Emma Stansfield as Anne Askew in The Tudors. Courtesy The Anne of Boleyn Files.

Anne Askew (1520[1] - 16 July 1546) was an English poet, and a Protestant who was condemned as a heretic. She is the only woman on record to have been both tortured in the Tower of London and burnt at the stake.



Askew was the 2nd daughter of Sir William Askew, or Ayscough, knight, who is generally stated to be of Kelsey in Lincolnshire. But according to family and local tradition she was born at Stallingborough, near Grimsby, where the site of her father's house is still pointed out. The Askews were an old Lincolnshire family, and the consciousness of this fact may have had something to do with the formation of Anne's character.[2]

She was highly educated and much devoted to biblical study. When she stayed at Lincoln she was seen daily in the cathedral reading the Bible, and engaging the clergy in discussions on the meaning of particular texts. According to her own account she was superior to them all in argument, and those who wished to answer her commonly retired without a word.[2]

At a time when she was probably still a girl a marriage was arranged by her parents for her elder sister, who was to be the wife of Thomas Kyme of Kelsey. It was a feudal bargain, which were of constant occurrence in the domestic life of those days. But the intended bride died before it was fulfilled, and her father, "to save the money," as we are expressly told, caused Anne to supply her place against her own will.[2]

She accordingly married Kyme, and had 2 children by him.[2] Unfortunately Kyme was a Catholic and he refused to accept his wife's beliefs.[3] For her having, it is said, offended the priests, her husband put her out of his house, on which she, for her part, was glad to leave him, and was supposed to have sought a divorce. Whether it was with this view that she came to London is not clear.[2]

First arrestEdit

In March 1545 she underwent some examinations for heresy of which she herself has left us an account, initially at Sadler's Hall by Christopher Dare, then before the lord mayor of London who committed her to the Counter, and afterwards before Bishop Bonner and a number of other divines. It is unfortunate that we have no other record of these proceeding than her own, which though honest was undoubtedly biased, and is not likely to have been improved in the direction of impartiality by having been edited by John Bale, afterwards bishop of Ossory, during his exile in Germany.[2]

The subject on which she lay under suspicion of heresy was the sacrament. The severe Act of the Six Articles, passed some years before, had produced such a crop of ecclesiastical prosecutions that parliament had been already obliged to restrict its operation by another statute, and Henry VIII himself at the end of this very year thought it well to deliver an exhortation to parliament on the subject of christian charity. In such a state of matters Askew had little chance of mercy.[2]

It is, however, tolerably clear, notwithstanding the gloss which Bale, and Fox after him, endeavored to put upon it, that a man who sincerely tried to befriend her was the much-abused Bishop Bonner. He did his utmost to conquer her distrust and get her to talk with him familiarly, promising that no advantage should be taken of unwary words; and he actually succeeded in extracting from her a perfectly orthodox confession (according to the standard then acknowledged), with which he sought to protect her from further molestation. But when it was read over to her and she was asked to sign, although she had acknowledged every word of it before, instead of her simple signature she added, 'I, Ann Askew, do believe all manner of things contained in the faith of the Catholic Church, and not otherwise.'[2]

The bishop was quite disconcerted. In Anne's own words, 'he flung into his chamber in a great fury.' He had told her that she might thank others and not herself, for the favor he had shown her, as she was so well connected. Now she seemed anxious to undo all his efforts on her behalf. Dr. Weston, however (afterward Queen Mary's dean of Westminster), contrived at this point to save her from her own indiscretion,[2] representing to the bishop that she had not taken sufficient notice of the reference actually made to the church in the written form of the confession, and thought she was supplying an omission. The bishop was accordingly persuaded to come out again, and after some further explanations Anne was at length liberated upon sureties for her forthcoming whenever she should be further called in question.[4]

She had still to appear before the lord mayor, and did so on 13 June following, when she and 2 other persons, one being of her own sex, were arraigned under the act as sacramentaries ; but no witnesses appeared against her or either of the others, except one against the man, and they were all 3 acquitted and set at liberty.[4]

