Tag Archives: William Brereton

May 17th, 1536. In tribute to George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, and Francis Weston: Two Poems by Sir Thomas Wyatt

It is often assumed, on the basis of various allusions in his love poetry, anecdotes relayed by his grandson George, and later fictional accounts, that the poet Thomas Wyatt had been in love with Anne at one time, and that his famous poetic lament over the terrible “sight” he had seen from the Bell Tower expressed his heartbreak over Anne’s execution. Undoubtedly, Anne’s death was shattering to him, whatever the nature of his affections for her. But, as a less famous poem,“In Mourning Wise Since Daily I Increase,” shows, “these bloody days” referred as well (or perhaps chiefly) to the executions of the men with whom Anne was accused. Anne is not mentioned in either poem—probably out of caution—but they are quite explicit about Wyatt’s despair over the fate of the others.

Wyatt’s poems—both these two, and many later ones–make it very clear that the experience was life-changing for him, creating complete and bitter disillusionment with court life, which raised his friends “aloft” only to bring them to such a horrible end. For no matter how pleasant and enticing life was at court, “circa Regna tonat”: Thunder Rolls Around the Throne. The “thunder”: Henry’s whims, which could turn the sun of fortune into a perfect—and fatal—storm.

As you read the poems, notice how prominent the theme of the precarious nature of court life is in them. In fact, after his release Wyatt spent only a short time at court, returning to his father’s castle in Allington, where he wrote the second poem. He ultimately did return to court in 1537, knighted by Henry for his service in suppressing the Pilgrimage of Grace. But nearly all his poems continue to express alienation and disdain for the artifice, vanity, and illusions of court life.

 

I

Who list his wealth and ease retain,
Himself let him unknown contain.
Press not too fast in at that gate
Where the return stands by disdain,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

The high mountains are blasted oft
When the low valley is mild and soft.
Fortune with Health stands at debate.
The fall is grievous from aloft.
And sure, circa Regna tonat.

These bloody days have broken my heart.
My lust, my youth did them depart,
And blind desire of estate.
Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.
Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

The bell tower showed me such sight
That in my head sticks day and night.
There did I learn out of a grate,
For all favour, glory, or might,
That yet circa Regna tonat.

By proof, I say, there did I learn:
Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,
Of innocency to plead or prate.
Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,
For sure, circa Regna tonat.

 

 

 

 

 II.

IN MOURNING WISE SINCE DAILY I INCREASE

In Mourning wise since daily I increase,

Thus should I cloak the cause of all my grief;

So pensive mind with tongue to hold his peace’

My reason sayeth there can be no relief:

Wherefore give ear, I humbly you require,

The affect to know that thus doth make me moan.

The cause is great of all my doleful cheer

For those that were, and now be dead and gone.

What thought to death desert be now their call.

As by their faults it doth appear right plain?

Of force I must lament that such a fall should light on those so wealthily did reign,

Though some perchance will say, of cruel heart,

A traitor’s death why should we thus bemoan?

But I alas, set this offence apart,

Must needs bewail the death of some be gone.

As for them all I do not thus lament,

But as of right my reason doth me bind;

But as the most doth all their deaths repent,

Even so do I by force of mourning mind.

Some say, ‘Rochford, haddest thou been not so proud,

For thy great wit each man would thee bemoan,

Since as it is so, many cry aloud

It is great loss that thou art dead and gone.’

Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to run

To think what hap did thee so lead or guide

Whereby thou hast both thee and thine undone

That is bewailed in court of every side;

In place also where thou hast never been

Both man and child doth piteously thee moan.

They say, ‘Alas, thou art far overseen

By thine offences to be thus deat and gone.’

Ah! Weston, Weston, that pleasant was and young,

In active things who might with thee compare?

All words accept that thou diddest speak with tongue,

So well esteemed with each where thou diddest fare.

And we that now in court doth lead our life

Most part in mind doth thee lament and moan;

But that thy faults we daily hear so rife,

All we should weep that thou are dead and gone.

Brereton farewell, as one that least I knew.

Great was thy love with divers as I hear,

But common voice doth not so sore thee rue

As other twain that doth before appear;

But yet no doubt but they friends thee lament

And other hear their piteous cry and moan.

So doth eah heart for thee likewise relent

That thou givest cause thus to be dead and gone.

Ah! Mark, what moan should I for thee make more,

Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,

Save only that mine eye is forced sore

With piteous plaint to moan thee with the rest?

A time thou haddest above thy poor degree,

The fall whereof thy friends may well bemoan:

A rotten twig upon so high a tree

Hath slipped thy hold, and thou art dead and gone.

And thus farewell each one in hearty wise!

The axe is home, your heads be in the street;

The trickling tears doth fall so from my eyes

I scarce may write, my paper is so wet.

But what can hope when death hath played his part,

Though nature’s course will thus lament and moan?

Leave sobs therefore, and every Christian heart

Pray for the souls of those be dead and gone.

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May 17th, 1536: In tribute to George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, William Brereton, and Francis Weston

Who list his wealth and ease retain,

Himself let him unknown contain.

