This post is a continuation from yesterday’s post “Mark Smeaton – Part 1”, so do make sure that you read that one first.

Before I look at Mark’s role in the fall of Anne Boleyn and the Boleyn faction, here’s a clip from Showtime’s “The Tudors” (from YouTube) showing Mark Smeaton being tortured – you might need to cover your eyes!!

Not pleasant!

Mark Smeaton’s Role in the Fall of Anne Boleyn

Alison Weir, in “The Lady and the Tower”, gives details of a story regarding Mark Smeaton that I have never heard before. The source of this story is the “Spanish Chronicle”, which I do not feel that we can put much credence in but it is an interesting story nonetheless.

The story involves Henry Percy’s brother, Sir Thomas Percy, getting into some kind of fight with Mark Smeaton and Anne hearing about it and trying to resolve the situation. However, Percy was not happy with this and wrote to Cromwell:

“It is hardly three months since Mark came to court, and though he has only an hundred pounds a year from the King, and has received no more than a third, he has just bought three horses that have cost him five hundred ducats, as well as very rich arms and fine liveries for his servants for the May Day ridings, such as no gentleman at court has been able to buy, and many are wondering where he gets the money.”

The implication of this letter was that Mark was being paid by Anne for sexual services and the “Spanish Chronicle” alleged that Cromwell responded to this letter by ordering Percy to keep an eye on Smeaton and Percy then saw Smeaton leaving the Queen’s apartment on the morning of the 29th April.

Eric Ives writes of how, on that same day, Smeaton had “made a moody exhibition of himself in Anne’s apartments”, suggesting that he was probably mooning after the Queen. Whichever of these stories is true, Cromwell made his move on Sunday 30th April and had Smeaton arrested and brought to his house in Stepney. The details of what happened there are unknown, we know that Mark was held and interrogated for around 24 hours before he confessed to adultery with the Queen and was taken to the Tower late on the Monday. Ives writes of how one of Henry Norris’s servants, George Constantine, reported years after the events that “the saying was that he was first grievously racked, which I never could know of a truth” and that the “Cronica del Rey Enrico” (“Spanish Chronicle” described Cromwell torturing him by tightening a knotted rope around his head, like the scene in “The Tudors”. Mark may not have been physically tortured at all but he may have been put under immense psychological pressure, perhaps being promised a pardon if he confessed or, as Weir writes, it may be that he was promised a swifter more merciful death than the usual traitor’s punishment.

The sad thing is that Cromwell probably saw Mark as expendable. He could put pressure on Mark to confess without worrying about upsetting anyone at court and Mark could be used to bring down Anne and her faction, who were all thorns in Cromwell’s side – very convenient.

But what did Smeaton actually confess to?

Mark Smeaton’s Confession

Ives writes of how Mark confessed to adultery with the Queen, but Weir goes into more detail on the various reports of Mark’s confession. According to the “Spanish Chronicle” report of Cromwell torturing Mark, Mark told of how the Queen had seduced him and that an old waiting woman called Margaret had hidden him, according to Anne’s instructions, behind the royal bed-curtains and then Anne took him to bed “that night and many others”. Mark was then paid by Anne for his services. Weir discounts this report as being based on rumours, particularly as it goes on to say that the waiting woman, Margaret, was racked and then burned at the stake under cover of darkness.

Diplomat Lancelot de Carles stated that “Mark was forced to answer the accusation against him, without being tortured, he deliberately said that the Queen had three times yielded to his passion”.

Whatever the details, whether Mark was tortured or not, he confessed to adultery with Anne on three separate occasions and stuck to this testimony. Weir wonders if the fact that he was executed as a gentleman is proof that he was promised a more merciful death if he complied with Cromwell and confessed – who knows?!

