The Southampton Plot

Only last year was the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt where the EnglishHenry5 troops defeated the French, and firmly made Henry V go down in history as the warrior king, the type of king the men around his son, Henry VI would later want him to be.

But often overlooked when discussing the battle is the incident that maybe could have put a halt to the triumphant expedition; the Southampton Plot.

There are historians who argue that the case may be that there never was a lot at all, only political moaning from noblemen not quite content with their lot in life, but whatever the case may have been, it didn´t matter much to the King once he was informed of what was said to be going on.

The three men behind the alleged plot were Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge, Henry Scrope, 3rd Baron Scrope of Masham and Sir Thomas Grey

Richard_of_Conisburgh,_3rd_Earl_of_CambridgeRichard of Conisburgh was a grandson of Edward III through his fourth surviving son Edmund of Langley and his wife Isabella of Castile, but his immediate descendants would come to be even more interesting for the upcoming decades in England; in 1415 he had left behind a four-year-old son, he too called Richard, who would grow up to become the Duke of York and father among other children the three boys Edward (IV), George and Richard (III). Not least was he a cousin of the King.

When his father passed he left nothing for Richard, nor did his brother and this has by some historians been taken as a sign that he was in fact not the son of Edmund, but of John St. Holland 1st Duke of Exeter, who allegedly had had an affair with Richard´s mother Isabella. She how ever had made requested that Richard´s godfather, King Richard II, granted her younger son an annuity of 500 marks, a request that was granted. The sum was further increased over the years.

But when Richard II was deposed in 1399, his successor Henry IV was less inclined toRichard_II_King_of_England pay the annuity, and Richard would receive it either irregularly or not at all. As Richard of Conisburgh owned no lands, this was his only source of income.

The only significant appointments Richard of Conisburgh received in the years leading up to those days in Southampton was as commander over a force defending Hertfordshire against Welsh rebels and to escort princess Philippa to her wedding to king Eric of Denmark in 1406, prior to which he was knighted, so it isn´t hard to imagine that even though Henry IV died in 1413, there was some resentment brewing which may have been the reason for the assumed plot.

During his stay in Demark, he is believed to have become acquainted with Lord Scrope, who would later (in 1411) marry Joan Holland who for a few years after the death of Isabella of Castile had been married to Edmund of Langley.

Henry Scrope had at least seemingly a much better relationship to Henry V, in fact, he was considered to be a royal favorite who had been knighted in 1403 and fought alongside Henry IV at the battle of Shrewsbury that same year. Between 1406 and 1413 he had a number of diplomatic missions, and in 1410 he had been appointed Treasurer of England as well as Knight of the Order of the Garter. It is hard to see why he would get involved in plot at all, and historian Anne Curry suggests that he was simply fed up with Henry V and his French campaign.

The third of the plotters was Sir Thomas Grey, through his mother Joan Mowbray a descendant of Edward I. His father, also named Thomas Grey, had been one of the allies chosen by Henry Bolingbroke, the future Henry IV, to witness the abdication of Richard II. Thomas Grey the younger had been treated favourably by Henry IV in the sense that he himself had been granted the wardship of his inheritance before he came of age. He was connected to Richard of Conisburgh through the betrothal of his 12-year old son Thomas to Conisburgh´s 3-year old daughter Isabel. Thomas Grey´s involvement in the plot came from, by his own admission, the fact that he wanted to be more rich and “famous” than he was.

If we assume that this was an actual plot, and not only discontent being voiced in an extremely unwise way, the goal was to execute Henry V and his son, the future Henry VI, and replace the king with his own cousin Edmund Mortimer, 5th Earl of March and brother of Conisburghs wife Anne Mortimer who had died in 1411.

Edmund was the great-great-grandson of Lionel of Antwerp, second surviving son of Edward III, through Lionel´s daughter Philippa. The “positioning” of his great-great-grandfather among Edward III´s great number of children actually gave him a stronger claim to the throne than that of Henry V, as he only descended from the third surviving son.  Added to this came the fact that Edmund Mortimer and his father, Roger Mortimer (dead 1398), in turn had been considered heir presumptive to Richard II who had had no children of his own.

