Tuesday, November 15, 2011

WOMEN OF THE REFORMATION: Anne Askew - Gospelling In The Fire

    By Diane Bucknell
   Yet lord, I thee desire
For that they do to me
Let them not taste the hire
Of their iniquity.”
Anne Askew
(1520-21 - July 16, 1546)
    Knowing full well that her head could be as easily separated from her body as were those of his 2nd wife Anne Boleyn and his 5th wife Catherine Howard,  Katherine was always obedient and gentle toward this man who became  morbidly obese in  his later life and was known for being erratic and moody.  

     The Reformation period was nearly as much about political intrigue as it was about the fight to reclaim Truth that had been shrouded for centuries in Papal darkness.     Henry, although nominally Catholic was also noted for his fickle changeability, favoring either Protestant or Catholic interests depending on which party furthered his own purposes best.     Even though Katherine had many enemies among  the Catholics in Henry’s court,  the King chose to look the other way while his Protestant Queen surrounded herself  with like minded noblewomen  also known as ladies-in-waiting .      Spending their days together praying and studying the Bible,    these women were privileged to have as their guests the Evangelical preachers Huge Latimer and Nicolus Ridley  who were to be  bound together and burnt at the stake under the  tyrannical  Queen Mary a decade later .   

  Undoubtedly, the company Katherine Parr kept combined with her tender  heart and godly character had a tremendous impact upon her 6 yr old stepson Prince Edward and his young cousin , the Lady Jane Grey.  

    Among her ladies-in-waiting was the spirited Anne Askew (also spelled Ayscough) the  daughter  of  Sir William Askew of Stallingborough, Lincolnshire  who had been  knighted earlier  in  King Henry’s reign .  Anne was born in 1521 to  Sir William and his 2nd wife Elizabeth at South Kelsey just 4 years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to The Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany thus starting the Protestant Reformation.     She was highly educated and while living in Lincoln, “was seen daily in the cathedral reading the Bible, and engaging the clergy in discussions on the meaning of particular texts,” (1)     Anne’s youngest brother Edward was the king’s cup-bearer during her time at Katherine’s court.   

      Some years earlier when Anne was 15 years old, she had been forced into an unwanted marriage  with Thomas Kyme, a wealthy landowner and Catholic who had been engaged to her sister Martha who had died.     The continuous friction between Anne and her husband over her Protestant beliefs caused him to seek council from the local priests who advised him to throw her  out hoping that  she would change her ways.    It was said   "that she was the devoutest woman he [Thomas] had ever known, for she began to pray always at midnight, and continued for some hours in that exercise." (2).    Little did they realize that Anne was so passionate  about her faith  that she petitioned, though unsuccessfully, for  a divorce   and sought solace in the company of her supporters and relatives at court.     Forced to leave her two children behind with her husband  Anne took back her maiden name and began handing out tracts and literature which soon became banned.    She also began giving public messages in London becoming well known as a  Gospeller”.  
     Meanwhile, in the political arena, adversaries of the Reformation such as Stephen Gardiner,  the Bishop of Winchester, Thomas Wriothesley,  and Edmund Bonner,  Bishop of London had taken notice of the fact that the influence of  Queen Katherine not only encouraged the Evangelicals to become increasingly bold, but  young Edward, the heir to the throne was being heavily influenced by her. Because King Henry was a personal  friend  of the Reformer, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer,  they were unable to make any headway with him in promoting their  “Old Religion”.     So their plan B was to strike circuitously at the throne:
“Not daring to strike at the throne directly they found an easier target: Anne Askew, bright, articulate and fearless, was a lady-in-waiting to the Queen. Had she not been diligently promoting the spread of evangelical literature amongst the London apprentice boys? She had even been heard to say  ‘I would sooner read five lines in the Bible than hear five masses in the church’.   Such words were heresy in Catholic eyes. Anne was seized, imprisoned and interrogated cruelly by Bonner” (3)

  When Anne was first arrested and interrogated in March of 1545  she refused bail and stayed in jail for 11 days writing details of these accounts, as she also did after her subsequent arrests.    She recorded the ridiculous questions her persecutors asked to entrap her such as,  
“If the host should fall, and a beast did eat it, whether the beast did receive God or no? I answered, 'Seeing that you have taken the pains to ask the question, I desire you also to assoil [pardon] it yourself: for I will not do it, because I perceive you come to tempt me.'” (4)
      Anne’s third and final arrest in May of 1546 resulted in imprisonment at Newgate prison where she was convicted of heresy on the grounds of denying the doctrine of transubstantiation and given the death penalty. 

   Because these interrogations were of a political nature Anne was taken to the Tower of London and placed on the Rack to be tortured   making her the only woman in recorded history to have suffered this torment.    Attempts to force her into implicating other women in the Queen’s court and denying her beliefs failed even though she fainted twice under the immense suffering.    Because of the prominence of her family she was given the opportunity to recant her beliefs, yet she refused and instead gave an eoquent confession stating:                             

    "But as concerning your mass, as it is now used in our days, I do say and believe it to be the most abominable idol that is in the world: for my God will not be eaten with teeth, neither yet dieth he again.  And upon these words that I base now spoken, will I suffer death."
  Despite such unspeakable treatment and impending martyrdom Anne prayed,
"Lord, I heartily desire of thee that thou wilt of thy most merciful goodness forgive them that violence which they do, and have done, unto me.  Open also thou their blind hearts, that they may hereafter do that thing in thy sight, which is only acceptable before thee, and to set forth thy verity aright,  without all vain fantasies of sinful men.  So be it, O Lord, so be it!” (4)
        On July 16, 1546,  Anne was unable to walk or stand due to the extreme injuries inflicted upon her by her tormentors,  and was carried in a chair to Smithfield just outside the London Wall.   She was then fastened to a stake, her body being held up by a chain, and burned alongside three fellow martyrs.   Anne Askew entered into the joy of her Master at the age of 26 and now waits with all those who throughout the ages have suffered alike.  
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls
of those who had been slain for the word of God
and for the witness they had borne.

10They cried out with a loud voice,
"O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge
and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?"

 11Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.”  
 Revelation 6:9-11

(1) ‘DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY”-  Vol II: Annesley-Baird: 1885; pages 190-192
(2)  Memorials of Baptist Martyrs, published in 1854 by the American Baptist Publication Society
(3) “Lady Jane Grey: 9 Day Queen of England” by Faith Cook;  Evangelical Press 2004  page 47
(4)  Foxe’s Book of Martyrs: published 1563

Additional resources:
Select works of John Bale, D.D.
Bishop of Ossory. containing the examinations of Lord Cobham, William Thorpe, and Anne Askew, and the Image of both churches edited for the Parker Society by Henry Christmas.               
Ainscough Surnames:   Wikipedia

Anne Askew:   Wikipedia

Quote at the top: “The lattre examinacyon of Anne Askewe, latelye martyred [burned at the stake  after torture] in Smythfelde, by the wycked  Synagoge of Antichrist, with the Elucydacyon of Johan Bale ([Wesel: D. van der Straten,] 1546):63-65.

MURAL: The Martydom of Anne Askew: by Violet Oakley (1874-1961)
Located at the Pennsylvania State Capitol

Photo: The Rack at the Tower of London
 About the Author:  Diane Bucknell -  Blogs here at Theology for Girls - See ABOUT for more information

Diane Bucknell  © 2011

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