On this day in history, 18th June 1546, the Protestant martyr and poet, Anne Askew, was found guilty of heresy and condemned to be burned at the stake at Smithfield.

The Burning of Anne Askew

Anne Askew’s Background

Anne Askew was born in 1520 (some say 1521) in Lincolnshire. She was a noblewoman, being the daughter of Sir William Askew, and was well-educated. Karen Lindsey, author of “Divorced, Beheaded, Survived : A Feminist Reinterpretation of the Wives of Henry VIII”, writes of how Anne was affected by the Protestant ideas that her brothers, who were students at Cambridge, would talk about when they came home to visit, but that the Askew family were conservatives and Anne’s father opposed the rebels during the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537. It was the Pilgrimage of Grace that Lindsey gives as a reason for Anne turning her back on the old religion, because Anne saw the rebels attack her home and seize her brothers.

At around this time, Anne was forced to marry Thomas Kyme. Kyme had originally been betrothed to Anne’s older sister Martha but when she died Anne was offered as a replacement. It was not a happy union. Kyme was traditional in his religious views and Anne, by this time, had strong Protestant views. Lindsey believes that Anne probably survived the early days of her marriage by spending her time with her sister Jane, who was married to a Protestant, George Saint Paul. Saint Paul was friends with Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, and his wife Catherine (née Willoughby) who was a supporter of religious reform. From 1538-1543 the law allowed normal parishioners access to the English Bible in churches and those of Protestant leanings took the opportunity to conduct Bible readings and share their evangelical views, Anne was one of those people.

The Fair Gospeler

Henry VIII did an about turn in 1543 and passed an act which prevented all women (and men below the rank of gentlemen) from reading the Bible. However, this did not prevent people like Anne from sharing their views and preaching because they had memorised scripture. In fact, this law made Anne even more determined to share her Bible knowledge with those who were deprived from reading the Bible themselves. Kyme, a traditional conservative, could not and would not cope with his outspoken wife, a woman who even refused to take his name, so, as advised by his local priests, he kicked her out of the family home. Anne simply moved in with her brother Francis and petitioned for divorce. Her petition was denied by her local court so Anne headed to London where she was convinced that she would get her divorce. As Lindsey writes:-

“Like the king’s new wife [Catherine Parr], Anne revered Henry for freeing his people from the evil of popery. She was certain the king, who had himself disposed of several unworthy spouses, would allow a godly woman to be free of her unbelieving husband.”

While in London, Anne met up with an old friend and neighbour, John Lascelles*, a man of Protestant persuasion, and it was he who introduced her to people like Hugh Latimer (Bishop of Worcester), Nicholas Shaxton (Bishop of Salisbury) and Dr Edward Crome. These men were not only high profile Protestants, they were also connected to Henry’s new queen, Catherine Parr. Anne flourished with the support of such friends and the climate of reform in London and “quickly, exuberantly, she became one of London’s most famous and beloved gospelers, her beauty and high rank marking her as the Fair Gospeler. She had found her home, and soon all London had heard about the lovely young gentlewoman who talked equally with servants and masters, who had such thorough knowledge of God’s word, who spoke with such intense conviction.”

Unfortunately, although some of London was open to reform and fell in love with this passionate woman, Anne was making enemies. Bishop Stephen Gardiner, a Catholic Conservative, was looking to discredit the new queen, Catherine Parr, and deal with Protestant climate that seemed to surround her. Anne Askew was not only an outspoken heretic stirring up the people of London, she was also linked to Catherine Brandon, the Duchess of Suffolk, who was a good friend of the Queen. Perhaps Anne could be used to bring down the Queen.

Anne Askew Arrested

In June 1545, Anne Askew, and a few other Protestant sympathisers, were rounded up and arrested for heresy but later released due to lack of evidence and witnesses. A few months later, in early 1546, Anne’s petition for divorce was dismissed and the court ordered her to return to Kyme, something which Anne refused to do. Lindsey writes of how Anne’s refusal to return to her husband was just the “weapon” that Gardiner needed. Although she had been arrested again in March 1546 and again released, Gardiner summoned her to London to order her to return to her husband and used this opportunity to question Anne on her religious beliefs. Lindsey writes:-

“Anne no longer attempted to evade admitting her own beliefs. She treated transubstantiation as a joke. Of course Jesus has said he was the bread of the Eucharist. He had also said he was the door to salvation — did that mean he was present in any door a priest chose to bless? She was courting martyrdom and on June 18 she was condemned to die at the stake.”

Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, by Hans Holbein the Younger

The Rack

As well as being known for her gospel preaching and death at the stake, Anne Askew is also famed for being the only recorded woman to have been tortured at the Tower of London.

After being condemned to death, Anne Askew was taken to the Tower of London where she was subjected to torture on the rack at the hands of Gardiner’s right-hand men, Sir Richard Rich and Sir Thomas Wriothesley. Even though she had already been condemned to death, she was racked because Gardiner was determined to link Anne to the Queen’s friends, women like Catherine Brandon (Duchess of Suffolk), Anne Calthorpe (Countess of Sussex) and Anne Stanhope (Lady Hertford), and Anne was refusing to name names during interrogations.

As Anne had already been condemned and she was a gentlewoman, the Lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Anthony Kingston, refused to continue racking Anne after the first turn. He left the Tower in search of Henry VIII to inform him of this illegal and appalling torture and to seek a pardon for letting it happen. This did not stop Rich and Wriothesley, they simply racked the poor woman themselves until they were stopped by Kingston, who informed that the King had ordered that Anne should be taken off the rack and returned to her prison cell.

The Burning of Anne Askew

On the 16th July 1546, Anne Askew, John Lascelles and two other Protestants were burned at the stake at Smithfield. Anne had to be carried to the stake on a chair because of her injuries from racking and the stake had a seat to support her body. Lindsey writes:-

“As the ******s were piled high about them, Wriothesly made his way through the throng to offer the four a pardon if they recanted. Anne spoke for them all, crying aloud that she ” came not hither to deny my Lord and Master!” The torch was lit and the four died quickly thanks to gunpowder a friend had thrown into the flames. A fortuitous thunderstorm, breaking out suddenly, added to the legend that grew to surround the death of the Fair Gospeler: the thunder, the 18th century ecclesiastical historian John Strype tells us “seemed to the people to be the voice of God, or the voice of an angel”.”

There is no doubt that Anne Askew was a martyr and an incredible woman. She was just 25 years old when she died but what an amazing life she had led. In an age where women were supposed to be submissive, and have no voice or opinions of their own, she was an outspoken preacher and died for her faith, remaining true to her friends and beliefs, whatever the cost. I admire her.

You can see clips from Season 4 of “The Tudors” of Anne being arrested, tortured and burned in the following YouTube video. SPOILER ALERT – don’t watch it unless you don’t mind getting a sneak peak of Season 4!

What a woman!

Notes and Sources

* John Lascelles – The same John Lascelles who was told, by his sister Mary, of Catherine Howard’s past relationship with Francis Dereham.

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41 thoughts on “Anne Askew Sentenced to Death”
  1. Is this John Lascelles that was condemned to death and burned as a heretic the same John Lascelles who put the events in motion with his sister Mary to bring down Catherine Howard?

      1. I find it amazing how many nasty people received some sort of payback for the suffering they inflicted on others during Henry’s time. Look at how much damage Cromwell did to people like More and Fisher. Look at what John Dudley did in Edward’s reign. These people seemed to ride high in the favor of the king for a time, only to fall from grace, most of which were executed for some infraction. These are just a select few examples.

        Sometimes I believe that it was the karma credit payback plan, what goes around comes around.

  2. One other question that I have regarding the Tudors. Was Hugh Latimer related to Catherine Parr’s (formerly Lady Latimer) second husband in some way? I remember on the Tudors Catherine appointed him as her chaplain despite the fact that Gardiner was trying to bring about his downfall.

    1. Hi Claire, I noticed that you have Anne Calthorpe listed as the Countess of Suffolk. Should be Sussex 🙂 Thanks for all of your valuable synthesis on these important historical events.

  3. Hi Mary Ann,
    Although Catherine Parr was Lady Latimer, her husband’s name was actually John Neville (3rd Baron Latimer/Latymer) and he was from Snape Castle, Yorkshire, whereas Hugh Latimer’s family name was Latimer and his family originated in Leicestershire. I hope that helps.

  4. Poor Anne- to think that those men tortured her when it was illegal to torture a woman! Thank goodness that someone threw gunpowder onto the flames- what a horrible way to die!

