A couple of years ago, I wrote a post for Anne’s execution but focused on what the event meant for Katherine Parr and the reformists at court. For this anniversary date, I want to turn the focus onto Anne herself.
Anne Askew was the well-educated daughter of a wealthy Lincolnshire landowner with ties to court; she married Thomas Kyme when she was fifteen years old. (Anne’s father had originally arranged for Anne’s older sister Martha to marry Thomas, but Martha died…). The couple was terribly mismatched: Anne was a devout Protestant and Thomas was Catholic. Their fights intensified as Anne insisted on continuing to read her Bible to all who would listen no matter how many times Thomas tried to stop her. Finally, in 1545, Thomas threw her out of the house. But instead of capitulating, Anne moved to London where she continued to read her Bible to all – and began preaching.
Infuriated, Thomas had her arrested and brought back to Lincolnshire – but she escaped and ran back to London to continue preaching. She was incredibly well versed and devout, and attracted pretty important listeners (remember – her father had been a gentleman in Henry’s court in the 1530s, even sitting as a juror in the trial of the men with whom Anne Boleyn was accused) among the crowds she began to draw crowds. This got her arrested again in March 1546. They questioned her, but she knew her theology well enough to be able to give careful answers that got her released. She wrote about it afterwards – and we actually have her own account of the questions and her answers. We can read in her own words how when they asked her whether she believed that private Masses could help the souls of the departed, she argued that she found it “great idolatry to believe more in those Masses than in the death which Christ died for us.” Or how when they asked her point blank whether she believed in transubstantiation (the litmus test of the time), she responded by asking them why Saint Stephen was stoned to death (long story short – Saint Stephen had denounced the authorities who sat in judgment on him, but his actual quarrel had not been recorded…so what she was implying was that she was being questioned for her politics rather than her theology). And how she finally did admit that “I have read that God made man; but that man can make God, I have never yet read, nor I suppose I ever shall.” (If you want to read the full account, click here).
The episode came to the attention of Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, who was just then looking for a way to bring down the reformists. Gardiner had Anne arrested just a few months later, in May. This time the questioning (no, we don’t have a record of this one) had two purposes: first, to have her prove herself a “heretic,” but more importantly to have her name “like-minded people” – specifically, Katherine Parr. The first purpose was accomplished, the second was not – even though they racked her fiercely. When they realized she would never “name names” they convicted her of heresy and condemned her to be burned.
[I really don’t like Gardiner…]
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