On this day in Tudor history, 17th May 1536, George Boleyn, Lord Rochford; Sir Henry Norris, groom of the stool; courtier Sir Francis Weston; courtier William Brereton, and musician Mark Smeaton were beheaded on Tower Hill for treason.
The five men had all been condemned to death after being found guilty of sleeping with Queen Anne Boleyn and conspiring with her to kill her husband, King Henry VIII.
Poet Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder, who'd also been arrested and imprisoned in May 1536 in Anne's fall, witnessed their executions from his prison in the Bell Tower.
On this day in Tudor history, 16th August 1599, soldier and Lord President of Munster in Ireland, Sir Thomas Norris, died at his home, Mallow Castle, in Cork, as a result of an injury he’d sustained in a skirmish with Irish troops on 30th May 1599. His brother, Henry, died just five days later. Thomas’s brothers, John, William and Maximilian, who were also soldiers, died in 1597, 1579 and 1593 respectively.
Queen Elizabeth I recognised the sacrifice of this family and wrote a letter of condolence to her friends, Henry Norris, 1st Baron Norris, and his wife, Margery Williams. Find out what she wrote to the grieving couple in today’s talk.
Sir Henry Norris was born sometime in the late 1490s and was the son of Richard Norris and grandson of Sir William Norris of Yattendon and his wife, Jane de Vere, daughter of John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford. Norris’s family had a long history of serving the monarch – his great-grandfather, Sir John Norris, had been Keeper of the Great Wardrobe to Henry VI and his grandfather, Sir William Norris, had been Knight of the Body to Edward IV. Sir William Norris had been attainted after being involved in the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard III and had been forced to flee to Brittany, where he joined the forces of Henry Tudor and may even have fought at the Battle of Bosworth. Sir William had a command in June 1487 at Stoke and went on to become the Lieutenant of Windsor Castle.
Thank you to Tudor Life magazine contributor Kyra Kramer for this excellent article on Sir Henry Norris, Henry VIII’s Groom of the Stool, and the fall of Anne Boleyn. Over to Kyra…
Of all the men who were falsely accused of being Anne Boleyn’s companions in adultery, to point a finger at Henry Norris makes the most sense in terms of proximity and politics but the least sense in terms of his close relationship with Henry VIII.
If historian Greg Walker is correct in his 2002 proposal that Anne’s downfall was not due to her miscarriage of a male foetus in January of 1536 but instead to some hasty words she said in spring, then Norris was a ready-made target. One day in late April, the queen asked Henry Norris, who was the king’s groom of the stool and engaged to her cousin Madge Shelton, when he planned to wed. Norris hedged that he would wait just a bit longer, which vexed Anne. In her anger she told him he was looking for “dead men’s shoes, for if ought came to the king but good, you would look to have me”. This was a major blunder. It was treason to even think about the death of the king, let alone to talk about whom his queen might marry after his demise. Norris was appalled and Anne knew almost immediately that she had said something dangerous. She sent Norris to her chaplain, John Skyp, to swear that she was a good woman and faithful to the king.