Anne Askew and three others (1546)

Anne Askew was the daughter of Sir William Askew, a member of a very old Lincolnshire family. She was born around 1520. Her brother was one of the Kings bodyguard. She was beautiful and intelligent. Her father arranged her marriage and it was at that time that she began to read the Bible in English and became a lover of Jesus; renouncing Romish superstitions. Her husband was a papist and threw her out of the house. She went to London in 1545 to arrange a divorce, because they were ‘unequally yoked.’ While there she became acquainted with pious ladies of the court, including the queen, Katherine Parr.

The enemies of the Reformation seem to have attacked Anne because they thought that it would put fear in those of high rank who were evangelical. On one occasion Anne denied the corporeal presence of the Saviour in the Sacrament. This was a dangerous thing to say as several had already been burned for such an opinion. She was sent to prison and then interrogated at Sadler’s Hall. Later she was taken to be interrogated by the Lord Mayor. She was returned to prison and for eleven days nobody was allowed to see her. One of her cousins tried to get her bailed, but the result of his efforts was to have her examined at length by Bonner, the Bishop of London. Despite the bishop being angered by her responses to his questions, he was persuaded to allow her free on bail, perhaps because she was a woman.

Askew continued to profess the Gospels and meet with friends, so three months later she was re-arrested and taken before the Privy Council in Greenwich. She was examined for two days and constantly quoted the Scriptures when answering questions. After this she was taken to Newgate prison. She was very ill and thought that she was close to dying. By law Anne had the right to be tried by a jury, but the council sentenced her to be burned for denying the corporeal presence of Christ in the Sacrament.

It was clear that Anne Askew had gained her faith from reading the English Bible. Bishop Gardiner therefore petitioned the government to issue a proclamation that no-one, which included the courtiers, should have in their possession Tyndale’s or Coverdale’s New Testaments. This was proclaimed on July 8th 1546 and included a statement that all such books must be burned.

The authorities wanted evidence from Anne against ladies of the court who were friends of the Gospel, so the Lord Chancellor went to the Tower of London where she was then imprisoned and tortured her to get the information he wanted. She was put on the rack, but would not give any information and so the Lord Chancellor ordered that she be put on the rack again. The Lieutenant of the Tower refused to do it, so, according to Anne’s own words, the Lord Chancellor himself put her on the rack again. She was taken to a house and put to bed. Henry censured the Lord Chancellor. The Chancellor sent word to Anne that she would be released if she renounced her faith or burned if she didn’t. Anne responded, ‘I will sooner die than break my faith.’

On the 16th July Anne was taken to Smithfield. She had to be carried there because of her health. Unusually the burning was to take place at nightfall to create more of a spectacle. With Ann were burned Nicholas Belenian, a priest of Shropshire, John Lacels, of the kings household and John Adams, a Colchester tailor. A platform was erected in front of St Bartholomew’s Church for the dignitaries to watch from. The chancellor sent a message to Anne that she would receive the king’s pardon if she recanted. She replied, ‘I am not come hither to deny my Lord and Master.’ The other three all refused the offer.

These were the last martyrs of Henry’s reign as he died in December of that year.

This was taken from ‘The Reformation in England’ by Merle d’Aubigne.

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