The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -20

Posted By on April 29, 2020

On this day in 1536, although she may have had an inkling that something was going on at the royal court, Queen Anne Boleyn could not have known that she only had twenty days to live.

On 29th April 1536, the queen had encounters with two courtiers who would eventually be executed for allegedly sleeping with her and plotting with her to kill King Henry VIII. The courtiers in questions were musician Mark Smeaton and her husband’s friend and groom of the stool, Sir Henry Norris.

Find out about these men, and what happened when Anne encountered them on 29th April 1536, in this video:

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And today’s normal “on this day” video is on Mary, Queen of Scots, and the Earl of Bothwell:

6 thoughts on “The Fall of Anne Boleyn: Day -20”

  1. Oh, I always feel myself getting tense at this time of year! Thanks for all your hard work, Claire.

    1. Claire says:

      I know! It’s weird, isn’t it? However many times I do this countdown and read the events, it always has an impact on me.

  2. Michael Wright says:

    I am always amazed when I read these accounts about how what to me are obvious rebukes by Anne to these two men are taken to mean she was sleeping with them and wants the king dead. If she were anyone else at court and didn’t have a target on her back no one would have given these exchanges a second thought.
    As to Mark Smeaton I do not believe he wanted revenge. I believe his testimony was strictly out of of fear. We don’t know what happened under Cromwell’s interrogation. He may have been tortured or maybe not but I do think he was given a choice and because of his lowly status he is the only one that could have been threatened this way: “Look, you’re going to die no matter what so as long as you ‘admit’ that you slept with the queen you’ll only he beheaded. If you persist in denying this you will face the full traitor’s death of being hung, drawn and quartered. It’s up to you”. Mark was the only one a threat like this would work on as the other four men were of noble birth and would only be beheaded. I don’t blame Mark Smeaton at all for his choice as it had no bearing on the outcome of the trials whatsoever. If Cromwell didn’t have Mark to use as evidence he would have produced something or someone else as ‘proof’ of Anne’s guilt.

  3. Christine says:

    Yes Michael I believe the same, Smeaton was a servant without noble status, and he was chosen by Cromwell to incriminate the queen, far easier to pick on him instead of the others who were all noblemen, faced with an horrific death and a merciful one, we would all choose the latter, all historians agree that he was the scapegoat and then there was Sir Henry Norris the kings old friend and courtier, groom of the stool and he was engaged to Madge Shelton, the cousin of the queen, and said to be a pretty comely girl, Anne did love to flirt but as we know courtly love was expected, but she did unfortunately overstep the mark between what was acceptable and what was not, she may have just spoken without thinking or was just annoyed because her husband the king was paying court to Jane Seymour, but she mentioned to Norris that if the king were dead then Norris would have her, imagining the death of the king was treason and Norris was aghast, he quickly said he’d rather his head was of, this comment made by him shows how shocked he was and Anne all too late realised the damage she’d done, she asked him to go to his confessional and say what a good woman she was, however as Michael says this was twisted into something much more sinister and later both Anne and Norris were charged with adultery and of conspiring to kill the king, strangely enough however this conversation was not used in the indictments against her but Cromwell had obviously got to hear of it, there were possibly some witnesses who had overheard and it was reported back to him, then there was Elizabeth Browne who made a reckless comment about the Queen entertaining men in her apartments late at night, that on top of Annes reckless comments to Norris gave Cromwell all the ammunition he needed to destroy Anne and the Boleyn faction, of course there was no proof of adultery or murder so Cromwell had to build a watertight case, he invited Mark Smeaton Anne’s musician to visit him at his house one day, we do not know what happened there but he must have been tortured or the threat of torture was used, he was only young and his origins are obscure but I read once he could have been Flemish? He was favoured by Anne and she gave him presents and gifts of money, and this was said to have gone to his head and he strutted about the court, angering the other noblemen who were in Anne’s service, she rebuked him one day when she noticed he was looking rather sad, and she made a rather snobbish remark to him about him being no gentleman, and he should not expect her to talk to him, did Smeaton have a crush on Anne and did she know this? She appeared to be reminding him of his inferior status, I do not think this was the reason why Smeaton confessed to adultery with Anne, I think as I said earlier that he had undue pressure put on him, I doubt if that rebuke upset him as he was aware of his status and she did favour him, but maybe he did yearn to take part in the courtly love banter that Anne indulged in with her little circle of men, Norris for one and then there was Weston and Wyatt the poet, we can only speculate as to his feelings and what went on at Cromwells house, but little by little Cromwell was building the case against the queen and poor Mark the insignificant court musician was used to bring her down.

  4. Banditqueen says:

    Anne was engaging in what was called courtly love with Henry Norris, she was teasing him, but just to show intelligence doesn’t always equal common sense she went too far and courted with treason instead. Norris was already suspicious because of rumours about him and the Queen and if Henry heard about Anne’s dead men’s shoes remarks it’s little wonder he exploded. Anne’s remarks, however, can be seen in the light of the high tensions and suspicious temperature around the Court at this time. Anne wasn’t plotting the King’s death and Norris was actually shocked at her remarks and Anne had to try and salvage the situation because their conversation was most probably overheard. Unfortunately, the method she used made things worse, asking him to go to her chaplain and swear that she was a good woman drew attention to the fact something had happened. Henry could look on this darkly and maybe that was why they were arguing the next morning.

