eyes scanned the jury panel:-

  • Sir William Fitzwilliam – The man who allegedly persuaded Mark Smeaton and Sir Henry Norris to confess, although Norris now maintains that he never confessed to anything.
  • Edward Willoughby, foreman of the jury – A man who owes Sir William Brereton money.
  • Sir Giles Alington – A relative of Sir Thomas More by marriage (Alington is More’s stepdaughter’s husband) and a man unlikely to be sympathetic to the Queen or these men when More was executed for treason for refusing to swear the oath of succession.
  • William Askew* – A religious conservative and supporter of the Lady Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter.
  • Walter Hungerford – Our good friend and court expert, Eric Ives, describes this man as “a scape-grace dependant of Cromwell’s and a homosexual”1 and we also know that he is the son in law of Lord Hussey of Sleaford, an enemy of the Queen and a friend of Cromwell2.
  • Sir John Hampden – A relative, by marriage, of William Paulet, the Comptroller of the Royal Household.
  • William Musgrave – Musgrave failed Cromwell and the King when he was unsuccessful in making treason charges stick against Lord Dacre so he will be keen to win back their favour. It is also said that he has signed a bond for 2,000 marks to Thomas Cromwell and some of the King’s officers and this can be demanded at any time.
  • Robert Dormer – A religious conservative who had opposed the Break with Rome

  • Thomas Palmer – A man who gambles with the King and who is a client of William Fitzwilliam.
  • Richard Tempest – A relative of Lady Boleyn, Queen Anne Boleyn’s aunt3 and one of the women serving the Queen in the Tower. Lady Boleyn is not sympathetic to Queen Anne’s plight. Tempest is also related to Lord Darcy, a conservative.
  • William Sidney – One of the Duke of Suffolk’s friends and we all know that Charles Brandon is no friend of the Queen’s.
  • Anthony Hungerford – A relative of Lady Jane Seymour, the woman who, according to gossip, has replaced the Queen in the King’s affections and who could well be Queen if this all goes according to Cromwell’s plan.

Looking at these names, we’re convinced that these men were handpicked by Thomas Cromwell as men who could be trusted to do what was expected of them, i.e. to find these men guilty, and they did:-

“Noreys, Bryerton, Weston, and Smeton were brought up in the custody of the constable of the Tower, when Smeton pleaded guilty of violation and carnal knowledge of the Queen, and put himself in the King’s mercy. Noreys, Bryerton, and Weston pleaded Not guilty. The jury return a verdict of Guilty, and that they have no lands, goods, or chattels.
Judgment against all four as in cases of treason; execution to be at Tyburn.”4

Sir Tim Ridgway, our roving reporter, spoke to Eustace Chapuys, the Imperial Ambassador, regarding the trial and Chapuys said:-

“Only the groom confessed that he had been three times with the said putain and Concubine. The others were condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession.”5

So, it appears that Mark Smeaton, the Queen’s musician, pleaded guilty to the charges whereas Norris, Brereton and Weston pleaded “not guilty”. The jury, or “Cromwell’s puppets” as we have been calling them here, found all four guilty and sentenced them to a traitor’s death, to be “hanged, drawn and quartered, their members cut off and burnt before them, their heads cut off and [their bodies] quartered” at Tyburn. The axe was turned towards them. There is now no hope, they will die.

News just in is that Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk and uncle of the Queen and her brother, has been appointed as Lord High Steward of England. This means that he will be presiding, as Lord President, over the trials of his niece and nephew.

Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk

Should this give us hope? No, there is no way that the Duke will put his family ties and loyalties before his loyalty to the King and Cromwell. Perhaps this is a test for him.

You can read more about this trial and the view of historians like Eric Ives, Alison Weir and Paul Friedmann in my article “12th May 1536 – 4 Men and a Trial”.

* Interestingly, he was also the father of the Protestant martyr Anne Askew.

