16 July 1546 – The Burnings of Anne Askew, John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian

Jul16,2012 #Anne Askew

On the 16th July 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 Askew had been so badly racked during her imprisonment in the Tower of London that she had to be carried to the stake and was then “tied by the middle with a chain, that held up her body”. Martyrologist John Foxe records the burnings in his book “Actes and Monuments”:

“Hitherto we have entreated of this good woman: now it remaineth that we touch somewhat as touching her end and martyrdom. She being born of such stock and kindred that she might have lived in great wealth and prosperity, if she would rather have followed the world than Christ, but now she was so tormented, that she could neither live long in so great distress, neither yet by the adversaries be suffered to die in secret. 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 of the 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 Anne Askew in my article 18 June 1546 – Anne Askew Sentenced to Death.

More Burnings – The Newbury Martyrs

Also on this day in history, but in 1556, Julins Palmer, John Gwyn, and Thomas Robyns [some sources say Askew or Askin], were burned at the stake in the old sandpits in Enborne Road, Newbury. They had been found guilty of sedition and heresy in a trial at St Nicholas Church, Newbury, and condemned to death. John Foxe records their deaths too:

“They put off their raiment and went to the stake, and kissed it; and when they were bound to the post, Palmer said, ‘Good people, pray for us that we may persevere unto the end, and for Christ his sake beware of Popish teachers, for they deceive you.’ As he spake this, a servant of one of the Bailiffs threw a ****** at his face, that the blood gushed out in divers places. For the which fact the Sheriff broke his head, that the blood likewise ran about his ears. When, the fire was kindled and began to take hold of their bodies, they lift their hands towards heaven, and quietly and cheerfully, as though they felt no smart, they cried, ‘ Lord Jesu, strengthen us ; Lord Jesu, assist us; Lord Jesu, receive our souls.’ And so they continued, without any struggling, holding up their hands and knocking their hearts, and calling upon Jesu until they had ended their mortal lives.”

Notes and Sources

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12 thoughts on “16 July 1546 – The Burnings of Anne Askew, John Lascelles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian”
  1. It always gives me the creeps to think that these unspeakable things were done to human beings in the shadow of a church and Bart’s Hospital.. It was John Lascelles who had blown the whistle on Katherine Howard in 1541 when his sister Mary told him of the Queen’s former ‘lightness’ of behaviour at her step-grandmother’s house in

    1. I’m really wondering if that was a factor in John Lascelles death.Sort of a payback by Henry for blowing the whistle on Catherine Howard. So glad I didn’t live in those times.

  2. Events like this in history must never be forgotten. We should always remember the great courage and principles of people like Anne Askew, John Lascalles, John Adams and Nicholas Belenian. Every time I read about the persucutions under the Tudors I am always thankfully that I am lucky enough to live in a time and place where people can worship as they want without fear. God bless their memories.

    1. Totally agree. We are lucky to live in a time and place where people can worship as they want without fear (unless, of course, you live in certain parts of the Mid-East, for instance).

      I admire these people for their courage and conviction to their principles. I will say, however, that we should not mistake these people as being early crusaders for religious freedom. There is no doubt that people like Anne Askew and the others would have had no problem putting an atheist or Jewish person to the stake for “heresies”.

  3. That people could be burned alive in the name of G-d confuses me terribly; I know it was in a time when much was unknown and many believed in witchcraft and other myths but just the act of burning a person feels me with dread to think about it. I do not understand how any so-called faithful person could believe they had the right to do so horrible a thing in the name of G-d. Or believe it would stop others in their beliefs. But then even today there are people who hate because others do not belive as they do. We really have not changed all that much, have we?

    1. I was going to say just that. I wish we could say we live in a time where people are not tormented or murdered becuase of faith or differences in beliefs, but unfortunately such things still happen.

  4. That a King could believe he was killing all these people in the name of God and no one on his Privy Council could hold sway with him and convince him what he was doing was wrong. After all he was just a man himself, not God on Earth as he believed! I anguish so much over Anne Askew’s death, because she is the only woman who was ever racked and burned at the stake and was so broken from the rack that she had to be carried to her funeral pyre. And I cannot seem to find any mention of where she was buried. If anyone does know, please clue me in okay? I have 2 books on her and they do not tell her burial site.