  5. This was fascinating! I didn’t know much at all about Anne Askew and now want to explore her more fully. Thanks! It’s amazing to me how the connections at Court were so interwoven.

  6. My mother used to say that if the nazis has conquered England she would have put her head in the gas oven. Thinking back on that statement I don’t think she would have done so, – she would just have got on with life as it would turn out but the Brits. living in Britain did not suffer being taken over by such a bunch so it is difficult to make judgements.

    Being a complete and utter coward, I find Anne Askew very difficult to comprehend. Yes I can understand her leaving her husband an d trying to file for divorce – That was an innovation in its day in any case. I can also understand a youn woman’s obsession with a faith. What I cannot get to grips with is how much she was prepared to suffer for this – Just a threat would have had me running to the hills!

  7. On the scaffold George Boleyn was reported to say that he was one who had done the most to bring the word of God to the people. Yet by 1543 Henry was restricting the word of God to the masses. I would imagine, if you listened hard enough, you could almost hear Anne and George spinning in their graves.
    By the way Claire, this was a great article. I really didn’t know that much about Anne Askew. And thanks for posting it just before lunch. You’re doing my diet the world of good!
    And Jenny, “Just a threat would have me running to the hills!”. You and me both!

  8. Henry kept changing from favoring a more Catholic belief system to a moe reformist one. This kind of flip flopping must have been terrible for the citizens of England. One day you can read the Bible in English and the next day only a privileged few can. Just my opinion, but I think that once people began to read the Bible in English, there really was no turning back. It seems only natural to me that people would start to develop their own opinions and realize the clergy did not have a monopoly of religious interpretation. I think Anne Askew was ahead of her time and did not fully comprehend the nature of Henry ‘s religious viewpoints and how changeable they were.

  9. Hi LizAnneJane

    I agree with you entirely. Until normal people could read the Bible in English, it was in Lation and therefore only aviolable for a small minority of people. One of the comlaints about the legal system in the middle ages was if a person had just one phrase in lation, that person could be tried by teh ecclestiacl courts instead of the civil ones.
    Eramus, and later Luther and Co, did change circumstances for people throughout Europe and protestantism seemed to appeal to females more than males although that still didn’t give females anymore freedom – Perhaps it was a way for an intelligent woman to get something out of life.

    Henry was highly educated in religion and played his cards according to his moods – You are right in teh sense that Anne Askew coulld not have even envisaged his whims and rages. Okay Henry stopped the torture then sent the poor woman to the fire. But I am sure he was aware that the torture went on .

  10. Hi Jenny, Thanks for your input, especially about the legal system. I didn’t know that even knowing a bit of Latin could get you tried by the church. I consider myself a spiritual person but I don’t belong to any church, mostly because of the dogma that goes along with it. I can’t really understand dying for an interpretation of what is in the Bible, but if I had to give out names of others – well, I do have to admire Anne for protecting her friends. I doubt I would have such courage.

  11. At the point that she was being pressed for the names of others (her friends), she was already condemned to death. There would be nothing gained by condemning your friends to death with you. She had also refused a pardon for recanting, so I couldn’t imagine her taking a pardon by sending her friends to death, instead. She was an admirable woman.

  12. I didn’t know anything about Anne Askew and I am glad that because of this article I now know who she was.. A really brave woman.
    Burning at the stake was awful! Anne Boleyn was at least put to death in a “easier” way.

  13. she really was an amazing woman. she died for her faith and did not recant, which is admirable! I know I’d never be able to die in the flames if I had the possibility to recant, so that makes me admire her even more.


  15. Hi Joan,

    if the ex queen mother of britain lived to nearly 102 years, you are still a “babe in arms”. And I agree that reading is such a pleasure and am also so glad you have jined the website as a lot of people younger than myself (I am nearly 59) can’t cope with computers and I have to say I am not that good with them either.

    May yo have many miore years in front of you.

    Jenny with much love

    1. Joan and Jenny:
      I am getting to be in the ‘golden girl’ stage myself! My love of history, and the Tudor dynasty in particular, has been a life-long obsession.

      Glad to read your comments!

