April 30 was the day the trap snapped shut on Anne Boleyn: it was the day that Mark Smeaton was arrested and questioned – and confessed. Mark Smeaton was a musician in Anne’s household, a commoner – someone who, if convicted of treason, would did the horrible death by hanging-drawing-quartering. In other words, someone who would have a real incentive to confess – even falsely – to avoid such a fate.
The following is an excerpt from the Spanish Chronicle – an allegedly contemporary account but one that contains “notorious inaccuracies”…Still, the account has taken hold in our understanding of the events. The torture described here is consistent with the fact that he didn’t have to be carried to his execution. We also know he was granted the mercy” of a beheading – so he likely did cooperate with his accusers…
The night before they held the jousts the King came to Greenwich, and all the gentlemen were very gay, particularly Master Norris and Master Brereton. Om the day of the jousts, which was the 1st of May, Cromwell was going to London and sent for Mark, and said, “Mark, come and dine with me, and after dinner we will return together.” Mark, suspecting nothing, accepted the invitation; and when they arrived at Cromwell’s house in London, before dinner, he took Mark by the hand and led him into his chamber, where there were six gentlemen of his, and as soon as he had got him in the chamber he said, “Mark, I have wanted to speak with you for some days, and I have had no opportunity till now. Not only I but many other gentlemen, have noticed that you are ruffling it very bravely of late. We know that four months ago you had nothing, for your father has hardly bread to eat, and now you are buying horses and arms, and have made showy devices and liveries such as no lord of rank can excel. Suspicion has arisen either that you have stolen the money or that someone had given it to you, although it is a great deal for anyone to give unless it were the King or Queen and the King has been away for a fortnight. I give you notice now that you will have to tell me the truth before you leave here, either by force or good-will.”
Mark, understanding as soon as Cromwell began to speak that the affair was no joke, did not know what to say, and became confused. “You had better tell the truth willingly,” said Cromwell; and then Mark said that the money had been lent to him; to which Cromwell answered, “How can that be, that the merchants lend so much money, unless on plate, gold or revenue, and at heavy interest, whilst you have nothing to pledge except that chain you wear. I am sorry you will not tell what you know with a good grace.”
Then he called two stout fellows of his, and asked for a rope and a cudgel, and ordered them to put the rope, which was full of knots, round Mark’s head, and twisted it with the cudgel until Mark cried out, “Sir Secretary, no more, I will tell you the truth,” and then he said, “The Queen gave me the money.” “Ah, Mark,” said Cromwell, “I know the Queen gave you a hundred nobles, but what you have bought has cost over a thousand, and that is a great gift even for a Queen to a servant of low degree such as you. If you do not tell me all the truth I swear by the life of the King I will torture you till you do.” Mark replied, “Sir I tell you truly that she gave it to me.” Then Cromwell ordered him a few more twists of the core, and poor Mark, overcome by the torment, cried out, “No more, Sir, I will tell you everything that has happened.” And then he confessed all, and told everything as we have related it, and how it came to pass.”
Alison Weir, The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
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