On this day in 1536 – Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton and Mark Smeaton all stood trial accused of treason

On 12th May 1536 Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton and Mark Smeaton all stood trial just two days after it was announced that there was sufficient evidence of their alleged guilt. George Boleyn and his sister, Queen Anne Boleyn were to stand trial separately as they were members of the aristocracy and therefore was to be tried at the court of the Lord High Steward of England by a jury of their peers.

The four men were taken by boat to Westminster Hall where they were greeted by a jury that included Sir Thomas Boleyn, Sir William Fitzwilliam, William Askew, Edward Willoughby, William Musgrave, Sir Giles Alington, Anthony Hungerford, Walter Hungerford, William Sidney, Sir John Hampden, Richard Tempest, Robert Dormer and Thomas Palmer. These men were people who held a grudge against the Queen, were in Cromwell’s debt and even relatives of the Boleyn’s including the Queen’s own father.

There is no longer any evidence of what occurred in these trials. However, documented in the Letters and Papers was;

Noreys, Bryerton, Weston, and Smeton were brought up in the custody of the constable of the Tower, when Smeton pleaded guilty of violation and carnal knowledge of the Queen, and put himself in the King’s mercy. Noreys, Bryerton, and Weston pleaded Not Guilty, and that they have no lands, goods or chattels.

Judgement against all four as in cases of treason; execution to be at Tyburn.”

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, volume 10 January – June 1536

Alongside the above piece of evidence we also have a letter that the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Chapuys wrote regularly to the emperor to keep him informed of what was occurring in England and regarding the trial he wrote;

“On the 11th were condemned as traitors Master Noris, the King’s chief butler, (sommelier de corps) Master Ubaston (Weston), who used to lie with the King, Master Bruton (Brereton), gentleman of the Chamber, and the groom (varlet de chambre), of whom I wrote to your Majesty by my man. Only the groom confessed that he had been three times with the said putain and Concubine. The others were condemned upon presumption and certain indications, without valid proof or confession.”

The defendants were not entitled to counsel and therefore did not know what evidence would be presented to the jury. This one move meant that the accused were not able to build up a defence to the accusations that were being thrown at them, all they could do is react as the evidence was being read out. All but Mark Smeaton declared that they were not guilty and Smeaton pleaded guilty to one count of adultery, however, it is probable that Smeaton’s confession was extracted through means of torture.

It is likely that the verdict was already reached before the accused even stepped in front of the jury even so all four were declared guilty of high treason and were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. However, because all four were in service of the King the sentence was commuted to beheading.

Westminster Hall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s