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On this day in 1536 – George Boleyn, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton and Mark Smeaton were executed

On the morning of 17th May 1536 a scaffold had appeared at Tower Hill and five men were led from the Tower of London to their fate. George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton and Mark Smeaton were all found guilty of high treason and although originally sentenced to being hung, drawn and quartered the King had altered this to beheading.

George Boleyn was first to face the executioners’ axe as he was the highest rank between the five men. He made a speech before the crowds that had come to see the death of the men who had fallen from grace. There are many versions of George’s speech but the Chronicles of Calais wrote;

“Christen men, I am borne undar the lawe, and judged undar the lawe, and dye undar the lawe, and the lawe hathe condemned me. Masters all, I am not come hether for to preche, but for to dye, for I have deserved for to dye yf I had xx.lyves, more shamefully than can be devised, for I am a wreched synnar, and I have synned shamefully, I have knowne no man so evell, and to reherse my synnes openly it were no pleaswre to you to here them, nor yet for me to reherse them, for God knowethe all; therefore, mastars all, I pray yow take hede by me, and especially my lords and gentlemen of the cowrte, the whiche I have bene amonge, take hede by me, and beware of suche a fall, and I pray to God the Fathar, the Sonne, and the Holy Ghoste, thre persons and one God, that my deathe may be an example unto yow all, and beware, trust not in the vanitie of the worlde, and especially in the flateringe of the cowrte. And I cry God mercy, and askeall he worlde forgevenes, as willingly as I wowld have forgevenes of God; and yf I have offendyd any man that is not here now, eythar in thowght, worde, or dede, and yf ye here any suche, I pray yow hertely in my behalf, pray them to forgyve me for God’s sake. And yet, my mastars all, I have one thinge for to say to yow, men do common and saye that I bene a settar forthe of the worde of God, and one that have favoured the Ghospell of Christ; and bycawse I would not that God’s word shuld be slaundered by me, I say unto yow all, that yf I had followecl God’s worde in dede as I dyd rede it and set it forthe to my power, I had not come to this. I dyd red the Ghospell of Christe, but I dyd not follow it; yf I had, I had bene a lyves man amonge yow: therefore I pray yow, mastars all, for God’s sake sticke to the trwthe and folowe it, for one good followere is worthe thre redars, as God knowethe.”

Sir Henry Norris was next to step up to the scaffold; his speech was short as he did not want to risk offending the King any further. Following Norris was Sir Francis Weston. Weston’s family had fought to secure his release but nothing could stop the King from ensuring the end of his marriage to the Queen and this meant the co-accused had to die as well. Weston said to the crowd in his final speech;

“I had thought to have lyved in abhominacion yet this twenty or thrittie yeres and then to have made amendes. I thought little it wold have come to this.”

Weston had spent the night before his execution writing out a list of people he was in debt to this included the King, his family, the Boleyns and it is an insight into how well favoured he was. His list was included into a letter that he wrote to his parents asking for their forgiveness.

Sir William Brereton was the fourth man to face the axe, his speech was very short, and according to The Spanish Chronicle he simply said; ‘I have offended God and the King: pray for me.’ However according to George Constantine, Norris’s servant, who was present at the executions documented that Brereton kept repeating ‘But if ye judge, judge the best.’

Finally as a man of no rank Mark Smeaton took to the scaffold after watching the four men in front before him lose their heads. Smeaton had a chance to retract his confession during his final speech; however, he simply chose to say;

“Masters, I pray you all pray for me, for I have deserved the death.”

With that Mark Smeaton stepped up to the mark and placed his head on the blood soaked block ready for his fate to be delivered.

George Boleyn’s head and body were buried within the Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula whereas the other four were buried in the churchyard as they were deemed commoners. This left just Anne Boleyn to face her death alone.

Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula

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

On this day in 1536 – Giles Heron announced their was sufficient evidence to charge Queen Anne Boleyn

On 10th May 1536 Giles Heron, the foreman of the Grand Jury of Middlesex announced that they believed that there was sufficient evidence that Queen Anne Boleyn, George Boleyn, Sir Henry Norris, Sir Francis Weston, Sir William Brereton and Mark Smeaton could all stand trial on the charges of treason.

