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12 May 1536 – 4 men are tried for high treason – The Fall of Anne Boleyn

Posted By on May 12, 2019

On this day in 1536, 12th May, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, William Brereton and Mark Smeaton were tried for high treason at Westminster Hall.

Spoiler alert – they were all found guilty and condemned to death.

I explain more in today’s video.

I’m doing these “Fall of Anne Boleyn” videos daily until 19th May and I started on 24th April. You can catch up with them on the Anne Boleyn Files and Tudor Society Youtube Channel.

You can find out more about my book The Fall of Anne Boleyn: A Countdown at http://getbook.at/fallanneboleyn.

Here’s the link to find out about the members of the jury, the commission that tried these men – https://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/12th-may-1536-4-men-and-a-trial/5351/, and you can find out more about the men who fell with Queen Anne Boleyn in this video from Clare Cherry – https://youtu.be/Szp-3HgA2kA

9 thoughts on “12 May 1536 – 4 men are tried for high treason – The Fall of Anne Boleyn”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    The use of the word ‘trial’ at these proceedings is a real misnomer. This was nothing less than a formal condemnation of 4 innocent men and sadly and tragically this was by design not accident.

  2. Christine says:

    This was another event in the farcicial tragedy that was the downfall of Anne Boleyn, each men were taken by barge to the ancient hall of Westminster and there tried for treason and subsequently condemned to death, it was merely a preliminary of the queens trial and that of her brothers, who would be tried later, it’s true about the Tudor legal system, one had no idea of what they were accused of till they stood before their jurors and the charges were read out to them, therefore the accused had no time to gather any defence and were seriously at a disadvantage as Claire explains, I should imagine many suffered death or imprisonment as a result of that, at least now we have the advantage of being innocent till proved guilty, but in Tudor times it was the other way round, and of course for Anne and her alleged paramours the whole affair was rigged to find her guilty anyway, with the swordsman even ordered beforehand, why in this case bother with a trial at all, one wonders why Henry V111 went through all this rigmarole when he could just as easily have informed his cook to poison her, or make sure she had an accident whilst out hunting, as William Rufus had but which many at the time believed his younger brother who became Henry 1st had a hand in, maybe Henry V111 shied from actual murder but it really was no different from legal murder, that of execution which was after the accused had been tried and condemned to die, especially in Annes case where her jurors had to condemn her, maybe he did not like the thought of Anne suffering which she would have done had she been administered poison, and of course with a hunting accident one had to be an expert marksman, his daughter Elizabeth 1st had no such compunction about hinting to Sir Aymus Paulet that the sudden death of Mary of Scots would be beneficial to her, but Paulet was horrified and told the queen he could not have murder on his conscience, Annes death would no doubt have caused mutterings but there were plenty on her arrest trial and execution anyway, after the four men had been found guilty they were returned to their cells and Anne would have been informed by Kingston of the verdict, she knew then there was no hope for her as how could she be found innocent if they were guilty? Such news would have just added to her misery, as she declared once to Kingston that she heard she was to be tried with four men and she could say no more than nay, she made as if to open her dress with a dramatic gesture with her hands, to soothe his ever busy conscious Henry went down the legal route even though there was no justice for his queen and the five men, most of whom had served him faithfully for many years, Sir Thomas Wyatt in the luxury of his home, must have pondered on the bleak fate of his friends and of the queen whom he had once loved, perhaps it was at this sad time in his life he began to create the famous poem that was an ode to the poor men and Anne, it truely captures the terror of those final days and the devastating loss he personally felt at their deaths.

  3. Michael Wright says:

    With the men having been tried before Anne and condemned it was not possible to find her innocent. Nice setup huh?

  4. TudorFan says:

    Hope this gets published. The main reason I read this blog is because of the comments. Michael, Christine and Bandit Queen offer detailed, well thought out comments which are hugely readable and thought-provoking. Keep it up!

    1. Michael Wright says:

      Thank you that is so kind. I also love the posts by BQ, Christine, Globerose and everyone else because I am constantly learning new things and different angles to look at the subject.
      .
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      1. Christine says:

        I myself love reading other people’s posts, that is what makes this website so enjoyable.

