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

The argument scene from "The Tudors" series.
The argument scene from “The Tudors” series.

On 30th April, Scottish theologian Alexander Alesius witnessed an argument between Queen Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. He later wrote of this argument to the couple’s daughter, Elizabeth, during her reign:

“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

Had this argument been caused by Henry VIII hearing of Anne Boleyn’s argument with Henry Norris? It’s impossible to know, but at 11pm the King and Queen’s upcoming visit to Calais was cancelled and arrangements were made for the King to journey alone a week later.2 Also on that day, Mark Smeaton, was taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house in Stepney and interrogated. Within 24 hours he had confessed to sleeping with the Queen three times. It is not known whether he was tortured into his confession. He was then taken to the Tower of London and put in irons.

The Spanish Chronicle, a primary source known for its inaccuracy and tabloid style, has a rather funny story about Anne Boleyn, Mark Smeaton and a marmalade coupboard – see Mark Smeaton with the Marmalade in the Cupboard for more information.

Notes and Sources

  1. Calendar of State Papers Foreign, Elizabeth, Volume 1 – 1558-1559, 1303
  2. LP x. 789

Related Post

16 thoughts on “30 April 1536 – A Royal Argument, a Cancelled Trip and the First Arrest”
  1. First, this is a very touching and precious letter, very sad also describing to Elizabeth her poor mother pleading with her father, obviously Anne has heard something is wrong and Henry is going to leave them; for one more try, for mercy, for common sense, for him to believe she is innocent, for him to remain with her for the sake of ‘his Elizabeth’; the exact dispute and argument is not being revealled to us; and the poor mother is very upset and desperate to reach Henry, not as a King but as a father and husband. The letter is very touching as it refers to Elizabeth as a baby and to Anne as her dear and religious mother; and is from an eye witness. This eye witness cannot forget that sad and desperate sight of her mother with her little girl in her arms pleading with her husband for one more chance. It must have been heart breaking to watch and heart breaking for Anne to have to attempted this and Henry to ignore her pleas. It is a beautiful scene; a sad scene, a desperate scene and a deeply moving scene: Anne is acting as a desperate mother; Henry is too angry to care and his reaction is very frighteningly cold. How can any father; even Henry not react to a woman with a young child in her arms? Did he really hate Anne that much? Did he really believe now that Elizabeth was not his child: the argument with Henry Norris must have been witnessed and reported to him; and was he angry at her foolish remarks that day or that his friend was possibly involved with his wife in a plot to kill him?

    Had Henry heard about the argument with Norris it explains his coldness; especially if he was somehow convinced that Anne was plotting against him or that she was putting their delicate marriage in even further jepardy by putting it about that they had problems in the bedroom. Had Anne been my wife; acting like a fool; I would have been angry as well; but had she come to me as she did to plead with me; I would also have been moved to compassion. Henry is reacting as if he suddenly realises that all the terrible things he has imagined about her, all of his fears and beliefs and all of the rumours and false allegations he is about to hear are actually true. If Cromwell was plotting to set up Anne, this could not have been going better for him. Into the fertile mix of distrust by an anxious and paranoid fearful King came the revelations of Anne’s alleged adultery with of all people; her music master. Did Anne find the attentions of Mark Smeaton more satisfying than those of the King, her husband and royal lover for so many years? That thought must have entered Henry’s head, and we must remember; it is only through the lense of history that we know that Anne was innocent; her contemporaries at the court would not have that advantage. Anne’s alleged but false adultery and charges of treason; including plotting to kill the King; would have sent the court and the city into a spin. I can just imagine what would have happened had they had SKY 24 hour news or News of the World in those days; but when it did break via whatever media they did have and word of mouth; it was a great shock and people responded in horror, disbelief and to some it was not a surprise and some even reacted in delight that Anne had fallen. The next 19 days would bring some of the most terrifying and tragic happenings of the Tudor rule so far!

