In Memory of Five Innocent Men – 17 May 1536

Posted By on May 17, 2015

Tower Hill scaffold memorial I sometimes feel that Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton, Mark Smeaton and George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, get forgotten about. On social media, there are often pleas to get Anne Boleyn pardoned or moved from St Peter ad Vincula, and visitors take flowers to her resting place on 19th May each year, but what about these men? Their fates were even skipped over in the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. They paid the ultimate price for their friendship and loyalty to a king and queen, yet many people have never heard of them. They weren’t martyrs, they didn’t die for their faith or for a ’cause’, but they still deserve to be remembered.

These five men were innocent just like Anne Boleyn. They too were framed for crimes they did not commit and really were just collateral damage, by-products of a plot to rid a King of a wife who couldn’t provide him with the prince he needed. Collateral damage… how sad. All five men died with courage and dignity, and deserve to be remembered. If you go to www.theanneboleynfiles.com/wolf-hall-the-real-cast/ there are links to articles about the lives and careers of each of these men, so please do read more about them.

I will remember them today and I will do so each year on 17th May. I can’t get to Tower Hill today to leave a rose at the scaffold memorial, but I will be there in spirit. I’ll leave you now with the words of Thomas Wyatt the Elder, the Tudor poet who knew these men and who wrote this poem in their honour:

In Mourning wise since daily I increase,
Thus should I cloak the cause of all my grief;
So pensive mind with tongue to hold his peace’
My reason sayeth there can be no relief:
Wherefore give ear, I humbly you require,
The affect to know that thus doth make me moan.
The cause is great of all my doleful cheer
For those that were, and now be dead and gone.
What thought to death desert be now their call.
As by their faults it doth appear right plain?
Of force I must lament that such a fall should light on those so
wealthily did reign,
Though some perchance will say, of cruel heart,
A traitor’s death why should we thus bemoan?
But I alas, set this offence apart,
Must needs bewail the death of some be gone.

As for them all I do not thus lament,
But as of right my reason doth me bind;
But as the most doth all their deaths repent,
Even so do I by force of mourning mind.
Some say, ‘Rochford, haddest thou been not so proud,
For thy great wit each man would thee bemoan,
Since as it is so, many cry aloud
It is great loss that thou art dead and gone.’

Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to run
To think what hap did thee so lead or guide
Whereby thou hast both thee and thine undone
That is bewailed in court of every side;
In place also where thou hast never been
Both man and child doth piteously thee moan.
They say, ‘Alas, thou art far overseen
By thine offences to be thus dead and gone.’

Ah! Weston, Weston, that pleasant was and young,
In active things who might with thee compare?
All words accept that thou diddest speak with tongue,
So well esteemed with each where thou diddest fare.
And we that now in court doth lead our life
Most part in mind doth thee lament and moan;
But that thy faults we daily hear so rife,
All we should weep that thou are dead and gone.

Brereton farewell, as one that least I knew.
Great was thy love with divers as I hear,
But common voice doth not so sore thee rue
As other twain that doth before appear;
But yet no doubt but they friends thee lament
And other hear their piteous cry and moan.
So doth eah heart for thee likewise relent
That thou givest cause thus to be dead and gone.

Ah! Mark, what moan should I for thee make more,
Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,
Save only that mine eye is forced sore
With piteous plaint to moan thee with the rest?
A time thou haddest above thy poor degree,
The fall whereof thy friends may well bemoan:
A rotten twig upon so high a tree
Hath slipped thy hold, and thou art dead and gone.

And thus farewell each one in hearty wise!
The axe is home, your heads be in the street;
The trickling tears doth fall so from my eyes
I scarce may write, my paper is so wet.
But what can hope when death hath played his part,
Though nature’s course will thus lament and moan?
Leave sobs therefore, and every Christian heart
Pray for the souls of those be dead and gone.

20 thoughts on “In Memory of Five Innocent Men – 17 May 1536”

  1. Sonia Franco says:

    May their souls be honored forever.