When Anne spoke of Mark during her time in the Tower, she remembered:

“I never spake with him since but upon Saturday before May Day [29th April], and then I found him standing in the round window in my chamber of presence; and I asked why he was so sad, and he answered and said it was no matter. And then I said, “You may not look to have me speak to you as I should do to a noble man because you be an inferior person.” “No, no,” said he, ” a look sufficed me ; and thus fare you well.””

This suggests that Mark was in love with Anne – the fact that just a look from her pleased him.

Smeaton’s End

According to the indictment drawn up by the Grand Jury of Middlesex, the charges concerning Mark Smeaton were:-

“Also the Queen, 12 April 26 Hen.VIII [1534], and divers days before and since, at Westminster, also incited/procured Mark Smeaton, a performer on musical instruments, a person specified as of low degree, promoted for his skill to be a groom of the Privy Chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so a Westminster 26 April 27 Hen. VIII [1535]”

“Moreover, the said Lord Rochford…and Smeaton being thus inflamed with carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, gave her secret gifts and pledges while carrying on this illicit intercourse.”

The dates on which Smeaton and Anne were said to have committed adultery included 12th April 1534, the 13th and 19th may 1534 and 26th April 1536 – interestingly not the 29th April 1536 when Percy was said to have seen Mark leaving Anne’s apartment! No thought was given to the dates of Anne’ supposed adultery and the fact that she was either pregnant, unchurched and recovering after childbirth or miscarriage, or with the King on these dates – hmm!

Although we are lacking the official records of the men’s trials, we know that each man was accused of violating the Queen, having carnal knowledge of her and conspiring the King’s death with her, but that it was only Mark who pleaded guilty. All of the men were convicted of all charges and sentenced to be “hanged, drawn and quartered, their members cut off and burnt before them, their heads cut off and [their bodies] quartered.”

Mark’s Execution

On the 17th May 1536, the men were all led out to the scaffold at Tower Hill, the Tower of London, and executed by beheading, rather than the traitor’s death of hanging, drawing and quartering. Although some sources state that Mark was hanged, due to his lowly birth, he was beheaded like the other men, but had to watch the others go before him. Can you imagine watching your friends or acquaintances die in such a brutal way and then stepping on to a scaffold awash with blood and littered with bodies, and placing your head on a block soaked with the blood of those who had gone before you, never mind struggling with feelings of sheer terror and guilt?

Mark’s speech was short and to the point and, according to de Carles and George Constantine, he declared that “he was justly punished for his misdeeds” and said:

“Masters, I pray you all pray for me, for I have deserved the death.”

Some have taken this to be proof that he did indeed sleep with Anne and conspire against the King but Weir points out that Smeaton may have been fearful to the end of his sentence being changed to hanging, drawing and quartering. He may also have been referring to the fact that his confession was false and that he deserved to die for betraying Anne and his four friends. Mark was then beheaded and his body left with those of Brereton, Weston, Norris and Rochford until they were stripped and taken away for burial. Mark Smeaton was buried in a grave with Sir William Brereton in the churchyard next to the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower grounds.

There is no way of knowing where Mark’s body lies today because in those days the churchyard extended out to the area now covered by the Jewel House and the Waterloo Barracks, and also in 1841, when the Waterloo Block was being built, some bones were found and re-interred in the Chapel crypt.

When the Constable of the Tower, Sir William Kingston, spoke to Anne of the men’s executions, reporting that Mark had confessed that he deserved to die, Anne said with passion:

“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! But for my brother, and those others, I doubt not but they are now in the presence of that great King before whom I am to be tomorrow.”

It is highly likely (I think it’s definite) that Anne Boleyn died an innocent woman. The evidence against her just didn’t stack up and she even put her soul at risk of eternal damnation by swearing her innocence over the Eucharist. She must, therefore, have been bewildered by Mark Smeaton’s confession. She had supported Mark and befriended him, yet he betrayed her. We will never know if it was the agony of torture that made Mark confess or just plain terror or survival, and who knows what we would have done in his position, but it must have broke Anne’s heart.

Here ends the story of Mark Smeaton who perhaps did deserve a traitor’s death.

Sources and Further Reading

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18 thoughts on “Mark Smeaton – Part 2”
  1. I think we’ve all been a bit bewildered by Mark Smeaton’s confession.

    To quote from your article, Smeaton’s last declaration was: “Masters, I pray you all pray for me, for I have deserved the death.”

    This makes me reconsider my previous post on the first part of the article wherein I conjectured that Smeaton might have been an overly scrupulous religious person. Here is what I posted in the comments from part 1:

    “I wonder if Mark Smeaton was a religious man–not merely a faithful man, but perhaps a man who was what is called being too “scrupulous.” (Clicking the link below will explain what I mean better than I can) :

    It occurs to me that if Smeaton had been overly scrupulous in his religion, then he might have naturally felt pride in Anne’s attention to him quickly followed by a sense of unworthiness at his rise within the Tudor court. Needless to say, had he had a moment’s fleeting amorous thought about the Queen, his benefactress, the anguish would have been enormous to someone disposed to be hyper guilt-ridden.

    Scrupulous people confess even to things they haven’t even done and tend over-compensate for their inferiority through confession–I know Smeaton’s “confession” to Cromwell was in a civil capacity, but if Smeaton was as my theory supposes, Smeaton might have taken the same view of any sort of “confession.”

    It’s just a theory, I have no true belief in this, but it might add to the debate.”

    What do you all think? I want to give Mark the benefit of the doubt–maybe he was just afraid of being drawn and quartered. But if there were also a hypersensitivity to the potential of sinning in him, might not his unrequited crush on Anne have caused him to declare himself guilty of the sin of adultery? After all, the bible states that to merely look at someone with lust means you’re guilty of having committed fornication–someone who is a bit unhinged might take that too much to heart. Perhaps that is why Mark became the first weak link in the chain of events which led to Anne’s downfall.

    I hope this makes sense–I’m insomniac tonight and so have passed the point of being able to go to bed in order to be where I need to be in the morning.

    1. I agree with your theory of Smeaton’s being exceedingly scrupulous. I would also like to propose the following consideration. Cromwell was most definitely a manipulative man desperate to preserve his favor with the king. Imagine his working the Scripture from Matthew 5:28: “But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.” I can imagine Cromwell’s gently convincing the sensitive, frightened musician to confess to the lust in his heart upon the three occasions, even if there were no torture. An eyewitness account of Smeaton’s climbing the scaffold could help dispel his being tortured on the rack.

  2. Oooh, I feel a Mark Smeaton Part 3 coming on now, Cynthia! I could explore this “scrupulosity” idea. Very interesting! Sorry you can’t sleep, it’s lunchtime here!

  3. Claire, I think that the only things that Smeaton was guilty of was loving Anne Boleyn and betraying her by lying that they had an affair. I also agree that Anne Boleyn was probably innocent. I can’t believe that after all the time and anguish it took for the divorce and for her to marry Henry, that she would blow it by sleeping with other men.

  4. While I had read about the old lady supposedly saying she knew about Mark being hidden in the queen’s chamber, I read that the old woman, Margaret Wingfield I think was her name, was very old and feeble minded and had died many years before.I had never heard or read of Henry Percy’s brother,Thomas making any such accusations. Like anything having to do with Cromwell “finding” the evidence needed against Anne, no doubt it was bogus or taken out of true context. The Spanish Chronicle could hardly be relied upon as factual since Anne was hated by Katherine’s nephew and the many Catholic factions at the time.I have always thought Anne was not guilty of the crimes charged against her, not that she was a saint, but she was very unlikely to give herself so freely to many men. Of course the incest thing was slander. Henry could not allow himself to be a laughing stock so he had to find ways to make Anne appear amoral. We all know he tried using Witchcraft as one of the ways of getting rid of her. I have always thought Mark “confessed” to the fact that he said he slept with her because he did undergo some form of torture. The rope theory keeps showing up in many writings, so it could very well have happened. I agree that Cromwell thought him expendable.. Mark also knew he bore false witness against the Queen, therefore, he deserved to die as this was a very serious sin then. Why he didn’t clear her name could be that he was indeed afraid of the refuting of the sentence back to the original of being hang drawn and quartered.

  5. I have to say that this is the best website I have encountered and really enjoy allyour comments and ideas about teh situation. History, especially the Tudor era, has been one of my hobbies for a number of years and I hope to be able to comment on articles in the future.

    Meanwhile please keep this site rolling – It’s great

  6. Mark Smeaton was taken to Cromwells house in Stepney to be interrogated.This is were he was interrogated and tortured.Smeaton would have confessed to anything under torture so would have his co-accused aswell as anyone who was being interrogated for a crime at the time whether perceived to be true or false.I feel that Cromwell was going against his principal by having and taking Smeaton to his house to thouroughly do what he had wanted to do with him.There is no doubt in my mind that smeaton was treated the most harshly out of the five men accused with Anne.Do you feel that Cromwell and King Henry VIII were jealous men? I feel so personally myself.I also feel that the reason Mark did not change his statement at any time is because Cromwell and his attendents had him brainwashed.He must have only been to aware of this and thus he would have still been put to death by execution.Mark Smeaton was basically fighting a losing game,which he new he could not and would not win.Mark was probably scared and felt threatened by Cromwell.Like anyone who had fell to become Cromwells enemy.Just like the whole court must have been scared of king Henry VIII.

  7. Sorry to be a bore – but can we go back in time to see how all this panned out?.

    The Tudors as you all know had a very tenuous claim to the throne in any case. After the death of Henry V, his widow either married or had an affair with Owen Tudor which resulted in children, one of them being Edmund, Earl of Richmond who was married to Maragaret Beaufort, a descendant of the original illegimate line of the coupling of John of Gaunt and Katherine Swynford whom he made his third wife after years of illicit relationship. Before Edmund died he impregnated Margaret who gave birth to an ony son, Henry who later became the VII of that name and who is supposed to have joined the red and white roses. But a very dodgy wicket to be on. His wife, Elizabeth of York, who again went under the was she or not illigimate scene, produced two boys, Arthur and Henry.
    Arthur was supposed to be the coming of a new era and was married off to Katherine of Aragon although he died 6 months after the wedding. Hebry VII wanted to keep the dowry and so negotatiated with teh Pope of the time to get dispensation to marry Katherine to Henry and that was granted although the wedding did not actually take place until Henry VIII had become king. However, before that the future Henry VIII, as second son hd been educated to be a crdinal and was an extremely bright person illectually, artistically and was very fit. He was also a spoilt brat from day 1 .

    Because K of A had not given him a son and was past child bearing years (although as a royal personage she forgave him his affairs), Henry had to do something quick. The problem, as we all know was that the Pope of teh time was under the control of Katherine’s nephew Charles V of Habsnbburg and Charles I of Spain who say about the divorce, no way José.

    Henry seemed to take what he wanted for as long as he wanted and iof he didn’t get what he wanted then it was always another pèrson’s fault even if he was supposed to have loved them.

    In his youth he ws supposed to be very handsome as well and therefore could probably twist people round his arm with a smile. I just think he never grew up! I admire Ann Boleyn tremendously because she was a “wild child” – I have to say I also admire Anne of Cleves as well as, whilst she was a princess, she was on the wrong side of Henry when she met him and he lack of English and knowledge of teh country did not help her in the least. However, she managed to outlive him which is what very few people close to him did

  8. I have read your interesting comments. Pro and con . Yet all of them were of great interest to me
    I am searching my ancestors and found my great grandparents were from Perth, Scotland My father would never comment on his side of the family (Smeaton ) .Where as my mother (Woolsey) was extremly proud of her side . After reading on the both last names >I wonder if anyone out there has any comments for me > Thank you. Renee

  9. Hi Renee,
    How interesting about your parents’ names. How are you going about tracing your ancestors? I’d love to do it with mine. I’m not sure how common a name Smeaton was. It has various spellings in historical sources – Smeton and Smeaton – and although Mark did not have any children, we obviously do not know whether he had brothers and sisters. You never know, you might be connected to him in some way.

  10. I came across this site while researching where my ggg Grandmother was buried. She was buried at “Ground of Smeaton” Scotland. Nevertheless, I love the show the Tudors but I do have to close my eyes on those horrific torture scenes. I do believe that Mark Smeaton was so brained washed by the time they finished with him, that he thought he had commited a sin. In the Bible it says that if you even looked at another woman that was married as to have passion in your heart for her, then you were guilty of Adultry. So I believe this was really hammered into the poor lass. One would wonder why make any confession at all if you were innocent, but this was probably the deal, if he were to make a public confession he would not suffer, and therefore he could have been guilty of just that, looking at Anne with passion in his heart. Also to make a public confession under duress to lies, was surely a sin in it self . So he made his confession in a way that you were not sure what his sins may have been. They really did tourture you back then, and I may have said anything at that time not to have been tortured. Plus if they offered him this “plea deal” this would not look so bad in the people’s eyes, putting an innocent man to death. The people would believe him to be guilty and therefore the rest also must be guilty. All for the public backing. The others could have been stronger in their faith, believing that if they confessed to a lie, they would burn in hell for eternity, something the Catholics used to control people. But because mark did have lust in his heart, he believed himself to be guilty.

  11. Anne’s demise was the result of a Papist plot via the Spanish.

    Smeaton displays all the behaviour of a brainwashed religious zealot akin to Jesuitical fanaticism. Jesuits will even betray their own if it furthers the cause. I’m not saying Smeaton was a Jesuit, but he came under Cardinal Wolsey’s wing as a younger man and sang in his choir.

    Loyola started the Jesuits in 1534 when he and his fellows took their fanatical vows. This was now 1536 and Martin Luther, Henry VIII and Calvin were The Jesuit’s worst enemies and number’s 1, 2 & 3 in terms of being on their hit list targets.

    The dissolution of the monasteries began in 1534 and were not completed until 1541. The Jesuits were given the Pope’s blessing in 1540. This is the back drop of European politics and religious fanatical mayhem of that time and Anne Boleyn was big player in that mix.

    Anne Boleyn had been instrumental, whether directly or indirectly, in the Spanish Catherine of Arragon’s demise. This alone would have made her THE enemy of Rome. Rome is a vengeful beast. They may even have got at Cromwell to do the dirty work – money talks.

    Poor Anne was a victim of these religious devils and traitors as was Henry VIII who underestimated what he had done in terms of poking the Papist crocodile in Rome. He was not like his shrewd father.

    1. What contemporary sources can you provide please to show your theory and where did you read this idea? I don’t believe your theory has any evidence to back it up but if you can provide me with a reference that would be worth investigation. Thanks.

  12. I really do think it’s a matter of Mark Smeaton being a much weaker character than the other men, not much moral fibre and gullible. It’s a very strong possibility that he was tortured, or tortured psychoogically with graphic depictions of what a horrible death he would suffer if he didn’t confess. The poor boy was so petrified he was ready to say anything that sly Cromwell told him to.

    What would have happened, I wonder, if he had pleaded “not guilty”, along with Anne and the other co-accused? I suppose they would have been found guilty anyway?

  13. Hi
    I think Mark was a young man he could have been very scared maybe of being hung drawn and quartered it is a cruel death they do it while the victim is alive and its one they used for treason.
    We don’t know for how long he was tortured or the threats they used to torture Mark even a very brave man can break under pressure they used some very cruel instruments of torture in those days people shouldn’t be too quick to judge him

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