Mark Smeaton

Out of the five men accused of adultery with Queen Anne, Mark Smeaton was the only one to confess. In addition, unlike the other men, he was of humble origins and hadn’t been a member of the Boleyn faction for very long before its fall. He wasn’t English either. The son of a carpenter, he was born in the Low Countries and probably changed his name from de Smeat or de Smeadt to Smeaton once he arrived in England. A handsome young man, Mark was a talented musician (he played the virginals, the lute and the portable organ) who could also dance and sing well.

These abilities were rated very highly at Henry VIII’s court and brought Smeaton to the attention of Cardinal Wolsey who recruited him for his choir. After the Cardinal’s fall, he was transferred to the Chapelle Royal and later promoted to to the position of Groom of the Privy Chamber (1529). Mark was a favourite of the King’s: Henry VIII supported him financially, provided him with smart clothes and gave him special rewards at Christmas and Easter. In addition, it seems that Smeaton was also allowed to keep horses at court and even had servants wearing his livery. Yet, his position at court was still quite low as he was addressed simply as Mark.

It was Lord Rochford, Anne’s brother, who befriended Mark and introduced him into the Boleyn’s circle. We know they were friends because in a manuscript of poems, “Les Lamentations de Matheolus” and “Le Livre de Leesce” by Jean Lefevre, appear inscriptions written by both men: “This book is mine. George Boleyn 1526″ was written by Rochford above the text, while on the bottom we find Smeaton’s signature: “A moy [moi], M. Marc Sn”. This leads us to think that it was Rochford who gave the manuscript to Smeaton. Warnicke also suggestes that the two men were actually lovers, but there is simply no evidence (at least to the best of my knowledge) to support this theory. What is certain though is that Rochford was a lover and patron of the arts which is probably why the two men became close.

However, we don’t really know why Thomas Cromwell decided to arrest him. According to a story that appeared in the “Spanish Chronicle” (which is not a very reliable source though) Smeaton had an altercation with Henry Percy. Percy then wrote to Cromwell about Smeaton being able to afford to buy clothes and liveries for his servants, implying the money came from the Queen in exchange for sexual favours. Or maybe it was because of his humble origins: the fact that the Queen could commit adultery with anyone, but especially with someone so beneath her rank like Smeaton, was deeply shocking. Very few people could understand that which made Anne look even worse. And being a favorite of the King’s, he would have felt even more deeply hurt by their betrayal.

Whatever the reason, Smeaton was arrested on 30th April and brought to Cromwell’s house in Stepney. We don’t know what exactly happened there. Some sources say he was tortured but Weir thinks it unlikely that he was racked as he didn’t have to be carried to his execution. It may just be that he was only put under enormous psychological pressure to confess or may have been promised a pardon or even a more merciful death instead than being hung, drawn and quartered (the usual traitor’s punishment) if he admitted to adultery with the Queen. After 24 hours he confessed and the next day was carried to the Tower of London.

Because of his confession, he was obviously found guilty. However, once again the dates when the two alleged lovers were supposed to have consummated their affair were chosen at random and don’t make sense as Anne was either pregnant, recoveing from childbirth or miscarriage or with the King. Still, Smeaton never retracted his confession. Maybe he was scared that if he did, his sentence, already commuted to beheading, would be changed back to a traitor’s death? On 17th May 1536 Smeaton, together with Norris, Brereton, Rochford and Weston, was led onto the scaffold and executed.

Further reading:
The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir
The Anne Boleyn Files

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