  2. BanditQueen says:

    First, lovely moving poem, the best memorial there can be. The men are overlooked, I agree, but here they will never be forgotten. On Tower Hill there are memorials to all who died there and there are sometimes flowers and poems and cards. In the chapel of Peter in Chains in the Tower, Anne is buried in hallowedground and has a beautiful stone and alter to remember her by. Flowers are laid on the date of the death of Anne and it is a peaceful place. Anne was reburied as queen in the Victorian Age; she is remembered. Leave her where she is.

    And where should she be buried anyway? Westminster is out as no-one is buried there, not even the present royal family. There was no room for Richard III let alone Anne Boleyn and he deserved even more than her to be buried royally. He was an annointed King; born to the purple; Anne may have been crowned and annointed, but many believed she was not a legal queen as Henry was married to Katherine of Aragon, who should be moved to Westminster ahead of Anne Boleyn. No-one has been buried here since George III and the early Victorian poets, many of whom are buried elsewhere and just have memorials there.

    Windsor does not have much more room; but there may be a space or two. The burials of the present royal family will be in their chapel there; but again is there enough room? And how do they feel about Anne Boleyn? She certainly should not be placed with Henry VIII; is there room in another vault? Many of the vaults have three or more people in already.

    Anne cannot be buried in the Elizabeth I tomb; we have Mary Queen of Scots, Queen Mary Tudor and Elizabeth all in one corner of the Abbey, all on top of each other, all very large tombs, but I doubt there is room and opening it will cause outrage. The Queen personally owns the Abbey and the present Dean is not likely to give permission. We cannot even get access to the Urn of the Princes in the Tower, so access here will also be refused. And Anne near two Catholic Queens who would have hated her; really? Mary Tudor will rise up and haunt us all lol!

    George Boleyn and Anne could of course be returned to the family plot at Hever or if not to lie close to the grave of their mother in Lambeth. (I am not sure if the latter is possible)
    The Brereton family were powerful in Cheshire and there are many memorials in Chester Saint John Church, the cities original Cathedral from the 17th century onwards and before from other places. William had powerful family connections; some of their houses still exist and members of the family also exist. He could be returned to his home.

    What about Mark Smeaton; he was unknown in England and we know little about his origins. One suggestion I read, sorry do not recall where was that he came from Flanders. May-be he has some cousins far removed to claim him somewhere?

    The Norris family have good connections all over the country. I am certain there is a family plot or tomb somewhere that could claim his remains. Sir Francis Weston is also from a good family; both must be able to have relatives apply for an exhumation license and translate his bones home.

    Of course, this may also be impossible as from what I understand they were buried in the graveyard and it is now hard to identify their graves so this above may not be possible. In the chapel on the wall their names are recalled and prayed for. In the poems of Sir Thomas Wyatt they are remembered and always on here they will be remembered.

    No, Anne and the men should be left were they are. May-be on the 500 anniversary a new memorial stone can be placed near the spot or some other gesture in the Tower. I am not for statues as there are many other worthy people in the Tower killed and executed to whom a statue can be made, but is not. I would like Sir Thomas More moved to Chelsea Old Church, although he has a beautiful memorial in the Tower and a proper tomb. I will continue to campaign for this to be translated as will others. I would like to see many others moved to their family plots but then the Tower itself has been a place of pilgrimage and visitors expect to see the memorials to these men and Queens at the chapel and other places associated with them. I suspect many would not come if the bodies were removed. Here we have a central place that is peaceful and we can honour Anne and the men and others unjustly executed in this violent age of the Tudors. We cannot just go around all of the time moving this person and that person from history, as it would never stop. No come to the Tower and give them honour or if not then honour in your hearts and pray for them to have eternal rest, which I am confident they do. Personally I have found the chapel beautiful and I find it peaceful. Let these men and Anne lie and rest in peace.

    Peace and blessing unto them and may their souls rest in peace. Amen.

    1. Claire says:

      I agree with you, I don’t believe that Anne should be moved, I think her resting place is beautiful and it is part of her story.