King_Henry_IV_from_NPG_(2)There had been turbulence between the Mortimer´s and Henry IV. When he had deposed Richard II in 1399 and consequently had parliament proclaim him king and his own son heir apparent, he took the then 8-year old Edmund and his brother Richard into custody with Sir Hugh Waterton at Windsor Castle. Allegedly they were treated good and is said to, during periods, have been brought up with the king´s own children John and Philippa.

It wasn´t a positive turn of events, however, when Edmund´s uncle and namesake, Sir Edmund Mortimer in 1402 was captured by the Welsh rebel leader Owain Glyndwr. Instead of sending men to his rescue or paying a ransom, Henry IV accused Sir Edmund of siding with the rebels voluntarily and confiscated his property.

Sir Edmund then went on to marry Glyndwr´s sister, write a proclamation that declared his nephew the rightful king of England and proceeded to, in collaboration with Glyndwr and the Percy´s (his sister had been married to Henry Hotspur) hatch a plot to free his two nephews from Windsor Castle, something which happened in early 1405. They were quickly apprehended and kept under stricter confinement for the remainder of Henry VI:s reign.

Despite the eventful years of his youth, Edmund Mortimer came to be on good terms with Henry V, who gave him his full freedom when he ascended to the throne in 1413, and maybe that is why, when Edmund Mortimer became aware of the new plot being formed with him as the man to be put on the throne, he went to his king and informed him of everything he knew. No doubt he was also doing his best to avoid ending up on the block.

He revealed the plans to the king on July 31st  at Portchester and within day the Portchester_castle_04accused were brought to Southampton to stand trial.

Sir Thomas Grey, who wasn´t a peer, received the trial of a common criminal on August 2nd and was sentenced to being hanged, drawn and quartered. After it was all over, his head was sent to Newcastle.

As they were peers, Henry, Lord Scrope and Richard of Conisburgh was tried by their peers, but it didn´t do them much good as they too were sentenced to death and Red_Lion_Inn_Southamptonexecuted on August 5th. Conisburgh was spared being hanged before being beheaded, and was also the only one of the three who was allowed to be buried together with his head. The head of Lord Scrope was sent to be displayed in York.

Henry V then sailed off to eventually fight the battle of Agincourt at which the older brother of Conisburgh, the Duke of York, was killed. As he had no children of his own, his title went to Conisburgh´s for years old son, as well as the claim held by the Mortimer´s. This he would, years later, when he as Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York, attempted to depose Henry VI.

In 1461, Conisburgh´s grandson, Edward IV, had the parliament declare the sentence against Conisburgh “irregular and unlawful”.

Edmund Mortimer himself was pardoned for nominal involvement in the plot on August 7th and followed the king to France. After the death of Henry V in 1422, Mortimer was appointed to the Council of Regency for the nine month old Henry VI. Mortimer died from the plague in Ireland in 1425, at the age of 33.

 

Sources:

Agincourt: A New History – Anne Curry

Richard, Earl of Cambridge (1385-1415) – G.L. Harriss/Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Henry V and the Southampton Plot of 1415 – T.B. Pugh

Scrope, Henry le (1376?-1415) – James Tait/Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Scrope, Henry, third Baron Scrope of Masham (c.1376–1415) – Brigette Vale

Mortimer, Edmund (V), fifth earl of March and seventh earl of Ulster (1301-1425) – R.A Griffiths/Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

Images:

Portchester Castle – Matthew Folley/Wikimedia Commons

The Red Lion – site of where the trial of the plotters was held

Clare Priory, resting place of Edmund Mortimer – Mym/Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately images of the actual plotters are less then scarce

The formidable Bess of Hardwick

Bess_of_Hardwick_as_Mistress_St_LoIt is often noted, and not without reason, that history mainly belong to the men in it. But there are a number of strong and impressive women who to a large extent shaped their own destiny, and one of those was without a doubt Elizabeth Talbot, known to history as Bess of Hardwick, which is what she will be called in this post.

