12th May 1536 – The Trial of Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton

Posted By on May 12, 2011

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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