Anne Askew – Protestant Martyr
"She went to heaven in a chariot of fire." (Ballad by Thomas Fuller)
The separation of the Church of England from the Vatican under King Henry VIII was completed in 1536. However, the religious changes in the Church of England brought with it great internal religious conflict in Britain between Protestants and Catholics. Reformers in the Church of England alternated, for centuries, between sympathies for Catholic tradition and more reformed principles, gradually developing into a tradition which is considered a middle way between the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions. The breaking of the Church of England from the Vatican was driven by the political necessities of Henry VIII; who wanted to ensure his legacy through a male heir. Henry had once been a devout Catholic, but he later found it expedient and profitable to break with the Papacy in order to accomplish his annulment from Catherine of Aragon, his first wife, after a marriage of 24 years. Catherine had only produced one surviving daughter, Mary. Despite Henry VIII's break with Rome much of England still adhered to Catholic ideology.
One young English lady that was caught in this turmoil was Anne Askew. She was born in 1521, the daughter of an English nobleman, Sir William Askew. Unfortunately she was forced into an unhappy marriage at the tender age of fifteen. Anne, part of a landed Lincolnshire family, was forced by her father to take her dead sister's place in an arranged marriage with Thomas Kyme. Anne was a well educated and devout Protestant. She would visit homes and conduct study groups based on Protestant beliefs. These study groups were considered illegal at the time. Her beliefs were not condoned by her husband so Anne traveled to London in order to obtain a divorce. Anne sought her divorce on scriptural grounds (1 Corinthians: 7.15) claiming that her marriage was invalid because he was an unbeliever. While in London, Anne continued her Protestant study groups which were believed to be attended by Katherine Parr, King Henry the VIII’s last wife and Queen of England. Henry had married Katherine Parr in 1543; Katherine was a known reformist and a threat to the Catholic clergy within the Church of England. The Catholic clergy had declared some Protestant practices and beliefs as heresy. Stephen Gardiner, who served as the Bishop of Winchester, determined to stop the Protestant Reform movement, desired to prove that the Queen had engaged in heretic practices against the crown by having Anne confess to Katherine Parr’s attendance at her study groups. In addition, Kyme accused Anne of heresy, in an attempt to save himself from the embarrassment caused by Anne’s attempts at divorce.
The traditionalist party supported by Stephen Gardiner, pursued tactics which included the arrests of minor evangelicals in the hope that they would implicate those who were more highly placed. The persons rounded up were in many cases strongly linked to Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Anne’s brother Edward was one of his servants. While in London, Anne was arrested and endured several ‘examinations’ by the Church of England clergy to determine ‘heretical’ practices and beliefs.
Anne recorded in Examinations, “They said to me there that I was a heretic, and condemned by the law if I would stand in my opinion. I answered that I was no heretic, neither yet deserved I any death by the law of God. But as concerning the faith which I uttered and wrote to the council, I would not, I said, deny it, because I knew it true. Then they would need know if I would deny the sacrament to be Christ's body and blood. I said, ‘Yea, for the same son of God that was born of the Virgin Mary, is now glorious in heaven, and will come again from thence at the latter day, like as he went up (Acts 1). And as for that ye call your God, is but a piece of bread. For a more proof of thereof (mark it when ye list) yet it lie in the box but three months, and it will be mould and so turn to nothing that is good. Whereupon I am persuaded that it cannot be good.’ “
She was released after these examinations but, Anne was arrested again and examined in June 1546 by Martin Bowes, the Lord Mayor of London. Sir Anthony Kingston, the Constable of the Tower of London, was ordered to torture Anne in an attempt to force her to name others. Sir Anthony Kingston eventually refused to administer torture to such a young lady. Lord Chancellor Wriothesley and Sir Richard Rich, of the traditionalist movement, ended up administering the torture themselves; their motive was to have Anne implicate Catherine Parr of heresy by proving her Protestant beliefs.
According to Anne's own account of her torture in the Tower of London. She was quoted as saying; "Then they did put me on the rack because I confessed no ladies or gentlemen to be of my opinion; and thereon they kept me a long time and because I lay still and did not cry, they took pains to rack me with their own hands till I was nigh dead."
Since she didn’t confess under torture, her execution by fire was ordered to be carried out. Anne was so weak from the torture that on her day of execution, she had to be carried to Smithfield in a chair. She was chained to the stake, as bundles of wood were stacked at her feet. At the last moment, a written pardon from the king was offered to her if she would recant; she refused stating that she had not come to the stake to deny her Lord. Therefore gunpowder was poured all over her body and then the fire was lit. She died in company with three other martyrs, on July 16, 1546, at the age of 25.
Recently, I completed Only Glory Awaits by Leslie S. Nuernberg which does a fantastic job of capturing her mortal life and indomitable spirit. Anne wrote of her beliefs and the tribulations of her trails in Examinations. John Foxe, who was married to Margaret Askew (1614-1702) a descendant of Anne and reformist as well, also wrote of Anne in his Book of Martyrs. Anne has impressed me as a strong young lady with a deep commitment to her faith.
I truly believe that Anne was a steadfast force of Faith … and a great representation of how Faith can change unjust societal constraints.