This article is also available as a PowerPoint presentation here.
Anne was born during the reign of King Henry VIII to an honoured knight, Sir William Askew.
Anne was described as attractive in form and faith, a beautiful and high-spirited young woman, well educated, with unusual gifts, and “very pious.” Her father arranged that she should be married to the son of a friend, Thomas Kyme, to whom her deceased sister had originally been promised.
Anne endeavoured to be a faithful wife, and bore her husband two children. However, despite an initially happy marriage, her husband, Kyme, threw her out of the home because of her Protestant Faith.
Anne had acquired a copy of the English Bible and had studied it enthusiastically. She abandoned her formal Catholic religion for the life-changing Protestant Faith in a personal Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Her enthusiastic witness drew the attention of the priests who warned her husband about her “sedition.” When challenged she confessed that she was no longer a Romanist, but “a daughter of the Reformation”. At this, her husband threw her out of the home. However, he acknowledged that he had never known a more devout woman than Anne.
In 1545, Anne was examined by church leaders concerning her beliefs. Her answers were full of wisdom and quotes from the Holy Scriptures, and she often out-manoeuvered the inquisitors pointing out the contradictions in their own position. This only served to enrage them more. Lord Bonner was determined to see her burned for heresy.
After failing to prove any heresy, he resorted to insinuating that she was immoral. Looking him full in the face, Anne answered calmly: “I would, my lord, that all men knew my conversation and living in all points; for I am so sure of myself this hour, that there is none able to prove any dishonesty in me. If you know any who can do it, I pray you bring them forth.” He could not find anyone who could question her morals, and so he had to have her released.
Thomas Wriothesley, the Lord Chancellor of England, was determined to crush the Reformation. He summoned her before the council and subjected her to an examination that lasted five hours. One of the council, Mr. Paget, challenged Anne: “How can you avoid the very words of Christ, take, eat, this is My Body which is broken for you?”
Anne answered: “Christ’s meaning in that passage is similar to the meaning of those other places of Scripture, ‘I am the door’, ‘I am the vine’. ‘Behold the Lamb of God.’ ‘That rock was Christ.’ And other such references to Himself. We are not in these texts to take Christ for the material thing which He is signified by, for then we will make Him a door, a vine, a lamb, a stone, quite contrary to the Holy Ghost’s meaning. All these indeed signify Christ, even as the bread signifies His body in that place.”
Anne was charged and imprisoned in Newgate Prison. Her enemies were determined to see her burn. On 28 June, she was taken to Guild Hall to be examined again by the council. She was taunted with being a heretic. She responded that she had done nothing for which the Law of God required her death.
When asked directly if she denied the doctrine of Transubstantiation, that the sacrament of the Eucharist was the actual body and blood of Christ, Anne responded: “God is a Spirit, not a wafer cake. He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth – John 4:24 – and not by the impious superstitious homage paid to a wafer converted, by popish jugglery, into a god.”
That very day, 28 June, the council condemned Anne Askew to be burned to death at the stake.
However, before that sentence was to be carried out, Lord Wriothesley ordered her to be stretched on the rack. As the levers were turned and the torture began, Anne remained silent. Wriothesley was so angered by his lack of success that he ordered the torture to be increased. Then the officer of the rack was so moved by the sight of this pious woman enduring such torture in silence, he refused to intensify the torture. Wriothesley himself grabbed the levers and mercilessly stretched her body until her joints were pulled asunder and her bones were broken. Yet, despite the intense sufferings, all the cruelties of her enemies failed to change the patient sweetness of Anne’s Christian demeanour.
When the day of her execution arrived, Anne was so crippled as a result of her tortures on the rack that she had to be carried in a chair to the stake. One who witnessed her death wrote: “She had an angel’s countenance and a smiling face.” She was offered one last chance at a pardon if she would renounce the doctrines of the Reformation and embrace Catholicism. This she boldly refused. “I believe all those Scriptures to be true which He hath confirmed with His most precious blood. Yea, and, as St. Paul sayeth, those Scriptures are sufficient for our learning and salvation that Christ hath left here with us; so that I believe we need no unwritten verities with which to rule His Church.”
All who witnessed her noble martyrdom were impressed and inspired by the courage of this beautiful woman who gladly gave her life for Christ of one as the truest and purest witnesses of the Gospel of the Christian Church.
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the Gospel of Christ…Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the Faith of the Gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of their perdition, but to you of salvation and that from God. For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”
Philippians 1:27 – 29
Dr. Peter Hammond
The Reformation Society
P.O. Box 74 Newlands 7725
Cape Town South Africa
Sources: Anne Askew: Brave Daughter of the English Reformation, Christian Family Publications, 1999
Heroes of the Faith, Gene Fedele, 2003