    2. Hannele says:

      To BanditQueen

      Richard III was not born to purple, he was born a youngest son of the duke of York. His brother Edward IV took the crown from the anointed king and Richard took the crown from his brother’s heir.

      All in all, Ríchard was as royal as Anne – or Henry’s father who took the crown from Richard.

      1. BanditQueen says:

        By born to the purple I was meaning member of the royal family, whether older member of not; of one of the direct royal line; ie York was the direct descendent of the second son of Edward III and so they were royal dukes; Richard as number 11 child should not have had any hope of succeeding, you are quite correct; but with Edmund dead, George dead, then Edward dead, he was the next born to the purple; after Edwards sons, who he had declared illegitimate. Born to the purple; trained to rule and experience of ruling, rather than a knights daughter with no experience of ruling, nor a member of another royal ducal house from Europe. Henry’s father had a very tenious claim to the throne. It was via his mother he had his claim through a line that had been legitimized and barred from the crown. Henry only took the crown because he won the Battle of Bosworth. Anne was not a member of a royal ducal family. Her mother may have been the sister of the dukes of Norfolk but the Howard Dukes were nowhere near as royal as the Mowbray Dukes, or the House of York.

        Cheers

        1. Hannele says:

          BanditQueen described Anne as “a kright’s daughter no experience of ruling”

          Women did not usually rule whatever their station. When they did, like Margaret of Anjoy because her husband’s illness, or tried to do like Elizabeth Woodiville during her son’s minority, they were painted black.

          What Anne lacked was rather an ability to distance herself from people and keep her feelings and thoughts to herself which was learned early on by those born royal like Katherine of Aragon, and also an ability to dissemble and make allies among her ladies-in-waiting and like Katherine Parr.

          It is quite true that by marrying “beneath themselves” both Edward IV and Henry courted trouble, yet also marrying royal cousins during many generations could cause trouble of anther sort.

        2. Claire says:

          “What Anne lacked was rather an ability to distance herself from people and keep her feelings and thoughts to herself which was learned early on by those born royal like Katherine of Aragon, and also an ability to dissemble and make allies among her ladies-in-waiting and like Katherine Parr.”

          I’m not sure it’s fair to say that. Katherine of Aragon was never in the position where there was someone like Chapuys ready to repeat every bit of gossip he heard about her and to pass on any inappropriate things she said because he did not view her as the true queen. Anne Boleyn acted as patron to many great men and courtly love aside she seems to have run a ship-shape household and had the respect of those who served her. Katherine Parr certainly didn’t keep her thoughts and feelings to herself and it nearly got her into trouble.

          Elizabeth I was born royal and also didn’t keep her feelings to herself. There were times when she was incredibly spiteful and even violent to those who served her.

    3. Duane says:

      I agree that Anne has a fine grave and memorial site.

  3. Mary the Quene says:

    What a trainwreck of non-justice. And poor Mark Smeaton, who had to watch the other four go before him; the smell of blood and the hot stink of fear must have been almost palpable to him.

    Anne Boleyn’s resting place shouldn’t be changed as unless a DNA test were performed, no one can be certain which set of female skeletal remains belonged to her. Leave her (and the others) along; they’re asleep after their ‘long day’s journey into night.’ God saw them safely Home, that’s all that matters.

    1. Duane says:

      Despite the injustice of his conviction, Mark Smeaton was fortunate to be beheaded like an aristocrat rather than burned like a lowly peon.

  4. Globerose says:

    How blind, blind and blinkered is Justice if even the breath of suspicion is enough to send such a man as George Boleyn to the scaffold. Nice piece, BanditQueen. Thank you again.

  5. Hannele says:

    How can you say that Mark Smeaton died with courage and dignity as he gave false testimony about Anne?

    Of course we can understand him if he was tortured or, more probably as nobody saw any signs of torture in him, was threatened of torture or/and was given liberty or an easier life, but the fact is that he did wrong and without his confession there would not have a case against Anne.

