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29 April 1536 – A Sulk and an Argument

Posted By on April 29, 2014

Anne BoleynOn 29th April 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn had two encounters which would be twisted and used as evidence against her.

The first involved musician Mark Smeaton. According to Mrs Stonor, one of the ladies chosen to attend Anne Boleyn during her imprisonment in the Tower, Anne said of Smeaton:

“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 ye be an inferior person. No, no, said he, a look sufficeth me; and thus fare you well.”1

Anne’s account suggests that Smeaton had a crush on her, but that she put him in his place by pointing out his lowly status. John Strype, the 18th century historian, wondered if it was Anne’s reaction to him which made Smeaton want to “take this opportunity to humble her; and revenge himself”.2 Whatever the truth of the matter, Smeaton was apprehended the next day and confessed to sleeping with the Queen on three occasions.

Also on 29th April Anne Boleyn argued with Sir Henry Norris, her husband’s Groom of the Stool. Anne asked Norris why he was taking so long to marry Madge Shelton, her cousin, and when he gave her a non-committal answer she rebuked him, saying, “You look for dead men’s shoes, for if aught came to the King but good, you would look to have me”, thus accusing Norris of delaying his marriage to Madge because he fancied her. A horrified Norris replied that “if he [should have any such thought] he would his head were off.”3

Anne’s anger had caused her to speak recklessly. Not only had she said something very inappropriate for a married woman, let alone Queen; she had also spoken of the King’s death. The courtier was meant to proposition the lady; however, in this argument Anne could be seen as the ‘aggressor’. Norris was so horrified. Anne, realising what she had said, ordered him to go to her almoner and swear an oath about her character. 

While Anne may have spoken recklessly, she was reprimanding Norris for his interest in her and could not be seen to be encouraging him in any way. And this conversation could certainly not be seen as evidence that she was conspiring with Norris to kill the king. The date of this conversation is not listed in the indictments of the Kent and Middlesex grand juries so it was not used against Anne and Norris.

Notes and Sources

  1. Cavendish, George (1825) The Life of Cardinal Wolsey, Volume 2, p37
  2. Strype, John (1816) Ecclesiastical Memorials Relating Chiefly to Religion, and the Reformation of It, and the Emergencies of the Church of England, Under King Henry VIII, King Edward VI, and Queen Mary I, Volume I, 436.
  3. LP x. 793

8 thoughts on “29 April 1536 – A Sulk and an Argument”

  1. Susan says:

    Thank you Clair I knew about the conversation with Norris but not smeaton ! Sounds like he got be hump with the Queen just shows you what people are capable of and I thought mark was a nice person well that’s my opinion any way I’m not an historian I could be wrong !!!

    1. Esther says:

      Mark Smeaton could well have been a very nice guy, but as he was low-born, he could be tortured more easily than the others — and the punishment, in his case, would have involved being hung, drawn and quartered, as opposed to the more “merciful” beheading that his social betters would receive.. While there is nothing showing that his body exhibited signs of actually being tortured, he would be more impressed with the threat of torture, simply because the threat could become actuality more easily in his case than in others. IMO, Smeaton’s confession could well have been made under threat, and he did not retract it because that would only replace beheading with a more horrific death.

  2. Mary the Quene says:

    Quite a lesson learned on the reason why a flippant remark or two is not always in one’s best interest. The Queen’s realization that the support and love of her husband was slipping away seemed to be dawning. There’s an irrational part of me that wants to shout from the audience, “Run, Anne, RUN!”

  3. BanditQueen says:

    I think that Anne was lying when she said she had never spoken to him. If he was in her and the Kings service she must have spoken to thank him for playing for him and where did he get the fine clothes save from Anne or the King for payment in those services. It was not abnormal to pay a highly praised servant or talented servant such as a musician in gifts of clothing which would then be worn for his office in the court and with even money or jewellary. It would also normally be considered quite innocent, so Cromwell was twisting the meaning when he used this in evidence for the prosecution to frame Mark Smeaton. Anne may have spoken to him and others several times during her three years as Queen, in passing and not thought anything of it. This occassion was different: she spoke to him directly to rebuke him for mooning at her in her presence. He should not have been hanging around and probably should not have shown her such a look or seemed sad to her. Mark was breaking all protocol and she was right to tell him off as he was low born; he was not a gentleman and not a noble person. Anne was Queen and his eyes should have been lowered in her presence and he probably should not have been hanging around her window. I think that when she knew he had been taken and confessed she correctly said she had only spoken to him once in this manner, but lied to protect herself as if she had said she had spoken to him in any capacity even as to thank him or ask him to play for her; even before the marriage; it would have been twisted against her. Anne was protecting herself so it was a good and fair lie; and Mark was an idiot for mooning after the Queen in the first place. Mark was also a foreigner; being most probably from Belgium or Flanders, a low servant; and so he was an easy target from the point of view of Cromwell.

    Torture was against the law in England unless a warrant was given by the King or in some cases the council. It is not likely that he was formally tortured in Cromwell’s house although ‘instruments of restraint’ were used; (torture without a warrant) such as less painful methods of torture or inventive methods: ropes with knots in them to restrain the forehead; and finger braces, very painful and portable and could be tightened by degrees. Something must have been used if he thought he had slept three times with the Queen; or was he using fantasy? Mooning over the Queen; his looks, the gifts, the Queens rebukes and then her more public but foolish argument with Norris; it is no wonder Cromwell wanted to press him to find out about the other lovers the Queen may have. This is the point at which Smeaton may have been threatened with or shown other torture items and a warrant issued. Does such a warrant exist? Is there any documentary evidence he was now tortored in the tower or did he crack at the sight of the rack?

