30 April 1536 – Cromwell interrogates Mark Smeaton

Apr30,2015 #Mark Smeaton

Cromwell,Thomas HolbeinOn 30th April 1536, court musician Mark Smeaton was taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house in Stepney where he was interrogated. Within 24 hours he had confessed to making love three times to the Queen.

It is likely that the note that Henry VIII received at the May Day joust, the next day, contained details of Smeaton’s confession.

There is an intriguing story about Mark Smeaton and Anne Boleyn in The Spanish Chronicle (Cronica del Rey Enrico), also known as The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England. This is a rather gossipy chronicle and one historical source to take with a rather large pinch of salt, but the story is interesting nonetheless.
It concerns a certain musician, a cupboard, a jar of jam, a bed and a certain queen. After reporting how Anne had fallen in love with Smeaton, the Chronicle goes on to say:

“One night, whilst all the ladies were dancing, the old woman called Mark and said to him gently, so that none should overhear, “You must come with me;” and he, as he knew it was to the Queen’s chamber he had to go, was nothing loth. So she took him to an ante-chamber, where she and another lady slept, next to the Queen’s room, and in this ante-chamber there was a closet like a store-room, where she kept sweetmeats, candied fruits, and other preserves which the Queen sometimes asked for. To conceal him more perfectly the old woman put him into this closet, and told him to stay there till she came for him, and to take great care he was not heard. Then she shut him up and returned to the great hall where they were dancing, and made signs to the Queen, who understood her, and, although it was not late, she pretended to be ill, and the dancing ceased. She then retired to her chamber with her ladies, whilst the old woman said to her, “Madam, when you are in bed and all the ladies are asleep, you can call me and ask for some preserves, which I will bring, and Mark shall come with me, for he is in the closet now.

“The Queen went to bed and ordered all her ladies to retire to their respective beds, which were in an adjoining gallery like a refectory, and when they were all gone but the old lady and the lady who slept with her, she sent them off too. When she thought they would all be asleep, she called the old woman, and said, “Margaret, bring me a little marmalade.” She called it out very loudly, so that the ladies in the gallery might hear as well as Mark, who was in the closet. The old woman went to the closet and made Mark undress, and took the marmalade to the Queen, leading Mark by the hand. The lady who was in the old woman’s bed did not see them when they went out of the closet, and the old woman left Mark behind the Queen’s bed, and said out loud, “Here is the marmalade, my lady.” Then Anne said to the old woman, “Go along; go to bed.”

“As soon as the old woman had gone Anne went round to the back of the bed and grasped the youth’s arm, who was all trembling, and made him get into bed. He soon lost his bashfulness, and remained that night and many others, so that in a short time this Mark flaunted out to such an extent that there was not a gentleman at court who was so fine, and Anne never dined without having Mark serve her.”1

Now this story is quite hilarious until you stop and realise that this was some of the propaganda which helped to blacken Anne Boleyn’s name. It is such a silly story and I cannot see that there is any truth in it. There is certainly no other evidence to back it up, unless you believe the poem by Lancelot de Carles, telling of the alleged witness statement from the Countess of Worcester.2

Elizabeth Browne, the Countess of Worcester, was one of Anne’s ladies and she apparently told her brother, Sir Anthony Browne, that her own offence (possible adultery) was nothing by comparison to those of the Queen, who allowed members of the court to come into her chamber at all hours. Browne continued that if her brother did not believe her then he could find out more from Mark Smeaton. She then accused George Boleyn of having carnal knowledge of his sister, the Queen.

If this exchange between the Countess and her brother did take place and was then fed back to Cromwell, we can see how this, combined with Anne’s ramblings in the Tower regarding Smeaton and Norris, could well have made Anne look guilty or have been enough ammunition and “evidence” for those conspiring against her.

(Taken from The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown by Claire Ridgway)

Notes and Sources

  1. Hume, Martin. Chronicle of King Henry VIII. of England, 57.
  2. Ascoli, La Grande-Bretagne Devant L’opinion Française Depuis La Guerre De Cent Ans Jusqu’à La Fin Du XVIe Siècle.

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6 thoughts on “30 April 1536 – Cromwell interrogates Mark Smeaton”
  1. Hi Claire, have I mis-remembered, didn’t Lord Lisle mention Elizabeth Brown as one of the witnesses against Anne? There is a lovely English happening in my garden right now, my hedge sparrows have descended on their feeding station and the air is full of busy little flutterings as they line up to take their turn. Delightful! Also, I know it is perhaps not the place to mention this, but I am really missing BANDITQUEEN and her commentaries of your posts. If you are in touch, would you mind passing on that she is missed? Thanks.

    1. I’ve just emailed her and passed on your comment. I miss her too and I hope her husband is improving, it must be so stressful and worrying for her.

      Yes, John Husee wrote to Lord Lisle naming the ladies who gave evidence as “the Lady Worcester, and Nan Cobham and one maid more”. Lady Worcester had allegedly had an argument with her brother, Sir Anthony Browne. He had questioned her on what he saw as her immoral behaviour, and the general gist of their altercation is that she lashed out, defending herself by saying that she wasn’t as bad as the queen. Lancelot de Carles, secretary to the French ambassador who would have been fed news by Cromwell, wrote in his poem on the fall of Anne Boleyn:
      “And she [Lady Worcester] began to provide her excuse
      Saying to him that the most unhappy
      Woman on earth,
      Was the Queen. “And to know it better,
      “If you don’t want to believe my assurances,
      “You can (she said) get the story from Mark.
      “But I don’t want to forget to tell you
      “The one thing that seems the worst of all to me:
      “Is that her brother often had carnal knowledge
      Of her in her bed.””

  2. First can I thank everyone on this post for thoughts and kind words for Steve, he is doing much better thanks and I have emailed Claire back with details. He is out of danger and getting better every day. He has a long recovery ahead of him as he was in surgery for six hours and we nearly lost him, but he has recovered and he is stronger now. His breathing is much better and he is communicating well. He is fed up which is a good sign and we are going to get him back fully. Thanks to you all, and to Globerose especially many thanks for asking about him and your kind words, much appreciated.

    I recently purchased the copy of the poem now in English for Steve who enjoyed it very much, as you can imagine, but did point out that it was not a reliable account and the Spanish chronicle is even more amusing. Cromwell is a right piece of work, it would not surprise me if he did torture Mark Smeaton, even if it was unofficial. In order to torture someone you needed a warrant from the King; it is unlikely that Cromwell had this and so I dont believe that he used official modes of torture at the Tower or the rack. He may have used other means of interogation and sometimes the mere sight of an implement of torture or restraint was enough to talk, There are accounts that he had two of his bullies hold Smeaton down and applied a rope with knots to his forehead or to his eyes and wrung them tight, The accounts are divided; George Constanstine believed that torture had been used, but we cannot really be certain.

    Some form of force was most certainly used, whether or not officially as Smeaton did confess to sleeping with the queen and named others as well. Cromwell had henchmen and they most certainly could have used something like a rope and crundle, or even the smaller torture of thumb screws, but he did not have a rack in his house. Smeaton may have said anything under fear of more torture, or he may have been a weak and cowardly fool or had a wild fantastic imagination, again we don’t know but he did confess and alas this was the catalyst that brought down the Queen, her brother and three other innocent men.

    1. Hi BQ
      Just wanted to pass along my well wishes for a speedy and full recovery for your husband. It’s always so difficult when something like this occurs. Thanks to Claire for allowing the platform for this message.

      Both you and he take good care.
      Sandi Vasoli

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