    1. Smithfield – Anne Askew, and the men she was murdered with, lost their lives in Smithfield.

  5. How can Christ’s Religion of LOVE and FORGIVENESS bring about such atrocities? My very dear and sweet Brethren mother always preached the fear of G-d as well as the love. Praps we should remember that, although Christ’s Salvation supersedes the old Mosaic Law, it is still nevertheless based on the same kind of Contract, that of utter surrender and obedience or unimaginable punishment. Henry VIII was a G-d fearing Christian.

  6. Anne Askew really got the rough end of the stick as she was illegally racked for information on her friends at court, as Gardiner wanted the Queen and her ladies, all of whom were radical reformers. It was not usual to use torture in heresy cases, but this poor woman was racked without a royal warrant and when the warden protested, the Secretary took up the rack himself and well, you can see from the text, she was racked beyond the normal usages. Anne, although in agony, bravely refused to change her mind or to give any other people up. Many different ways of dealing with heresy as her beliefs were called, but persistent offenders were condemned to death under various statutes going back to Henry Iv. The Six Articles also listed six very Catholic doctrinal teachings, statements of belief, which refusal to accept meant condemnation of heresy. The real presence of the Sacrament as the Body of Christ was a central core belief backed up by the Six Articles, but this was one of the main things that Anne Askew denied. She had been arrested before and released with a warning, but obviously she could not deny what she believed and was public about her challenge to the King and the authorities. If the death that she knew she risked was not bad enough, the stake burn was a horrible, painful and slow death, which took a varied length depending on the heat, height of the fire and how quickly the victim suffocated; that she was racked first and in agony to begin with made the ordeal all the more terrible. The story is that a friend provided a pouch of gunpowder to explode and shorten her agony, but recent investigation showed that this did not always work. Anne Askew stands out because she endured so much, both as a Christian martyr, a brave woman and a heroic figure. The reasons why people accepted the need for a capital punishment for people who were regarded as heretics who did not repent or who recanted and then returned to their ways are naturally beyond understanding and unacceptable, but in this time, and for a couple of centuries, it had become acceptable all over Europe. How anyone could find justification in a belief meant to be based on love, repentance, sacrifice, forgiveness and justice is beyond a contradiction. It is impossible to fatham, but this belief had been around for quite some time before Henry Viii came to the throne, he did not invent it, but as these strange beliefs were now more prevalent in his reign, he of course increased the defence against them. Henry justified his attack on the need for unification and to stamp out religious discord. The other way to justify these terrible penalties was to say that the person had been given many chances to recant but refused and so condemned themselves, that they were excommunicated and that the fires were to cleanse them in the hope that they avoided the eternal fired of hell. Now I don’t believe this, but this was part of the rationale spouted at the time. A loving God does not want these things and they are not done in His Name, they are done by men who are human beings and who saw these alien beliefs as dangerous infections attacking the Catholic communities and the faithful. The Reformation intensified fears which were inbred into the psyche of Christian Europe for generations and meant it would not change for several more generations. The belief that you can redeem someone who was not in agreement with your official Church in fire was of course wrong, the sad thing is, Tudor England and Europe did not accept that. Some people did write about alternatives, most clergy only condemned reluctantly, but it was the practice to hand over stubborn offenders to the secular arm for punishment. Horrible punishments existed for a number of things, they saw heresy as a capital offense in the most extreme cases, it is totally contradictory to the teaching of Jesus and not in His Name, but magistrates found a way to justify these things.

  7. Just did a bit more reading on the Newbury martyrs, although the evidence on the website has to be taken as biased, but in another place it stated that among the other charges were murder and sedition. From the trial transcript it is clear that the only sedition charge is plotting to divide her Majestys subjects. The meaning is not evident but I assume that the magistrates mean being actively engaged with the community to convert people from the majority faith of Catholicism. The information about who was meant to have been murdered is none existent. Now that bearing witness and giving an example to other people about the faith so someone else is interested and converts sedition may seem harsh and ridiculous today, but bavk then it was important as it threatens unity and obedience. From the point of view of the Tudor Dynasty breathing in the wrong direction was seditious so acting or teaching the wrong things was practically revolutionary.

    The only thing I could not get any information about was who has been murdered and by whom or maybe this is invented. The information on the website is good but you have to be aware that this is not neutral, in fact neutral information is hard to come from, very good local information, but you have to look beyond for other information.

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