30 April 1536 – A musician is arrested and Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn have an argument – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

On 30th April 1536, court musician Mark Smeaton was arrested and taken to Thomas Cromwell’s home to be interrogated. During his interrogation, which lasted 24 hours, Smeaton confessed to sleeping with Queen Anne Boleyn.

On the same day that Smeaton was arrested, Alexander Alesius witnessed an argument between King Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn.

Find out more about these two events in this video…

On this day in 1536, court musician Mark Smeaton, a man I introduced in yesterday’s video, was arrested and taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house in Stepney to be interrogated.

We don’t know what happened to him there, but he ended up confessing to sleeping with Anne on three different occasions.

Was he tortured? According to George Constantine, one of Henry Norris’s servants, there were rumours that Smeaton had been racked, and the Spanish Chronicle, which is not the most accurate of contemporary sources and often has to be taken with a rather large pinch of salt, records that Smeaton was tortured with a rope and cudgel. It states:
“Then he [Cromwell] called two stout young fellows of his, and asked for a rope and a cudgel, and ordered them to put the rope, which was full of knots, round Mark’s head, and twisted it with the cudgel until Mark cried out, “Sir Secretary, no more, I will tell the truth,” and then he said, “The Queen gave me the money.” “Ah, Mark, ” said Cromwell, “I know the Queen gave you a hundred nobles, but what you have bought has cost over a thousand, and that is a great gift even for a Queen to a servant of low degree such as you. If you do not tell me all the truth I swear by the life of the King I will torture you till you do.” Mark replied, “Sir, I tell you truly that she gave it to me.” Then Cromwell ordered him a few more twists of the cord, and poor Mark, overcome by the torment, cried out, “No more, Sir, I will tell you everything that has happened.” And then he confessed all, and told everything as we have related it, and how it came to pass.”

However, there is no mention of Smeaton having any visible injuries at his execution on 17th May 1536. Of course, he could have been put under immense psychological pressure or even offered a deal – “you’re being executed one way or another, but if you confess then we’ll commute your sentence to beheading”. That certainly would have been preferable to the long and painful full traitor’s death. We just don’t know what happened and never will.

Smeaton was the only one of the five men charged in May 1536 to plead guilty at his trial and he never retracted his confession, something that Anne Boleyn was shocked by. When she heard that he’d died without retracting it, she said “Has he not then cleared me of the public infamy he has brought me to? Alas, I fear his soul suffers for it, and that he is now punished for his false accusations!”

His contemporary, another courtier and member of the circle around the king and queen, poet and diplomat Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, wrote a poem about the men’s executions on 17th May 1536. He was sympathetic about Norris, Weston, Brereton and Rochford, but described Smeaton as “A rotten twig upon so high a tree”. Was this because of his false confession?

Also on 30th April 1536, King Henry VIII and Queen Anne Boleyn were recording as having an argument. Scottish theologian Alexander Alesius, who was visiting the royal court at Greenwich at the time, gave an account of what he saw on that day to the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, when she was queen. He wrote:
“Never shall I forget the sorrow which I felt when I saw the most serene queen, your most religious mother, carrying you, still a baby, in her arms and entreating the most serene king your father, in Greenwich Palace, from the open window of which he was looking into the courtyard, when she brought you to him. I did not perfectly understand what had been going on, but the faces and gestures of the speakers plainly showed that the king was angry, although he could conceal his anger wonderfully well. Yet from the protracted conference of the council (for whom the crowd was waiting until it was quite dark, expecting that they would return to London), it was most obvious to everyone that some deep and difficult question was being discussed.”

Alesius did not hear what the royal couple were arguing about. Perhaps Anne was trying to get to the bottom of what was going on at court or perhaps she was trying to explain to her husband about her encounter with his friend and groom of the stool, Sir Henry Norris, before someone else told him. Whatever the argument was about, later that night Anne and Henry’s forthcoming visit to Calais was cancelled and it was arranged that the king would travel there alone a week later, something that, of course, did not happen.

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