30 April 1536 – A court musician is arrested and interrogated

Posted By on April 30, 2018

On this day in history, 30th April 1536, Mark Smeaton, a court musician, was arrested and taken to be interrogated by Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s main secretary and adviser, at his house in Stepney.

We do not know what happened to Smeaton in during the time he spent in that house, but within 24 hours he had confessed to having a sexual relationship with Queen Anne Boleyn…

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Picture: Max Fowler as Mark Smeaton in the BBC TV series Wolf Hall.

12 thoughts on “30 April 1536 – A court musician is arrested and interrogated”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    I tend to agree with BQ that Mark was promised a ‘merciful’ death as opposed to the full suffering of a traitor if he would confess. I don’t know if he was tortured but being interrogated by Thomas Cromwell I’m sure was a terrifying experience. I’m sure Cromwell made it quite clear to him that he ‘knew’ he was guilty. The fact that he never recanted doesn’t mean anything. Only that he didn’t want to suffer a traitor’s death.

  2. Christine says:

    Poor Mark must have wondered what on earth did Henrys chief minister want to talk to him about, he a lowly musician and the Kings master secretary, some say he was invited to dine at his house in Stepney and he went joyfully all unbeknowning what was really in store for him, whatever happened we can only surmise, the Spanish chronicle claims he was tortured but we can dismiss that as nonsense, another source also claimed that but I think he was just frightened into confessing that he had adultery with the queen, as the article says on three occasions, I think the truth of the matter was that he was taken into a room where Cromwell was and the two of them were more than likely alone, maybe he was offered a drink to put him at ease and then Cromwell started plying him with questions about the queen and what happened in her chambers at night, I can just hear Cromwells soft insinuating voice and his small black beady eyes boring into the poor lad who sat uncomfortablly before him, those same eyes that we can see in his portrait, Smeaton at his trial was able to walk normally, thus despelling the claims that he had been racked, when Anne Askew was racked she had to be carried to the stake, the rack was a very reliable form of torture as it was much feared, it discolated every bone in the body and the pain was intense, I think it highly unlikely that Cromwell had any instruments of torture at his house, I should imagine he was quite adept at striking fear into anyone without resorting to violence, whatever he said to Smeaton must have terrified him greatly, it must have been the threat of torture and possibly the full horror of the traitors death, but such a confession made under such circumstances is meaningless and it is so very sad that this young man who had never hurt anyone and who had a promising career at court was ruthlessly used in this way to bring down a queen and four innocent nobleman, he was taken to the Tower and thrown into a cell and his torment must have been awful, he had lied about his mistress the queen, he had implicated five others all because he was afraid, but as I said in my previous post, we should not judge him too harshly, it was Cromwell who was to blame and his master who pulled the strings like the evil puppet master in this grim parody of what was called ‘justice’, on this day also Anne was seen pleading with her husband, she must have been walking in the gardens her little girl with her and she spied Henry gazing down at her, whatever was said we will never know the answer to, but it must have been about the ill fated remark she had made to Norris earlier, did he harangue her bitterly with the words did she want him dead then, did she plan to wed Norris after his demise, more importantly had he just been informed of Smeatons confession? It all very dark for Anne and she must have been in despair as she held Elizabeth to her, her senseless choice of words coinciding with Smeatons confession if he knew by then about his confession, would have hardened his heart against her even more so, Henry must have been terrifying in his anger but they could not have been talking too loudly as no one else overheard their conversation, the other courtiers with good grace would have no doubt made a hasty exit, but it’s so very frustrating we do not know what was being said, whatever it was about though, we can only assume it was about her remark to Norris, her days were numbered.

    1. Globerose says:

      Christine, may I posit a quick question?
      Why would Q. Anne so much as acknowledge Smeaton ‘mooning’ in her presence? Should she not have ignored it and got one of her maids to send him on his way with short shrift?
      Of course, had she done so, Mark would still have been apprehended, given Lady Worcester’s ‘confession’. What is your take on this, please?