    But again, back to the description of the day; Alex Aleius was a foreigner; a Scot, but even he could see the tragic sadness about the argument through that open window and this was a sight he would never forget; a mother; her child in her arms attempting to plead with her husband; whom she still loved; with urgency; to have mercy and compassion, only to be rebuffed with coldness and anger. It was heartbreaking then and it is still heartbreaking to read and to imagine the turmoil and distress that Anne must have felt and the despair the poor woman was left in as all she could do afterwards was hold her little daughter and cry; possibly for the last time. Poor Anne; this scene really breaks my heart and moves my soul.

  2. P.S I do have a question about the torture of Mark Smeaton, which we do not have clear evidence for; would not torture in the formal sense: that is off to the Tower and varied levels applied until he broke from lesser tortures up to the rack have only been used by the law of the day on the signed command warrent of the King? When ‘torture’ was applied otherwise in English law it was unlawful; and was called instruments of restraint, used to question a prisoner. The rack would not have been used as Mark was being held and interrogated either at the gate house in the Tower or the home or office of Cromwell, where he was also traditionally said to have been a dinner guest as a way to get him there. He probably felt he was being honoured when he went along on such pretences. I doubt that Cromwell had a rack in his home but that does not stop him from using other rough and vile methods to interrogate him. Was he not restrained around his head and then when he did not speak ropes with knotts applied either to his head or to his eyes? The fact that he claimed to have slept with the Queen on two or three times implies one of two things: he had desires and imaginations going on; he was using fantasy in other words; or he was interrogated using some lighter but painful torture methods. It has been suggested that Cromwell would stop at nothing to defend the state and that he would stop at nothing to achieve his own ends or what he saw as the Kings wishes. This act of bringing his guest to his house and then using knotted ropes to get answers to questions was his style. If then Smeaton confessed; if Cromwell believed others were involved and he did not name them; it is entirely possible and in keeping with English law that authority was given to torture him further to get him to name names. Do we have anything that indicates such lawful authority was given?

    There is another thing that does indicate that he may have been tortured. Are there not reports from his execution that he had to be helped to the scaffolf and to the block as he was weak and unable to stand on his own and that he looked in a poor state as if he had been tortured? Can you shed light on this as it was not lawful to use formal torture without a warrant from the King?


    1. I’ve never read of Smeaton having to be physically helped on to the scaffold and no eye witness reports mention any signs of injury. The Spanish Chronicle, which is renowned for its inaccuracies has him being tortured with the 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.” ”

      George Constantine, Norris’s servant, wrote “the sayeing was that he was fyrst grevously racked, which I cowlde never know of a trewth”, so there was obviously a rumour going round that Smeaton had been tortured. My own personal opinion is that Smeaton was put under immense psychological pressure.

      I know that warrants were needed for racking in James I’s reign, but I’m not sure about earlier. Anybody know?

      1. Thank you, Claire, I did not realise it was the Spanish Chronicle; that wounderous read (being sarcastic) that gave this detail; so more likely he was simply put under pressure. He probably was threatened with torture and I would not put it past Cromwell to use something physical as well or promise him something or may-be he believed he had slept with the Queen. I think unless we can be certain; is may be a good guess. I remember being told by someone at the Tower about the laws on treason at this time; James I certainly used warrants; in fact he probably would have questioned them himself; he did with Fawlkes and in witch trials; but it is a good question; I also recall someone in a recent documentary saying the same thing about warrants and torture I believe needed formal orders; but it is an interesting point: can anyone clarify if this was the case: I would love to know. Thanks for the quote from above. George Constantine may have believed he was tortured: this was a time when there were a lot of rumours. I have a few histories of torture; one of them may have some information. Thanks again.

      2. the interrogation supposedly happened at Cromwell’s home so it is unlikely he had a rack there.

        The marmalade story, I believe, was meant to show how it could have happened with anybody – that it was not impossible. Not to mention it was possible for Katherine Howard.

  3. Anne was desperately trying at this point. I think “The Tudors” did a good job of portraying this moment.

  4. The fear and horror that anne must have gone through is unimaginable and no doubt gets to people today ,but in saying that I believe henry was paranoid and believed all the lies about her ,he was older and unwell ,lost his youth and vitality and of course no little son ,he was vulnerable to anything said to him about anne., still sad for all involved who lost their lives.

