On this day in history, the 30th April 1536, Mark Smeaton was taken to Thomas Cromwell’s house in Stepney and interrogated. Within 24 hours he had confessed to making love to the Queen, Anne Boleyn, three times. It is likely that the note that Henry VIII received at the May Day joust, the next day, contained details of Smeaton’s confession.

But where does an innocent jar of marmalade come into it?

The Musician, Marmalade and Queen

There is an intriguing story about Mark Smeaton and Anne Boleyn in The Spanish Chronicle (Cronica del Rey Enrico), also known as The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England, a rather gossipy chronicle and one historical source to take with a rather large pinch of salt.

It concerns a certain musician, a cupboard, a jar of jam, a bed and a certain queen. After reporting how Anne had fallen in love with Smeaton, the Chronicle goes on to say:-

“One night, whilst all the ladies were dancing, the old woman called Mark and said to him gently, so that none should overhear, “You must come with me;” and he, as he knew it was to the Queen’s chamber he had to go, was nothing loth. So she took him to an ante-chamber, where she and another lady slept, next to the Queen’s room, and in this ante-chamber there was a closet like a store-room, where she kept sweetmeats, candied fruits, and other preserves which the Queen sometimes asked for. To conceal him more perfectly the old woman put him into this closet, and told him to stay there till she came for him, and to take great care he was not heard. Then she shut him up and returned to the great hall where they were dancing, and made signs to the Queen, who understood her, and, although it was not late, she pretended to be ill, and the dancing ceased. She then retired to her chamber with her ladies, whilst the old woman said to her, “Madam, when you are in bed and all the ladies are asleep, you can call me and ask for some preserves, which I will bring, and Mark shall come with me, for he is in the closet now.”

The Queen went to bed and ordered all her ladies to retire to their respective beds, which were in an adjoining gallery like a refectory, and when they were all gone but the old lady and the lady who slept with her, she sent them off too. When she thought they would all be asleep, she called the old woman, and said, “Margaret, bring me a little marmalade.” She called it out very loudly, so that the ladies in the gallery might hear as well as Mark, who was in the closet. The old woman went to the closet and made Mark undress, and took the marmalade to the Queen, leading Mark by the hand. The lady who was in the old woman’s bed did not see them when they went out of the closet, and the old woman left Mark behind the Queen’s bed, and said out loud, “Here is the marmalade, my lady.” Then Anne said to the old woman, “Go along; go to bed.”

As soon as the old woman had gone Anne went round to the back of the bed and grasped the youth’s arm, who was all trembling, and made him get into bed. He soon lost his bashfulness, and remained that night and many others, so that in a short time this Mark flaunted out to such an extent that there was not a gentleman at court who was so fine, and Anne never dined without having Mark serve her.”1

Now this story is quite hilarious until you stop and think and realise that this was some of the propaganda which helped to blacken her name. It is such a silly story and I cannot see that there is any truth in it and there is certainly no other evidence to back it up, unless, like Bernard, you believe that the poem by Lancelot de Carles telling of the alleged witness statement from the Countess of Worcester do in fact back it up.

The Countess of Worcester was one of Anne’s ladies and she apparently told her brother, Sir Anthony Browne, that her own offence (possible adultery) was nothing in comparison to the Queen who allowed members of the court to come into her chamber “at improper hours” and that if her brother did not believe her then he could find out more from Mark Smeaton. She then said “I must not forget to tell you what seems to me to be the worst thing, which is that often her brother has carnal knowledge of her in bed.”2 If this exchange between the Countess of Worcester (Elizabeth Browne) and her brother did take place and it was fed back to Cromwell, then we can see how this, combined with Anne’s ramblings in the Tower regarding Smeaton and Norris, could well have made Anne look guilty or have been enough ammunition and “evidence” for those conspiring against her.

Mooning Over Anne

When Mrs Stonor, one of the ladies chosen to attend Anne Boleyn in the Tower, spoke to Anne about Smeaton being held in the Tower and having to wear “irons”, Anne was quick to comment “that is because he is no gentleman”3 and she went on to tell of Mark mooning over her:-
“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.””4

Mark Smeaton’s Confession

Those of us who believe that Anne Boleyn was 100% innocent of all the charges laid against her struggle to understand why Mark Smeaton confessed to sleeping with the Queen.

  • Was his confession tortured out of him?
  • Did he confess in an attempt to save himself? Was he promised a pardon if he confessed?
  • Was Mark promised a swifter and more merciful death if he complied and confessed?
  • Was he living in some kind of fantasy land? Did he actually believe that Anne loved him and that they had a relationship?
  • Was it revenge for her rejecting him and humiliating him?
  • Was he “scrupulous”? Did he see sin where there was none and see himself as guilty of adultery for fantasizing about Anne?

