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.