    Henry Norris is the more interesting character here as he was in royal service in the most intimate way (no he did not literally wipe the royal backside) in that he attended Henry at that time; provided the linens and so on and took the stool chair contents to the doctors to examine. He was in charge of who had access to the King, laid out his wardrobes and attended him almost all the time: he had a lot of power over who could have access to the King. He was also a great royal favourite, a few years older than the King and a jousting partner. Henry Norris was a widow and had taken a fancy to the cousin of Anne Boleyn and one of her chief ladies: Margaret Sheldon. Henry some believe had also taken a liking to Madge as she was called some time early in Anne’s rule when she was with child, but the affair did not last long. Norris, like Madge and Anne may have favoured the reforms at court; and he was now paying court to her, with the view to marrying her, one would have hoped. However, to Anne at least he appeared to be dragging his feet and had not asked for her hand. Anne, the day she made the silly remarks that cost him his head; at some point before this was said to have been told that Henry Norris came to the chamber as he loved her instead. This is most likely nothing more than silly speculation and he may have admired her but is not likely to have been her lover or wanted her. He was shocked by her remarks to him which were high treason.

    Just what made Anne act in this foolish manner? Was she genuinely upset and angry that he had failed to make her cousin his wife after courting her for some months and claiming he ‘prefared to tarry a time’? Anne could be very careless with words and may-be she genuinely was not thinking straight. May-be that day she had too much to drink and was also upset over the entire situation she seemed to find herself in. In any event Anne confronted Norris in front of others and made the treasonous remark that if he did not want Madge it was because he sought to have her, the Queen instead if the King was dead. Naturally Norris was terrified and shocked and denied the idea, but the damage was done and even her attempts to put it right made it worse. Anne was a fool, there is no doubt and Henry Norris’s denial should have been enough to clear his own name as well as hers, but the enemies of the Queen now saw the opportunity and it was held against them and used in evidence, regardless of their denials and attempts to make good. Cromwell must have believed all of his birthdays had come at once. Poor Anne; she had fallen into his trap even before it was finally laid.

    There is another story that makes this interesting: it is probably apocraphal: Henry was reported to be angry at the story above and wanted to confront his friend himself. It was reported that he heard that Norris was named by Smeaton and that he had him ride with him after the May Day Joust. Enroute the King had asked Norris if he told him the truth he would spare his life. Norris was asked had he slept with the King but denied it and was asked again. He denied it and swore he would defend her honour with his life. Henry did not believe him; believed he was guilty and in light of the earlier arguemnt sent him to the Tower. But how could Henry believe such a thing of Norris? Did he not know him well enough to believe him when he said he was innocent? Was his pride so hurt that he was blind to the pleadings of innocence and that he did indeed only want to believe all were guilty or did he simply no longer care. He wanted to get rid of Anne and would believe any rubbish laid against her and did not care who else was involved. Would anyone have been able to prove they were innocent in such a setting of high paranoid drama? Someone ironically did, Thomas Wyatt, but then again Cromwell was his patron.

    1. Hannele says:

      To BanditQueen about Henry and Norris

      When Henry was convinced that something was true, nothing could make him change his mind. Not Katherine by vowing that she was a virgin, not Norris by denying the charges of adultery and treason.

      It is remarkable that Norris did not try to save his live by admitting the charges and throwing himself to King’s mercy (although of course he could not trust in Henry’s promise). Was the cause only that he was a gentleman or did he love Anne, however innocently, and did not want to harm her? Henry evidently interpreted Norris’s denial as a further sin: he sided with Anne and was thus no more loyal to him.

      As for proving one’s innocence, Baldwin Lacey Smith says that in Tudor times that was different from today. It was considered that thought birthed deed.

  4. JudithRex says:

    Anne had a habit of saying really nasty things whether she meant them or not. Saying she would rather see Katherine hanged than call her Queen, that she would have Mary killed if she ever had the power when Henry was out of town, that all Spaniards should be at the bottom of the sea, that there were too many priests in England already so no, she would not help her father same some young one who had made a minor mistake and was going to be executed.

    We only have the comments Anne admitted to in the tower, we don’t know what else she was actually heard to have said. And people believed ill of her because she was habitually
    unpleasant, it would seem, and made threats (who knows if she meant them? People DID die most horrifically).

    1. Hannele says:

      To JudithRex

      We don’t know if Anne was “habitually unpleasant”, we know only what was gossiped about her but not if those stories were true or not or partly true and if true, what was the context.

      In any case, those stories began only after Henry fell in love with her. Evidently she was well liked by Marguerite and Queen Claude. So she was not nasty by nature.

      We must remember that Anne lived in state of constant stress, both before her marriage and during it. Some react to it by withdrawing, others by being aggressive.

      The stress was strongest in the last days of April when the fateful incidents with Smeaton and Norris happened.

  5. Gail Marie says:

    I think the atmosphere around court made Anne so jumpy and nervous that she just spoke without thinking, she wasn’t as self-possessed as in the past because of the uncertainty. Unfortunately she said the wrong thing and paid dearly for it.

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