Was Smeaton Tortured?

Unfortunately, we just don’t know whether Mark Smeaton was tortured. He was taken to Cromwell’s house in Stepney for interrogation and although I cannot see Cromwell having a racking room there, Smeaton could have been tortured psychologically or in the way The Spanish Chronicle describes:-

“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.”5

Although this is what is recorded in The Spanish Chronicle, we have no other primary source evidence to back this up and George Constantine, one of Henry Norris’s servants, said that “the saying was that he was first grievously racked, which I never could know of a truth”6 and Lancelot de Carles wrote 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.”7 Whatever the truth regarding his alleged torture, Mark Smeaton was interrogated for around 24 hours, which suggests that he didn’t willingly confess and that some pressure was put on him. This pressure could have been physical, psychological or it could have been some kind of deal.

Mark Smeaton was a lowly court musician and perhaps he was seen as expendable or perhaps Cromwell and his men could get away with torturing him, something that they could not risk to do with someone like Sir Henry Norris. Lancelot de Carles writes of how, when Henry VIII rode back from the May Day joust with Henry Norris, he accused him of committing adultery with Anne and then offered “to spare [Norris’s] life and goods, although he was guilty, if he would tell him the truth.” Did Cromwell try to strike some similar deal with Mark Smeaton and then break that deal after Mark confessed? Perhaps so.

I doubt that we will ever know what caused Mark Smeaton to confess to sleeping with the Queen and why he didn’t later retract his confession, but this young musician’s life was cut short on the 17th May 1536 when he was beheaded on Tower Hill.

More on Mark Smeaton

You can find out more about Mark Smeaton in the following articles:-

  • Mark Smeaton Part 1 – Covers how Mark rose from humble beginnings to being a member of Anne Boleyn’s inner circle.
  • Mark Smeaton Part 2 – Mark Smeaton’s role in Anne Boleyn’s fall and the Boleyn faction, and how his life ended.
  • Mark Smeaton the Scrupulous? – A look at Mark Smeaton’s confession and whether he was scrupulous and saw sin where there was none. Did he consider lustful thoughts as adultery and that’s why he confessed?

Notes and Sources

1 – The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England – ed. Hume, p57 – available online
2 – Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions, G W Bernard, p153
3 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p169
4 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p169
5 – The Chronicle of King Henry VIII of England – ed. Hume, p61 – available online
6 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p124
7 – The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, p125

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21 thoughts on “Mark Smeaton with the Marmalade in the Cupboard”
  1. Hmm – I had once read (and I don’t remember where, certainly not a scholarly work) that the entire story was set at Katherine Howard’s door with Culpepper being in Mark’s place.

    Regarding the torture issue – there is no reason why it would be recorded. It could easily be seen as forcing a confession which was false if it was made public that torture was used.

    And just the mere threat of it could have made Mark confess. He was of low status – no one would have been prepared to help him in any way at all. I also think that Cromwell is very clever indeed and would have known precisely how to get what he wanted from Mark. Whether it was true or not. Ways of questioning can easily provide what the questioner wants to hear whilst the prisoner thinks they have actually said something else.

    We will never really know, but I am still absolutely sure that Anne Boleyn and all the men around her were innocent. Regardless of what Bernard is saying.

  2. Sorry a smile crossed my face when I read “Mark Smeaton with the marmalade in the cupboard” it sounded like a phrase from ‘Cludeo’! lol.

  3. The Marmalade report reminds me of similar stories that circulated in the courts of Europe at that time: tales from The Decameron, perhaps insider knowledge of the ribald writings in Marguerite de Navarre’s Heptameron and also the Spanish La Celestina. A precedent had been set by the time of Anne Boleyn’s fall, a tradition of “morality” tales, if you will, where exalted persons (whether royals, courtiers or often clergy) were the butt of satire and scandalous anecdotes. If Anne Boleyn lived today, her celebrity would earn her a cover on any of the gossip rags for sure!

  4. I’m a bit of a Cluedo fan, Masquerade!

    Bess, I agree with you about the whole torture issue – no government is going to admit to torturing prisoners so you’re right, there wouldn’t be any hard evidence of it. Ways of questioning and psychological pressure can be just as successful as physical torture at getting people to say what you want them to and also Mark may well have been offered a deal. Poor Mark! I too think that Anne, Mark, Norris, Rochford, Brereton and Weston were innocent. Wyatt, Bryan and Page were lucky to escape!

    Heretic, yes, I think The Spanish Chronicle was a bit like the tabloid press or celebrity magazines today. Also the Lancelot de Carles poem is seen as a morality tale and I take that with a big pinch of salt.

  5. The marmalade story reminds me of similar stories told about Marie Antoinette, to show that she was a woman with many lovers etc.

