29 April 1536 – Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton and Henry Norris

Posted By on April 29, 2019

On this day in 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn had encounters with two courtiers who would eventually be executed for allegedly sleeping with her and plotting with her to kill King Henry VIII.

Find out about Sir Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton, and what happened when Anne encountered them on 29th April 1536, in today’s “Fall of Anne Boleyn” video.

I’m doing these “Fall of Anne Boleyn” videos daily until 19th May and I started on 24th April. You can catch up with them on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society Youtube Channel.

You can find out more about my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown at http://getbook.at/fallanneboleyn.

If you prefer reading articles to watching videos, you can click here to read my article from a few years ago.

7 thoughts on “29 April 1536 – Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton and Henry Norris”

  1. Christine says:

    It is strange that Annes conversation with Henry Norris was not spoken of at her trial, but maybe Henry decided that the mention of assassination was enough without having to mention the relevant details, whatever Anne was thinking that day when she said those ill used words one can only imagine, maybe she had too much wine which can loosen the tongue, but really from this distance in time to us they appear perfectly harmless, however Henry had been at the tail end of Annes barbed remarks once too often and we have to take into account the reverence and respect Henry expected from everyone in his kingdom, most of all his wife and queen, who was expected to be discretion itself, naturally he was incensed when it came to his ears and Norris’s shocked expression conveyed to Anne the gravity of the words she had uttered, once once Henry was planning to go to France she sick of Mary and Katherine, had blurted out she would poison them if ever she had the opportunity, her brother admonished her for such careless and dangerous talk, Henry would not be pleased if his beloved daughter were to die he was not that concerned about his troublesome wife, but Mary was his flesh and blood, Annes temper made her tongue run away on many an occasion but in the days when she was adored by the King, she never had much cause to worry, now she was in a totally different position, she knew her husband was weary of her and so maybe sadness and anxiety made her talk the way she did, maybe she wanted the assurance that other men found her attractive, but it was highly toxic and in panic asked Norris to go to his almoner and praise his queen and mistress for the good person she is, but it did no good Henry had got to hear of it, and I think the occasion where she was in the gardens with Elizabeth talking to Henry through an open window, he looking down at her was the object of that conversation with Norris, naturally the King would be incensed she was his queen, it was high treason to imagine the death of the King, and coming from the words of his consort was far worse than anyone else mentioning it, Henry knew Anne spoke recklessly and like many people often said words she probably did not mean, but this was just another occasion to Henry where she had angered and disappointed him – again! He must have compared her all the more to his little Jane who was so demure and quiet and respectful towards him, Norris probably kept well out of Annes way after that and hoped that the King would not blame him for Annes ill fated words, but they were used against him and he like the others were charged with conspiring to kill the King, his old friend who he had served for many years, with Mark Smeaton this ‘rotten twig’ as Wyatt described him all we know is that he was in Henrys employ and the queen had favoured for him for his beautiful singing voice and talent as a musician, he was soon in the queens circle and entertained her and her ladies many a day and night, that he was young is what all historians agree on and he is often described as a pretty boy and the queen favoured him by giving him gifts of money now and then, there is suggestions of envy for Smeaton amongst her male courtiers as he was not of noble blood, and he was said to become rather arrogant based on the queens preference for him, in the charges against her they were all said to be jealous of each other as Anne slept with them all on various occasions, and they all vied for her attention, Smeaton they disliked the more than each other because he was arrogant and such a lowly person, the occasion where Anne coming across him sitting alone and asked him why he looked so sad is well told, she reminded him of his inferior position and that she was the queen, she should not talk to him like a gentleman she said, was she telling him she knew he had a fancy for her a crush maybe and she was reminding him of his status in her household, she could not talk to him the way she spoke to the others, Weston and Norris maybe? Did she think that was the reason he was sulking if so she must have had good reason to say the things she did, Lofts suggests that she could have taken Smeaton as her lover and his sadness was because he had her undivided attention by night and by day, he was once more consigned to the ranks of inferiority again, Strype the historian who Claire mentions thinks Smeaton confessed to adultery with the queen because he was angered by her comment but he had long been at court and knew his place, it was a very class conscious society and Anne was merely putting him in his place, all who were close to Anne knew of her cutting remarks like Henry did, and I think we can safely say most of the men and women in her household had been the butt of her remarks now and then, that it took three hours for Smeaton to confess to adultery with his queen and mistress is proof I think, that it was no easy confession and that it was gained under much force and possibly torture or the threat of torture, if he was angered by the queen he would have so a lot earlier and here’s another thing we have to consider, he knew if he was committing adultery with the queen he would almost certainly die, why should he wish to bring the death penalty on himself, it was not as yet treason for the queen to commit adultery but her lover would suffer most surely, he would not wish to bring death and destruction on himself, I think John Strypes theory is way off, these conversations with both Norris and Smeaton were probably nothing more than that, conversations with nothing sinister attached to them at all.