    Anne’s second fatal conversation is a bit stranger to see as anything and was reported to Cromwell while Anne was in the Tower. Mark Smeaton was arrested and questioned on 30th April and confessed, maybe under torture, maybe through coercion and 24 hours being with Cromwell, the sources disagree on that point, naming Norris as well and one other. What we know is that he confessed to sleeping with Anne three times and never recanted. The evidence used against him at his trial, however, was something Anne herself revealed in the Tower. Anne was babbling away, sometimes she was hysterical, trying to make sense of everything and reason out why people had been arrested. She spoke about a conversation one week earlier with a sulky Mark Smeaton who was mooning around her apartments and she had asked him what the matter was with him, almost rebuking him for being in such a mood. He didn’t want her to speak to him but to be allowed to look at her. Anne was offended because he was a lowly person and he was being impertinent. Nothing in that, one might think, but somehow Cromwell saw it as significant. Smeaton had to have been targeted by Cromwell because of his status and access to the Queen. He saw everything that was going on and she employed him as her musician. He was obviously good because both Anne and Henry rewarded him with several gifts of fine clothing and money. Cromwell twisted these gifts by Anne as payments for sexual favours. He was not a gentleman so could be terrified into a confession, threatened with the rack, maybe shown it, told he was going to die anyway, no matter what he said so he may as well confess and he would be allowed a quick death. Who wants to be hanged drawn and quartered when they could be dispatched by the axe with one blow? Smeaton was terrified into a false confession, some of the other comments made by and about Norris and the Queen began to make sense now and he became the next victim.

    1. Christine says:

      Yes Smeaton was employed by the king but he attracted the attention of Anne because he was a good musician and would entertain the queen in her apartments, the conversation Anne had with him and the conversation with Norris, and Lady Worcester’s foolish remarks all led to Cromwell making a case out of really nothing, it was all hearsay, he said she said so to speak, there was no actual proof of adultery unlike Catherine Howard whose note was found in Culpepers apartments, that in itself was not proof of adultery yet it looked bad for the queen and she was charged with the intention to do adultery, her meetings at night looked sinister and her past made her look guilty, yet with Anne her conduct was exemplary she had no past, and although her enemies called her a whore she had only been linked to Harry Percy years before, there was no salacious gossip about her past in France and then had become involved with the king whom she later married, people her detractors forgot she only became queen because of her virtue, she refused to be the kings mistress, such a woman does not suddenly after waiting so long to marry and become queen, suddenly start to act in such a reckless fashion, the courtly love banter had been around for centuries having been brought to England by Eleanor of Aquitaine from her sunny land of the troubadours, it was something her husband Henry 11 had scoffed at yet it had been adopted at court and it was just a form of entertainment, queens were supposed to be like beautiful idols and the men around her vying for her favours, they sang of unrequited love but none of it was real, however Anne was not known for her restraint and one day made a comment to Norris about him having her if the king were dead, you look for dead men’s shoes she had very rashly said, maybe she had been drinking a bit too much, iv said this before but she knew the king was seeing Jane Seymour which hurt her and she probably got a bit of an ego boost by flirting with Norris, but it was a dangerous thing to say and I believe that was the topic of conversation she had with the king afterwards, he knew Anne did have a loose tongue and it could be quite abrasive and sarcastic, she had once blabbed about poisoning the Lady Mary when the king was preparing to go to France, of course she never meant it, she was angered by the girl who refused to accept her as the queen, but it just goes to show how she put her mouth in gear before her brain, she had a little circle of friends who were often in her apartments there was Francis Weston only about twenty one and who was married with a young son, his portrait shows he was a pleasant looking man and there was of course Sir Henry Norris, described as very handsome and he was engaged to her cousin Madge Shelton, one day Anne asked him why he did not marry her cousin and he replied he would tarry a while, I think it was Weston who told her he came to the queens apartments to see her more than Madge, but that again is just the usual flattery linked to the courtly love banter, there was nothing sinister in it, there was Wyatt who had a thing for Anne years before but he was arrested to make the charges look more plausible, so historians believe, he was lucky as he had a friend in Thomas Cromwell, he was later released as there was no evidence, Brereton was different from the others an older man not part of the queens circle, why he was targeted is a mystery yet it is thought as he was a nuisance to Cromwell he chose this opportunity to destroy him, his servant later said, ’if any of the men were innocent it was he’, there was no evidence of sexual misconduct at all and then we have the more shocking charge – that of incest, obviously designed to make people think their queen was this lascivious out of control nymphomaniac who dared sleep with her own brother, there was a tale that he was closeted in her apartments for a long time, nothing odd about that Anne and George were very close so that was used against them, she was probably confiding in him about something that worried her, it was said once he greeted her in the French fashion meaning contact between the tongues, she was said to have invited her brother to violate her, in one novel Jane his wife has been credited with this accusation, there was the tale that Anne kept Smeaton hidden in a little closet and when she asked for marmalade Smeaton was let out, all salacious gossip no shred of evidence at all, I do not believe if Anne had chosen to commit adultery she would have chosen Smeaton, a boy far below her in status we have to remember she had always set her stakes high, she had gambled for a crown and she had won it, she had waited years seven long ones to marry the king, and all through those years she had been faithful to the king, there was no gossip attached to her at all, and when Harry Percy her old love had declared to his wife they were not married at all because he had previously been engaged to the queen, Anne was alarmed and members of the council were sent to him to repudiate his claim, why now after she was queen and she had had a coronation she was crowned and anointed, why risk everything she had achieved just for a few fumbles with a lowly musician and others at court, why would she risk her very position? Why would Norris especially, he was part of the kings set along with Weston, they hunted together and gambled and played sports, Norris had been his faithful friend and companion for years and held the highly coveted position of being Henry’s groom of the stool, his years of loyalty should have counted for something in the kings eyes but he threw him to the wolves because he refused to confess to adultery with his queen, Henry knew his friend he should have believed him, yet by now he was so determined to rid himself of the queen that when he was informed Smeaton had confessed to sleeping with her, he seized this opportunity to rid himself of her, this troublesome nagging barren shrew of a wife!

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