16 July 1546 – The Execution of Anne Askew, “a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow”

Emma Stansfield as Anne Askew in The Tudors
Emma Stansfield as Anne Askew in The Tudors

On this day in 1546 the Protestant martyrs Anne Askew, John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian were burned at the stake at Smithfield in London for heresy.

Anne had to be carried to the stake in a chair and “was tied by the middle with a chain, that held up her body” because hse had been racked “till her bones and joints were almost plucked asunder”.

The famous martyrologist, John Foxe, recorded the burning of Anne Askew and the men in his book Actes and Monuments, also known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. Here is what he says of Anne’s death:

“Wherefore the day of her execution was appointed, and she brought into Smithfield in a chair, because she could not go on her feet, by means of her great torments. When she was brought unto the stake she was tied by the middle with a chain that held up her body. When all things were thus prepared to the fire, Dr Shaxton, who was then appointed to preach, began his sermon. Anne Askew, hearing and answering again unto him, where he said well, confirmed the same; where he said amiss, “There,” said she, “he misseth, and speaketh without the book.”

The sermon being finished, the martyrs standing there tied at three several stakes ready to their martyrdom, began their prayers. The multitude and concourse of people was exceeding; the place where they stood being railed about to keep out the press. Upon the bench under St Bartholomew’s Church sat Wriothesley, chancellor of England; the old Duke of Norfolk, the old earl of Bedford, the lord mayor, with divers others. Before the fire should be set unto them, one of the bench, hearing that they had gunpowder about them, and being alarmed lest the ******s, by strength of the gunpowder, would come flying about their ears, began to be afraid: but the earl of Bedford, declaring unto him how the gunpowder was not laid under the ******s, but only about their bodies, to rid them out of their pain; which having vent, there was no danger to them of the ******s, so diminished that fear.

Then Wriothesley, lord chancellor, sent to Anne Askew letters offering to her the King’s pardon if she would recant; who. refusing once to look upon them, made this answer again, that she came not thither to deny her Lord and Master. Then were the letters like-wise offered unto the others, who, in like manner, following the constancy of the woman, denied not only to receive them, but also to look upon them. Whereupon the lord mayor, commanding fire to be put unto them, cried with a loud voice, “Fiat justicia.”

And thus the good Anne Askew, with these blessed martyrs being troubled so many manner of ways, and having passed through so many torments, 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.”

You can read more about why Anne was executed in my article Anne Askew Sentenced to Death.

Trivia: John Lascelles was the man who told Archbishop Cranmer of Catherine Howard’s colourful past in autumn 1541. His sister Mary had been brought up with Catherine in the Dowager Duchess of Norfolk’s household and knew about Catherine’s relationships with Henry Manox and Francis Dereham.

John Foxe’s Actes and Monuments includes Anne Askew’s full story, including the examinations of her in 1545 and 1546, her confession of faith, her condemnation, her letter to Wriothesley, an account of her torture and her death. The book can be read online for free at the Google ebookstore – see http://books.google.com/ebooks?id=axUXAAAAIAAJ and read pages 537-551.

Anne Askew, John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian were not the only people to be burned for heresy on this day in history. On 16th July 1556, Julins Palmer, John Gwyn, and Thomas Robyns (some sources say Askew or Askin) were burned in the old sandpits in Enborne Road, Newbury, after they were found guilty of sedition and heresy. They are known as the Newbury Martyrs.

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2 thoughts on “16 July 1546 – The Execution of Anne Askew, “a singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow””
  1. Interesting tidbit about John Lascelles being part of Kathryn Howard’s downfall. Since one of the people responsible for Lascelles’ downfall was none other than the “old Duke of Norfolk” I wonder if his martyrdom could be revenge for the loss of Howard prestige with Kathryn’s downfall? I seem to recall that Norfolk very narrowly escaped royal wrath after yet ANOTHER niece of his “failed” Henry – since Henry was involved with Mary and Anne Boleyn, as well as Kathryn Howard.

  2. I don’t quite know what to make of the execution of Anne Askew, she sometimes seems to me a scapegoat, left to burn when those in power in the palace who were meant to be her fiends, the Earl and Countess of Hereford: Anne and Edward Seymour almost gave her up to protect their own interests. They were powerful enough to have interceded for her and saved her life or had the charges dismissed with some effort but they did nothing to protect her. Anne was tortoured, although it was against the law to rack a woman, the description above about her being unable to stand shows that she was not spared any of the pain and terror of this terrible instrument of inquisition. Anne Askew may have been a lapsed heretic but she was also a very hardy and courageous woman. She did not deserve to die in this horrible manner. The authorities seem to have made her a target and she did not stand a chance. There is a story that Anne Seymour did give money to help her in the Tower and showed her sisterly Christian charity, and may have provided the gunpowder placed around her neck as an act of mercy to speed her terrible ordeal. But surely the Earl could have done something to save her?

    Was Stephen Gardiner the man who would have been in charge of her questioning and arrest and the man who would oversee many of the arrests in this period as cruel a zealot as he is shown in the Tudors? Well he certainly went after the Queen and her circle of friends with passion and zeal, but fortunately none of them were convicted, but they were arrested and harshly questioned. I believe that he attacked Anne Askwe out of revenge and I do think he had a nasty streak. Poor Anne, she was victimized and she was brutally racked and still she shone with the love of Christ, as the holy ones of old.

    The scene in the Tudors was very realistic; and I really do hope that the gunpowder did its job to cease her suffering. It is debated as to how effective this was, but it was believed to work and was meant to be tried and tested. I really cannot understand the mentality of people who made other people suffer all for the faith that was different to their own. Thankfully today we believe as Christ taught that we are all brothers and sisters in the one faith.

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