  16. Wow!!!! I can’t wait for season 4. I don’t think Anne Askew is well known at all which is a shame. I too am wanting to get to know her better.
    Jenny: You say that you cannot understand why she went through so much pain for her belief. I also agree, but I also think how much would I go through for friends and family or something similar back then and I would go through the exact same thing (or hope anyway :)).
    Times were always changing with Henry, and I actually feel sorry for those that were close to him like brandon always having to keep up to keep him happy.
    A little note that I would like to add, which has nothing to do with Anne Askew; Does anyone else agree with me that after Elizabeth’s reign Ann Boleyn had the BIGGEST grin on her face and said “Told you so” to Henry???? I can just picture her doing that…… ;p

  17. hi jenny again, i have a new email address, hope all goes well and i love all the great things you write about, have a great week.. best wishes joan e charles..xx

  18. I loved reading about Anne Askew, its a shame that Protestants these days don’t have saints like catholics as I feel sure she would be one. She is one in my eyes. I do go to henry viii’s church of england which is now protestant and on the days i don’t feel like going to church i should think of all she endured and go, she endured much for us protestants which if you look at the name says protest-(ants). They clearly were protesting in the 16th century wern’t they? Makes you thinkx

    1. Just a quick note that all Christians have saints as all Christians are saints. Saint means a person who is a member of the Church. It is just that some I suppose are more saintly than others and cults have grown up around certain very holy people. Then canon law allows for some to be declared as Saints in a different way and allows them to intercede or others to pray through them. If you think of Anne as a saint then I see no harm in treating her in the same way.

      Peace in Christ

  19. I too belong to the episcopal church. Look in the book of prayers (by Cranmer), and you will find a list of saint’s day. Hugh Latimer and Cranmer days are in there. I cannot remember seeing Anne Askew. I am sure she is in Fox’s book of martyrs.

  20. Although I detest Protestant Fundamentalism and lean very much in favour of the Pilgrimage of grace and the old ways I always admired Anne for sticking to her beliefs and being so strong, her treatment was horrific, I was raised Protestant born again and read Foxe’s book of martyrs in my early teens, I only later found out that attrocities were committed on both sides of the reformation, the tragedy is that humans do not learn from the past and religion is still so tied up with politics and cruelty and torture in the name of religion still goes on. Regarding faith now I am a sort of Pagan I guess. I have gained from my strict Evangelical up bringing a very strong belief system and will never back down on what I hold to be the truth, being raised that one should be like Jesus and prepared to die for one’s faith has made me very strong willed, I have a strong sense of justice and yes I’d go to torture and death to fight for what I believe is right. I relate to the martyrs on both sides of the reformation regarding this.

  21. Anne Askewe was obviously a woman who knew her own mind, of deep and devout convictions and spunky. I have a lot of sympathy for this lady as she was illegally racked, although to what extent Rich and co acted on their own and to what extent the King used an order, I do not think history can reveal. I do not accept that the council members racked her by themselves and the source for that accusation is not contemporary.

    Anne had many connections and the only reason she would have been racked; especially as she had already been convicted of heretical teachings was to reveal the people who helped and protected her. I believe that Gardiner and his cronies were after the Queen, a known reformer with a big mouth. By that I mean she made her views known and debated with the king, even doing so in front of others and upsetting him enough one night so much that he became upset and authorised her investigation and arrest for heresy and treason. These counsillors were aiming at the Queen: Katherine Parr and wanted to know who else in the Queen’s service had heretical beliefs. (I use the word heretical to mean that she chose to follow a set of beliefs other than those followed by the authorities of her day: the word means to choose).

    It is very clear that Anne refused to say anything other than what she believed and they became frustrated and angry and ordered her to be racked much more harshly according to the accounts. One person did not agree with this and went to the KIng to get him to stop the torture. Henry was outraged and stopped the racking, but some authors think that he was actually annoyed by the whole thing and the racking may have been his idea. We may never know for sure, but by then poor Anne had been racked beyond her physical strength and when she was executed they had to tie her to a chair as she was unable to stand or walk as a result of the torture.

    The authorities seem to have targeted certain people for heresy rather than them being brought to their attention as with Anne she was known to them. She preached in public and she had been convicted three times before this and imprisioned. She was a determined reformer and she was not going to allow the government to tell her what to do. In the Tudors she was taken while in the pulpit and this was to show that she was a lady who had the confidence to announce her beliefs in public. Women were not licensed to preach and lay preachers still need a license, but Anne obviously did not care about any of this. It is also clear that her connections did her no good, as these noble ladies were not riding to her rescue. Of course the fact that Lady Herbet and others were questioned meant that they had to protect themselves and the Queen. No evidence was found and the Queen was warned of the warrant for her arrest.

