4 May 1536 – Two more men in the Tower of London and one man receives a message of comfort
Posted By Claire on May 4, 2018
By 4th May 1536, there were four new prisoners in the Tower of London implicated in the same plot against the king: Queen Anne Boleyn; her brother, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford; Sir Henry Norris, Henry VIII’s groom of the stool; and Mark Smeaton, a court musician. On 4th May, two more were added to their number: Sir Francis Weston, a gentleman of the king’s privy chamber and a favourite of the king, and William Brereton, a prominent man in Cheshire and North Wales.
You can read more about Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton in my article from 2015 – click here.
Also on this day in 1536, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, received a message of comfort from his wife, Jane – click here to read more.
Picture: Unknown man thought to be Sir Francis Weston.
10 thoughts on “4 May 1536 – Two more men in the Tower of London and one man receives a message of comfort”
Henry was very proud of his title ‘Defender of the Faith’ given him by the Pope. He also consider himself a good Christian. I believe Cromwell did also. Those of us who are Christians believe in The Ten Commandments. 2 of those are ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness’ and ‘Thou shalt not murder’. It seems all the charges against these 6 people are based on false witness (lies). The fact that they were innocent and still executed seems like using false witness to commit judicial murder. Unfortunately this kind of thing still goes on in parts of the world today.
It was Annes indiscreet chattering that sealed Francis Weston’s fate, in a highly agitated state of nerves she unwittingly brought his name into this grim web of doom, and if that was his portrait on show, a nice looking one with a flourishing career at court, he was a favourite of the Kings and often passed many a leisure hour with him, gambling sporting and so on, in fact he possibly spent more time in the Kings company than the queens, married with a baby son his future looked bright and he seems to have been quite popular with his fellow courtiers, Sir William Brereton was however by Tudor times well past his youth veering on his milestone birthday fifty, he was not a love struck boy like possibly Smeaton was, or one of Annes gallants, it was not his good looks of which we know nothing, or his flirting with the queen that caused him to be arrested, happily ( maybe) married like Weston with two sons he is said to have been involved in some business in Wales, a country where Cromwell was trying to push forward some reforms and he wanted no interference from anyone, he was it seems a bit of a shady character with a dubious reputation and Cromwell was happy enough to have him sacrificed to, what these two men thought when they were arrested we can only imagine, their wives must have been in utter anguish, maybe just maybe Brereton had slighted him in the past which was another reason he was well aware that he was looked down on for being the lowly son of a Putney blacksmith, but I doubt if Cromwell bothered about things like that, he had risen far and his character was more interested in survival than what his contemporaries thought of him, he done the Kings job and if his master was pleased, so was Cromwell, his portrait shows a man who had indulged a bit too freely at the dining table, a jowly face with small dark eyes and eyebrows drawn down into deep furrows, he looks suspicious and non approachable, next to him is a book and a scroll, his son was to go on to wed Jane Seymour’s sister, thus bringing him ever further into the Royal fold, his devious plot to rid his master of an unwanted queen earned him a peerage but he was to go down the same route as his victims and end up also being deserted by the same fickle man he had served so faithfully, now the Tower held five prisoners, the most important one the queen, her wretched young musician who no doubt whished he had never came to court in the first place, languishing in a cell which I should imagine was very uncomfortable, prisoners were treated according to their rank and Smeaton was not a nobleman as Anne had reminded him rather ungraciously in the past, the others in their seperate prisons in the Tower, one her own brother, said to be the youngest out of his two sisters he seems to have been as talented as Anne, a poet and with a bit of a reputation as a rake, he was described as handsome and witty and his marriage has been the subject of hot debate rather like his sister Annes, accused of the most unnatural vice of incest he must have spent many an hour maybe putting quill to parchment and composing sonnets, if he was allowed that luxury and there are one he is said to have composed about his death and Anne also has a sad poem attributed to her but their origin is unsure, his wife Jane wrote him a comforting note informing him she would do what she could and this is at odds with her reputation, which has taken a beating done the centuries, according to popular belief she was the one who put him there for blabbing about his affair with Anne, a vengeful wife who was envious of the queen and her husband’s love for her, a vile wicked woman who threw her husband to the wolves, but it was the Countess of Worcester who was to blame by her indiscreet chatter in the first place, and I feel Jane has been made a scapegoat, there is no evidence that she said anything to Cromwell about her husband so where did the story spring from that it was all her doing? The note she wrote George was that of a concerned wife who cared deeply about her husband’s reputation and life, I think it’s all just fantasy that some novelists show Jane as a harpy bent on revenge, we cannot know what her marriage was like, there is no evidence that theirs was anything other than a normal arranged marriage of the time, unlike the Duchess of Norfolks whose own marriage everyone knew was as hellish for her as it was for the Dukes, for Anne and George to know they were being accused of having sexual relations shows the depths to which Cromwell would go to degrade this most tragic and wronged queen, strength comes from within and more so for those who know they are innocent, for Anne and her co accused they needed all their sanity all their strength of mind and belief in God and justice for the harrowing days ahead.
