The sentences themselves were a gross injustice. But two “smaller” yet horrible cruelties were visited this day on Anne and the men with whom she was condemned.
On this day in 1536, Henry signed all the death warrants. But although the men were due to die the next day, they were left in suspense as to the method of their execution, which normally was commuted for royals and nobles from hanging (to be followed by drawing and quartering) to beheading. As late as after dinner on the 16th, Kingston was begging Cromwell to let him know how they were to die, but word didn’t come until much later, possibly the following morning. George and the other nobles thus spent many unnecessarily agonizing hours anticipating the more excruciating, humiliating death. In the end, all of them-even Smeaton—met death by beheading. But Henry was apparently too occupied cavorting with Jane to spare them any torment.
Also on May 16th, Cranmer saw Anne, with something other than spiritual comfort in mind. Cromwell had been working to find a way to annul the marriage and bastardize Elizabeth. Two likely “impediments” to the lawfulness of the marriage were a possible precontract with Percy and the “consanguinity” of the King’s affair with Mary Boleyn. Percy denied the precontract, so Cranmer was sent to get Anne to admit that she knew of the relationship with Mary when she married Henry. Weir speculates—accurately, I believe—that Cranmer may have suggested to Anne that if she admitted to the impediment, the King might spare her death. The evidence for this is that after he left, Kingston reports that Anne was “more cheerful” and told Kingston that she was “in hope of life” in a nunnery. Instead, the only “mercy” Henry had planned was her death by a French swordsman, who was already on his way.