29 April 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn, a groom of the stool and a musician – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Posted By on April 29, 2021

On this day in 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn had encounters with two courtiers, her husband’s groom of the stool, Henry Norris, and court musician Mark Smeaton. The two men would soon be arrested and, of course, would be executed for treason.

Find out more about what happened on 29th April 1536, and find out about these two men, in this video.

By the way, if you’re interested in my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown, you can find out more about it here.

Here’s a transcript:

On this day in 1536, 29th April, Queen Anne Boleyn had encounters with two male courtiers: a musician and her husband’s groom of the stool.
First, let me tell you a little about these men.

Mark Smeaton was a groom of the privy chamber, a court musician and a man who is described in the contemporary records as “wholly supported and clothed” by the king. He was of humble origins and was known as “Mark” at court, rather than Smeaton. This suggests that he was low in status and possibly young too. Very little else is known about him.

Sir Henry Norris was King Henry VIII’s groom of the stool and close friend. His office made him a powerful man because the groom of the stool controlled access to the king’s private chambers and was often approached by petitioners who wanted him to influence the king on their behalf. Norris’s son, also named Henry, was being educated along with Queen Anne Boleyn’s nephew and ward, Henry Carey, by the French reformist scholar Nicholas Bourbon. This suggests that Norris shared Anne’s reformed faith. Norris was also courting the Queen’s cousin and one of her ladies, Madge Shelton.

According to Mrs Stonor, one of the ladies chosen to attend Anne in her final days in the Tower, and to report back on everything she said, Anne told her that she spoke to Mark Smeaton on 29th April when she found him standing in the round window of her presence chamber. She asked him why he was so said and he replied that “it was no matter”. His sulkiness and answer appear to have annoyed the queen, for she rebuked him, reminding him of his lowly status, saying “You may not look to have me speak to you as I should do to a noble man, because ye be an inferior person.” Smeaton was put in his place and replied “No, no, a look sufficeth me; and thus fare you well.”

18th century historian John Strype wonders if it was Anne’s rebuke, the way she treated him here, that led to Smeaton wanting to “take this opportunity to humble her; and revenge himself” by making a false confession. Whatever the truth of the matter, Smeaton was apprehended the next day and taken to Thomas Cromwell’s home, where he was interrogated. There, he confessed to sleeping with the queen on three separate occasions.

Anne Boleyn’s second encounter seems to have been courtly love gone wrong. Anne asked Sir Henry Norris why he was taking so long to marry her cousin and when he gave her a non-committal answer, she either rebuked him or teased him, by saying: “You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the King but good, you would look to have me”. She was suggesting that Norris was putting off marrying Madge because he wanted her instead. It was probably a reprimand or harmless teasing, after all, male courtiers were supposed to fawn over and woo the queen, she was meant to be the object of desire, the perfect woman, but Anne had mentioned the king’s death and gone too far. A horrified Norris replied that “if he [should have any such thought] he would his head were off.” Anne realised what she had said, and perhaps feared that it could be twisted by her enemies, so she ordered Norris to go to her almoner and swear an oath about her character.

Reckless words, courtly love gone too far, but certainly not evidence of an affair between Anne and Norris, or of them plotting to kill King Henry VIII. What I do find interesting is that this date and conversation are not mentioned in the indictments against Norris or Anne!

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