    I used to believe that Mark Smeaton was tortured, but now I think it is possible that they had fooled him, leading him to believe that they would spare his life if he told the “truth”. It would be horrible for Anne to hear that the man whom she had helped so much, said this atrocious lie about her.

  6. I think Mark Smeaton must have gone through all the emotions known to man when he was taken in for interrogation.And after twenty four hours of !questioning“ I should think he was more than ready to agree to anything and I have a feeling that afterwards he felt immense remorse and probably was glad to die. He knew that he would never be able to lead any sort of normal life again, at court , as a musicion (because of his injuries), or while he would have become infamous. He was a gentle man, and very sensitive and there is no way that he could have survived phsycologically

  7. It was a funny chronicle . One simply act that they can quickly transforme in something ‘interesting and doubious’ .
    In my opion it just shows how Anne and Mark S. had a good and funny friendship.

  8. I think Mark Smeaton was probably tortured until he confessed. Maybe he was scrupulous, or maybe he was drawn into a false deal with Cromwell. His case is an especially mysterious one. But in spite of all the circumstances, I still believe in Anne’s innocence. Regardless of her moral character, why would such an intelligent woman do something so foolish??

  9. But nobody asks the right question: did Anne REALLY liked marmalade? And what kind of marmalade was it? Questions always remain!
    You’re right, Heretic, this souds like a Decaeron’s story! Maybe it was actually a morality tale which circulated at the time, you just have to change “the queen” and “the boy” into “Anne Boleyn” and “Mark Smeaton”, to transform a general tale into a testimony. I think that death was deliverance for him, not only because of his culpability feeling, but mostly because he suffered from what he endured when he was tortured. That’s probably why people facing their executions were so passive: it was the end of suffering, nothing else.
    Eliza, there was indeed a story like this about marie-Antoinette: she was supposed to have difficulties coming when she was with her any male and female lovers, because she tangled her foot in the ribbon designed to call her servants, and the dutiful ladies and pages arrived at once, forcing the queen to stop everything to dismiss them. Quite a funny story too.

  10. Two thoughts occurred to me, thinking about Mark Smeaton and his “interrogation” and “confession.”

    1. Questioned continuously for 24 hours – sounds like what criminals in the American Prohibition era called “The Third Degree.” Interrogations would go on for hours and hours, with different teams of interrogators taking over when one team would be tired. The subject would not be allowed to rest or eat. Is it possible Mark Smeaton, out of exhaustion, slipped up, and his words were used against him? After all, there was no Fifth Amendment protection – the right to remain silent, which means that he could not be legally compelled to incriminate himself.

    2. “Too scrupulous” – I spent 6 years in Lutheran school, and I remember thinking, during study of the 10 Commandments that some people are taking them WAY too seriously. For example, if a man is longing for a woman, particularly someone else’s wife, even if nothing is ever said to that woman, and no action is taken, such as even a casual touch, then that man is guilty of adultery. Is it possible that Mark might have confessed, since that might have been the timeframe when such thinking arose, and he truly believed himself guilty of adultery? I would not put it past someone like Cromwell to have put poor Mark through an emotional wringer to get a confession out of him.

    A modern example is former President Jimmy Carter, who is quite devoutly religious (Baptist, I believe) apologizing publicly, for having “committed adultery in his heart many times.”

    I have to admit, this article would be, if the consequences were not so tragic, hilarious. I can almost imagine if the chronicle writer had gone any further, they might have said Mark and Anne smeared marmalade all over each other. Is any mention ever made of who this old woman hiding Mark Smeaton in the pantry was?

    A question comes up about some of these ladies in waiting Anne had – why did she pick those who were so hostile to her, such as the Countess of Worcester? Katharine of Aragon had ladies who were VERY devoted to her, as did Catherine Parr. Was Anne just stuck taking whomever was foisted upon her by their rank?

  11. Lexy, yes, now I remember it clearly! The things that people say to blacken someone’s name are horrible! I can’t believe that some people fell for these lies..

    Interesting question Miladyblue! Why didn’t she pick her closest allies to attend her?

  12. I think Anne had a natural arrogance as a women and Queen and was secure in Henry`s love that she didn?t think she neded close, female friends as confidants. SShe seemed to have thrived in a man`s world and had enough male adoration to feel strong. And only as time passed did she probably realize that she stood pretty much alone and by that time it was too late. Right to the end , I think she honestly believed that Henry`s love for her would thriumph over her adversaries.

  13. Eliza, yes I can believe people will say anything to get what they want or to simply ruin another person’s reputation. People have not changed much and are capable of being cruel to get what they want. I know this because some parents at my school started to say things about me and the problems they have caused are a nightmare for me. It’s very hard to prove that you never said something when parents want to believe it is true so they can sue the school district and win a settlement. I can identify with Anne and the others who were so unjustly accused. I think we all want justice and unfortunately, this is not often the way the world runs.

