Did Mark Smeaton Really Have an Affair with Anne Boleyn?

by AlexandriaIngham

Mark Smeaton confessed to an affair with Anne Boleyn but how much of that confession is true? While it is possible he was guilty, I believe that he was somehow coerced into it.

When I was learning about history in school, the one piece of information that I remember about Tudor history is that Anne Boleyn was a traitor. She was the first English Queen to be beheaded but certainly wasn’t the last. After delving further into research about her, I found out the names of the men convicted of adultery with her – and Mark Smeaton was one of them.

Mark Smeaton is an interesting character. First of all, he was the only one to confess to the charges. Second of all, he was the only non-nobleman so only one that could have been tortured under 16th century law. It begs the question as to whether he really was guilty of the crimes. With the date of his arrest coming up (April 30th, 1536), I’m taking this time to look at the dates that he “had carnal knowledge” of Queen Anne to determine whether they were possible.

The Spanish Chronicle Depiction of Events

The old site of Tower HillAlison Weir in “The Lady in the Tower” writes about the Spanish Chronicle’s depiction of events. I’m not too certain how much the Spanish Chronicle would have reported the truth but it mentions an altercation between Henry Percy and Mark Smeaton. During the altercation, Anne Boleyn intervened but Percy was not happy.

That led to Percy writing to Thomas Cromwell about the horses that Mark had recently bought. While this may not sound like much now, in 1536, Mark was only earning £100 per year and that was not enough to buy horses. Cromwell took this to mean that Mark was receiving money from somewhere else – and that meant it had to be the Queen in return for sexual favours. It didn’t help matters that Mark was seen on the morning of April 29, 1536 leaving Anne’s apartments.

In Showtime’s The Tudors, the horses were mentioned. In fact, it was Henry VIII who was giving him more money due to his rare talents. It is possible that Cromwell never knew anything about this as Henry VIII was possibly financing Mark personally. It is unclear though why Mark would never admit to where the money came from – unless he was that scared or Cromwell simply didn’t want to believe the truth.

A later entry in the Spanish Chronicles describes Mark Smeaton’s confession. He explained how a woman in Anne’s chambers, named Margaret, hid Mark behind the royal bed-curtains on numerous occasions. The Spanish Chronicles then goes onto to explain how Margaret was racked and burned at the stake – but the first woman to have been racked in the Tower of London was Ann Askew a few years later.

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A Problem with the Dates

Something that makes me question whether Mark’s confession was true is the dates that he was accused of being with her. They were April 12, 1534, May 13 and 19, 1534 and April 26, 1536. There are problems with these dates for a number of reasons.

First of all, the date that should have really been there isn’t – April 28/29 1536 when Henry Percy saw Mark leave the apartment! Second of all, on each of these dates, there is no possibility that Anne would have been with Mark. On most of the dates she was recovering from childbirth or a miscarriage or pregnant and on others she was with the King. Thomas Cromwell put no thought into the “evidence”.

It is possible that Mark may have had an affair with the Queen and confessed to that but didn’t quite think about the dates. Mark was probably tortured – maybe not physically but definitely psychologically. The questions would have been thick and fast and would have given Mark no time to think. He wouldn’t have been able to think about the dates, determine that they were wrong and inform Cromwell of the fact.

Mark Smeaton was Scared and Intimidated

Mark would have been extremely scared while being questioned. If he wasn’t tortured, there was always that thought that he would be. He would have wanted to have co-operated to make sure he did not suffer. It may have been this fear that led to him confessing to crimes that he didn’t commit. He may have even thought that Anne would have been questioned later and been able to offer an alibi for each of the events.

On his execution, he was beheaded as a nobleman. Due to his commoner class, he would have been hanged, drawn and quartered so it is interesting that he confessed and was given leniency by the King of England. Henry VIII was a vindictive man – this was seen in 1541 when Francis Dereham was executed for no real crime – and it would have made more sense for Mark to have been executed as a commoner.

It is possible that Mark was promised a lenient death if he would confess. After all, Henry Norris was told that he would be pardoned if he would confess. Mark likely saw this as a way out and opted for it. He continued with the act by declaring himself as guilty at the trial and never recanted his confession.

No Recantation So Mark Smeaton Must Have Been Guilty

Mark Smeaton was convicted of treason for his affair with Anne BoleynIt is interesting that Mark never recanted his confession. Even during his last confession to the Priest, he never admitted to false testimony. During the 16th century, the people were God-fearing men and women. They believed that sin would stop them from going to Heaven and would want to apologise for that sin. Mark had to have been guilty if he did not admit that his confession was falsified.

On the other hand, it is possible that Mark was still scared about his death. He may have continued with the charade until his head was removed. Mark was the last of the five men to be executed on May 17 so Henry VIII still had the chance to remove the leniency and force Mark through the process of being hanged, drawn and quartered.

Mark spoke to the people before his death and part of it included the line: “Masters, I pray you all pray for me, for I have deserved the death.”

This makes it sound like he was guilty but each of the five men uttered words of being sinners and deserving death. It was common at executions for people to apologise for sin. It is possible that Mark knew he was wrong to confess to something that never happened and decided that he deserved death for his actions. After all, there was nothing that he could do now as the four other men had already been executed and Anne was due to be executed the next day (although, it was postponed to May 19).

Was Mark Smeaton Really Guilty?

With all the evidence, it’s difficult to say. Personally, I don’t think so. I believe that Anne Boleyn was innocent. She was too smart to risk her life and her family’s name, especially after trying so hard to get to the position she had. I believe that Mark was either coerced into making a false confession or simply thought that it would save himself.

It didn’t help that Thomas Cromwell wanted to remove the Boleyn faction from Court and Henry VIII was growing tired of Anne. The idea of an affair was perfect for him – and it was even better to be able to implicate so many others to really remove the full threat. The dates given simply couldn’t have happened as Anne did have an alibi. Cromwell put together a defence with too many holes likely because he knew nobody would really care.

For whatever reason, Mark Smeaton was executed on May 17, 1536, along with Sir George Boleyn, Sir Henry Norris, Sir William Brereton and Sir Francis Weston.

Updated: 04/26/2013, AlexandriaIngham
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