Anne Askew Condemned to Fire

Dan Graves, MSL

Anne Askew Condemned to Fire

Anne Askew looked around the room. She did not find a single sympathetic eye. There was no jury that she could hope to sway, no friendly witnesses. Did her heart quail? "Pray, pray, pray," she had urged friends. Now, although she had already been racked so cruelly that she could no longer walk, her accusers had a further penalty in store for her. On this day, June 18, 1546, they pronounced her sentence. She was to be taken to Smithfield and burned.

Anne's crime was to deny the doctrine of transubstantiation. She believed (as most Protestants do), that the Lord's Supper is not literally the body and blood of Christ, but rather a sacred symbol of it. "But as touching the holy and blessed supper of the Lord, I believe it to be a most necessary remembrance of his glorious sufferings and death. Moreover, I believe as much therein as my eternal and only Redeemer, Jesus Christ, would [that] I should believe. Finally, I believe all those scriptures to be true [which] he has confirmed with his precious blood." For this she had been arrested, interrogated, released and now jailed again.

When she was first brought before the Lord Mayor of London, he asked her, "You foolish woman, do you say that the priests cannot make the body of Christ?"

Always ready with a tart answer (as her own account shows) Anne replied, "I say so, my Lord; for I have read that God made man; but that man can make God, I never read, nor, I suppose, ever shall read." She persisted in this view despite torture, answering many of her opponent's arguments with quotations from scripture, which she knew well.

She also refused to name her accomplices. These included Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of King Henry VIII, a tenderhearted and tactful woman. Katherine got Anne off the first time, but Anne's persistence in her beliefs led to her rearrest and finally spelled death for her. (Katherine was fortunate enough to outlive Henry.)

Anne's life had been a hard one. Her father forced her to marry Thomas Kyme, to whom her dead sister had originally been promised. The marriage was unhapppy, in part because of religious disagreements. Kyme eventually threw his wife out of the home, although he acknowledged that she was the most devout woman he had ever known. Anne tried to get a divorce on the ground that they were "unequally yoked." She found a divorce as hard to obtain as the king had, but she did not have his clout to engineer national events to get her way.

In July that same year, Anne was carried to the stake in a chair. At her execution, so many spectators massed at the scene that the crowd had to be pushed back to make room for the fire. She refused a last minute pardon which required her to recant. Gunpowder was poured over her body and she perished in the flame. Because of her heroic stand and refusal to "snitch" on like-minded believers, she became a symbol of womanly valor and won wide support for the Protestant cause. John Foxe included her death in his book of martyrs. Some Baptist histories claim her among their forerunners.

Bibliography:

  1. Bainton, Roland H. Women of the Reformation in France and England. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.
  2. Bale, John. Select works of John Bale ... Containing the examinations of Lord Cobham, William Thorpe, and Anne Askewe, and The image of both churches. Edited for the Parker society, by the Rev. Henry Christmas ... Cambridge [England]: Printed at the University press, 1849.
  3. Deen, Edith. Great Women of the Christian Faith. New York: Harper, 1959.
  4. Foxe, John. Book of Martyrs. Various editions.
  5. Various encyclopedia and internet articles and Baptist histories.

Last updated May, 2007.

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