Notes and Sources

  1. The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, Eric Ives, p339
  2. Anne Boleyn, Paul Friedmann, ed. Josephine Wilkinson, p240
  3. Ibid., p239
  4. L&P, x. 848, Trial of Weston, Norris and Others
  5. L&P, x.908, Letter from Chapuys to Charles V, 19th May 1536

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23 thoughts on “12th May 1536 – The Trial of Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton”
  1. Every May and every time when I read about those terrible events I get the goosebumps.. These poor men and Anne just didn’t have a chance.. As someone said It’s like watching a car accident in slow motion and not being able to do anything to prevent it..

  2. Thomas Boleyn was also on that jury. I wonder how he reconciled himself with the knowledge that he found his own daughter guilty of adultery, thereby effectively sentencing her to death.

    1. Poor Thomas, I doubt he had much choice in the matter, I bet he had the others breathing down his neck and was in fear of his own life.

      1. I know what you mean. I sometimes think that although we write about these people, we have as much chance of understanding them as we would aliens from another world. That a father would be expected to sit on the jury, and that he would do so, putting his own life before his children. Have you ever read Disreali’s Two Nations speech? I know he was talking about the north/south divide, but he may just as well have been describing the gulf between us and characters in the sixteenth century.

  3. It’s true that we can never understand folks of the 16th century completely but I do think we can imagine what they might have thought–Thomas Boleyn was a product of his time and thus, would have believed in the Great Chain of Being–that one’s place in life what to be accepted and that kings are naturally above regular folks as angels are above humans. He would have owed the King his allegience before anything but God. While this is hard for us to understand, that was the prevailing world view. And, he also probably realized there was nothing he could do so he might as well save himself if he could. REally, he was lucky he wasn’t brought down, too. Maybe he was thinking of his wife–she lost 2 children but it would have been worse for her to have lost him, too. I do think human nature is still basically the same–I’m sure his heart broke for his kids but he was powerless–which is the case with all of us, really. If our children get in trouble with the law these days, there is little we can do except hire a good lawyer. Since accused people back then really didn’t get a lawyer, all he could do was survive. I find it interesting that he and his wife both died not long after–it must have broken them both.

  4. I guess Thomas Boleyn would have known he was damn lucky to sit there and not in the Tower as well! By including him in the jury panel Henry made clear that the family was still “in favour” (and that he was the absolute boss). It has been called Tudor Stalinism.

  5. I do think he was counting his lucky stars! But how horrible for him–he was probably secretly relieved he was still infavor but maybe guilty for his role in pandering both his daughters to the king–that is, if he actively did that–he certainly benefitted from their liasons. What a quirky man!

  6. Actually, I ought to be ashamed of myself, because I’ve just realised that in my self-righteous indignation I completely forgot to pay tribute to the four innocent young men who were about to lose their lives.
    I shall certainly be raising a glass to them tonight.

  7. In a way, Norfolk and Sir Thomas Boleyn’s treatment of Anne and the accused reflects the gross misogyny and sexism common o the times. Both men were happy enough to enjoy whatever advantages they could via their ties of kinship as Anne Boleyn’s star rose. They not only declined to defend her as she fell, but actively worked to dissociate themselves from her and prosecuted her.

    You can’t do something like that to another person unless you’ve ceased to see him/her as human at all. I really don’t think Anne Bolen was anything but a tool to these two ambitious courtiers. When the tool didn’t function according to their needs, they simply threw it out.

    I’m doubtful Thomas Boleyn cared so much about his children. I don’t believe he even bothered reconciling with Mary, his last surviving child, prior to his death. He used his children to advance his own fortunes whenever possible, then left them high and dry when they were in trouble or if their behavior offendd him (ie, Mary B.’s “low marriage” to Stafford.)

    It’s interesting to wonder what might have happened if the Howards had been willing to support Anne and demand a fair, reasonable solution for her. Henry disliked being perceived as the “bad guy.” He might have given the executions more thougt.

    1. I don’t think anyone was saying that he was on that jury, they were talking about him being on the jury on the 12th May. Some (Alexander Aless, Chapuys, the Bishop of Faenza and Dr Ortiz) reported that Thomas Boleyn, the Earl of Wiltshire, was actually present at his children’s trials but the Baga de Secretis makes no mention of his name.