Her exact birthdate is not known, and suggestions are made with in the wide range of 1521 to the last part of 1527, the latter more commonly accepted. She was the daughter of John Hardwick of Derbyshire and his wife Elizabeth Leeke who belonged to the minor gentry. Not much is known in detail about Bess’ early years, but she had four sisters of which one would later die at quite a young age, and a brother who would be heir to the family’s holdings when her father passed away around the age of 40.

It has been suggested that Bess at the age of 12 got to know both London and the Tudor court through the influence of Anne Gainsford, Lady Zouche, who was lady-in-waiting of Anne Boleyn (and the one who introduced Anne B to the writings of William Tyndale), but there is no contemporary evidence to back this up.

What is clear though is that Bess, like so many other girls of her time, married very early, at “a tender age” which suggests she was younger than 16 and her first husband was the 13 year old Robert Barley. This marriage didn´t last long, due to Robert dying just a year or two later, and there is no evidence that they ever lived together as husband and wife. After his death Bess was denied her dower, which resulted in a court battle which lasted for years, but eventually was won by Bess.

By the time it was won she was already remarried, this time to the twice-widowed 593px-William_Cavendish_c1547William Cavendish, who had two daughters and was appointed Treasurer of the King´s Chamber. This marriage took place on August 20th 1547, the very last year of Henry VIII´s life. It would only last 10 years, as William Cavendish died in 1557, but the marriage resulted in eight children of which six survived. The death of Cavendish however left Bess heavily indebted to the Crown.

As the prospects for an unmarried woman was next to none in 16th century society, Bess remarried a second time in 1559 to her third husband, this time to William St Loe, making her Lady St Loe. By this time Elizabeth was on the throne, and William St Loe was captain of the Queen´s guards as well as Chief Butler of England, an appointment which basically included what the title suggests, but primarily at coronation banquets.  He held large estates in Somerset and Gloucestershire, and when he after only around six years of marriage died, something that seems to have been due to poisoning, the lack of male heirs (he had two daughters) made his worldly goods pass on to his widow Bess.

While the previous husband had left Bess in financial difficulties, William St Loe did the exact opposite, and made Lady St Loe one of the absolutely wealthiest women in the country with an annual income of £60 000, a sum which today would equal £ 16,8 million. To that should be added that she was also a Lady of the Bedchamber which gave her close and daily contact with Elizabeth I, something which undoubtedly gave her a certain amount of influence, and there is no wild guess to think that that in combination with her fortune and good looks was what made prospective husbands flock around her.

Maybe it was the knowledge that she was financially secure in her own right that kept her from rushing into a fourth marriage, as it took around three years, maybe slightly more, for her to remarry.

800px-George_Talbot_6th_Earl_of_Shrewsbury_1580Her last husband was George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury, and before going into his life with Bess -or rather, her life with him – I just as a curiosity feel the need to mention that there a couple of generations back in his family tree is to be found a certain Eleanor Talbot, later Butler, who is no other than the female party in the alleged and oh so discussed pre-contract with Edward IV. But that´s all that will be said in regards to that matter in this post.

It´s maybe not easy to say who benefited most from what, but clear is that both Bess and George saw advantages in really tying their families together, because not only did the two get married, Bess 12 year old daughter Mary Cavendish was married to George´s 16 year old son Gilbert, while George´s 8 year old daughter Grace was married to Bess´s 18 year old son Henry Cavendish in a double ceremony.

Whether these two unions was to be happier than that of their parents I cannot say, but fact is that Bess and her husband George Talbot would eventually have a falling out, allegedly fuelled by no other than Mary Queen of Scots. When the Scottish queen had been driven into exile by her disgruntled lords and sought out the protection of her cousin Elizabeth I, we all know what happened, she ended up in an 18 yearlong house arrest, which for the greater part, 15 years, took place in the home of Bess of Hardwick and her husband.

It seems the Mary and Bess must have found some kind of friendship bond, andoxburgh together they spend hours at needlework, something they were both proficient at. The result is now known as the Oxburgh Hangings and can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bess´s tapestries marked by the initials BS, and part of Mary´s other embroideries were to become part of Bess´s extensive collection which can now be seen at Hardwick Hall. But there were downsides to the arrangement as well, Mary seems to have played out the Talbots against each other, with the result that Bess started rumours of her husband having an affair with the deposed queen. The marriage was falling apart, and even Elizabeth herself tried to act as a kind of marriage counsellor, but to no avail.