  2. Michael Wright says:

    It does seem rather odd that those words weren’t mentioned in the indictment since it appears to be the only thing that could possibly be construed as possibly treasonous.

    Re Mark Smeaton I believe what happened at Cromwell’s house is that he was told was going to be executed for treason no matter what. He was given two choices, to ‘admit’ the Queen’s adultery with him and face only beheading or continue to deny the same and face a full traitor’s death as a low born subject. That would not even have required torture. Remember this is Thomas Cromwell. Someone I consider one of the most corrupt people in Henry’s court who appears to have had no scruples if it would get him what he wanted.

    Hi Claire. Love your AB jacket.

    1. Christine says:

      I do not like Thomas Cromwell at all I acknowledge his intelligence and loyalty to his master, and that I believe he acted on his masters orders, but I find his indifference to human suffering totally repugnant, his chilling disregard of the way he despatched six souls to the grim reaper is evidence of a totally self centred character – without thought or mercy, his end when it came did not in any way justify the six people whose blood he had helped to shed.

      1. Michael Wright says:

        If you haven’t done so already I recommend reading Robert Hutchinson’s book on Thomas Cromwell. It does a great job illustrating just how callus he really was. Ironic that they got him with laws/statutes he wrote and used on others.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    Anne was recounting her encounter with Mark Smeaton while she was in the Tower, wondering why he was in the Tower, because it was something strange to her, given his lower status. Her words were reported to Cromwell and used against her. Anne was babbling all kinds of things in the Tower but here she wants to know what this young musician, kept by her husband, but also in her service, was doing in the Tower. What could he possibly have said in evidence against her? What could they possibly use against her with him as there was nothing between them, nor could their be because of her high status as Queen. Anne remembered their last encounter, it was the day before and she was annoyed at the way Mark was behaving.

    It was an odd bit of conversation and I really can’t believe this was seen as evidence against Anne. How ridiculous! Anne had found Mark mooning around her room, sulking by the window and she asked him why he was sad. Did he believe she the Queen should talk to him as with a private person, reminding him of his status and he said that “a look sufficed” . Anne was reprimanding a servant, not making love to him, but she was troubled by this conversation as she recalled it, innocent as it was because it was only the day prior to his arrest. Anne is clearly saying that she had hardly spoken with him, let alone anything else and their last conversation was to tell him off for sulking and mooning over her, his mistress and Queen.

    Anne’s second conversation was much more serious and could have been construed as treason, save it was said in jest. Henry Norris had been courting Madge Shelton, her cousin after his wife died for a few months but was around the Queens apartments a lot. Someone had told her that he came more for her than for Madge and then she teased him for taking too long to propose to her cousin. Anne asked why he hadn’t done anything about Madge and he said he preferred to take his time. O.K all innocent up to now but then that really stupid reckless moment which can’t be written off as teasing or a game of courtly love. Anne tells Norris the truth is that he sees her as a potential bride if the King died. By saying Norris looked for dead men’s shoes and if anything happened to the King, he sought to have her, Anne committed treason, imagining the King’s death, even though she didn’t intend to. Norris realised her words were dangerous and protested and said he would lose his head if such a thing were true, almost as if he had a premonition. Anne snapped that she could arrange that. It was only afterwards that she realised how foolish this exchange was and it had probably been witnessed.