  5. Supposedly one of the jokes George made was that Henry was so unmanly that how could Elizabeth be his? So maybe Anne was showing him Elizabeth to show him how obviously she was his. She apparently held her up for Henry to see.

    I am of the opinion that it was the sibling’s insulting and treasonous talk like this that got them both killed. We can debate whether they ever said it, but Henry believed they did, I think.

    By the way, the description is not of an argument – only Henry is shown as angry through hiding it. Anne is a supplicant here. Considering her past lack of fear in standing up to Henry, it is clear this was serious enough for her to be afraid.

  6. I have often thought about this scene in connection with its effect on Elizabeth. At 2 1/2 she would have been too young to understand what was happening, but she would have picked up the tension between the adults without knowing what it meant. Then her mother disappears. I have often wondered if Elizabeth was still at court when her mother was arrested or if she had been sent back to Hatfield by then. Just the first of many episodes of tension and fear for Elizabeth.

  7. I’ve often wondered if Anne was actually pleading for Elizabeth, since Henry’s treatment of Mary showed Anne how cruel he could be to his own daughters. (FWIW, I think Smeaton’s confession was secured by threats of torture if he didn’t, combined with a merciful death if he did. Compare what happened to the low born Smeaton with what happened to Francis Dereham in the Catherine Howard matter).

  8. Further research to the question of the torture of Mark Smeaton is interesting and the accounts disagree. Carles claims that it was unlikely but as Claire has pointed out the servant of Henry Norris George Constantine who could not say for sure had heard that he was racked; so it may just be that he was interrogated, threatened and promised torture if he did not co-operate. Being a commoner, although as I have found out from varied law articles it was illegal under Magna Carta to use torture unless by royal permission or warrant; it was often ignored in treason cases or later in the case of religious renagades. John Bellamy in his Tudor Law of Treason also cites a number of letters to Cromwell and from the state records that show the mention of the use of torture; even if it was not always by royal order of the monks and friars between 1534 and 1539. It also seems in his article about the development of the privy council that David Crookbrooke of the University of Oxford has shown that its powers after 1539 became increasingly lucid and that it was allowed to use torture in its questioning of suspects to gain confessions. The Star Chamber had the same powers. This does not mean it could drag someone off to the Tower and rack them: that did need a royal order or warrant; but other forms of torture or interagation as part of the inquisitional method that we used in England were allowed. The use of manacles, small cramped cells calle d Little Ease which is of course famous, hanging people up for days by their wrists, leaving people seated in cramped conditions with their legs crossed, lack of sleep, walking the suspects, sensory torture; restraints that were uncomfortable and tightened by degrees; the knotted trungle may be a fantasy in the Spanish Chronicle but it was a known form of questioning in other countries; and just plain bullying. Even though the Archives of the Royal Historical Palaces claim only four people were known to have been tortured in Tudor times; I find that to be a surprisingly low number; but even if that merely means racked; it is clear that other forms were also used. The rack was the last resort and it is not likely that Cromwell had one in his home: Smeaton would have needed to be moved to the Tower. But although Henry may have ordered his interrogation; there is nothing that gives a clear indication that he ordered him to be officially tortured. There is also another surprising thing about Smeaton: he did not change his story. He maintained that he had slept with Anne and pleaded guilty at his trial. Now with hindsight we can guess that he may have been promised a swifter death had he done this, because he should have been hung, drawn and quartered as had been the law for treason since the time of Edward I. Anne was accused both of treason and adultery with these men and the treason legislation to protect her marriage against rumours and falsehood had been turned against her. The men were also meant to have plotted the Kings death and imagined his death; all leading to the penalties for treason. All five should have been hung, drawn and quartered; Anne should have been burnt but Henry changed that to beheading and in Anne’s case the court gave him the choice. Mercifully he chose to behead her with a sword and not an axe and spared her from burning. Although none of the men where titled nobles they were all gentry and knights or from a family of knights or lords. They were all well off and in the case of one of them his family tried to buy his pardon and freedom. They were all exempt from torture and were given death by axe becasue of their status. Mark Smeaton was spared the terror of this long death simply out of mercy. But had he pleaded guilty because he was promised this? Controversally G W Bernard argues that Smeaton was granted this death and pleaded guilty as he was guilty and may indeed have been the Queen’s lover. He had also implicated other men in his alleged crime which is the reason he may have at least been threatened with torture even though there is no clear evidence either way that he was tortured. I hate mysteries, historical ones in particular; but in this case; it remains a mystery, although personally I have come to the conclusion after further research that he probably was not; at least not on the rack. The law in Tudor times; I believe also from reading these articles was flouted when it was necessary to defend the good of the state: in other words Cromwell, the Council and the Star Chamber or other inquistional body used the milder instruments of restraint for their own ends to get confessions or to find out the names of other people involved in high crimes against the state. Even if Mark was not tortured he was questioned all day, possibly all night, deprived of sleep; may-be he was given water or short breaks, he was possibly held by restraints, suffered some terror and pain, and was asked the same questions until finally he gave in. While Bernard may be wrong; that Smeaton was not the Queen’s lover; by the end of it I am convinced that he believed that he was, gave in to fantasy and suggestion, and was so exhausted and out of his mind that he would have said anything to make it all end; to escape further torture and in the hope of a merciful death. And the names? May-be he just repeated names he had put to him; those who were most likely to be in Anne’s chamber on numerous occassions at any given time; even later in the evening, whether they had a genuine and innocent reason for being there or not. It is a great shame what this young man was put through; a shame he was not stronger in his resolve, but I have only compassion and pity for him as he was clearly bullied into a confession, and then too afraid and conditioned with retract it. Cromwell did a good number on this young man; and what I would love to do to Cromwell for the suffering he caused many people in England is not printable.