Hardwick_Hall_in_Doe_Lea_-_DerbyshireGeorge Talbot died in 1590, making Bess of Hardwick the Dowager Countess of Shrewsbury. Bess, now in her 70´s, did not marry again, but she did continue another “hobby”, she after having built Chatsworth House in 1560, she now embarked on Hardwick Hall, in the vicinity of the old Hardwick Hall where she lived as a child. The new hall was given it´s very own rhyme due to it´s design with an unusual amount of windows; “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”.

While she spent over a decade basically being a guarding an heir presumptive to the Lady_Arabella_Stuartthrone, Bes would in time herself raise one herself, her granddaughter Arabella, or Arbella, Stuart. Arabella was the daughter of Bess daughter Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart, younger brother of Henry, Lord Darnley, second husband of Mary Queen of Scots.

This made Arabella great great granddaughter of Henry VII, and yet another possible heir to the throne. While Bess indeed had such ambitions for her granddaughter, Arabella herself was less than inclined, something which would eventually lead to a complete break between the two. Seven year after her grandmother´s death, Arabella would herself die as a prisoner in the Tower due to her own actions, but more about that in a separate post.

Due to Arabella´s refusal to stake her claim to both the Scottish and the English throne, Bess never got to see a descendant as monarch, but she does in fact have one right now; Elizabeth II

While no date of birth exist for Bess, the information on her death is more specific, and this formidable woman passed away at 5 pm on February 13th, which was a Sunday, 1608 at the age of 81. She was put to her final rest in All Saint´s Parish Church, Derby, today´s Derby Cathedral.

Over the past years a large number on letters, to and from Bess of Hardwick has been found and compiled in an online database by the University of Glasgow. The letters has helped change the view of Bess and I will return to them in a later post.

 

Sources:

Mistress of Hardwick – Alison Plowden

The Life of Elizabeth I – Alison Weir

Bess of Hardwick; Portrait of an Elizabethan Dynasty – David Durant

Bessofhardwick.org

Images:

Oxburgh Hanging – Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum

Hardwick Hall in Doe Lea, Derbyshire/Wikimedia

Arabella Stuart – Robert Peake/National Galleries of Scotland

Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury

We have just gotten over the anniversary of the execution of Anne Boleyn when today, May 27, it´s time to rememberMargaret_Pole,_Countess_of_Salisbury_from_NPG_retouched another one of the horrendous acts that were so frequent in the very last decade of the reign of Henry VIII: the execution of Margaret Pole, countess of Salisbury.

Something, other than the actual execution, that kind of send chills up my spine is that one might say that this was an act that definitively put the previous Royal House to rest, because Margaret was the daughter of George, duke of Clarence  -immensely troubled brother of Edward IV and Richard III – and Isabel Nevill, the eldest daughter of Warwick the Kingmaker.

Margaret who together with her future issue had been barred from the throne through the attainder against her father when he was convicted and executed (according to legend by being drowned in a butt of Malmsey) for treason against his brother king Edward IV, had married Sir Richard Pole, with whom she had 5 children, one of whom was Reginald Pole, cardinal and from 1536 a thorn in Henry VIII:s eye.

Margaret and her brother were kept by Richard III at Sheriff Hutton until 1585, when her brother Edward, earl of Warwick was put in the Tower after the battle of Bosworth and later executed allegedly for plotting against Henry VII together with Perkin Warbeck.

In 1487, Henry VII gave Margaret in marriage to Sir Richard Pole with whom she had 5 children. She became a widow in 1504 with limited land left to her by her husband, whose funeral were paid for by Henry VII.

At the time of Henry VIII:s accession, Margaret Pole was returned parts of her lands, and she was one of the gentlewomen of Catherine of Aragon. Despite her Plantagenet background, she was loyal to the Tudors, and she most likely never posed any kind of threat to Henry VIII, and she was also made governess of the young princess Mary. She had devoted her son Reginald to the church, and when the changes came in the 1530´s, he had warned against the marriage with Anne Boleyn and already in 1526 he had gone into voluntary exile as a response to Henry´s demand for support in the planned divorce from Catherine.

