|Before Anne Askew’s executioners could burn her at the stake, they
had to tie her to a chair. Askew had been so severely tortured, her
legs and arms so twisted upon the rack, that she could not stand.
In fact, Askew’s interrogators had been sufficiently cruel to warrant
that the Constable of the Tower of London, Sir Anthony Kinston—no stranger
to witnessing torture—left the chamber disgusted and outraged. He
hurried to the court of Henry VIII to beg for justice on her behalf.
It may seem odd that the English king would persecute protestants since he was himself protestant. Indeed, Henry broke with the Catholic Church and founded the Anglican faith, but he was quite unlike Martin Luther in his basis for his rift with Rome. Luther tacked his 95 thesis on his Wittenburg Church door because he had 95 points of theological disagreement with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Henry had precisely zero. Henry, once named by the Pope Leo X himself as "Fidei Defensor"[Defender of the Faith] (1521), looked only to resolve his Great Matter (1533), the difficulty of ridding himself of Catherine of Aragon, his wife of twenty-three years who had only bore him one pitiful daughter so that he could marry the more beautiful—or at least more exotic—Anne Boleyn.
Four wives later (Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, then Catherine Parr), Henry remained ardently Catholic in his convictions despite heading The Church of England. He would not consent to protestant nonsense, any more than he would endure Catholic monasteries. Anne Askew was a protestant nuisance, a reformer and a preacher. Henry was not about to allow protestant dissidents to voice their freethinking opinions.
But Kinston could not tolerate torture that was not legally applied. Ever since Henry VII had instituted The Star Chamber, the Tower had adhered to certain niceties of torture. One did not hang, draw, and quarter and disembowel men of noble birth. One did not rack a gentlewoman. These acts were saved for lesser folk.
Kinston’s appeal to Henry VIII, begging that Askew be tortured like a lady, gained mild success with the king. Henry offered justice: He would allow Askew to recant her radical protestant drivel and she could live.
The problem with Henry’s justice was that Anne Askew was not the
sort of woman to recant. She was not even the sort to take her husband’s
surname. She was who she was. She believed what she believed.
It was her bad luck that it was the sixteenth century in Tudor England.
Transubstantiation, she argued, was a fallacy. The wine in the
communion service did not change into the blood of Christ when blessed
by the priest. She had read in the scriptures that God made man but,
she dryly pointed out, she had not read that man could make God,
nor, did she suppose, would she ever read such a notion in the holy scriptures.
Trouble most likely would have come Anne Askew’s way with or without
Catherine Parr. She was not one to go along with the status quo just
because it was the path of least resistance.
An avid reader, Askew studied the scriptures, memorized entire passages, and attracted a following when she began to teach the radical protestant faith she felt compelled to follow. Unfortunately, her husband was not one of her devotees. He forbade not only her public preaching but all study of the scripture. Askew answered her husband’s demands by leaving his "protection" and journeying to London where she quickly gained a still wider following. She may have come in contact with the queen during this time, although if Askew did meet with Catherine Parr, their contact was kept secret, as indeed, were most illegal protestant meetings. They may have known each other prior to this time. At any rate, when Askew was arrested upon her first offense of public preaching, the Queen Catherine Parr was reputed to have sent food and warm clothes to Askew and then helped to arrange her release.
Askew was freed from The Tower of London and told to cease her teaching,
ordered to return to Kyme. Askew argued that her husband [who was
not a protestant] was an "unbeliever," and she asked instead for a divorce,
citing Corinthians 7:15, a biblical passage which states that Christians
need not stay "bound" or "yolked" to unbelievers, that God’s peace would
be granted to those who pursued devotion to God above a marriage tormented
with issues of faith.
Askew’s execution drew a great deal of attention. It was not that protestant executions were out of the norm so much as word of her likely fearlessness in the face of arrant cruelty drew an audience in anticipation of what promised to be a memorable event. They were not disappointed. The spectators repeatedly had to be pushed back from the flames for their own safety as Askew shouted out her faith even as her body went up in flames.
Naturally enough, eyewitness accounts were recorded and surreptitiously distributed. Drafts of these accounts were smuggled out of England to the continent, increasing Askew’s already considerable fame. One protestant reformer and publisher, John Bale, printed a version of Askew’s death although comparative drafts suggest that Bale edited, manipulated, and supplemented Askew’s actual words, which he called her "Examinations" into what he thought was a helpful attempt to make her a weaker, more docile, more acceptably feminine martyr than was her nature.
John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was less mild, more verifiably true to the actual event of Anne Askew’s death according to eyewitnesses. Foxe’s work, which chronicled the deaths of English Christians who died for their faith from the time of the Roman Empire to the reign of the Tudors, encouraged protestants during the English reformation and was so crucial to the propagation of the faith that in 1570, after protestantism was firmly established (Henry VIII died  and a more continental brand of protestantism established itself within the Church of England), the book was ordered by Parliament to be placed in all Anglican churches. The account of Askew served as a favorite passage. Her story inspired ballads even into the seventeenth century.
--researched by C. F. and written by A.Baylor