30 April 1536 – A Visit Cancelled, A Royal Argument and the First Arrest

AnneandElizabeth1Sunday 30th April 1536 was a key day in the fall of Anne Boleyn as it appears to be the day when the talking and meetings turned into action.

Scottish theologian Alexander Alesius, in a letter written to Anne and Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, during her reign told of an argument between the King and Queen on that Sunday:

“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.”1

Alesius did not hear what was being discussed but could it be that Anne was worried about her run-in with Sir Henry Norris, the King’s great friend and Groom of the Stool? Could she have been trying to explain herself? Or perhaps Anne had an inkling of what was going on and was confronting her husband. We will never know. However, “the protracted conference of the council” sounds ominous and at 11pm that same day the King and Queen’s upcoming visit to Calais was cancelled and arrangements made for the King to journey alone a week later:

“I wrote by Collins that the King would have been at Rochester tonight, but he has changed his mind, which was not known till Sunday at 11 o’clock, and will go to Dover next week.”2

The most ominous event, though, was the arrest of Mark Smeaton, the court musician who had been mooning over Anne the previous day. Smeaton was taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house in Stepney and interrogated there. Within 24 hours, he had confessed to sleeping with the Queen three times. Although The Tudors series showed Smeaton being tortured, the only evidence for this is the ‘tabloid’ Spanish Chronicle, which tells of Smeaton being tortured by a rope being gradually tightened around his head.3 No other source backs this story up, although there must have been gossip that Smeaton was tortured because Sir Henry Norris’s servant, George Constantine, wrote “the sayeing was that he was fyrst grevously racked, which I cowlde never know of a trewth.”4 There is no report of Smeaton having to be helped to the scaffold at his execution so it is unlikely that he was racked.

Why would Smeaton confess to sleeping with the Queen?

Possible reasons include:

  • The fact that he did – The majority of historians believe that Anne was innocent and that she was framed. When Anne heard of his execution and how he had not retracted his confession, she was shocked: “Did he not exonerate me… before he died, of the public infamy he laid on me? Alas! I fear his soul will suffer for it.”5
  • That his confession was coerced – Even if he was not tortured physically, he must have been under immense psychological pressure.
  • He was offered some kind of deal – We know that the King offered Norris a pardon if he confessed, so perhaps Smeaton was offered a pardon or a more merciful death by axe rather than the usual horrific traitor’s death.
  • Revenge – Did he confess as revenge for the Queen’s treatment of him? She had put him in his place the previous day by humiliating him and calling him “an inferior person”.
  • Was he living in a fantasy world? Did he believe that he and the Queen were actually having some kind of relationship?

There is no way of us ever knowing. My own opinion is that Smeaton was terrified and so simply said what was expected of him, his reward being a more merciful death. What do you think?

Notes and Sources

  1. Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 1 – 1558-1559, note 1303.
  2. LP x.789
  3. Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England: Being a Contemporary Record of Some of the Principal Events of the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, written in Spanish by an Unknown Hand (The Spanish Chronicle), Translated, with Notes and Introduction by Martin A. Sharp Hume (1889), p57
  4. Constantine, George Archaeologia, or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, 23:64
  5. LP x.1036

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11 thoughts on “30 April 1536 – A Visit Cancelled, A Royal Argument and the First Arrest”
  1. I honestly believe Mark Smeaton was a very frightened young man, well out of his depths in a court full of ‘well seasoned’ staesmen on a mission…he was no match for them in their deceitful tactics that they used, or their interlect, he was a muscian from a humble background, he didn’t stand a chance.

    It’s possible,I suppose that he didn’t retract his admission on the scaffold, as the execution could have been stopped before the axe man did the deed, and be taken off for the full traitors death, a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t….he was petrified, an awful situation to have been placed in, and I do sympathise with the poor young lad, even though his words were condemning for Anne. But I feel even if he didn’t confess/admit adultery, no matter what they did or promised to him, Anne’s fate was already decided no matter what.

    I often wonder what that last argument was about, was it something concerning the matters in hand/, did Henry look for an argument with her to convince himself he was justified in what he was about to do?. What ever the reason the image of Anne holding Elizabeth trying to plead to any scrap of attachment he may still have felt towards them,is heartbreaking. The brutal, callous, narcissistic person he had turned into overpowered any love, loyalty and respect he had for anyone, including his wife (wives) and own flesh and blood.
    He would be in a place such as Broadmoor Hospital now-a-days, a high security hospital, for such behaviour…. 🙂

    1. Dawn1st,I agree Mark Smeaton must have been terrified at what was to become of all ,who were going to the scaffold! But Henry was a lier ,and Cromwell too,they were not going to let any of them live,was too dangerous,to keep them alive. Too easy to find out that the King lied and Cromwell,he had to cover up his TRACKS,as always Henry V111 was a master at. Kind Regards Baroness x

    2. Smeaton had been around court a long time, but unlike the other men his rank didn’t protect him from torture, and he would have known it. I think the pressure of knowing what *could* happen, not to mention exhaustion and fear, could easily have produced a “confession” without anyone laying a hand on him. And I think you’re right that even if he hadn’t confessed, it wouldn’t have made much difference to Anne or anyone else, and saying that he “deserved the death” is very ambiguous; it could be interpreted as deserving death for adultery or for his false confession. It’s not as if any of the others made overt declarations of innocence on the scaffold, either.

