I thought I would start a series of daily posts, marking the last few weeks of Anne Boleyn's life. Although various parties had been working towards Anne's fall in the months leading up to her death (including the king's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, Jane Seymour and her family and the king himself), 30 April feels like an appropriate place to start.
On 30 April 1536, Mark Smeaton, a young musician employed in Anne's household received a flattering invitiation to dine with Thomas Cromwell at his house in Stepney. Smeaton was of very lowly origin and was proud of his position at court, seeking to rise higher in royal service. Cromwell was therefore exactly the kind of patron that he wanted to cultivate and he went willingly to the house that day.
Smeaton was the son of a carpenter, while his mother worked at spinning in the household. It was his skill in music which helped him move away from his origins, causing him to 'disdain' his father, refusing to see his embarrassingly low status relatives once he was established at court. In spite of his pretensions, however, Anne for one considered him to be the 'worst cherished' in her household due to the fact that he was not a gentleman.
Smeaton was apparently unaware of Anne's disdain, seeking her out once when she was alone at court, when the queen found him standing by the round window in her chamber. Anne asked him why he looked so sad, before declaring that 'you may not look to have me speak to you as I should do a noble man, because you are an inferior person'. Smeaton answered 'no, no, madam, a look sufficed me; and thus fare you well'. He appears to have idolised his mistress, with his conduct towards her that day leading to his ruin.
When he entered Cromwell's house, Smeaton - who was usually known by his first name of Mark in order to show his poor birth - found that he had been tricked. Instead of dinner, he found himself under arrest, with six men sent to interrogate him. According to some reports, suspicions had been aroused by Smeaton appearing at court in fine clothes which his wages could not possibly have paid for. Similarly, rumours had reached Cromwell of Smeaton's over-familiar conduct with the queen.
According to the often unreliable Chronicle of Henry VIII, Smeaton was threatened with torture by Cromwell, when 'two stout young fellows of his' were called to bring a rope and a cudgel and to 'put the rope, which was full of knots, round Mark's head', before twisting it with the cudgel. Faced with this agony, Smeaton confessed to committing adultery with the queen.
By the end of 30 April 1536, Mark Smeaton was a prisoner in the Tower, while the trap was ready to close around his mistress, Queen Anne Boleyn.
You can read more about the arrest of Smeaton in my book, Anne Boleyn: Henry VIII's Obsession (Amberley, 2008). Alternatively, you can read the sources used in my book The Anne Boleyn Papers (Amberley, 2013). Look out for tomorrow's post - The May Day Jousts.