  3. Christine says:

    Hi Globerose that’s a good question, why should Anne bother about Smeaton but like most people who are in close contact with each other, if one is looking sad then it’s only natural to ask what is troubling them, she could well have let one of her maids deal with him but as we know Anne was vocal enough to do that herself, Anne quite possibly cared about the wellbeing of the men and women of her household, certainly she cared about their religious beliefs, she had a copy of Tyndales book which she instructed them all to read, she cared about their morals too, she was I feel quite fond of Mark, he must have entertained her and her little group of friends many a day and night with his music and singing, she was probably used to seeing him looking cheerful and was surprised to seeing him doleful, maybe she was hinting that she knew he had feelings for her, when she said that rather snobbish remark about him being an inferior person, he replied a look was sufficient enough, was he telling her he loved her we cannot say, but it must have both made them feel a little uncomfy, maybe we are reading too much into these words ourselves, we do not know how Anne or Smeaton felt about each other or how she felt about Norris or he about her, indeed any of the men in her circle, all we know is that they were all innocently sacrificed within days of each other.

  4. Globerose says:

    Thanks Christine. Another quick one please. When you say that Q Anne may have been ‘Quite fond of Mark’ and that perhaps she knew he was hinting that he loved her, I immediately begin to wonder whatever possessed her. Seems to me that we have a faint impression of a young man copying the mannerisms affected by courtiers enacting poetic remonstrances of courtly love. And if so, not something to be acknowledged in a mere musician, surely? The big query I have about Mark is, how he ever came to be mentioned in the first place. How is it a Queen of England came to acknowledge and feel empathy with a servant’s feelings of love for her? It almost beggars belief, don’t you think?

  5. Christine says:

    I think it all lies in Annes character she adored men and flirting was as natural to her as breathing, it was a trait she passed onto her daughter who all her life had to be feted and adored by her courtiers, Anne quite possibly got a thrill when a good looking servant bought in the game pie from the kitchens and cast a sidelong look at her, she was a very vain woman and loved being the centre of attention, but yes as you say it beggars belief that she should even consider his feelings as he was not a nobleman but merely a servant, albeit a favoured one, to have a beautiful voice is a gift from heaven and to be skilled on the lute or whatever else he played to, therefore to Anne he may not have been your average run of the mill servant but a rather cherished one.

  6. Banditqueen says:

    After 24_hours of Thomas Cromwell, either he would be retiring because I have driven him round the bend, or I would be confessing to anything you wish. You would have to be a very strong and intelligent mind to withstand 24_hours of constant questions or special forces. I really don’t know if I would be strong enough, but Mark may already have been easily suggestive, anyhow. If he imagined himself in love with the Queen, which is entirely possible given that young men often do find themselves loving royal ladies and celebrity nobles from afar and were meant to adore the Queen, Mark could well have been open to thinking he had indeed slept with the King. I believe that Cromwell knew exactly what he was doing and Mark was an easy and pliable target.

    Globerose makes a good point about Anne noticing him, but it was all part of the game. Anne would not have given the incidence another thought until after his arrest, which is when she reflected on that encounter. She had to gently put him in his place because he was being forward, but on the other hand she also had to flirt as that was part of the ritual of courtly love, normally played with courtiers, not the minstrel. However, it is highly unlikely that she had never spoken to him before, not unless he was psychic. She must have given him directions about when or not to play for her and he was employed by both the King and Queen. (I seriously hope in real life that he could play more than one tune because in the Tudors he played the same song over and over, otherwise I would hit make him wear that loot). I suspect she meant that this was the first time she had spoken to him in a moment of familiarity. It certainly would have been just as easy to tell a servant to shoo him away, but that is not Anne. It might not have been the done thing and perhaps for a moment she felt kindly towards him. It was all quite innocent, so she obviously didn’t fret until she heard of his arrest.

    The gifts that Cromwell used as evidence of a love affair were normal gifts for a court musician. Henry and his Court enjoyed a whole range of music and he had his own professional band. It was normal to pay good artists with jewellery, clothes, fine jackets, velvet, rich ornaments, even with gold. Anne had obviously paid Smeaton well for his services and as a royal minstrel, he had to dress the part. He had rich apparel because it was part of his dress code and his wages explained all of the gifts that Cromwell questioned him about. Due to the fact that he was under pressure to build a case, Cromwell used all of these normal and innocent every day things to twist nothing into proof of a hot love affair. To his delight Mark confessed and said he had slept with Anne on at least three occasions. He also implicated Norris and now the poor Queen must have been out of her mind.

    This was only the beginning. Anne tried to reason with Henry later that day in a moving incident witnessed by the Scottish reformer, Alexander Alesius who wrote a moving account to Elizabeth years later. Anne had little Elizabeth in her arms and was pleading with an angry husband who was not listening. News must have slipped out about the arrest of Smeaton and other rumours and Anne was desperate to get her side across. Henry wasn’t going to listen, not even for the sake of their daughter. That night all seemed well, but it was the calm before the storm. After the jousting on the morrow the storm clouds would break.

