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Mark Smeaton
Born ca 1512
Died 17 May 1536
Tower of London, London, England
Cause of death Beheaded for treasonous adultery
Nationality England English
Ethnicity Possibly Flemish
Citizenship England English
Known for Court musician to Henry VIII, executed for alleged treasonous adultery with Anne Boleyn

Mark Smeaton (c.1512 – 17 May 1536) was a musician at the court of Henry VIII of England in the household of Queen Anne Boleyn. He was one of five men executed for alleged treason and adultery with Queen Anne.

Contents

Smeaton's background

Smeaton was a handsome musician and dancer in the Queen's household, and was famed for his talents as a singer. He could play the lute, virginals and the organ. His date of birth is not known, but he was probably in his early twenties when he died. Possibly of Flemish origin, the name Smeaton could be derived from the surnames de Smet or de Smedt. Smeaton originally joined the choir of Henry VIII's chief minister, Cardinal Wolsey. However, possibly after his voice broke and Wolsey fell from grace, he was transferred from the Cardinal's household to Henry's Chapel Royal, where his musical ability came to the notice of Henry's wife, Anne Boleyn, who was a great patron of the arts. Smeaton was possibly, as tradition has it, the son of a carpenter and a seamstress. Established as a court musician, he was named a Groom of the Privy Chamber in 1532.

Because of his lowly social origin, he was never part of the Queen's intimate circle of companions; which included her favourite ladies-in-waiting and courtiers. Anne herself once reprimanded him for assuming she would speak to him in the same way she would speak to an aristocrat. A poem by the courtier Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder made reference to his apparent social-climbing.

His arrest

His unhappiness was said to have caught Anne's attention one day in her chamber at Winchester, when she sent for him to play the virginals. As Anne later confessed, "[On] Saturday before May Day… I found him standing in the round window in my chamber of presence. And I asked him why he was so sad, and he answered and said it was no matter." Smeaton's reply was non-committal. Anne replied, "You may not look to have me speak to you as I should do to a nobleman, because you are an inferior person." Knowing the truth of her words, Smeaton miserably replied, "No, no, Madam. A look sufficeth, thus fare you well."

Unfortunately for Smeaton, his conversation with the Queen was quickly reported to Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII's advisors, who was looking for evidence of Anne's committing treason and adultery. Smeaton was arrested on 30 April. No one at first noticed Smeaton's absence. Cromwell took Smeaton to his house in Stepney and supposedly tortured him. However, it is more likely if he was ever tortured at all it was when he arrived at the Tower of London, as Cromwell's home was not known to have torture implements. The usually unreliable Spanish Chronicles detailed that Smeaton was tortured with a knotted cord around his eyes. Anne is not thought to have noticed his disappearance or been informed of his arrest.[1]

At 6 pm on May Day, he was sent to the Tower of London. Allegedly upon the rack, Smeaton cracked and "confessed" to being Anne's lover. However, this confession did not match up to the facts. Smeaton could not possibly have had sex with Anne on 13 May 1535 at Greenwich as he had confessed, because the Queen was at Richmond then. He is also thought to have supplied the names of certain of Anne's circle, who were also arrested. Afterwards he was put in a cell in the Tower of London. Other accusations alleged that the queen had committed adultery with Francis Weston, Sir Henry Norris, William Brereton, and with her own brother, George Boleyn. However, besides Smeaton, all the other "lovers" maintained their innocence, with Smeaton the only one to admit his "guilt." Out of all the supposed "lovers," Smeaton's arrest caused the greatest scandal. People were shocked that the Queen would stoop to have an affair with a person of low degree.[2]

Before Smeaton was arrested, he spent lavishly on horses and liveries for his servants. This was strange, as Smeaton earned only £100 a year. People began to whisper that Smeaton received the money from the queen in exchange for "services" as her lover.[3]

A different version of the events surrounding Smeaton's guilty plea is told by Agnes Strickland. Smeaton was lured into signing the incriminating deposition by the subtlety of Sir William Fitzwilliam, 1st Earl of Southampton. The latter noticed Smeaton's terror and replied, "Subscribe, Mark, and you will see what will come of it," as Fitzwilliam tried to make Smeaton feel dishonourable enough to confess. Whether Smeaton was tortured or coaxed into guilt, "it was generally said that he had his life promised him, but it was not fit to let him live to tell tales."

Trial and execution

The evidence against him rested on his expenditure and the one reported conversation. Smeaton's trial took place at Westminster Hall, but it was generally believed there was no question of his guilt. Smeaton was condemned to death on 12 May 1536, as were the four other men accused of being the Queen's lovers. Anne herself was condemned on the 15th. It was alleged by one of Anne's ladies-in-waiting, thought to be Elizabeth Browne, countess of Worcester, "admitted some of her court to come into her chamber at undue hours",[4] On news that Smeaton was now clapped in irons, she replied dismissively,“he was a person of mean birth and the others were all gentlemen.” When she heard that Smeaton had failed to withdraw his "confession" in fully explicit terms, Anne was said to have been angry.

As Smeaton was led to his execution, he stumbled back from the bloody scaffold. Collecting himself, he said despairingly, "Masters, I pray you all pray for me, for I have deserved the death." Smeaton was granted the "mercy" of a beheading, rather than the usual brutal quartering assigned to commoners. This is thought to have been due to his co-operation with Anne's enemies. The other four men were also beheaded.

Smeaton's body was buried in a common grave with another accused adulterer with the queen, William Brereton. Years after Smeaton's death, Queen Mary convinced herself that her sister Elizabeth was illegitimate.[5] She repeated several times that she thought Elizabeth had the "face and countenance" of the doomed young Smeaton.[6] But the extreme resemblance of Elizabeth to her father Henry VIII disproved this claim.

Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder allegedly wrote a sonnet about the doomed Smeaton:

Ah! Mark, what moan should I for thee make more,
Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,
Save only that mine eye is forced sore
With piteous plaint to moan thee with the rest?
A time thou hadst above thy poor degree,
The fall whereof thy friends may well bemoan:
A rotten twig upon so high a tree
Hath slipped thy hold, and thou art dead and gone.

Popular depictions

Smeaton appeared in the second season of Showtime's The Tudors. He was played by David Alpay. In the series, he is depicted as having a homosexual relationship with Anne's brother, George Boleyn. This may have been based on the theories of Retha Warnicke, who argued that Smeaton and George Boleyn may have had a sexual relationship.[7] One source speculates that he may have been homosexual,[8], but there is no evidence that this was the case.

References

  1. ^ p.314, Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
  2. ^ p.312, Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
  3. ^ p.314, Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
  4. ^ p.311, Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
  5. ^ p.312, Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII.
  6. ^ Farquhar, Michael (2001). A Treasure of Royal Scandals, p.141. Penguin Books, New York. ISBN 0739420259.
  7. ^ Retha M. Warnicke, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn, Cambridge University Press 1989.
  8. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/tudors/anne_boleyn_03.shtml Anne Boleyn and the Downfall of her Family: Accusations], by Richard Bevan for BBC History, 1 May 2001







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