Second arrestEdit

The accusers of Anne had for the time been put to silence, but unfortunately within a year new grounds of complaint were urged.[4] In February 1546 conservatives in the Church of England, led by Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, began plotting to destroy the radical Protestants. They gained the support of Henry VIII. In May 1546 Henry gave permission for 23 people suspected of heresy, including Askew, to be arrested.[5]

On 18 June 1546 Askew was arraigned for heresy at the Guildhall along with Dr. Shaxton and 2 others, all of whom confessed the indictment, and were sentenced to the fire. Dr. Shaxton and another recanted next day, and it was either that day or a few days later that Anne Askew was racked in the Tower.[4]

Askew was examined a 2nd time before the council at Greenwich. Her opinions meanwhile seem to have been growing more decidedly heretical, and her old assurance in the face of learned disputants was stronger than ever. She was asked some questions about her husband, and refused to reply except before the king himself. She was then asked her opinion of the sacrament, and, being admonished to speak directly to the point, said she would not sing a new song of the Lord in a strange land.[4]

Bishop Gardiner told her she spoke in parables. She replied that it was best for him, for if she showed him the open truth he would not accept it. He then told her that she was a parrot, and she declared herself ready to suffer not only rebuke but everything else at his hands. She had an answer ready for each of the council that examined her. Indeed, she sometimes seemed to be examining them, for she asked the lord chancellor himself how long he would halt on both sides.[4]

Nevertheless, she was more closely questioned this time than she had been the year before.[4] She was 5 hours before the council at Greenwich, and was examined again on the following day.[4] On 28th June she flatly rejected the existence of any priestly miracle in the eucharist. "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."[5]

Gardiner instructed Sir Anthony Kingston, the constable of the Tower of London, to torture Askew in an attempt to force her to name the Queen, Catherine Parr, and other leading Protestants as heretics. Kingston complained about having to torture a woman (it was in fact illegal to torture a woman at the time) and Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and his assistant, Richard Rich took over operating the rack. Despite suffering a long period on the rack, Askew refused to name those who shared her religious views. Afterwards, Anne's broken body was laid on the bare floor, and Wriothesley sat there for two hours longer, questioning her about her heresy and her suspected involvement with the royal household.[5]

Askew was moved to a private house to recover,[5] under the care of Lady Garnish.[4] On the following Sunday she was very ill and desired to speak with Latimer, but was not allowed. Yet in the extremity of her illness she was sent to Newgate in such pain as she had never suffered in her life.[4]

But worse awaited her. On Tuesday following she was conveyed from Newgate to the sign of the Crown, where Sir Richard Rich endeavored to persuade her to abandon her heresy. Dr. Shaxton, also, late bishop of Salisbury, urged her to make a recantation, as he had just lately done himself, but all to no purpose. Rich accordingly sent her to the Tower, where a new set of inquiries were addressed to her, for it seems some members of the council suspected that she received secret encouragement from persons of great influence. She denied, however, that she knew any man or woman of her sect, and explained that during her last year's imprisonment in the Counter she had been maintained by the efforts of her maid, who 'made moan' for her to the prentices in the street, and collected money from them. She did not know the name of any one who had given her money, but acknowledged that a man in a blue coat had given her 10 shillings, and said it was from my ladv Hertford.[4]

More than this even the rack could not get from her, which by her own statement afterwards (if we may trust a narrative which could scarcely in such a case have been actually penned by herself) was applied by Lord Chancellor Wriothesley himself and Sir Richard Rich, turning the screws with their own hands. Yet even after being released from this torture she 'sat two long hours reasoning with my lord chancellor upon the bare floor,' but could not be induced to change her opinion.[4]


Anne Askew burning

The burning of Anne Askew at Smithfield in 1546. Woodcut by Robert Crowley. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

On 16 July she and 3 others guilty of the same heresy were brought to the stake in Smithfield, she being so weak from the torture she had already undergone that she had to be carried in a chair. She was tied to the stake by a chain round the waist which supported her body. On a bench under St. Bartholomew's Church sat Lord Chancellor Wriothesley, the Dukes of Norfolk and Bedford, the lord mayor, and others, to witness the shameful tragedy; and, to complete the matter. Dr. Shaxton, who had so recently recanted the same heresy, was appointed to preach to the victims.[4]

