There are many protestant martyrs mentioned in John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments, but none quite like Anne Askew.
Born in Lincolnshire in around 1521, to Sir William Askew, and his wife Elizabeth Wrottesley, Anne was one of five children, two brothers, and two sisters. After her mother died her father married Elizabeth Hutton Hansard, a widow from South Kelsey, and she produced two half-brothers for the Askew children. Sir William had been knighted by King Henry VIII in 1513 in Touraine, and had attended the King at the Field of the Cloth of Gold in 1520. He was High Sheriff of Lincolnshire and a Member of Parliament in 1521. Anne’s eldest brother Francis was knighted in 1544 at the siege of Boulogne, her brother Christopher was a gentlemen of the King’s Privy Chamber, and her brother Edward was a member of Archbishop Cranmer’s household as well as being cupbearer to the King.
Anne’s older sister Martha was betrothed to Thomas Kyme, however she died when Anne was just 15, and Anne herself was offered as a replacement. It would seem Anne was forced into this marriage against her will. A highly educated young lady, who was often seen in Church reading the Bible and discussing and debating the meanings of particular texts with the priests, she had already became a staunch protestant, and by her own account superior to them all in argument. Kyme on the other hand was a Catholic. Their marriage, although not a particularly happy one, did produce two children, however having offended the priests it seems Anne was effectively thrown out by her husband, it is stated that she later attempted to gain a divorce from him, something which is almost unheard of in Tudor England. Although unsuccessful in her attempt, she never referred to herself by her married name, and always signed herself Anne Askew.
By her own admission her behaviour was confrontational, something which society at the time could not abide in a woman. In March 1545 she was living in London, and it was here she was first accused of heresy. She left an account of her examinations. The first at Sadler’s Hall before a Christopher Dare, then before the Lord Mayor of London who committed her to The Counter, a prison within the jurisdiction of the City of London for 12 days, until her cousin Christopher Brittayn bailed her out. Anne was then interrogated by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London and his archdeacon, John Wymesley. The accusations surrounded the sacrament and the Act of the Six Articles which had been passed by the King some years previously. Anne was charged with subscribing to “specific Reformed beliefs” and Bonner attempted to pressure her into signing a confession and recantation, both of which she refused. After several influential friends interceded on her behalf, Anne was released.
Unfortunately within a year Anne was again under the suspicions of the council, and was questioned for a second time at Greenwich in June 1546.
Within this time her opinions had grown ever more heretical, and she was stronger in her beliefs. This time she was examined more closely, she was in front of the council for five hours on the first day, and was interrogated again the following day before being transferred to Newgate Prison. After being pressed to recant and confess by Dr Nicolas Shaxton, the late bishop of Salisbury, and Sir Richard Rich, Anne was sent to the Tower of London, still determined in her faith. Here a new set of inquiries were addressed to her. Some members of the King’s council suspected her of receiving secret encouragement from “People of high influence”, including Lady Hertford, Lady Suffolk, Lady Sussex, Lady Denny and Lady Fitzwilliams, all known to be close to Queen Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s sixth, and would be final wife. Despite writing letters to Lord Chancellor Wriothsley and the King himself asking for justice, Anne was apparently condemned without trial. After refusing to recant, confess, or give evidence of any involvement with the Ladies in the Queen’s inner circle, Anne was sent to the rack. In her own words…
“Then they did put me on the racke, because I confessed no ladies or Gentle Women to be of my opinion, and theron they kept me a longe time. And because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and master Rich, toke paines to racke me with their owne hands , till I was night dead”
Anne simply could not have written this herself after enduring such torture, so it is likely it was written from her verbal account. Still she refused to deny her beliefs or name others of similar opinions. She was condemned to the death of a heretic. She would be burned at the stake along with John Lascelles, Nicholas Belenian and John Adam, other Protestants who had refused to recant.
On July 16th 1546, Anne was taken to Smithfield in London. She had to be carried on a chair, as she could not walk due to the injuries she’d received during her torture. Wearing a just a shift, and in severe pain, she remained steadfast, even correcting the preacher when he stated something during his readings which she didn’t agree with. She was tied to the stake, sitting astride a small seat. The Lord Chancellor Wriothsley issued a final chance to recant, promising a pardon from the King. All four condemned heretics refused, thus the fire was lit, and all four perished as martyrs to their faith. There are conflicting accounts of the executions, one mentions gunpowder being used in order to speed up the deaths of the condemned, and the other states that the burnings took an hour to complete, but that Anne was unconscious or dead after about 15 minutes. The latter account would suggest gunpowder was not used as it would have been much quicker.
Anne Askew was 26 when she died, she is the only woman recorded as being tortured at the Tower of London.