Today in History: 29th April 1536
On this day – 29th April – in 1536, the normally quite savvy Anne Boleyn made two fatal blunders. Perhaps her slip in poise was a sign of her rising unease and growing panic..?
When Anne saw her favourite musician, Mark Smeaton, gazing morosely out of the window of her presence chamber, she went to him and asked him what the matter was. Mark replied that it was nothing (as you do) and Anne – probably quite irritated with his drippy, sulky behaviour – snapped that he should not speak to her so informally, as if they were equals. Mark ended up leaving without asking permission to leave – a serious lapse in courtly conduct – and one that immediately set tongues wagging. When it was reported to Cromwell, it was made to seem like some sort of lovers’ quarrel, with the Queen being cruel to her base, common paramour who in turn was tantruming around like a love-sick teenager.
Later that same day, Sir Henry Norris came to visit Anne and her ladies. Norris was a close friend of Henry VIII’s – one of his Gentlemen of the Bedchamber in fact – and he had long been a supporter of both Anne and religious reform; he was even wooing Anne’s cousin, Madge Shelton. For whatever reason, this long courtship had plateaued, and on this day, Anne was teasing Norris about his inaction. Norris responded that he was in no rush, that he would “tarry a time”. Anne – in all her usual humility! – grew angry, taking this to mean he was waiting for a better option to become available – and what better option to the Queen’s cousin than the Queen herself?
“You look for dead men’s shoes!” she railed at Norris, “for if aught should come to the King but good, you would look to have me!” Norris visibly quailed at Anne’s words – for indeed, to even imagine the King’s death was an act of treason – and immediately denied it, crying out that “if he [should have any such thought] he would [/wish] his head were off!”
After Anne’s infamous temper had cooled, she realised what an ‘own goal’ she had just scored, and called Norris back, begging him to go to her almoner – John Skip – and swear to Anne’s integrity, that she was a “good woman”, in case anyone who had overheard their heated interchange reported it to her enemies. As it happens, all those who had been present had thus far remained loyal and silent. It was John Skip himself who took the story to Anne’s chamberlain – Sir Edward Baynton – who in turn took the information to Cromwell. Anne had inadvertently delivered the perfect ammunition to the man who was plotting to take her down.
Mark Smeaton and Henry Norris were among the five men executed for being Anne’s lovers. Bewilderingly, Mark Smeaton confessed to the adultery. When Anne heard Mark had gone to his death still maintaining he had had a relationship with his Queen, she lamented: ““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!” Some think that Mark was tortured into giving a false confession (as the only common man out of Anne’s supposed lovers, he was the only one who could be tortured) but eye-witnesses at his execution say he walked tall and without the look of bodily pain. It is more likely that Mark – facing a much more grisly death than his gentleman comrades – was given the mercy of a quick beheading in exchange for dragging Anne with him.
Henry Norris, on the other hand, went to the block protesting Anne’s innocence. According to some, Henry even offered his old friend mercy if he would confess to the adultery, but Norris refused. On the scaffold he is reported to have: “loyally averred that in his conscience, he thought the Queen innocent of these things laid to her charge; but whether she was or not, he would not accuse her of any thing, and he would die a thousand times rather than ruin an innocent person.”
Check out the ‘Perseverance’ page for all the Anne tidbits I’ve mustered whilst writing my novella starring this controversial queen.