  7. Globerose says:

    Thanks Christine. Claire’s written that on 29th April, the Queen had an encounter with two male courtiers; with Sir Henry Norris, Claire writes of Anne’s ‘anger’ and ‘speaking recklessly’,
    so much so that she then ordered him to go to her Almoner to say she was a good woman. Then Christine and BQ have explained about Anne’s relationship with Mark Smeaton, which also seems to have overstepped the bounds. My final question is, are these encounters indicative of a Queen Anne’s composure shredding under stress and tension, or is this just Anne being Anne?

    1. Christine says:

      I wish we could ask her Globerose, I think ever since she had lost her baby in January after the harsh words that Henry spoke to her, and then his dallying with Jane, one of her own maids of honour and the many arguments they had shows all too clearly a woman under strain, strain caused by the very real fear that her husband was not that committed to her anymore, she knew she had failed him and being the quick tempered woman she was, she did not cease to berate him, she knew Cromwell had given Jane his suite of rooms in the palace, she saw the locket that Henry had given her with his image inside, in anger she had ripped if from her neck, she knew he often visited Jane and more sinister, Henrys council were having long sessions sometimes far into the night, she must have heard people gossiping in little groups, their voices becoming silent when she came upon them, there must have been an air of foreboding that hung about the court and there was that plea she made to her chaplain entrusting Elizabeth into his spiritual care, she must have felt deserted by Henry and had only her family and friends to confide in, I think as I said before she was finding pleasure flirting with Norris as she felt attractive again, she knew Henry was off somewhere no doubt with Jane, the same way a woman may flirt with any man if she’s just been dumped to make her feel better about herself, the strain combined with her reckless tongue made her more talkative than usual and thus she said the damning words about the Kings death, Norris was aghast and the look on his face and his reply made Anne realise she had said something very foolish, she was not a stupid woman, merely reckless and her tongue had often rode away with her in the past, when she had babbled about poisoining Mary her stepdaughter when Henry was abroad, I don’t believe she meant it, she was just furious with the girl and her stance against her, she was not a murdurer, now again her emotions were running away with her, the fear she had lost her husband to Jane that he might divorce her, made her become more reckless than ever, but this time she knew she had said something which could be construed as treason, this is apparent as she sent Norris of to sing her praises to his confessor, she must have worried constantly about what had passed between them especially if there had been people nearby who could have overheard, which one of them at least had, since it was reported back to Cromwell, Anne as we know had always been reckless and not cared about what she said, one courtier described her in the past as being as brave as a lion, it was that very boldness which had made her say to Henry she would not be his mistress in the first place, she said loudly one day she wished Katherine and all Spaniards were at the bottom of the sea, she was still at that point her lady in waiting, but secure in the Kings love and protection she could say it without fear of reprisal, now she was not secure in the Kings love and protection anymore and felt very frightened by what she had said, no doubt she wished she could take back her foolish words but the damage had been done, all she could wish for now was that no one had overheard her, it could have done nothing for her already stretched nerves, with Smeaton I think she was just being herself, a caring mistress who wondered why he looked rather sad, who knows?

  8. Sheila says:

    However worrying this time was for Anne she could not know that she was to pay with her life. There had never before been a queen of England who had been judicially murdered. History suggested that Anne would be sent from court to live out her life as Katherine of Aragon had been. Reports of her execution show that she kept looking towards the gate as though expecting a reprieve, right to the end. I find it so chilling to think how Anne was arrested, allowed to dine and then conveyed to the Tower, and is there to this day.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes your right Sheila, she had the luxury of not knowing she was about to be put on trial and condemned to die as no queen had ever been executed before, her young cousin and Henrys fifth wife on the other hand had no such luxury hence her dreadful fear and hysteria.

  9. Banditqueen says:

    Anne had been vulnerable for a few months and the tension, stress and strain of seeing her husband going about with other women, going with Jane Seymour and knowing that Henry could dump her as he did Katherine, with relative ease and speed, was starting to show. Anne was known for her teasing and flirtation and her sometimes swift tongue, but all of the above meant that she was unguarded and didn’t always watch or think about what she said or the consequences. Telling Smeaton off was innocent enough, but it caused Anne anxiety and she went over it in her head and in the hearing of the spies in the Tower. Her talk with Norris had been more reckless and it can only have been as the result of her uncertain status and vulnerable feelings.

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