29 April 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton and Sir Henry Norris
Posted By Claire on April 29, 2018
On this day in history, Saturday 29th April 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn had encounters with two male courtiers: Sir Henry Norris, groom of the stool to King Henry VIII and a suitor of one of Anne’s ladies, and Mark Smeaton, court musician.
They were encounters that would prey on Anne’s mind after her arrest, as she struggled to understand why she had been arrested.
These men were two of the five charged in May 1536 with sleeping with the queen and conspiring with her to kill King Henry VIII.
You can read more about these encounters in my article 29 April 1536 – A Sulk and an Argument.
Picture: The Henry Norris and Anne Boleyn of “The Tudors” series.
8 thoughts on “29 April 1536 – Queen Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton and Sir Henry Norris”
I realize these conversations were inappropriate and to some extent treasonous but to be executed for them seems absurd. I think Anne’s death had already been decided before these conversations even occured. Now was a chance to justify it. when her time came. Maybe the other men were victims of the King and Cromwell or perhaps collateral damage needed to show that killing Anne was the right thing to do
If I recall correctly, I once read somewhere that in order to have the French swordsman available to behead Anne, he had to have been informed of the need for his services before Anne was even condemned. I can’t remember where I read it, so it’s entirely possible it was a plot device in a book or some such, but it stuck in my head as an interesting tidbit.
I remember reading that too but I can’t recall where. Maybe someone will read your post and remind us.
Strype could have something there when he said Annes remark to Smeaton could have aroused in him feelings of revenge and thus was responsible for his confession, in the class conscious world of the sixteenth century everyone was supposed to have known their place, was Smeaton resentful of the other men in her inner circle, it is said he was despised for being a lowly musician by Norris and Weston, Wyatt etc, they were all nobleman with lineages going back as far as Charlemagne, he on the other hand had no such lineage to boast of, one source said he was Flemish but we have no proof of this, he is described as being very handsome and graceful with a beautiful voice, Anne was said to have favoured him by supplying his horse with a beautiful costly saddle and fitting him out with clothes and gifts of money, he was said by some to have strutted about at court with arrogance which riled the nobleman in her circle certainly they could have been jealous or him, if he became a little overbearing it was possibly because he knew they did look down on him but Annes remark to me does sound rather snotty, and it’s quite understandable that he resented it, she knew she possibly had offended him as she brought it up in the Tower, she was obviously trying to understand why she was there and who had said such dreadful things about her, like a person grasping at straws when they are placed in a frightening situation her mind was going into overdrive and she was desperately trying to remember all the things she had said which could have led to her present position, but Smeatons confession is something which is difficult to understand unless he was threatened with torture, I feel overbearing pressure had been put on him and possibly he was bribed with a quick merciful death if he confessed, Wyatt afterwards in his lament called him a rotton twig but we should not judge him too harshly, who knows how brave we are till put to the ultimate test? The awful death by hanging drawing and quartering would make the bravest man quake, I do not think he confessed lightly, Anne was his mistress she had been good to him he may have had a crush on her, many younger men do have crushes on older women who they see as far more interesting because of their worldy wise experience, Anne because she was the queen already was far above Smeaton in status and her sophistication and elegance would have made her stand out amongst the giggling girls his own age, indeed she always had stood out from the women at court, it was what made Henry notice her in the first place, he alone knew he was responsible for her incarceration in the Tower and others would be joining her shortly, it must have been something which tormented him till the minute he laid his head on the block, with Henry Norris he was an old friend of the Kings, he had been his jousting partner and held the coveted position of Groom Of The Stool, he was engaged to her cousin Madge who was said to be a pretty girl of whom Anne was fond of, that fatal day what she had said to him was very near to treason and she was well aware she had overstepped the bounds of courtly love which was acceptable at court, it was some four hundred years before when the fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry 11 and brought the troubadours from her sunny land in the south of France to England, it was said Henry 11 did not understand it but it was a tradition which had flourished in Aquitaine for centuries, and thus it had stayed in the English court and was something all queens abided by, but Anne with one stroke had broken the rules, she had become the aggressor not the high born lady who was being wooed, she said ‘you look for dead man’s shoes for if ought came to the King you would look to have me,’ Professor Bernard Shaw states that that remark hints at a rather close relationship between them and it does sound so, but with a woman as reckless as Anne made I think more so by her heightened state of anxiety it can also be taken another way, that Anne knowing that she had lost her hold on the King was desperately seeking male affection, an ego boost so to speak but it was highly dangerous and somehow Cromwell got to hear of it, Cromwell reminds me of a snake that slithers silently in the undergrowth unseen and unheard but all seeing and all knowing, just waiting for the moment when he would strike, and his spies were everywhere, for Anne residing in the Tower a place she was destined never to leave she could only bide her time, surrounded by women she disliked and who seemed to take a delight in tormenting her with barbed comments, cut of from the glittering court where she had been the centre of attention for many years she could only pray that justice would prevail and that she would soon be released, as she saw the sun go down through the arched windows in her private chamber and the darkness cast shadows around the room she must have prayed and prayed so fervently, I believe if walls could talk then some of her misery and torment would have been caught in those ancient stones.
Anne made an error in judgement when she remarked to Henry Norris about Dead Man’s Shoes, but it is clear that she didn’t intend anything serious by it. Norris was horrified and later so was the Queen who sent her Almoner to him to make good, but in fact she drew attention to everything by doing so. In any case gossip and talk were bound to have spread within days, if not hours. The incident happened in the Queen’s apartment, to which Norris had come to court his girlfriend, Madge Shelton and so there must have been others about. Anne teased him about why he was taking so long over asking for her hand, especially as he probably had the King’s leave anyway and had been a widow for some time.