    Norris didn’t intend any disrespect towards the King but Anne’s words towards him were reckless and put him in danger. Anne made things worse by drawing attention to herself when she told him to go to her Almoner to swear that she was a good woman. Henry heard about this conversation and it was most probably this that he confronted Anne over in the garden. This wasn’t used against him and Henry may have been satisfied with any explanation he received but Norris was highlighted as a suspect when Smeaton named him during his own interrogation. Norris was also alleged to have made some kind of confession which he later said was given under duress and he was tricked into it. He retracted it during his trial and pleaded not guilty. Henry even questioned him on the way from the May Day Tournament to the palace about his relationship with Anne, promising him pardon if he confessed the truth. Norris refused and swore on his life that he was innocent. Henry was unable to find a way to believe his intimate friend and condemned him to his fate.

    This shows how weak the Crown’s case really was, they had no evidence so they looked for people to trip up under pressure and fall into their traps. Odd and whispered conversations, exchanges of Courtly love gone wrong, gossip by an unfaithful wife and innocent games, all of these things were taken out of context and used as proof of sexual misconduct. It was utter nonsense but Cromwell was desperate and Smeaton confessed to sleeping with Anne three times. This was under duress but it was held as true and Mark never withdrew his confession, much to the anger of Anne, not even on the scaffold. That made the case of the state appear strong but as we know it was fake and weak and invented. The accused didn’t stand a chance, it was a set up, designed to kill a Queen.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes really there was so case against Anne Boleyn it was all fabrication based on gossip and hearsay, as George said at his trial ‘on the words of one woman you are ready to believe the worst of me’, which for a long time was thought to refer to his wife but now is believed to be that of Lady Worcester, in fact it just goes to show what a load of nonsense it all was as George really showed his trial up for what it was, just old women’s gossip and many were betting on his acquittal, the foolish words Anne said in conversation with Norris however were treasonous, even though as Bq attest’s were said in jest, the death of the reigning monarch was not a matter for frivolity and she knew at once, she had overstepped the mark, in fact it is only Lady Worcester who remarked to her brother what goes on in the queens apartments was no better than what she was doing, and Annes remark about dead men’s shoes that gave the crown any strength at all and not a lot, because that was all they had to go on, hence Smeatons three hour long sojourn with master secretary at his house in Stepney, that also was odd because he was invited there, some say he thought it was a friendly gesture and Smeaton the poor lad could have been quiet excited by the fact that he was invited to the house of Kings first minister, he must have thought Cromwell had taken a liking to him and maybe wanted him to join his household, if he had then he was in for a rude awakening, the result of that ill fated meeting was that Cromwell had extracted a confession from Smeaton that he had slept with the queen on several occasions, there was a theory he had been racked, but a man who has been put on that most feared of instruments suffers the most incredible pain as it discolated every bone in the body, and Smeaton it was noted could walk unaided to his trial and execution, unlike another of the racks victims – Anne Askew who had to be carried in a chair to the stake, more than likely Cromwell had frightened him by saying he would go to the Tower and be racked there, or put in another of the Towers dreaded inhabitants, the Little Ease for one where it was impossible to stand up straight or lie down, thus the poor victim had to stay crippled in one position, there was also Scavengers Daughter and numerous other horrific means to extract torture from the unfortunate, certainly we can assume with justification that Smeaton had been bullied and frightened into confessing adultery, Cromwell reminded him of his lowly birth he would suffer the dreadful punishment of death by hanging drawing and quartering, but he could make sure he would have a much more merciful end if he were only to confess to adultery, Smeaton was in a dreadful dilemma he had no wish to disgrace his queen who had always been good to him, but how could he stand death by disembowlment, Cromwell knew it would only be a matter of time before he weakened, he wanted other names to, so in fright Smeaton mentioned Norris, in one book I read it said that Cromwell may have had some instruments of torture in his house but there was only one rack and it was kept in the Tower, invented by the Earl of Exeter it said if you were racked you were married to Exeters daughter, the fear of the Tower would have made poor Smeaton very very frightened, this poor boy who was probably not even twenty was I believe cruelly treated by Cromwell, he could well have had some burly men there to do his dirty work for him, after three hours was up Smeaton was taken to the Tower and put in a cell there to wonder what on earth was happening to him, Cromwell now had evidence against the queen even though it was under great duress, it was only a matter of time before Anne herself was arrested and her alleged lovers.

  4. Christine says:

    Thanks Michael I may try that book.

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