On this day in history, 24th April 1536, two commissions of oyer and terminer were set up by Sir Thomas Audley, Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor, for the counties of Middlesex and Kent.

“What on earth were commissions of oyer and terminer?” You may ask. Well, the term came from the French for “to hear and to determine” and it was a legal commission formed to investigate and prosecute serious criminal offences committed in a particular county, in this case, the counties of Middlesex and Kent. Crimes covered included misprision, treason, rebellion, felonies, murder, homicide, rioting, plotting, insurrection, extortion, oppression, contempt, concealment, ignorance, negligence, falsities, deception, conspiracy and being an accessory to these crimes.

It is impossible to say what the original purpose for these commissions was, but these two commissions were used in May 1536 to try Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton and Sir Henry Norris for committing adultery with Queen Anne Boleyn and plotting to kill the king.

Was this all just a big coincidence or was this part of a well-thought-out plan to bring the queen down? What do you think?

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8 thoughts on “24 April 1536 – Legal commissions are set up”
  1. Could such commissions be used for criminal charges related to annulment proceedings? For example, if (as Cromwell biographer Schoenfeld claims), the original plan was to annul the marriage on the theory Anne was pre-contracted to Henry Percy, then might the commissions be used to bring perjury charges against Percy (for denying the pre-contract in 1532)?

      1. Thanks. Also, is it known if there were any other crimes in Middlesex and Kent that might warrant such commissions? I would be surprised if there were no murders in those counties around the relevant time, but that is probably due to assuming that the counties had a more modern crime rate.

  2. I think it’s highly likely the sole purpose for these commissions of oyer and terminer was to be used against Anne and her alleged lovers, it’s rather too big of a coincidence, when you consider the King since Annes final miscarriage was no doubt thinking of how he could get out of his marriage to her and must have had many a lengthy discussion with his right hand man Cromwell, who just happened to be a brilliant lawyer to.

    1. Cromwell must be the luckiest conspirator in the world … he sets up these commissions to frame Anne for adultery …. and three days later, she has this very helpful conversation with Norris that, by referring to what Norris might want after the King’s death, meets the definition of treason (compassing the king’s death).

  3. How is ignorance a crime? I don’t think anything to do with the conspiracy to bring down Anne Boleyn is a mere coincidence. I think Henry had ordered the legal apparatus to be put in place, under the colour of authority, in order to ensure nobody backed out of this investigation and set up.

  4. “Henry was appraised of the results of the preliminary investigation, and on April 24, 1536, he signed a royal commission. Such commissions were by no means unusual at the time. Employed as early as Magna Carta and common in the time of Henry I, the commissions were used frequently in the investigations of “treasons, felonies, and misdemeanors”. The use of these commissions was most common in cases, such as this one, involving crimes against the King.”

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