ANNE ASKEW: THE EXTRAORDINARY LIFE OF A REFORMATION MARTYR

Tuesday, October 13, 2015
Anne Askew: The Extraordinary Life of a Reformation Martyr

“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.” 1 Anne Askew (1521 – July 16, 1546)

On October 31st many of us will celebrate Reformation Day. When I think about the modern church’s growing tolerance of divergent teachings, I wonder how many Christians today would be willing to die for the truths the Reformation martyrs died for. These heroes of the faith understood the necessity of drawing lines in the creedal sand and would rather die than acquiesce to the idolatrous teaching of transubstantiation.

J.C. Ryle wrote:
“The principal reason why they were burned, was because they refused one of the peculiar doctrines of the Romish Church. On that doctrine, in almost every case, hinged their life or death. If they admitted it — they might live; if they refused it — they must die! The doctrine in question was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper. 2
One such martyr was Anne Askew, a highly educated young English woman who was an anomaly amongst her peers. Critics viewed her as a truculent fanatic while supporters saw her as a courageous heroine.

HER FAMILY
Anne was born in 1521 to Sir William Askew of Lincolnshire and his wife Elizabeth Wrottesley four years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to The Castle Church door at Wittenberg, Germany. We don’t know when Anne was converted to the “New Religion”, but we know the early years of the Reformation knit together a tight band of advocates to which her family had ties.

Anne was forced into an unwanted marriage with Thomas Kyme, a wealthy landowner and Catholic who had been engaged to her deceased sister Martha. The constant friction over Anne’s Protestant beliefs lead Thomas to throw her out. “ One of the accusations against her was ‘that she was the devoutest woman he had ever known, for she began to pray always at midnight, and continued for some hours in that exercise.’ “3 Anne petitioned unsuccessfully for a divorce and had to leave her two young children behind.

Resuming her maiden name, Anne handed out tracts and literature and became known as a “Gospeller” for the public speeches she gave in London. She debated doctrine with the local priests and was “seen daily in the cathedral reading the Bible, and engaging the clergy in discussions on the meaning of particular texts,”4

ROYAL TROUBLE
Sir William had been knighted by King Henry VIII and Anne’s youngest brother Edward served as the King’s cup-bearer. The family connections at court presented the opportunity for Anne to become one of the ladies-in-waiting to the Evangelical Queen Katherine Parr, Henry’s sixth and last wife. While the King looked the other way, this close knit group of women , which included the young Lady Jane Grey, met regularly to pray, study the Scriptures, and to hear from the Evangelical preachers Huge Latimer and Nicholas Ridley who were later martyred.

The Reformation was as much about politics as it was about faith. The self indulgent nominally Catholic King was an equal opportunity tyrant and Catholics were just as likely to be executed for treason as were Protestants for heresy.

When the Queen’s enemies noticed her religious influence over others they plotted against her. Worried that the Protestants would gain power when Henry died Stephen Gardiner, Thomas Wriothesley, and Edmund Bonner struck circuitously at Katherine’s brightest lady, hoping she would implicate the Queen.

“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” 5

TRIED BY FIRE
Anne’s first arrest and interrogation took place in March of 1545 and she was jailed for 12 days. She wrote detailed accounts of this and her second “examination” in June of 1546 which were edited and published separately by Bishop John Bale and martyrologist John Foxe. Anne’s replies are spirited and articulate:
“As for that ye call your God, it is a piece of bread. For a more proof thereof… let it but lie in the box three months and it will be mouldy and so turn to nothing that is good. Whereupon I am persuaded that it cannot be God” 6

“Then the bishop’s chancellor rebuked me, and said I was much to blame for uttering Scripture. For St. Paul, he said, forbade women to speak or talk of the word of God. I answered him that I knew Paul’s meaning as well as he, which is, in I Cor. xiv, that a woman ought not to speak in the congregation by way of teaching: and then I asked him how many women he had seen go into the pulpit and preach? He said he never saw any. Then I said he ought to find no fault in poor women, except they had offended the law.”7
Anne was taken to the Tower of London and tortured on the Rack until her bones were pulled out of joint and she fainted. Her tenacious loyalty to her friends could not be broken even by such cruel attempts to get her to divulge names.

A final refusal to recant her beliefs landed Anne a conviction of heresy for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation and she was sentenced to death. Unable to stand, she was carried on a chair to Smithfield just outside the London Wall. She was fastened to the stake by a chain wrapped around her waist to hold her up and then burned alive alongside three fellow martyrs. These men were so greatly comforted by Anne’s “invincible constancy” and persuasions that “they did set apart all kind of fear.”8

HER LEGACY
Whatever one’s opinion about this extraordinary woman might be, her courage and determination to be true to Christ and the Scriptures in the midst of adversity cannot be argued. Anne has left behind a legacy of encouragement to live, and if necessary, to die for Christ with the utmost zeal.
“And thus the good Anne Askew, with these blessed martyrs, … having now ended the long course of her agonies, being compassed in with flames of fire, as a blessed sacrifice unto God, she slept in the Lord A.D. 1546, leaving behind her a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow.” 9

A Prayer of Anne Askew
“Lord, I heartily desire of thee, that thou wilt of thy most merciful goodness forgive them, that violence which they do, and hath done, to 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!
By me, Anne Askew “10
__________________________________ FOOTNOTES:
1. Select works of John Bale D.D. Bishop of Ossory: edited by Rev. Henry Christmas
2. Five English Martyrs by J.C. Ryle
3. Memorials of Baptist Martyrs; J. Newton Brown; 1854
4. The Dictionary of National Biography, Volume 2 By Sir Sidney Lee; Macmillan, 1885; pg. 190
5. Lady Jane Grey: 9 Day Queen of England by Faith Cook; Evangelical Press 2004 page 47
6. The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe: Rev. George Townsend; 1837-41
7. ibid.
8. ibid.
9..ibid.
10.ibid.

Additional Sources
Five Women of the English Reformation by Paul F. Zaul; Eerdmans Publishing; 2001
Women of the Reformation in France and England by Roland H. Bainton; Fortress Press; 2007
The Book of the Church by Southey, Esq. LL.D; 1823
Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey; Harper Collins Publishers; 2003;
Women of the Reformation: Anne Askew; Gospelling in the Fire by Diane Bucknell
Anne Askew: Wikipedia

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Posted by Diane Bucknell; BEYOND THE ORDINARY

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