In 1536 the rift became irreparable when Reginald Pole after he had first spoken out against the marriage to Anne Boleyn and consequently encouraged the royal houses to depose Henry. In 1536 he had slipped back to Rome and in 1537 he was made a cardinal even though he had yet to become an ordained priest.

The previous “insubordination” of Reginald Pole would come to have a disastrous effect on his family back in England.

We will most never know in a “black and white” if he based it or fact or his convenient wishes, but Henry uncovered the Courtney conspiracy. It was an assumption of treason on the part of Margaret Pole, her son Henry and other individuals. The evidence was fragmentary, based on conversations and memories but most likely mostly based on Henry´s feelings for Reginald.

The Courtney conspiracy was an idea of marrying Edward Courtaney, grandson of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, and thereby second cousin of Reginald Pole to the disinherited princess Mary.

But with Reginald Pole out of reach for Henry, he instead turned on the family, not least on the aging countess who was imprisoned for two years in the Tower. She was executed on May 27th 1541 at the age of 67 in a display which clearly showed the horrors of capital punishment.

She refused to put her head on the block, but the inexperienced executioner delivered a blow anyway which instead of severing her head gave her a deep cut in her shoulder. Legend has it that she was chased around the block, being struck several times before she finally died, something which in large part is confirmed by contemporary state papers.

Margaret, Countess of Salisbury, was beatified December 29th 1886 by Pope Leo XIII.

The poem below is said to have been carved into the wall of her cell.

 

             For traitors on the block should die;

I am no traitor, no, not I!

My faithfulness stands fast and so,

Towards the block I shall not go!

Nor make one step, as you shall see;

Christ in Thy Mercy, save Thou me!

 

 

Sources:

Henry VIII – Elizabeth Wooding

 The execution of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury – The Anne Boleyn Files

 Executions and beheadings at the Tower of London

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She who has been the Queen of England on Earth……

….will today become a Queen in heaven

It is said that Anne Boleyn to the very last hour expected her husband, Henry VIII to pardon her for the crimes she anne-boleynmost likely never committed, and to which she most certainly never pleaded guilty. But that pardon never came, and today she was beheaded by a French executioner, brought to England as a concession from Henry to his wife, to let her be beheaded by means of a sword rather than an axe.

She had been tried and found guilty of adultery, incest and high treason on the 15th, crimes that merited a punishment by being hanged, drawn and quartered for men and burning alive for women. None of the condemned had to face these gruesome endings, and on this day Anne found herself on her knees in front of a French swordsman.
On the very last day of her life, Anne is reported to have been of good spirit, maybe because that was the only alternative that seemed acceptable to her. As a parent, one can´t help but think that her thoughts must have gone to her small girl Elizabeth, wondering what would become of her.

Shortly before dawn she had sent for the constable of the Tower, William Kingston, so he would her mass with her, and while he was with her, she twice swore on her eternal soul that she had never been unfaithful to her husband the King. Kinston would later write;
“This morning she sent for me, that I might be with her at such time as she received the good Lord, to the intent I should hear her speak as touching her innocency alway to be clear. And in the writing of this she sent for me, and at my coming she said, ‘Mr. Kingston, I hear I shall not die afore noon, and I am very sorry therefore, for I thought to be dead by this time and past my pain.’ I told her it should be no pain, it was so little. And then she said, ‘I heard say the executioner was very good, and I have a little neck,’ and then put her hands about it, laughing heartily. I have seen many men and also women executed, and that they have been in great sorrow, and to my knowledge this lady has much joy in death. Sir, her almoner is continually with her, and had been since two o’clock after midnight”

anne-boleyn-in-the-tower-edouard-cibotIn spite of the “good countenance” that was reported, of the “devilish spirit” the author of the Spanish Chronicle claimed she had demonstrated, I can´t rid myself of the impression that she was afraid. After all, in spite of the fact that the evidence against her was most likely concocted, it had come to this, and she wanted it to be over with. She wished that her life had been ended at the beginning of the day, not wait, not until noon.

