It is likely that Anne Boleyn was able to see the scaffold from her room in the Bell Tower and watched the men die - which would only have tortured her.
Since George Boleyn, Lord Rochford was the highest in rank, he mounted the scaffold first and with a loud voice made a pious speech, declaring his innocence against his charges, but also praising the King and the other men who were to die with him "without fear," (2). Many different versions of this speech exist, but all of them show Lord Rochford giving a respectable and powerful speech. Once he was done with his lengthy speech, Boleyn laid his head upon the block and submitted to death - and a rather gruesome death it was. It reportedly took the headsman three strokes to separate his head from his body, and we can only imagine how terrifying this must have been for the four men watching and awaiting their deaths. It is not surprising that the first beheading was botched - considering beheading was not a common way to die in 16th-century England, so executioners were unpracticed.
Sir Henry Norris was next on the block, followed by Weston, Brereton, and lastly Smeaton. These four men said very little when they climbed the scaffold - seeming to trust what George Boleyn had said, and feeling no need to add speeches of their own.
This is a heartbreaking day to remember in Tudor history, and it was a heartbreaking day in 1536 as well. While Thomas Wyatt watched the executions from the Tower (knowing that he was to be spared), he wrote one of his most famous poems, "These Bloody Days," as well as this poem, which even mentions the names of the men who died - showing how sad he was to see his friends meet this fate...
"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 cheerFor 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 aloudIt is great loss that thou art dead and gone.'
Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to runTo think what hap did thee so lead or guideWhereby thou hast both thee and thine undoneThat 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 overseenBy 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 lifeMost 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 rueAs other twain that doth before appear;But yet no doubt but they friends thee lamentAnd other hear their piteous cry and moan.So doth eah heart for thee likewise relentThat 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 soreWith 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 treeHath 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 eyesI 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 heartPray for the souls of those be dead and gone."
R.I.P. Rochford, Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Smeaton!
- (1): Weir, Alison "The Lady in the Tower" page 253
- (2): Weir, Alison "The Lady in the Tower" page 254
- (3): Weir, Alison "The Lady in the Tower" page 258
- The poem was taken from "The Tudors Wiki" website; Thomas Wyatt's Poetry page