    1. Claire says:

      Who knows what had been done to him though? I suspect that he’d had immense psychological pressure put on him, at the least, and that he believed that if he retracted anything then he’d be hanged, drawn and quartered. Yes, he did wrong, but I suspect it wasn’t a wrong as what was done to him. He wasn’t responsible for the plot and I’m sure that Anne would still have been executed without his confession. He was courageous and dignified on the scaffold and I can’t judge him when I can’t say what I would have done in his shoes. I’d like to hope that I would have had the strength to be honest, but who knows really? So that’s how I can say it, I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt and put the blame on those who made use of a terrified young man. Just my view.

      1. JudithRex says:

        “I’m sure that Anne would still have been executed without his confession.”

        Well, her words about Norris marrying her if the King died were certainly treasonable by the law Cromwelll enacted to protect her back in the day so maybe.

        BUT

        Smeaton’s confession was key to Anne being charge with adultery and the adultery was linked to the treason charge.. The double whammy of treasonable words to Norris, words of questionable taste and meaning to Smeaton about their relationship and snapping his feather off his hat that she herself relayed in the tower later, and confessed sexual relations by Smeaton with the queen, were all together overwhelming. Not sure that without Smeaton Henry would have gone after Norris for not telling him about it at the very least, or having relations with Anne himself.

      2. Hannele says:

        Of course Mark Smeaton could be pitied. But he did not act courageously or dignified, nor did he died in such a manner.

        And how can be sure that he was pressured, let alone immensely? I seldom agree with Mantel, but with Smeaton she can have understand something fundamental. After being rebuffed by Anne because he acted like a gentleman and not a servant he was, it was only needed that Cromwell flattered him and he began to boast and enjoyed believing that Cromwell admired his conquests. And what a masterstroke to let his nerves being broken down by his own imagination!

        It is also possible that Smeaton wanted to revenge on Anne and lied deliberately. If he was a narcissistic person who had fallen in love with the queen and imagined that she loved him in return, it would have been a crushing blow to him that she destroyed the image of a great lover he had in his own eyes. He had only one way to regain his self-respect: to show that he had a power to destroy her and it was so important to him that he did not care that he in the same time destroyed himself.

  6. Diane Wilshere says:

    just one quick correction on Bandit Queen’s excellent response. Mary, Queen of Scots was not buried in the same vault as Mary I and Elizabeth I. In fact, Elizabeth was not originally buried on top of her sister. Her original gravesite was in front of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. James I moved her and was buried in that spot. There is a wonderful essay In the Queenship and Power book on Elizabeth and Mary that discusses the politics of the burial positions in the Henry VII Chapel as James I arranged it. Elizabeth on top of Mary I with only Elizabeth’s effigy represents the barren queens. On the other side chapel are the three fertile women James was descended from : Maragaret Beaufort, Maragaret Douglas and Mary, Queen of Scots all of whom have effigies.

    1. Banditqueen says:

      Quite correct, Mary Queen of Scots was actually originally buried in Peterborough Cathedral, were a small memorial still marks the spot, the stand from the first tomb is still there to mark the spot and a little display. Her son of course had her moved, and as you say she does not share their vault but her tomb lies near to them in their chapel. On the subject of King James, he is in the vault of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York, definitely as a survey photo shows of the vault. Henry Viii and Jane Seymour in Windsor also have interesting guests in their vault. King Charles I was found there and An infant child of Queen Anne. I think the point I am trying to make is that many of the proposed royal burial places suitable for Anne are rather full. I believe that Anne Boleyn should remain where she is, peaceful, respected, honoured and remembered. Her memorial stone is beautiful, she was buried again with title and arms, she is recalled each year with flowers and the corner of the Tower Chapel of Peter ad Vincular is a living parish community.