There is a poem that has been attributed to Anne Boleyn, and is said to have been written by her during her last days in the Tower. There are no conclusive evidence that this is the case, and some also claim it to have been written by her brother George, Lord Rocheford with whom she shared her faith;

O DEATH, rock me asleep,
Bring me to quiet rest,
Let pass my weary guiltless ghost
Out of my careful breast.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

My pains who can express?
Alas, they are so strong;
My dolour will not suffer strength
My life for to prolong.
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Alone in prison strong
I wait my destiny.
Woe worth this cruel hap that I
Should taste this misery!
Toll on, thou passing bell;
Ring out my doleful knell;
Let thy sound my death tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Farewell, my pleasures past,
Welcome, my present pain!
I feel my torments so increase
That life cannot remain.
Cease now, thou passing bell;
Rung is my doleful knell;
For the sound my death doth tell.
Death doth draw nigh;
There is no remedy.

Anne Boleyn was brought out from her quarters in the Queen´s House by two gentlewomen as well as the constableTower_of_London_scaffold Kingston. She was dressed in a red petticoat and a loose, dark grey gown of damask trimmed in fur and a mantle of ermine. According to the historian Eric Ives she was not executed on the site where the memorial is now located, but on a scaffold erected on the north side of the White Tower. She climbed the scaffold from which she held a short speech;

“Good Christian people, I am come hither to die, for according to the law, and by the law I am judged to die, and therefore I will speak nothing against it. I am come hither to accuse no man, nor to speak anything of that, whereof I am accused and condemned to die, but I pray God save the king and send him long to reign over you, for a gentler nor a more merciful prince was there never: and to me he was ever a good, a gentle and sovereign lord. And if any person will meddle of my cause, I require them to judge the best. And thus I take my leave of the world and of you all, and I heartily desire you all to pray for me. O Lord have mercy on me, to God I commend my soul”.

Anne´s ermine mantle was removed and she was blindfolded. In the audience in front of her, one would have been able to find Thomas Cromwell, in some theories the man guilty of having orchestrated her dramatic downfall, Henry VIII:s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy and Charles Brandon.

Anne Boleyn died by a single stroke by the swordsman and was buried in an unmarked grave in the chapel St. Peter ad Vincula. Her remains is said to have been identified during renovations of the chapel in 1876 and a resting place is now marked. Some believe how ever that the remains under the plaque is those of her sister-in-law Jane Rocheford and that St Peter ad VinculaAnne in her turn rests under the plaque bearing Jane´s name.
The title for this post is taken from a statement attributed to Bishop Cranmer on the day of Anne´s execution, when he is said to have been found crying.

Sources:
Thomas Cranmer – Diarmaid MacCulloch
The Lady in the Tower – the fall of Anne Boleyn – Alison Weir
The life and death of Anne Boleyn – Eric Ives
Henry VIII and his court – Neville Williams

George Boleyn, sentenced today

 

George_Boleyn_signatureHe was the only surviving son among the Boleyn-children, George, Viscount Rochford. At one point he had had two brothers, Henry and Thomas, neither of whom reached adulthood. Only George, Anne and Mary were fortunate to do that.
In the end, only Mary would be left. George was arrested on May 2nd, the same day as his sister and today, in 1536, he stood trial accused of treason and an incestuous relation with his sister Anne.
It was said that the child – a boy – Anne had miscarried in January had been gravely deformed, and the reason for this was that she had conceived it with her brother. There is how ever no proof that there should have been some inappropriate relationship between brother and sister, other than that George at one point is said to have spent an unusually long time alone together with her.

Unlike his sisters, George never received any education at the French court, but on the other hand, as a courtier of Henry VIII he went on several successful embassies to France in different matters, one of which was to arrange the marriage between his, at the time, very young princess Elizabeth and the French dauphin, something which obviously never came to be.
Among his many appointments, one find Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, Esquire of The Body, diplomat, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle. This indicates that the King liked and trusted George Boleyn in his own right, and it is said that before he know who he actually was, even Eustace Chapuys, who hated to Boleyn´s for no strange reason, had liked George.