Thomas Cromwell really was scrapping the bottom of the barrel here, arresting a man because the Queen passed a joke with him two years ago! Anne rebuked Francis Weston because he fancied her cousin Madge Sheldon and she was concerned for his wife. He said he loved the Queen, but he meant that he adored Anne as Queen, chivalrous love, not that he wanted to sleep with her. Weston was not even on the radar until Anne slipped up and chatted about him in the Tower. Now he was picked up because of another innocent bit of conversation as part of a game of courtly love long ago. He was also a friend of George and Anne, so could be targeted as he was connected to the family now implicated in a serious plot against the King.
William Brereton was Henry’s Groom and served him in the Privy Chamber but he apparently was not a close associate with Anne or the Boleyn’s. There is a mystery as to why he was a target. However, it may have been personal. There was some rivalry and trouble between Thomas Cromwell and Brereton in his services in Wales and it is commonly believed that this had something to do with his arrest. He wasn’t a Jesuit fanatic as in the Tudors, his family came from Cheshire and are mentioned in several places in both Chester and the Palatine County itself and several are buried in the parish Church in Chester. They are also depicted on the walls of the Town Hall as three were Lord Mayor of Chester. As a March border town to North Wales, the city has played a very influential part in English/Welsh history and the Brereton family are well known in Cheshire political life.
There may or may not have been some ill feelings between Thomas Cromwell and William Brereton, but the truth is we don’t know why he was arrested. However, he now found himself dragged into a plot he had nothing to do with and if revenge had anything to do with his fate, it shows Cromwell as a cold fish.
Sir William Kingston who is writing these things to Cromwell and the King also said that he and the interrogation people had not forced George Boleyn or Sir Henry Norris to confess, so all they had was the dodgy confession of Mark Smeaton. Henry must have been getting frustrated because the evidence amounted to very little. A jury would need to be put together who could be relied upon to find all parties guilty and so enemies of the Queen were used and people associated with them. Women who were married to the men who could be relied upon were used to spy and record everything Anne said and this is how we know the above details of her talk in the Tower.
Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, the wife of George Boleyn is always wrongly accused of giving states evidence, that she said he slept with his sister, but there is no evidence to support this claim. In this post we find her sending her husband a note of comfort, not setting him up. It is ridiculous that she would set up her own husband for a capital crime, not unless she was getting some reward for it. On the contrary Jane had a hard time as the widow of a convicted traitor. She would have lost out financially, lost some of his property and she needed to write to Cromwell in order to recover her jointure from the confiscated estate.. If Jane Rochford had have been the star witness in this grand conspiracy, then surely the crown would have made it worth her while? That she wasn’t called as a witness or named as one shows that she had nothing to do with her husband’s arrest. She may not have been able to keep her promise to plead for George, but Jane Boleyn didn’t bear false witness against her husband either.
I totally agree with you, why make her own life hard for herself by bearing false witness against her husband, it was hard for the widows of convicted traitors as their husbands property was always confiscated and if they had a child, their husbands title too, of course they could always get it back if the monarch died but why would she want to be the wife of a convicted traitor why in a sense air her dirty linen in public ? I think it was the king who made sure that Thomas Boleyn looked after Jane financially after the deaths of his children, and that was after she had to write to Cromwell pleading her cause, Jane has had a bad press and it’s very hard to understand why when, as you say there is no evidence.