    2. Christine says:

      Thankyou that is so nice of you to say that, I’m glad you enjoy our comments.

      1. Banditqueen says:

        Thanks TudorFan, I love the comments by Christine and Globerose and Michael and many others and it is a good community for sharing ideas and information on the lives of Anne and Henry and all of their courtiers and making you think. Cheers for your kind words.

  5. Banditqueen says:

    It isn’t actually inappropriate for the Duke of Norfolk to be appointed as Lord High Steward in order to rule of the trial of Anne Boleyn and her brother, George, his niece and nephew; it was in fact very appropriate. Only Norfolk as the most eminent noble in the country could be appointed, unless the King himself or a brother or cousin, that is first cousin held the title, which in this case nobody was available. Norfolk was the most appropriate person to preside over the Court of the Lord High Steward, as the traditional place for prominent treason trials. Anne and her brother had a right to be tried there and those taken in arms always appeared before such a Court. The problem with Anne was that she wasn’t just another noble, but was the Queen of England, which in itself presented a problem of who and how she should be tried, but Henry obviously found the best solution as far as he could, with Norfolk as the most senior peer available to act as her judge. Just because he was judging his nephew and niece doesn’t mean he should not do his duty, not that he had much choice mind. Norfolk is often reported not to have particularly liked Anne nor to have favoured her being Queen and when she was arrested she had to face a tutting of disapproval by the Duke. However, he was the only person who could reasonably head the Court, regardless of his feelings for or against Anne.

    The legal mechanisms of the trial of Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton were fair by the standards of the day and normal practice for at least another 150 years. State treason trials were not the same as other trials, the stakes were always stacked against them, the accused was practically in the dark over the full details of the charges against them, there was always a presumption of guilt in all trials and here there was no defence lawyers. The stakes were higher, however, as these were show trials, the jury was expected to find the accused guilty and they were great public show pieces. Treason trials were not about justice and very few people escaped with their lives. Elton was once known to write that the monarchy even in Tudor times didn’t interfere with legal proceedings, but he was talking about a trial which put the wind up Henry two years earlier, that of Lord Darce in which he walked free because the peers would not condemn him because many of them had been involved in criminal conversation with him and feared he would rat them out. The case fell apart. Henry didn’t want a repeat of that and some scholars believe the Lord Darce farce influenced how the state trials and especially this one were more closely controlled as a result. The two trials of Anne and her brother and the four other men were loaded against them from the outset. The Commission of Oyer and Terminer was set up before anyone was arrested and it was obvious at every step that it was a carefully laid out plan of action and a trap to catch six innocent people in. Everything was put in place in advance of the hearings, the legal apparatus, the grand juries, the investigation, the arrangements in case of conviction, the King kept a close eye on those involved in the Grand Juries and Cromwell was constantly kept up to date, the headsman from Calais was also apparently sent for well in advance, the Judges were selected from among those who could be relied upon to find everyone guilty and who owed loyalty or affiliation to Cromwell, the King or each other. This case was a set up from the beginning and now the scene was set for further injustice, the men were going to be found guilty, because that was what the King wanted.

    Today if someone pleads guilty they don’t have a trial, they have people say why they should have a reduction in their sentence and here Mark Smeaton pleaded guilty so the crown didn’t need to do very much. Norris denounced a confession he was alleged to have made and we are not told about what evidence or if anyone gave testimony but they didn’t stand a chance and they were all found guilty, even though the others pleaded not guilty. All four men were condemned to a full traitors death. Fortunately Henry commuted them to beheading.

    It’s amazing just how far anyone would go just to be rid of an unwanted wife and it marks a low point in Henry’s reign, it is symbolic of the ruthless man he had turned into over the last few years. The speed in which this totally mindless drama was enacted was breathtakingly shocking and shows Henry as impatient and completely thoughtless. He has little regard for a woman he has loved for many years with an intense passion, his wife, the mother of his little Elizabeth and for old friends. It was cold, fast and efficient.

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