29 April 1536 – You look for dead men’s shoes

Anne BoleynOn 29th April 1536, Queen Anne Boleyn had two encounters with male courtiers which she later worried about when imprisoned in the Tower.

The first involved court musician Mark Smeaton and the second involved Sir Henry Norris, her husband’s Groom of the Stool and a man who was courting Anne’s cousin, Madge Shelton. Both were examples of courtly love, courtiers flattering their queen, but were twisted into something more in the coming days.

You can read more about these incidents in my article 29 April 1536 – A Sulk and an Argument and more about courtly love in my articles Courtly love, Flirtation and the Fall of Anne Boleyn – Part One and Courtly love, Flirtation and the Fall of Anne Boleyn – Part Two

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One thought on “29 April 1536 – You look for dead men’s shoes”
  1. Just what went through Anne’s head on this day? I have always thought that may-be Anne had a bit too much vino at a party in her private apartments, when Heny Norris had come to pay court to his girlfriend Madge Shelton, her cousin. He had been courting her for a time and it was noticed that he had not married her or asked her by another lady who remarked to Anne that he must have come to the chambers more for the Queen than Madge as he loved and admired Anne. Not unusual, this was still an age of courtly love and courtly adoration of Queens, it was not unexpected, in fact it was a game, but in dangerous days, it was a slippery game. Anne, for some reason, decided to confront poor Henry Norris, and put him in danger on the spot. Asking why he did not marry Madge, she then responded to his wanting to wait: No I know the truth, you seek to have dead men’s shoes! In other words, if the King died, you want to marry me instead. Did Anne have a brain storm or some wild moment? Was she just being flipant and teasing him? Was she drunk and did not know what she was saying or the consequences of it? Or did she just do as she often did, speak without thinking? Was Anne unstable at this time or just afraid? Whatever her reasons: the words could have been taken as treason; not just under the new treason laws that made words treason for the first time; but even under the old ones of Edward I and III, imagining the Kings death was treason. Norris was horrified, for her words implied that he too imagined treason. It could be argued that Norris remained innocent as he did protest and rebuff her words, saying that he would rather die than think such a thing; Anne then went on to say that could be arranged, even more stupid in the circumstances!

    It is little wonder that she sent her chaplain to swear that she was a good woman and tried to undo the damage the next day. It is also possible that little was believed about the words, may-be the context they were made were realised and they were not truly taken seriously. The fact that this incident is not mentioned in the ist of charges shows that it was not the most important thing of the fall of Anne and the others. News of this must have gotten back to both Henry and Cromwell and may have been the route of the angry exchange with Anne and Henry the next day. It may have given Cromwell a reason to suspect Norris but it is doubtful that this is what led to his arrest, That has to be laid at the door of Mark Smeaton who gave up his name when he was arrested by Cromwell.

    The next incident is the unlikely exchange with Anne Boleyn and Mark. His mooning after the Queen was disrespectful, but it was natural as she had those wild beautiful dark eyes and he must have found her fascinating. Whether this exchange happened or not, it is innocent enough, Anne saw him as a servant, he should not have addressed her or being looking at her in a way to attract attention. He was there to sing for her or play for her and he would have been given clothing and money in exchange: this was not wrong; it often happened to reward good talent and servants in this way. He must have been good to have been a royal music person in the first place. He was a talent on the make, not a gentleman, but one who had risen to a position within the private chambers that meant he was in the Queens company often; a post that made him an easy target for Cromwell. I dont see anything out of the normal in this exchange save that it was forward and he ought to have known his place. Anne would not have engaged him in conversation other than to ask him to play for her. Why this was used we don’t really know but it was, again his vulneraility may have been his downfall.

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