30 April 1536 – The arrest of musician Mark Smeaton

Mark SmeatonOn this day in history, court musician Mark Smeaton was arrested and taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house in Stepney to be interrogated.

It is not known what happened to Smeaton at Cromwell’s house. The Spanish Chronicle records that he was tortured with a rope and cudgel:

“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.”1

However, there is no further evidence to back up this report and The Spanish Chronicle is not the most reliable of sources. George Constantine, one of Henry Norris’s servants, said that “the sayeing was that he was fyrst grevously racked, which I cowlde never know of a trewth”,2 but Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador, wrote that Mark confessed without being tortured.3 Whatever happened, within twenty-four hours of his arrest Mark Smeaton had confessed to having sexual relations with Queen Anne Boleyn three times.

Smeaton never retracted his confession and when Anne Boleyn heard that he’d gone to his death 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!” Thomas Wyatt the Elder, in his poem about the men’s executions on 17th May 1536, described Smeaton as “A rotten twig upon so high a tree” and perhaps this was because of Smeaton’s confession.4

Also on Sunday 30th April 1536, according to Alexander Alesius, the Scottish theologian who was visiting the English court at Greenwich Palace, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn had an argument. He couldn’t hear what it was about but it was clear to him that the King was angry – click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

Picture: Mark Smeaton in “The Tudors” series.

  1. Hume, Martin. Chronicle of King Henry VIII. of England, 57.
  2. George Constantine in Archaeologia, or, Miscellaneous Tracts Relating to Antiquity, 23:64.
  3. Ascoli, Georges. La Grande-Bretagne Devant L’opinion Française Depuis La Guerre De Cent Ans Jusqu’à La Fin Du XVIe Siècle.
  4. From Thomas Wyatt the Elder’s poem “In Mourning Wise Since Daily I Increase”.

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