    Katherine Parr was wise enough to appear before the KIng and tell him that she only meant to learn from him, that her opinions did not matter as she was a woman, and that she submitted to him as her husband and head. Whatever her private beliefs, from now on until Henry was dead they would remain private. It was not so for poor brave Anne Askewe.

    A determined woman, she had left her family and made her way in the world, made friends at court and in the great families and she had not given in. She did not betray anyone who helped her and for that she received one last mercy. A friend gave money for gun-powder to be tied around her neck to quicken her end when she was burnt at Smithfield in June 1546. She was lucky, the gunpowder worked; it often made things worse. But Anne was remembered and her story, mostly in her own words, or as if they are in her own words came down to us through history. She was the only woman to be racked in England as it was illegal here. That shows how dangerous the authorites believed that she was and that they could bring down the circle of powerful reforming families around the Queen.

    I also wonder if they also had something against her as she preached when she should not have. Women were meant to be silent and ask their husband’s to explain the Bible to them. She was having none of that nonsense: even though Saint Paul had said it. Whatever the reason for vigour in the prosecution of this brave lady: it only added to the holy blood that for centuries has been the seed of the Christian Church.

  22. I was interested to read about gun-powder being used. This fits in with what I have read before somewhere else, though I had the impression that it was the executioner’s own idea to use gun powder.

    However, I was surprised to read in a Wikipaedia article that Anne died quite slowly. Of course I realise that Wikipaedia information is not always correct.

  23. It really skeeves me out to contemplate the concept of burning at the stake. As a child, the story of Joan of Arc made me sick at the stomach, literally, in catechism class. For Anne Askew to court the rack and the stake, knowing them to be the end game, seems unthinkable.

    The practice of killing for the sake of God is enough to make me repeat the catechism class emesis – and yet, it continues to this day. WTF is wrong with humans?

  24. The conversation about how translating the Bible from the Latin Vulgate to the English vernacular of the day is interesting. An interesting question would be what was the literacy percentage of England at that time and how many people could afford to buy their own Bible for study?

  25. I heard about Anne Askew through reading Jean Plaidys The Sixth Wife, and in this story about Catherine Parr Anne was a friend of hers, I remember thinking how courageous she was to choose to die for her faith, and really how foolish too but then I’m a modern woman , to be burnt alive is surely the most awful death of all although they were less tolerant in those days I still find it hard to believe that that’s what happened in the Sixteenth century, I can’t see how anyone could have watched the spectacle either, the stench of the bodies must have been overwhelming, the smoke and the awful screams, I like to think the smoke killed them first and knocked them unconscious before the flames got them, at least Anne and her friends were lucky to have the gunpowder, but how dreadful to do that to people just because they believed differently.

  26. Ann was an incredible woman well ahead of her time,and I am both proud and humble to have discovered that she was my great x10 grandmother.

  27. This is the first time, in decades, I found anything this promising in regard to my search for a book I read as an older child/young teenager. So, I will ask here, since, I believe the book was about this same woman, if anyone knows of a book called Heretic or The Heretic which is about an English noblewoman who was racked, repeatedly, for teaching the Bible to peasants, and, who was thrown out by her husband, who kept her children, for same?

    Before the book properly gets into her story, it explains some of the history of what was being done by various English kings and laws, the Catholics, etc. in regard to different translations for different walks of life, laws that contradicted each other for the poor, and, the many translations that were made with a view to altering the Bible to suit various policies, which led up to King James calling for a reformation.

    That’s why I want the book. To show that information to my children. Well, that, and, because, it really is an inspiring tale.

  28. Wow! I had to look up Anne Askew again because I’d read some info so many years ago about her that I wasn’t able to remember it correctly. This is far more than I’d read before!

    Was looking up the info because I got to talking to someone else who married into the Askew family about it. From genealogy on my family that’s been done I am distantly linked to Anne by blood. I loved her when I first heard about her from family who had done genealogy and now I love her even more!

  29. I am sorry to say that Richard Rich is a great great grandfather of mine. I upset to know I am related to such an awful man. Anne Askew was a terribly brave woman.

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