Anne Boleyn was accused of adultery with the co-accused, including her own brother, conspiring to have the King killed and marry one of her lovers. Each of the men accused were charged with adultery with the Queen and helping her to plot against the King’s life.

Giles Heron announced that the six should be indicted and sent to trial and wrote down his thoughts and the alleged evidence in his indictment;

“Indictment found at Westminster on Wednesday next after three weeks of Easter, 28 Hen. VIII. before Sir John Baldwin, etc., by the oaths of Giles Heron, Roger More, Ric. Awnsham, Thos. Byllyngton, Gregory Lovell, Jo. Worsop, Will. Goddard, Will. Blakwall, Jo. Wylford, Will. Berd, Hen. Hubbylthorn, Will. Hungyng, Rob. Walys, John England, Hen, Lodysman, and John Averey; who present that whereas queen Anne has been the wife of Henry VIII. for three years and more, she, despising her marriage, and entertaining malice against the King, and following daily her frail and carnal lust, did falsely and traitorously procure by base conversations and kisses, touching, gifts, and other infamous incitations, divers of the King’s daily and familiar servants to be her adulterers and concubines, so that several of the King’s servants yielded to her vile provocations; viz., on 6th Oct. 25 Hen. VIII., at Westminster, and divers days before and after, she procured, by sweet words, kisses, touches, and otherwise, Hen. Noreys, of Westminster, gentle man of the privy chamber, to violate her, by reason whereof he did so at Westminster on the 12th Oct. 25 Hen. VIII.; and they had illicit intercourse at various other times, both before and after, sometimes by his procurement, and sometimes by that of the Queen.

Also the Queen, 2 Nov. 27 Hen. VIII. and several times before and after, at Westminster, procured and incited her own natural brother, Geo. Boleyn, lord Rocheford, gentleman of the privy chamber, to violate her, alluring him with her tongue in the said George’s mouth, and the said George’s tongue in hers, and also with kisses, presents, and jewels; whereby he, despising the commands of God, and all human laws, 5 Nov. 27 Hen VIII., violated and carnally knew the said Queen, his own sister, at Westminster; which he also did on divers other days before and after at the same place, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen’s.

Also the Queen, 3 Dec. 25 Hen. VIII., and divers days before and after, at Wesminster, procured one Will. Bryerton, later of Westminster, gentleman of the privy chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so on 8 Dec. 25 Hen.VIII., at Hampton Court, in the parish of Lytel Hampton, and on several other days before and after, sometimes by his own procurement and sometimes by the Queen’s.

Also the Queen, 8 May 26 Hen. VIII., and at other times before and since, procured Sir Fras. Weston, of Westminster, gentleman of the privy chamber, etc., whereby he did so on the 20 May, etc. Also the Queen, 12 April 26 Hen. VIII., and divers days before and since, at Westminster, procured Mark Smeton, groom of the privy chamber, to violate her, whereby he did so at Westminster, 26 April 27 Hen. VIII.

Moreover, the said lord Rocheford, Norreys, Bryerton, Weston, and Smeton, being thus inflamed with carnal love of the Queen, and having become very jealous of each other, gave her secret gifts and pledges while carrying on this illicit intercourse; and the Queen, on her part, could not endure any of them to converse with any other women, without showing great displeasure; and on the 27 Nov. 27 Hen. VIII., and other days before and after, at Westminster, she gave them great gifts to encourage them in their crimes. And further the said Queen and these other traitors, 31 Oct. 27 Hen. VIII., at Westminster, conspired the death and destruction of the King, the Queen often saying she would marry one of them as soon as the King died, and affirming that she would never love the King in her heart. And the King having a short time since become aware of the said abominable crimes and treasons against himself, took such inward displeasure and heaviness, especially from his said Queen’s malice and adultery, that certain harms and perils have befallen his royal body.

And thus the said Queen and the other traitors aforesaid have committed their treasons in contempt of the Crown, and of the issue and heirs of the said King and Queen.”

Anne Boleyn