Anne still preserved her marvellous self-possession, and made passing comments on the preacher's words, confirming them where she agreed with him, and at other times saying 'There he misseth and speaketh without the book.' After the sermon the martyrs began to pray. The titled spectators on the bench were more discomposed,[4] knowing that there was some gunpowder near the faggots, which they feared might send them flying about their ears. But the Earl of Bedford reassured them. The gunpowder was not under the faggots, but laid about the bodies of the victims to rid them the sooner of their pain.[6]

Finally Lord Chancellor Wriothesley sent Anne Askew letters with an assurance of the king's pardon if she would even now recant. She refused to look at them, saying she came not thither to deny her Master. A like refusal was made by the other sufferers. The lord mayor then cried out 'Fiat justitia!' and ordered the fire to be laid to the faggots. Soon afterwards all was over. Anne is said by Bale to have been 25 years old when she suffered.[6]


Askew wrote a 1st-person account of her ordeal and her beliefs, which was published as the Examinations by John Bale, and later in John Foxe's Acts and Monuments of 1563 which proclaims her as a Protestant martyr. The story of Askew's martyrdom was thus written into the Protestant hagiography, but as McCulloch comments, under a version of her unmarried name (which he attributes to some embarrassment over her desertion of her husband Kyme). As he notes Robert Parsons picked up on this aspect of the story.[7]

There cannot be a doubt that the memory of this woman's sufferings and of her extraordinary fortitude and heroism added strength to the protestant reaction under Edward VI. The account of her martyrdom published by Bale in Germany, Strype tells us, was publicly exposed to sale at Winchester in 1549, in reproach of Bishop Gardiner, who was believed (whether justly or not is another question) to have been a great cause of her death. We ought certainly to make some allowance for bias in testimony that could be manipulated after such a fashion, but we need not be sparing in sympathy for the devoted sufferer.[6]

In popular cultureEdit

Anne Askew preaching

Anne Askew preaching

Several ballads were written about Askew in the 17th century. As Thomas Fuller described it, "she went to heaven in a chariot of fire."

There was a resurgence of interest in her story during Victorian times, and the Bleets company produced an Anne Askew doll complete with rack and stake. A doll is on show at the Leeds Toy Museum.

Askew was played by Emma Stansfield in the 2000s Showtime television series, The Tudors.

Poem by Anne AskewEdit

Anne Askew - The Ballad Which Anne Askew Made

Anne Askew - The Ballad Which Anne Askew Made

  1. The Ballad of Anne Askew

See alsoEdit


  • Elaine V. Beilin, ed., The Examinations of Anne Askew (Oxford, 1996) ISBN 0-19-510849-3
  • "Prisoners Tortured in the Tower of London". Accessed 29 June 2005
  • PD-icon.svg Gairdner, James (1885) "Askew, Anne" in Stephen, Leslie Dictionary of National Biography 2 London: Smith, Elder, pp. 190-192 . Wikisource, Web, Feb. 13, 2019.
  • Douglas M. Jones, The Queen's Friend, (Canon Press, Moscow, ID., 2007)
  • Thomas Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England P. Austin Nuttall (Published by T. Tegg, 1840)
  • Gene Fedele, "Heroes of the Faith", (Bridge-Logos, 2003) ISBN 0-88270-9348
  • Diane Watt, Secretaries of God, (Cambridge, 1997).


  1. Karen Lindsey, Divorced, Beheaded, Survived. Perseus Publishing, 1995, xv, 190.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Gairdner, 190.
  3. Tim Lambert, "A Brief Biography of Anne Askew, Local Histories. Web, Feb. 15, 2020.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Gairdner, 191.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Anne Askew, Spartacus Educational. Web, Feb. 15,2020.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Gairdner, 192.
  7. Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer (1996), 352-354.

External linksEdit


PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the Dictionary of National Biography (edited by Leslie Stephen). London: Smith, Elder, 1885-1900. Original article is at: Askew, Anne

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.