Press not too fast in at that gate

Where the return stands by disdain,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

 

The high mountains are blasted oft

When the low valley is mild and soft.

Fortune with Health stands at debate.

The fall is grievous from aloft.

And sure, circa Regna tonat.

 

These bloody days have broken my heart.

My lust, my youth did them depart,

And blind desire of estate.

Who hastes to climb seeks to revert.

Of truth, circa Regna tonat.

 

The bell tower showed me such sight

That in my head sticks day and night.

There did I learn out of a grate,

For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.

 

By proof, I say, there did I learn:

Wit helpeth not defence too yerne,

Of innocency to plead or prate.

Bear low, therefore, give God the stern,

For sure, circa Regna tonat.

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May 12, 1536: The Trial of Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton

By: Natalie Sweet

Events moved rapidly in the week before May 19th. Arthur Plantagenet, Lord Lisle, heard from his agent, John Hussee that,

“Today Mr. Norrys, Weston, Bryerton, and Markes have been arraigned, and are judged to be drawn, hanged, and quartered. They shall die tomorrow or Monday. Anne the queen, and her brother, shall be arraigned in the Tower, some think tomorrow, but on Monday at furthest, and that they will suffer there immediately “for divers considerations, which are not yet known.” Mr. Payge and Mr. W[y]at are in the Tower, but it is thought without danger of life, though Mr. Payge is banished the King’s court for ever.” (Letters and Papers)

The accused men faced a prejudiced jury who was well aware of the verdict Henry wanted, and Tudor law did not aid defendants. Justice at this time was more subjective, more informal, and could not be separated from morality. Juries operated based on their own knowledge. There was no effort to keep them from gossip. In fact, questions were put to juries about their knowledge of the case, and the more they “knew,” the more fit they were considered for service.

The trial itself would have been very speedy – any crime, from petty theft to grand larceny to murder, would only take thirty minutes at the most. Most important in any Tudor trial was the assessment of character – if a person was found to be acting outside of their proper place, they were considered to be gravely in the wrong. There was no such thing as a defense lawyer – the “victim” was both the defense and collector of evidence. At any time when a king or queen had a vested interest in a case, they would be favored. This was true even in cases where there was just an ordinary judge and jury – judges were always appointed by the monarch and they could be fired at will. In other words, they were agents of the monarch. Challenges to this approach to law would not occur until the early Stuart period, when Edward Coke called for judicial review.

Three of the men – Norris, Brereton, and Weston – pleaded “not guilty.” Smeaton, likely under torture, “pleaded guilty of violation and carnal knowledge of the Queen, and put himself in the King’s mercy” (Letters and Papers). The result: “the jury return a verdict of Guilty, and that they have no lands, goods, or chattels”  and that the said men were to be executed (Letters and Papers).

Anne’s anguish at hearing this verdict must have been great. She could not know if Henry would spare her life, but she knew how drastically the verdict would affect the families of these men, who would not only lose their husbands, fathers, sons, and brothers, but their livelihood as well. Finally, she knew she stood judged as an adulteress – the only question that remained was what punishment would be handed down to her.

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April 27, 1536

MythWyattAs April drew to a close, Anne’s life was clearly in danger. The following is a list of those who would be accused along with Anne, and the charges against them.

Anne Boleyn: Then Queen of England, she had suffered a miscarriage earlier in the year. She, along with those who were accused of being her lovers, would be charged with high treason against the King for their supposed acts of adultery and other treasonous actions.

Mark Smeaton: The first to be arrested, Smeaton was a court musician. After being accused of adultery with the Queen, he was almost certainly tortured for information about his relationship with Anne, and confessed. The charge: high treason and adultery.

Henry Norris: Both a supporter of the Boleyn family and the Groom of the Stool in the King’s privy chamber, Henry staunchly denied the accusations against him. Because of his position, he would not be tortured. The charge: high treason and adultery.

Francis Weston: Weston was a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber, which meant he was frequently with Henry. At the time of his arrest, he was married to Anne Pickering and they had a baby boy, Henry. The charge: high treason and adultery

William Brereton: Brereton was a Groom of the Privy Chamber and had married a distant cousin of Henry. He was accused of being seduced by Anne on November 16, 1533, and of committing “misconduct” on November 27.   The charge: high treason and adultery.

George Boleyn: Boleyn was the Viscount of Rochford and Anne’s brother. George’s wife, Jane Rochford, would give evidence against him. The charge: high treason, incest, and adultery.

Thomas Wyatt: Wyatt was an advisor in Henry’s court and a poet who is credited with introducing the sonnet into English. It was rumored that he and Anne were romantically connected before Anne’s marriage to Henry.  Whatever Wyatt felt, there is no evidence that Anne reciprocated his feelings. Wyatt was brought in for questioning at the Tower of London, where he viewed the executions of the condemned men and wrote a famous poem about the “bloody days” that had “broken his heart.” He may also have viewed Anne’s execution. He was later released.

Richard Page: Page was appointed as a Gentleman of the Privy Chamber after supporting Anne against Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the advisor who so greatly influenced Henry’s decisions early in his reign. Like Wyatt, Page was later released from the Tower.

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