In contemporary texts, all though mostly after his death, George is recognised as a charming and intelligent man of436px-Arms_of_the_Boleyn_family_of_London good looks, and as that is the description of the kind of courtier Henry surrounded himself with, it most likely is accurate. There was also another side to George Boleyn though, and that was an arrogant, proud and maybe even ruthless side. He was a womaniser and due to a poem by the gentleman usher of Cardinal Wolsey, George Cavendish, George Boleyn has also received a reputation as a possible rapist as the very first line of the poem reads “I forced widows, maidens I did deflower” which indicate that he didn´t take no for an answer.
On one hand, it can be argued that George Cavendish was a staunch catholic who hated the Boleyn´s for their support of a reformed religion, but on the other hand, the poem continues by praising George for the already mentioned intelligence (wit) and charm, thereby giving the poem a balance in which may make the text more credible.
At the time of his trial, most of those watching thought he would be aquitted, and Eustace Chapuys, again, confirmed that George Boleyn had put up a brilliant defence. He later stated that George had been convicted only on presumptions.

But convicted he was, and on this day George sentenced to die a traitors death by being hanged, drawn and quartered. This was later commuted to a beheading. On the scaffold, George Boleyn gave a speech that went a bit further than what was custom, and he stated “Masters all, I am not come hither for to preach, but for to die, for I have deserved to died if had 20 lives, more shamefully than can be devised, for I am a wretched sinner, and I have sinned shamefully.”

Site of ancient scaffold at Tower Hill

Site of ancient scaffold at Tower Hill

That he claimed to be a wretched sinner and that he´d sinned shamefully has come to be interpreted by some historians as a hint to George Boleyn being homosexual, and having lived out his orientation.

The historian Retha Warnicke went as far as in her book “The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn” as to suggest that all men charged and executed in relation to Anne Boleyn was actually really condemned for being homosexuals. This, however, has been refuted by other historians but was in sorts resurrected by Alison Weir in her book the “Lady in the Tower – The fall of Anne Boleyn”. There are however no contemporary evidence that George Boleyn was homo- or bisexual, or even, apart from the possible translation of the first line in Cavendish poem, a violent man.

George Boleyn was executed on May 17th, two days before his sister, on Tower Hill and is, like Anne, buried in St Peter ad Vincula within the Tower.

 

 

Sources: Letters and papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII
Calendar of State papers, Spain.
The Lady of the Tower – The fall of Anne Boleyn – Alison Weir
The wives of Henry VIII – Alison Weir
The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn – Retha Warnicke
The Anne Boleyn Files – Claire Ridgeway

Image of site of Tower Hill scaffold – Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz

Boleyn family Crest – NinjaKid/Ollie Martin

Mark Smeaton

Anne Boleyn wasn´t arrested, condemned and executed by herself. A number of men went to their MIM_String_Instrumentsdeaths charged as accessories to her crimes.

The first man to be arrested, on April 30th, was Mark Smeaton, a court musician believed to have been of French-Flemish origin due to his name which can be derived from the names de Smet or de Smedt. Mark Smeaton is described as a very handsome young man and one of the prettiest monochord* players.

He had been appointed Groom the Privy Chamber in 1529, and what especially distinguish him from the others accused is that Mark Smeaton was not of noble birth, his father was a carpenter. Originally he had been part of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey´s choir, but after Wolsey fell from grace, he was moved to Chapel Royal, where he was noticed by Anne Boleyn.

He was favoured by Henry VIII who gave him special gifts of money and clothes, but the fact of his lowly birth kept him out from ever being part of the closer circle around Anne Boleyn, and it´s highly improbable that he ever had an affair with the Queen. He was however the only one of the accused men who confessed, and it´s telling that he was also, according to the Spanish Chronicle, the only one who was tortured. According to the same chronicle, Smeaton was a social climber who presumed to be equal to others who, by the social standards of the time, considered themselves to be above him through birth and title. As well as his presumptions provoking people, his admittance of adultery with the Queen caused outrage as they found it horrific that the Queen should stoop so low as to have an affair with someone so far beneath her.

