29 April 1536 – Anne Boleyn, the Marmalade Cupboard and Dead Men’s Shoes

Posted By on April 29, 2013

Anne Boleyn, marmalade and dead men's shoesIt sounds like a weird game of Cluedo doesn’t it? Well, the spring of 1536 was a bit like a game of cluedo or a crime novels, lots of twists and turns, and alleged dirty deeds.

According to Anne Boleyn, in a conversation she had with Mrs Stoner in the Tower, she had a run-in with the court musician, Mark Smeaton, on Saturday 29th April 1536:

“I never spake with him since but upon Saturday before May Day [29th April], and then I found him standing in the round window in my chamber of presence; and I asked why he was so sad, and he answered and said it was no matter. And then I said, ‘You may not look to have me speak to you as I should do to a noble man because you be an inferior person.’ ‘No, no,’ said he, ‘a look sufficed me; and thus fare you well.'”1

From Anne’s account of their conversation, it appears that Smeaton had a crush on her and that Anne nipped it in the bud and put him in his place. However, the notorious gossipy chronicle, The Spanish Chronicle, tells an interesting story about the Queen and musician:

“One night, whilst all the ladies were dancing, the old woman called Mark and said to him gently, so that none should overhear, ‘You must come with me;’ and he, as he knew it was to the Queen’s chamber he had to go, was nothing loth. So she took him to an ante-chamber, where she and another lady slept, next to the Queen’s room, and in this ante-chamber there was a closet like a store-room, where she kept sweetmeats, candied fruits, and other preserves which the Queen sometimes asked for. To conceal him more perfectly the old woman put him into this closet, and told him to stay there till she came for him, and to take great care he was not heard. Then she shut him up and returned to the great hall where they were dancing, and made signs to the Queen, who understood her, and, although it was not late, she pretended to be ill, and the dancing ceased. She then retired to her chamber with her ladies, whilst the old woman said to her, ‘Madam, when you are in bed and all the ladies are asleep, you can call me and ask for some preserves, which I will bring, and Mark shall come with me, for he is in the closet now.’

The Queen went to bed and ordered all her ladies to retire to their respective beds, which were in an adjoining gallery like a refectory, and when they were all gone but the old lady and the lady who slept with her, she sent them off too. When she thought they would all be asleep, she called the old woman, and said, ‘Margaret, bring me a little marmalade.’ She called it out very loudly, so that the ladies in the gallery might hear as well as Mark, who was in the closet. The old woman went to the closet and made Mark undress, and took the marmalade to the Queen, leading Mark by the hand. The lady who was in the old woman’s bed did not see them when they went out of the closet, and the old woman left Mark behind the Queen’s bed, and said out loud, ‘Here is the marmalade, my lady.’ Then Anne said to the old woman, ‘Go along; go to bed.’

As soon as the old woman had gone Anne went round to the back of the bed and grasped the youth’s arm, who was all trembling, and made him get into bed. He soon lost his bashfulness, and remained that night and many others, so that in a short time this Mark flaunted out to such an extent that there was not a gentleman at court who was so fine, and Anne never dined without having Mark serve her.”2

It is a very tall tale, it is not corroborated by any other source and it is from a source that needs taking with a hefty pinch of salt – The Chronicle has Cromwell interrogating Catherine Howard even though he was dead at the time – but it shows the gossip that was going around after Anne’s fall and the propaganda that was being spread to blacken her name.

So where do the dead men’s shoes come into the story?

Well, they come into another event which happened on this day in 1536, an argument between Anne and Sir Henry Norris, the King’s Groom of the Stool. It appears that Anne asked Norris why he was taking so long to marry Madge Shelton, her cousin and lady-in-waiting. Norris gave her a rather non-committal answer so Anne rebuked him, accusing him of delaying the marriage because he fancied her instead:

“You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the King but good, you would look to have me.”3

The horrified Norris replied that “if he [should have any such thought] he would his head were off.”4 He was horrified not only by Anne’s suggestion that he fancied her but by Anne’s words concerning the death of the King. In uttering these words, Anne had been reckless. Not only had she said something very inappropriate for a married woman, let alone Queen; she had also broken the rules of courtly love and spoken of the King’s death. The courtier was meant to proposition the lady; however, in this argument Anne had been the ‘aggressor’. She had turned the courtly love tradition on its head and had also spoken words which could be construed as treason.

Anne obviously realised what she had done as soon as the words had left her mouth. She immediately instructed Norris to go to her almoner and swear an oath about her character, to say that she was “a good woman.”5 We don’t know what Norris did but it appears that it was this argument which was used as proof that Anne was having an affair with Norris and that they were plotting the King’s death.

Update on whether Henry Norris was a Knight

You may remember that Teri Fitzgerald wrote an excellent article for The Anne Boleyn Files about whether William Brereton and Henry Norris were “sirs” or not – see Henry Norris and William Brereton – The Knighthood Confusion by Teri Fitzgerald. Well, historian Leanda de Lisle had been researching Norris and found mention of him being paid 18l 5s for his role as Black Rod, an office of the Order of the Garter. He was appointed in October 1526 and this office was only open to knights, so he was a “sir”. The reference for the payment is LP x.878 ” 18l. 5s.; Black Rod” in the accounts from May 1536 after his trial. Thank you so much to Leanda for finding this information.

Notes and Sources

  1. LP x.798
  2. Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England: Being a Contemporary Record of Some of the Principal Events of the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, written in Spanish by an Unknown Hand (The Spanish Chronicle), Translated, with Notes and Introduction by Martin A. Sharp Hume (1889), p57. This can be read online at www.archive.org
  3. LP x.793
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.