  9. I feel sorry for anne boleyn but she messed around with a married man even if Henery Chased after for days on end it still dosen`t make it right. She said mean things about Koa for no reason all she did was a stand up to henery like she did when they were married and was mean to her daughter to me she really didn’t try to understand mary plight even if henery was the ring leader it did`g make it right to follow.

  10. I feel sorry for anne boleyn but she messed around with a married man even if Henery Chased after for days on end it still dosen`t make it right. She said mean things about Koa for no reason all she did was a stand up to henery like she did when they were married and was mean to her daughter to me she really didn’t try to understand mary plight even if henery was the ring leader it did`g make it right to follow.

  11. I feel sorry for anne boleyn but she messed around with a married man even if Henery Chased after for days on end it still dosen`t make it right. She said mean things about Koa for no reason all she did was a stand up to henery like she did when they were married and was mean to her daughter to me she really didn’t try to understand mary plight even if henery was the ring leader it did`g make it right to follow.

    1. So what? Do any of those things, most of which are questionable, mean that Anne had to be set up on false charges, dragged of to the Tower, held without knowing those charges against her in full and then be put through a public trial, which was stacked against her and brutally executed?

      No, courting a married man wasn’t right, but Henry was the one chasing her and could have pulled out of their relationship. Henry wanted to divorce Katherine in any case. He chose Anne because they fell in love and she promised him sons. I am not defending their adultery but both parties were guilty, not one.

      Anne’s remarks against Katherine are indefensible, yes, but Katherine had just as much to say about Anne, calling her the scandal of Christendom, which as the wronged wife I don’t blame her. However, I don’t hear you condemning Henry Viii for his mistreatment of Katherine, which was his decision, not his wife’s, he was King after all. Anne’s mistreatment of Mary was not exactly one sided either. Henry agreed to it and carried it on after her death. Mary was so upset about the separation of her parents and how Katherine had been treated that she refused to accept Anne as Queen. Her belief was that Katherine and Henry were lawfully married and Anne was his mistress, she had no Queen but her mother, which is very understandable. Anne did try to patch things up with Mary on several occasions and reconcile her to her father if she recognised her as Queen, but Mary could not and would not. Anne’s remarks have to be seen in context and Henry made threats towards his daughter after Anne died which terrified her into submission. So why isn’t Henry also being condemned here?

      No matter how Anne behaved or didn’t, it doesn’t make it right to condemn her to death for crimes that she didn’t commit and to deliberately set her up on those false crimes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *