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!!
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.
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 , 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 ”
“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.”
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
- “The Lady in the Tower” by Alison Weir
- “The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” by Eric Ives
- “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn” by Retha Warnicke