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Askew, Anne (Anne Askewe, Anne Ascough, Anne Kyme) (1521–1546) - BIOGRAPHY, CRITICAL RECEPTION

died bale heretic martyrdom

Anne Askew, whose martyrdom in the last days of the reign of Henry VIII raised her from the ranks of the lesser gentry to at least historical immortality, was the second daughter of Sir William Askew, Lincolnshire landowner and courtier to Henry VIII, and his wife, Elizabeth Wrottesley. Reasonably well educated, she was a fervent student of the Scriptures and might have lived her days in relative anonymity had not her elder sister, betrothed to Thomas Kyme, an uneducated landowner and staunch Roman Catholic, died. Deeming the match too good to pass up, Sir William insisted on his younger daughter’s marriage to Kyme, thus setting in motion the events that would lead to her martyrdom.

While Askew bore her husband two children, the two became increasingly disaffected as her study of the Scriptures fired her Protestant sympathies. Encouraged by his priests at Lincolnshire, with whom Askew had debated successfully, Kyme cast her out of his house as a heretic; Askew, on similar grounds, appealed to the king for a divorce. Although the divorce was never granted, Askew apparently did secure a position in the retinue of Queen Catherine Parr.* During the time that she is known to have been in the queen’s circle she was arraigned as a heretic, examined, imprisoned, released, reexamined, and eventually burned at the stake. The history of these events we have in her own words, published after her death by Bishop Bale as The First Examination of the Worthy Servant of God, Mistress Anne Askewe and as The Latter Examination of Anne Askewe, Lately Martyred in Smythfield by the Wicked Synagogue of Antichrist .


Given the evidence of her own testimony, it is little wonder that Bishop Bale should acclaim Mistress Anne’s sanctity above that of “the old canonized martyrs, which in the pope’s English church have had so many solemnities, services, and censings.” Those martyrs, Bale argued at length, died for worldly causes, while Anne and her companions died for Christ. John Fox declared her a “singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow” and noted that more than a thousand came to the faith because of her. That Archbishop Cranmer’s* 1549 rite and 1550 treatise effectively made orthodox the position for which Askew was burned at the stake no doubt fanned the early flames of belief. Today her Examinations are looked at as the records of “an effort to attack more influential and powerful figures with whom she was associated” (Travitsky 1981) as a means of developing a woman’s voice that “fulfills the role she recognized she was to have for the Reformers, but [that functions so that] she also becomes an autobiographer who composes the woman, Anne Askew” (Beilin 1985), and as a document of “a woman’s comprehension of patriarchy and her courageous attack against its power” (Beilin 1991). Whether Askew would have welcomed these interpretations, it is nonetheless likely that in the end she would have affirmed, “So be it.” Thus, so be it.

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almost 7 years ago

I am researching this character and am constatnly puzzled as to why Askew is so ofen referred to asl 'lesser gentry' could you tell me on what basis is her social standing reduced to this when her siblings were given posts within the kings privy chamber. What could I wonder be 'lesser' about such a prestigious position in the kingdom. Her close friend Lady Denny (if Bales text is to be believed at all) was arguably the most powerful woman in England other than Katherine Parr at the time. How much further up the social scale could she have been, her father was personally decorated by Henry at the Field of Cloth of Gold and was Lord high Sheriff of Lincolnshire, an enormously important county at the time. 'Lesser?' I am puzzled as to why this is an essential part of the folk legendary surrounding this character. Also where is the evidence of Thomas Kyme being uneducated? Bale's writings comprise almost all that exists of information about this woman. The writings are however masterpieces of commercial propaganda and I am always surprised to see this playwright protestant quoted verbatum. In ten years of research I have found no evidence that she was actually a 'gospeler' other than in Bale's loquacious and alliterative homage to her classically martyrlike qualities, largely it would seem of his crafting. In short. what little is known of Anne Askew must necessarily be speculative, but in terms of the 'lesserness' of her social standing such a status does not fit with the scanty facts which we do have. My observations are not based in retrospective snobbery simply a wish to make sense of events.

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over 6 years ago

I am descended from one of Anne Askew's sons, but documentation and evidence has been hard to come by...
Any suggestions to investigate would be welcome.