      All of the people who died in the Tower are buried in the church, most from the execution site, but others as well, services are held here, so it is a place of life and not death. Prayer is offered in the church for the people there. The five men died in a terrible way, the poems recall their last moments and some memories of their life. Wyatt also unfortunately makes some comments about George and Mark and Weston making life that was not moral and he chides Smeaton for his confession. Wyatt is being satirical. His words cannot be taken literally. But many more lines show that he moved by the way each man was dignified at death. He gives us a look into his heart, his sorrow, even his terror at seeing his friends violent and tragic ends. All of these people were men in the prime of life, young, vital, alive, talented, characters with flaws who lived life to the full, not perfect, but human, men who had lived and loved, all from the inner court, they had families and friends, even Smeaton had relatives somewhere, and they all enjoyed life up to the time of their arrest two and a half weeks earlier. We can best remember them not as the men who died innocently a couple of days before Anne Boleyn, but for the roles they had in life, achievements that they made and others they knew and affected by those lives. They were people who lived life at a hectic pace, danced, hunted, played music, wrote poetry, loved, sometimes more than one person at a time, some championed the joust, others rose high in the service of his or her King, and some had wives and children or lovers. We should recall them in their histories, legacies and literary remains, not merely in their deaths.

      1. Hannele says:

        To BanditQueen

        Even if it seem to to us that those who were executed by axe died in terrible way, was it so in their eyes? They were spared of the far a terrible fate of a long and painful execution that was a lot of many, including Anne Askew and Thomas Cranmer.

        Above all, they had time to make themselves ready to meet God by making a confession and repent the sins they had made. What people were at that time most afraid was a sudden unexpected death when there was no chance of confession.

        Under the circumstances they were fortunate compared with those executed during the Pilgrim of Grace and millions other nameless victims during history.

  7. Jane says:

    Hannele, beheading by the axe was not necessarily quick and clean, although I grant you, quicker than being burnt alive. Some contemporary accounts suggest that George Boleyn was given three strokes of the axe, so were Mary Stuart and the Earl of Essex by all accounts. Thomas Cromwell was terribly hacked about, so was Margaret Pole. The executions of Lord Russell and Monmouth were even more frightfully bungled, by the infamous Jack Ketch.

    Anne Boleyn being executed by a French master swordsman was in some ways luckier, although that doesn’t seem the correct term somehow, dying unjustly is not a lucky thing.

  8. Cate says:

    Claire, I am not sure that I would agree with you that the fates of these five men were “skipped over” in the BBC adaptation of the Mantel novels. Granted their executions were not shown, but they were implied, and I think there might be a couple of reasons for this “backgrounding” of their plight:

    1. The novels were written from the point of view of Cromwell himself. Everything that happens and every character in those two books is presented as if through his eyes. The BBC adaptation faithfully follows this perspective. Now, it appears to be historical fact that Cromwell did not attend the executions, so how to present them to the reader? Mantel chooses to have Cromwell hear a report about them from his eyewitness delegate, Richard Cromwell. The BBC would have had to do something like that as well—showing events that happened “off-stage”, as it were—which may not have fit the dramatic purposes or time constraints of the script.

    2. The executions of the five men happening so close to Anne’s would have presented quite a challenge to the script-writer, who would be concerned to build tension right to the climactic moment of her death. In terms of drama, it may well have been decided that showing their deaths could have detracted from the “main event” of the Queen’s death. After five horrible executions, viewers might be shutting down emotionally, and Anne’s would then have appeared anti-climactic—which would utterly spoil the story as drama.

    The main point is, Wolf Hall is fiction and the BBC series is drama. Neither of these genres are history. Both of these genres are imaginative literature in which writers take the events of history and transform them, interpreting them according to their own purposes and perspectives, into story. In this process, writers make choices in favour of dramatic or fictional purposes, choices which by their very nature foreground some historical events or characters, and background others.

    Don’t get wrong. I love series like “Wolf Hall” and “The Tudors” . They are wonderful for stimulating interest in the Tudor era, but I would caution against drawing conclusions about complex historical events and people on the basis of a TV show or novel. I would encourage anyone who enjoys these series to dig into the real stuff, to read more real history, written by historians, and to discover just how truly fraught and fascinating historical writing really is.

    Thank you for your fascinating website and FB page. 🙂

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