  14. Personally, I think that Mark was a weak character and would easily renounce defeat if he was being interrigated. I have a feeling that Cromwell must have said something about saving him if he were to ‘tell the truth’ – and, quite possibly, he believed him. The only problem with that theroy is that 24 hours seems an awful long time to be questioned if you were as dissmisive as my Mark. Ah well, I am sure that guilt would have played heavily on his mind. We will never know.

  15. This incident is used in the opera Anna Bullena; which also has one of her lovers someone who was not indited in real life Henry Percy the Earl of Northumberland. The opera is otherwise wonderful and Anne is marvoullous in it; or at least she was in the version I saw last year.

  16. I can’t accept the torture story, not because I don’t believe Cromwell could do something like that but because it comes from the same source as the marmalade story which is ridiculous and obviously designed to scandalise and titilate rather than report actual truth. I do however believe that Mark was young, scared and quite easy for someone with Cromwell’s experience to manipulate. We can never be 100% but I feel sure that it was the promise of a kinder death that stopped Mark from retracting his confession, the threat of being hung, drawn and quartered must have been terrifying and I think that Cromwell would have held that over him in a way that made him “behave” right to the end, perhaps threatening that if he said anything in his scaffold speech that exonerated himself or the queen, his beheading would be changed to the other death at the last second. Wether a change like this would have been possible or not doesn’t even really matter, Mark just had to believe the threat.

  17. It’s a rather silly story until you realise the dire consequences of such a story, that is, a young man questioned and probably tortured unofficially, interrogations, prison, arrest for the Queen and five men, trumped up charges, a trial and five men and a Queen put to death. The story is utter nonsense, but was played brilliantly in Anna Bolena. This is an opera written in the seventeenth or eighteenth century which is fabulous. This shows how such a story can be transformed into popular drama two centuries later so must have been well known. There are conflicting reports on the torture of Mark Smeaton with George Constantine believing it was possibly used. Torture was actually rarer than we imagine in the Tudor period. Formal acts of torture needed a warrant from the King like that issued by James I to get Guy Fawlkes to talk. This didn’t stop the unofficial use of torture. Acts of restraint were used in interrogation, but there are few clues about what these were. It is possible that Cromwell tied Smeaton to a chair and ordered something unpleasant done to cause pain or that Smeaton was shown the various implements and confessed. Even if committed to the Tower for interrogation including torture, you didn’t start with the rack. The rack broke bones so there was actually no incentive for a prisoner to talk once you have already done the worst thing in the world to him. You gave orders to start with lighter torture, thumb screws, chains, suspension, the equivalent of modern water boarding, putting someone in a chair and tightening restrictions, then one of the more horrible ones including the rack. This was enough to get someone to talk. Official use also went in stages and was recorded in detail. This is what happened in Europe were the courts ordered torture frequently and there are concise records of the interrogation. In England it was illegal to torture a woman but this was sometimes suspended as in the horrendous case of Anne Askew. Various methods were later described by Bale but she refused to name other heretics or her patrons at court. She was put on the rack illegally and racked far beyond her endurance. Henry was informed, pretended to be outraged, stopped it, but wasn’t happy. Poor Anne Askew had to be carried in a chair to her execution because her legs and arms were broken. It’s possible therefore that Mark Smeaton was tortured somehow. However, there is also the possibility that he fantasized about Anne as he didn’t retract his statement. He could have been promised his life or anything or been smitten. He claimed to have slept with the Queen three times, but this was highly unlikely given his position. Anne had told him off for talking to her. He may have been given her patronage and rewarded for service as a musician with money and clothing but this was how talented people were paid in royal service. Mark Smeaton may have mooned after the Queen for a mere look, but he wasn’t her lover. He was a young man on the make, not noble or a gentleman and therefore an easy target for Cromwell. Some authors are very negative about Smeaton for his lies and betrayal, but personally I think that when Cromwell had finished with him, he was dehydrated, sensory deprived and very confused, open to every suggestion going. He would have confessed to everything and believed it.

  18. Sir Anthony could have just made it up-or Lady Elizabeth wanted to deflect blame by making the Queen look worse…..as for the confession of Mark Smeaton….a young impressionable artist-the threat of torture or a traitor’s death via hanging, disembowelment and dismemberment might well have been enough to get a confession, particularly if he felt guilty about whatever feelings he had for Anne.

    The likelihood that he would suffer the aforementioned would have been high-as an example, look at what happened to Dereham, who would not confess to any adultery with his Queen. Smeaton was lowborn and unlikely to receive special treatment without a confession.

    Cromwell seems to have been pretty sharp about human nature. He would have known which buttons to push.

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