Henry Norris and Madge Sheldon were reformers and both well known and close to both the King and Queen. Anne was the type of Queen who danced, flirted, played love games and loved to be adored. She walked into a room and became the centre of attention. If she had a feather she would be a peacock as my nan would say. Henry was certainly a peacock and Anne matched him. Norris is reputed to have loved the Queen as in adored her and he was probably very fond of her and he may even have given the wrong impression. Anne may have become aware that Norris had courtly eyes and challenged him by teasing him but went too far. We don’t quite know what made Anne say exactly what she did, but it was shocking and she immediately knew it. It certainly wasn’t meant as treason.
As for Mark Smeaton, well he really fell over his own feet, didn’t he? Anne saw him mooning around the apartment and asked him why he looked sad because he was gazing at her and she felt it was inappropriate. When he said a look was all he desired no doubt Anne brushed it off and really who but a desperate idiot would see anything in this? Well, Cromwell did. Anne was wondering how Smeaton came to be arrested and recalled this sulking moment. It is more probable that he was arrested as an easy target, an insider who may see something or whom they could manipulate into a confession. Cromwell, inviting Smeaton to his home, questioning him over and over, managed to do just that and fatally he accused Norris as well.
Within 24 hours Henry was confronting his wife with their daughter in her arms, in an angry exchange. We have no idea of the content of that conversation, but it had to have been to do with her conversation with Norris and the allegations now flying around the Court. Anne was appealing for one more chance, but as the events of the last few weeks have shown, Anne was being set up and the evidence from Smeaton just confirmed the indictment already before a Grand Jury, the plan to end this marriage made in advance. Anne had no idea that her fate was all but sealed.
NB. The conversation with Sir Henry Norris and Anne was not mentioned in the charges so Cromwell may have discounted it as mere flirtation.
NB. Greg Walker puts emphasis on these conversations as leading to Anne’s fall, although the evidence also points to the plan being well put into motion before this point.
NB. Professor Bernard, who is the only academic on earth who has publicly stated that he believes Anne Boleyn to have been guilty with Mark Smeaton and Henry Norris, says the conversation Anne recalled with him as evidence of a close relationship. That Anne put him in his place and was annoyed that one of his status, who was not a proper gentleman, should speak to her or want her to speak with him in a familiar manner, points to a formal and distant relationship, not a friendly and close one. Professor Bernard is not correct, there is no evidence that Anne had lovers, let alone her servant, and gossip as evidence is desperation, not proof of her guilt. Elizabeth, Countess of Worcester, may indeed have been in a position to know as he puts it, but her evidence was nothing more than slander. Her brother had confronted her about her own affairs and she had snapped defensively. When questioned by Cromwell or his minions she probably prattled all sorts of innocent nonsense and fishwife gossip and he lapped it up, because he had nothing else. There was certainly no close relationship with Mark Smeaton, nor was he hiding in her cupboard like a jar of marmalade as in the Spanish Chronicle and the famous Opera, Anna Bollenna.
NB. For Anne to have committed adultery as many times and with as many men and in several different places as she was eventually accused of, she would need to be an escape artist, have several doubles and the help of not just one, but several of her ladies. The men would also need to have doubles and free access to Anne while she was confined after childbirth. Not even the King had that and only women attended her. In other words the whole thing was impossible.
NB. The idea that Mark Smeaton may have had revenge on Anne by confessing to adultery with her on three occasions, while interesting, doesn’t make much sense. It is more likely that he was fantasizing. It is also more probable that he would say anything Thomas Cromwell wanted to hear to escape torture or believed it after 24_hours of pressure and questioning and deprivation of sleep and maybe even lack of food and hydration. He didn’t go back on what he said because he was afraid of the full traitors death if he did. The others could be given a less painful death by beheading, but Smeaton was of lower status and had no chance of such a death, without intervention. I suspect this is why he kept to his story.
Yes he never retracted his confession even on the scaffold which upset Anne when she heard of his death, but the poor lad had been terrified into betraying her and he could still suffer the full penalty of treason for low born servants if he dared say the truth, but maybe he made a full confession to God deep in his heart that he had never committed adultery with her which would have absolved him of any crime, he must have made his peace with God and prayed for his soul and Annes and the other men he had betrayed, cowardice is not a sin it is merely an awareness of ones own weakness.
Yes, I feel we have to feel sorry for Mark Smeaton at the end because he must have felt bad and he went to his death with his false confession on his heart. I am certain he confessed and repented in his heart and despite the harsh words of Tom Wyatt in his poem, no I don’t believe he or any of them deserved such a death. Having lied to condemn Anne he was guilty of perjury, but that could be punished with anything from the same punishment as the accused or in most cases reduced to a fine, prison or flogging, at the discretion of the Court or King, if perjury was proved. In this case nobody was interested, his lies were taken as fact because they were needed to remain as fact. I don’t believe he could have recanted had he wanted to. I am not certain he needed to be so determined to comply on the scaffold as his sentence had already been passed and what source says it would have been changed again? He didn’t know that, of course, and his fear made certain he was scrupulous on the scaffold, not that he actually said much at all. Anne would naturally be angry, but I am sure she also found pity for him. How could she not when she had to face her own doom? I know it is more convenient to blame Mark Smeaton, but the real culprits are Henry Viii and Thomas Cromwell whose plot this was to begin with.