17 May 1536 – The Executions of Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton

Posted By on May 17, 2011

Sir Henry Norris

Following on from our report on the execution of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, we continue with the executions of the other four men found guilty of adultery with the Queen and treason.

Thomas Wyatt, the poet who is at this very moment himself imprisoned in the Tower of London has written a poem about their executions, entitled “In Mourning wise since daily I increase”. I have included excerpts in the accounts of the men’s executions.

Henry Norris

Henry Norris was the next man on to the scaffold. We have two different accounts of his execution with his servant, George Constantine, saying that Norris “said almost nothing at all”1 and Gilbert Burnet, the Bishop of Salisbury, saying:-
“I do not think that any gentleman of the court owes more to [the King] than I do, and hath been more ungrateful and regardless of it than I have.”2

Burnet goes on to say that Norris defended Queen Anne Boleyn, saying that he “loyally averred that in his conscience, he thought the Queen innocent of these things laid to her charge; but whether she was or not, he would not accuse her of any thing, and he would die a thousand times rather than ruin an innocent person.”

Norris then knelt at the block and was beheaded.

“Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to run
To think what hap did thee so lead or guide
Whereby thou hast both thee and thine undone
That is bewailed in court of every side;
In place also where thou hast never been
Both man and child doth piteously thee moan.
They say, ‘Alas, thou art far overseen
By thine offences to be thus deat and gone.’”
Thomas Wyatt

Sir Francis Weston

The third man to climb the scaffold and face the executioner was Sir Francis Weston who said:-
“I had thought to live in abomination yet this twenty or thirty years, and then to have made amends, I thought little I would come to this”
and then advised the crowd that they should learn “by example of him”3.

It is easy to read too much into his speech and think that he is confessing to adultery with the Queen, or worse illicit sexual acts, but here at The Anne Boleyn Files we feel that he is simply confessing to leading a sinful life and to not taking the opportunities that he was offered to change his ways. Aren’t we all guilty of that?

He too knelt at the block and his life was ended.

“Ah! Weston, Weston, that pleasant was and young,
In active things who might with thee compare?
All words accept that thou diddest speak with tongue,
So well esteemed with each where thou diddest fare.
And we that now in court doth lead our life
Most part in mind doth thee lament and moan;
But that thy faults we daily hear so rife,
All we should weep that thou are dead and gone.”
Thomas Wyatt

William Brereton

Fourth in line was William Brereton who said:-
“I have deserved to die if it were a thousand deaths, but the cause whereof I die judge ye not. But if ye judge, judge the best.”4
He then repeated the last part, “but if ye judge, judge the best”, three or four times, before he knelt and was beheaded.
Sir Henry Norris’s servant, George Constantine said of Brereton:-
“if any of them was innocent, it was he, for if he were guilty, I say therefore that he died worst of them all”5, meaning that Brereton must have been innocent because he risked damnation by not confessing to his sin.

“Brereton farewell, as one that least I knew.
Great was thy love with divers as I hear,
But common voice doth not so sore thee rue
As other twain that doth before appear;
But yet no doubt but they friends thee lament
And other hear their piteous cry and moan.
So doth eah heart for thee likewise relent
That thou givest cause thus to be dead and gone.”
Thomas Wyatt

Mark Smeaton

Poor Mark Smeaton. This man had seen four men beheaded right in front of him and he had already likely suffered some torture. It was now his time to climb on to the scaffold, now covered in blood, and face the crowd and the executioner. According to George Constantine, all he said was
“Masters, I pray you all pray for me, for I have deserved the death.”6
Short and sweet!
Then he was beheaded.

Smeaton did not take the opportunity to retract his confession and when Anne Boleyn heard this she apparently said:-

“Has he not then cleared me of the public infamy he has brought me to? Alas, I fear his soul suffers for it, and that he is now punished for his false accusations! But for my brother and those others, I doubt not but they are now in the presence of that great King before whom I am to be tomorrow.”7

“Ah! Mark, what moan should I for thee make more,
Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,
Save only that mine eye is forced sore
With piteous plaint to moan thee with the rest?
A time thou haddest above thy poor degree,
The fall whereof thy friends may well bemoan:
A rotten twig upon so high a tree
Hath slipped thy hold, and thou art dead and gone.
And thus farewell each one in hearty wise!”
Thomas Wyatt

The bodies of these fine five men, all respected courtiers, were then stripped and taken away for burial. George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, was taken inside the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula where he was interred before the high altar, whereas the other men, who were commoners, were buried in the Chapel churchyard. May they rest in peace.

I’ll leave you with the final verse of Wyatt’s poem:-

“And thus farewell each one in hearty wise!
The axe is home, your heads be in the street;
The trickling tears doth fall so from my eyes
I scarce may write, my paper is so wet.
But what can hope when death hath played his part,
Though nature’s course will thus lament and moan?
Leave sobs therefore, and every Christian heart
Pray for the souls of those be dead and gone.”
Thomas Wyatt

Notes and Sources

  1. George Constantine, quoted in The Lady in the Tower, Alison Weir, p244
  2. Burnet, quoted in Weir p244
  3. Weir, p245
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid., p248
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