Hi BQ, I’m re-reading Eric Ives ‘The Life & Death…’ the chapter The Rival 1535-1536, p 293, para 2: about that public demo at Greenwich in support of Mary by wives of a number of London citizens, who, Ives says, were ‘aided and abetted by some ladies of the royal household not on duty.’ Among the ringleaders who ended in the Tower were Anne’s aunt, Lady William Howard and her sister-in-law Jane, Lady Rockford. Evidently, says Ives, Jane did not share her husband George’s commitment to Anne’s cause.’
His sources are LP & Friedmann.
Is this the incident – d’you think – which might lead historians to doubt Jane’s loyalty?
Yes, Jane was quite loyal to Mary and was involved in this demo in support of the Princess. I believe a few people were arrested and questioned about it. It would certainly put doubt on the loyalty of any wife who had such an affinity in a dangerous cause like supporting the exiled daughter of Katherine of Aragon, especially when you are married to the brother of the Queen. Having said that, Jane does seem to have had a cordial relationship with Anne, even to the extent of confidential information being shared between them. One incident which historians apparently believe is evidence that she compromised George is a conversation one day when he was doing his duty as a Privy Councillor a bit too well and attending Court for too long. Jane came to the Queen to complain and ask her to get George to show her the same loving attention as Henry showed Anne. Anne was in one of her peculiar moods and laughed saying that Henry does not have the capacity or the ability to satisfy a woman in bed. As a statement regarding the King being impotent at times was read out during Anne and George’s trial, it is assumed that the information came to Cromwell via Jane, but there is no evidence we can point to that supports this. Certainly Anne felt that she could confide such intimacy to her sister by law, but we really don’t know if Jane was the source for this coming out or not. It would make more sense that any difficulties the couple had came from the incident you describe. The truth is, however, we actually know very little about Jane’s domestic relationship with her husband or how she felt about him. I haven’t heard of historians pointing to this demo as evidence, but I would see her support for Mary as cause for domestic disagreement. I would also think it is a bit of a stretch as evidence that Jane was disloyal to George and betrayed him. It is an interesting thought though.
Janes father Lord Morley also was a supporter of Mary and he could have impressed upon her some of his loyalty, when young one is influenced by ones parents and it is hard to change that mindset, Jane had been in service to Queen Katherine prior to Annes rise and could well have become very fond of her daughter and a lot of sympathy was for this young girl who had been caught in the unhappy muddle of her parents seperation, she was an innocent party and many still thought of her as the rightful princess, I agree that Janes relationship with Anne could have been quite cordial but there could still have been some loyalty there to Mary, although she was Annes sister in law, but I think Anne or her husband could have upset her over something which made Jane take part in this demo, we do not really know enough about Jane Rochfords character, as I pointed out she is often shown as the vindictive wife with her husband’s and Annes blood on her hands, she is shown as quarrelling with her husband constantly and he is said to have been an uncaring unfaithful spouse, and she had her revenge when she told the world both he and Anne were involved in an incestous affair, all this is conjecture and I believe it was Cromwell who decided that the charge of incest be brought into the equation, why should Jane wish her husband dead when she would have fallen with him?, Janes reputation has taken a beating because some years down the line she was caught up in Henrys faith queens activities she has been called a bawd, an old fashioned name for a procuress who delighted in gliding down the darkly lit corridors of Hampton Court arranging meetings for her mistress and queen and her alleged lover, thus the picture of a gossipy shrewish wife has emerged who delighted in intrigue, who threw her husband to the wolves and who helped to bring down an unfaithful queen, the same woman who very foolishly aided and abetted another queen in her adultery, I fear the picture of Jane has been very distorted over the years, maybe one day an unbiased balanced view of hers will tell her true story.
It could have been that Jane was irked by the fact that she had been banished from court for helping Anne to get Henrys latest mistress sent away, if this demo coincided with that of course, Henry was enraged when he heard of this little plot and had Jane banished from court, that obviously would have annoyed Jane and would have her laying the blame at Annes door, also Annes aunt could be Madge Sheltons mother, although she was family she could have been annoyed at the way her daughter had been used by Anne to keep Henry from straying into the arms of another mistress who was not sympathetic to Anne, this is just speculation of course, but Weir herself doesn’t rate Jane too highly either, quoting a contemporary who made a rather blistering attack on Jane also, but after the Boleyns fell she was back at court in service to Henrys third fourth and fifth queens, whatever anyone can say about her, she certainly had the habit of bouncing back.
Much thanks for your insightful comments! Food for thought.