It has been suggested that Mark Smeaton was homosexual, and possibly was he a lover of George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, but there really exist not proof of that. It is however believed that he might have been welcome into the circles around George Boleyn..
Mark Smeaton was convicted and sentenced to death of May 12th and executed on the 17th, two days before Anne herself. He was buried in a commoner´s grave.
Many years later, when Mary I wanted to stress the illegitimacy of her sister Elizabeth, she claimed that the latter had the “face and countenance” of Mark Smeaton.

*An instrument with a single string stretched over a sound box

Sources: The Lady in the Tower – Alison Weir
The rise and fall of Anne Boleyn – Retha M. Warnicke
Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding
Image of Monochord – Morn the Gorn

”Look out for my daughter, should anything happen to me”

 

Anneboleyn2The words may not have come out that way, but they do give the essence of what Anne Boleyn asked of her confessor, Matthew Parker, when she told him of her fears one of the last days of April 1536.
According to Alison Weir in her book “The Lady in the Tower – The fall of Anne Boleyn, Anne´s plea made a profound impression on Mark Parker; many years later, having been made Elizabeth I:s first Archbishop of Canterbury, he dedicated himself to her service and also told her most trusted secretary William Cecil that “he would fain serve his sovereign lady in more respects than his allegiance, since he cannot forget what words her Grace´s mother said to him not six days before her apprehension”
Exactly what those words were, we will unfortunately never know.

No doubt she had felt for a great part of the spring that something was going on. On April 23rd, Henry had given the Order of the Garter to Thomas Cromwell instead of her brother. The investigation and the questioning of her ladies in waiting that must have been included in that investigation can hardly have passed her by completely.
1491_Henry_VIIIMaybe there were whispers when she passed by, strange glances that she must have wondered what they were about.

Yesterday, May 1st, or Mayday, she may have come to understand that her situation was grave. During the Mayday joust at Greenwich Palace, Henry all of a sudden got up and walked away. Most likely he didn´t look back, and she would never see him again.
Unbeknown to Anne, the court musician Mark Smeaton had been arrested and interrogated during the night, an interrogation that lasted no less than four hours and had Mark Smeaton confess to having
On this departure from the joust, Henry brought Henry Norris with him and interrogated him all the way back to York Place.

Officially, Henry was all this time planning to take Anne with him to Calais on May 4th, and she was expecting Lady Lisle, the wife of Henry´s maternal uncle, Lady Lisle, to receive her. This obviously wasn´t going to happen. By April 29th, the Privy Council had already been informed about the impending judicial process against the Queen.
But all of late winter and spring spies had been doing their work, including infiltrating the Queen´s household. Someone doing much to establish Anne´s guilt was of course her sister in-law, Lady Rochford who apparently had no problem sending her own husband, George Boleyn, to his death in the process. Without batting an eye? We´ll probably never know, but I won´t hesitate to say that this is not my favourite woman in history.

And on this day 1536 Anne Boleyn, Queen of England – “The Moost Happi” – was arrested. It started, for Anne, by her anne-boleyn-in-the-tower-edouard-cibotbeing ordered to appear at the Privy Council, where she was faced by a Royal Commission, where she was accused of having committed adultery with three men, Sir Henry Norris and Mark Smeaton.
Anne of course denied this, but her words carried little weight and after having been informed that she was under arrest, Anne Boleyn was brought to the Tower.
Popular legend has it that she arrived there through Traitor´s Gate, but that was not the case, she arrived at the private entrance of Court Gate at the Byward Tower where she was met by the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir William Kingston. She asked him, maybe expressing a deep fear, if she was to be taken to the dungeon, but he kindly informed her that she was to stay the Queen´s Apartments, the very same apartments she had stayed in awaiting her coronation only three years earlier.

When Anne arrived at the Tower, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton and her brother George, Viscount Rochford, was already there, having been arrested the previous day and, in the case of George, earlier that very same morning.

 

 

Sources:

The Lady in the Tower – The Fall of Anne Boleyn – Alison Weir

The Anne Boleyn Files – Claire Ridgway

Diplomatic Disptaches – Eustace Chapuys

The last painting in this post is a rather romantic notion of Anne in the Tower, painted by the French historical painter Édouard Cibet in 1835