    2. I don’t see how it makes much difference. If he found Mark Semation, Norris, and Breeton guilty of illicit relations and conspiracy, it stood to reason Anne and George were probably also guilty.

      1. Obviously if Smeaton, Norris, Brereton and Weston were found guilty of adultery with Anne then Anne also had to be guilty of adulery with them (unless they committed adultery with her while she wasn’t looking)! It didn’t necessarily mean George was guilty of course.
        I do take issue with the suggestion that Thomas didn’t care about Anne and George. I think they were his much beloved children. I agree with everything Anne Barnhill says in her comment and although I fully understand Thomas’s actions….I don’t understand them. But that’s my twenty-first century sentimentality kicking in. We are harder on Thomas than Anne and George would have been, and I think they would probably have understood, and perhaps even approved of their father’s actions in a way I find difficult to understand. I suppose that is another example of the remarkable character of the siblings.

  8. I walked across Tower Hill today and stopped at the Scaffold site to pay my respects to these four brave men.

  9. I think Henry and Cromwell would have wanted Boleyn and Howard involved in the trials … their weak case sounded stronger — and less unfair — because they could add that Anne’s father and uncle condemned her.

  10. I know its not laughing matter but the more and more I read about this makes me think that Cromwell has way to much time on his hands to orchestrate such an extensive lie. It blows my mind. It never seems to shock me how much power turns people. Cromwell was a “friend” of the Boleyn family and just as he’s put into a position of power where he can gain from the King he didn’t hesitate to turn his back on them all and even in some aspects on Henry as well. I feel sorry for people who think that power is the only way to be happy. Even Sir Thomas More was more than satisfied to have no power at all. Even Brandon was faithful to the Crown. He may have not liked the Queen but his honour stayed true to the King and what made the King happy. But like the cardinal before him Cromwell fell into the same situation that made Wolsey fall out of favour with the King. I guess he’s not a very observant person.

  11. Things are not looking good for the Co-accused are they, not at all nor are they for Anne or her brother. I feel sorry for them all to be honest, how played out it all was right to the last minute and how ridiculed they all were especially George and Anne that is for sure by appointing their own father as well as their own uncle to preside over their trials that must have been so humiliating and upsetting for them as hell and how so one sided it all was too not just against the Co-accused but Anne and George also plus all very unfair and unjust too. There are sources though to say that Uncle Howard, Thomas Howard wept at the trial correct me if I am wrong but this I what I read so he was not all bad and mean was he to do this he must have had some feeling as well as heart must he not have but at the same time he was in a difficult situation and in a defenceless one at that. There would have been nothing that he could of done even if he had tried the same goes for Boleyn of Wiltshire too.

    Those poor men and woman, one woman amongst men, six men that is or was could not win either way, no matter what they did or said. Basically they were and had all been trapped, there was no way out for them, no way what so ever, basically they all died for nothing, they all just died to satisy the realm and the King of England’s blood thirst and Cromwell’s for that matter as well as for their lands money and their titles.

  12. Losing your life for Cromwell’s case against a woman who had no solid evidence against her or the men. I wonder how Cromwell felt when charges were brought up against him.


  13. thanks for the info about William Askew, i thought he might be her father, now i know for sure 🙂

  14. It’s really very sad that the King let that snake Comwell ,go after these men,that were in fact very close friends with Henry,just to get rid of Anne.Surely Cromwell could have found some other poor souls and tortsuerd as anyone would admit to that under those conditions. But his closest friends??I Wonder if any one would want to be Henrys friend after that,I no I’d stay clear of him. As for Annes father and her uncle Duke of Norfolk, it must have been unbearable,at least her father was dimissed as a judge being that he was Annes father. Just My Thoughts Baroness Von Reis

  15. To be honest, with the animated gif on the left, the items for sale on the right and ads in beteen, I’ll get my info elsewhere without the in-your-face distractions which really cheapen the history.

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