      1. Hi Sonetka,
        i think you are right in saying the ‘knowing’ of torture would be enough to frighten him senseless, personally I don’t think he was ‘physically’ tortured, when I said deceitful tactics I meant brow beating with clever words, threats and false promises.

        I actually thought it was just women and children that were exempt from torture, except for poor Anne Askew, so thanks for that info.

        Please don’t think I implied Mark deserved to died, because I certainly didn’t intend my comment to come across as that, quite the opposite, he was as an innocent victim as they all were, trapped in a web of lies and deceit with no choice but to obtain the swiftest death possible for themselves, and of course no one would dare speak out against the so called justice of the King, as any remaining relatives could suffer reprocussions too, must have been very difficult not voice an opinion though.

  2. Claire ,Excellent read !! Yes Henry was a master at hidding his anger,It must have been just horrible for Q’Anne when the arrest happen.Claire I keep seeing Sir Henry Norris?? Whats up with that ,I thought he was not knighted??Why is he called Sir Henry Norris?? Regards BaronessX

  3. A very interesting piece which I enjoyed reading. It is an interesting glimpse into a private interaction between the King and Anne. I am trying to picture Anne holding her child, trying to discuss this issue with her husband. Another poster called it ‘heartbreaking’ and that is exactly the word I would use.

  4. I think that Mark Smeaton was dedicated to Anne and being that close to her, a rapidly rising musical star at court and in her household, he may have had fantasies or even genuine feelings for her not just as Queen but as a woman. He may even have shared some of her beliefs and ambitions and have admired her for her forthright thinking and her steadfast ways. He did not want to have sexual love with her; he wanted to honour her.

    It was not unusual to reward a gifted servant with jewels and rich clothing, especially at court, it was often how they got paid. The fact that Anne gave Mark a nice jacket and some jewelery may not have been remarked upon under normal circumstances: Henry rewarded servants who did remarkable service or where gifted in much the same way; but when the atmosphere was one of deep suspicion anything could be twisted and even an innocent look or remark could be embellished into something else.

    Mark was tortored; may-be by ropes being tightened around his head: ouch; that would have made me tell Thomas Cromwell what he wanted me to say; and as he was not a gentleman, he could have been racked although there is some doubt cast on this. He was also possibly told that his life would be spared if he confessed and said the others were guilty. In other words, was he bribed into turning king’s evidence and then killed in any case: as Henry wanted him out of the way?

    Whatever happened to Mark Smeaton he was certainly in a lot of pain and very afraid. He was a foreigner having been born and raised in Brussels and this may also have made him vulnerable. What if Cromwell threatened to dump him on a ship and have him shipped back home without a penny to his name? Only the ‘truth’ could save him. Thomas Cromwell was ruthless and he had ruthless henchmen at his beck and call; they could do anything to anyone that he chose to lure to his house. Mark was not going to turn down an invitation to dinner, but imagine his surprise and terror when he found that he was about to be tortored and made to speak lies against the Queen? Just what else could he have done?

    1. I think you may be right Bandit Queen, it is possible that Mark had a ‘crush’ on Anne, after all she had given him a telling off once for trying to get her to be a little too familiar with him, conversation wise that is. She had promoted his musical talents, so he would also feel a great gratitude towards her too.

      As for ‘gifts’ of clothes, jewels etc., what King or Queen would want someone who they valued for their abilities going around looking ‘scruffy’ it would be a poor reflection on themselves, and they were well deserved. But as you say these ‘rewards’ were twisted into another context, a reward for different services.

      From what Claire has researched and posted, there doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Mark was physically tortured, but the mental torture , threats of torture, would be enough to set a lot of ‘birds singing’, I guess this is one of the things that will never be known for sure. If he was offered passage back to Brussels, penniless, I think my choice would be, Yep! pass me my passport, whens the next ship,,,, 🙂 better penniless than headless, I’m sure he wouldn’t have been penniless for long with his talents….but fear places you in a surreal place, and it would be hard to think straight, so any scenario could be possible, and it’s great to read everyone’s variations on them.

  5. I think that to Queen Anne Boleyn it DID make a huge difference that Mark Smeaton said he had comitted adultery with her – not in terms of her ultimate fate, but her reputation, which she cared deeply about.

    The scene described of Anne holding her young daughter in her hands and pleading with Henry is heart-breaking…I just wonder why she didn’t follow this up with a private conversation with Henry in which she could have tried to make him listen and perhaps think twice about her arrest…she must have known that things were pretty bad for her, I just wish she could have somehow make him re-consider, feel some pity for her and the fate he had in store for her…

    1. i don’t think Anne could’ve change henry #1 she didn’t give him a son #2 she thrown
      fits and fought with him 3# she cost him friendship with Spain her daughter couldn’t get a marriage to France 4# she shown him he could throw away a wife with know care in the world. I feel sorry for Anne but how you get is how you loose him.

    2. I don’t think she was “allowed” any chance
      to follow up the conversation with Henry.
      Even if she had of been allowed it wouldn’t
      have made any difference. Henry knew she
      was innocent. He’s the one who told Cromwell
      to get rid of her. He wanted her dead at all and
      any cost. It’s as simple as that.

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