John Foxe, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, Trial of Anne Askew

The Worlds of All Against All 1540-1648

John Foxe (1517-1587) authored this martyrology that especially focuses on the martyrdoms of 16th-century Protestants at the hands of Catholic inquisitors. This selection recounts the trial against Anne Askew, an Englishwoman who became actively involved in propagating Protestant beliefs--even being rejected by her husband as a result of her zeal. As in medieval inquisitions, the questions asked to Anne are aimed at clarifying where the error arises; here, she rejects the doctrine of transubstantiation and challenges the authority of "improper" priests. Her answers are logical and coherent as she unwittingly condemns herself. Anne was tortured in the Tower of London and burned at the stake in 1546 at the age of twenty-five.

To satisfy your expectation: good people (saith she) this was my first examination in the year of our Lord 1545 and in the month of March.

First Christopher Dare examined me at Sadler's Hall; being one of the quest, and asked if I did not believe that the sacrament, hanging over the altar, was the very body of Christ really. Then I demanded this question of him: wherefore Saint Stephen was stoned to death, and he said, he could not tell. Then I answered that no more would I assoil his vain question.

Secondly, he said that there was a woman, which did not testify that I should read, how God was not in temples made with hands. Then I showed him the seventh and seventeenth chapters of the Acts of Apostles, what Stephen and Paul had said therein. Whereupon he asked me how I took those sentences? I answered, "I would not throw pearls among swine, for acorns were good enough."

Thirdly, he asked me wherefore I said that I had rather read five lines in the Bible, than to hear five masses in the temple? I confessed, that I had said no less: not for the dispraise of either the epistle or the gospel, but because the one did greatly edify me, and the other nothing at all. As Saint Paul doth witness in the fourteenth chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, whereas he saith, "If the trumpet giveth an uncertain sound who will prepare himself to the battle?"

Fourthly: he laid unto my charge that I should say: "If an ill priest ministered, it was the devil and not God."

My answer was, that I never spake any such thing. But this was my saying: that whosoever he were that ministered unto me, his ill conditions could not hurt my faith, but in spirit I received nevertheless, the body and blood of Christ.

He asked me what I said concerning confession? I answered him my meaning, which was as Saint James saith, that every man ought to acknowledge his faults to other, and the one to pray for the other.

Sixthly, he asked me what I said to the King's Book? And I answered him, that I could say nothing to it, because I never saw it.

Seventhly, he asked me if I had the spirit of God in me? I answered, "If I had not, I was but a reprobate or castaway." Then he said he had sent for a priest to examine me, which was here at hand.

The priest asked me what I said to the sacrament of the altar, and required much to know therein my meaning. But I desired him again, to hold me excused concerning that matter. None other answer would I make him, because I perceived him to be a papist.

Eighthly he asked me, if I did not think that private Masses did help souls departed? I said it was great idolatry to believe more in them, than in the death which Christ died for us.

Then they had me thence unto my Lord Mayor, and he examined me, as they had before, and I answered him directly in all things I answered the quest before. Besides this my Lord Mayor laid one thing to my charge, which was never spoken of me, but of them: and that was, whether a mouse eating the host, received God or no? This question did I never ask, but indeed they asked it of me, whereunto I made them no answer but smiled.

Then the bishop's chancellor rebuked me and said, that I was much to blame for uttering the scriptures. For Saint Paul (he said) forbade women to speak, or to talk of the word of God. I answered him that I knew Paul's meaning as well as he, which is in 1 Corinthians 14, that a woman ought not to speak in the congregation by the way of teaching. And then I asked him, how many women he had seen go into the pulpit and preach? He said he never saw none. Then I said he ought to find no fault in poor women, except they had offended the law.

Then the Lord Mayor commanded me to ward, I asked him if sureties would not serve me, and he made me short answer, that he would take none. Then was I had to the Counter, and there remained eleven days, no friend admitted to speak with me. But in the mean time there was a priest sent to me, which said that he was commanded of the bishop to examine me, and to give me good counsel, which he did not. But first he asked me for what cause I was put in the Counter, and I told him, I could not tell. Then he said it was great pity that I should be there without cause, and concluded that he was very sorry for me.

Secondly, he said, it was told him, that I should deny the sacrament of the altar. And I answered again that, that I have said, I have said.

Thirdly he asked me if I were shriven, I told him, so that I might have one of these three, that is to say, Doctor Crome, Sir Guillam, or Huntington. I was contented because I knew them to be men of wisdom, "as for you or any other I will not dispraise, because I know you not." Then he said, "I would not have you think, but that I, or another that shall be brought to you, shall be as honest as they, for if we were not, you may be sure the kind would not suffer us to preach." Then I answered by the saying of Solomon: "By communing with the wise, I may learn wisdom, but by talking with a fool, I shall take scathe." Pro[verbs, ch. 1].

Fourthly he asked, "If the host should fall and a beast did eat it, whether the beast did receive God or no?" I answered, "Seeing you have taken the pains to ask the question, I desire you also to assoil it yourself: for I will not do it, because I perceive you come to tempt me." And he said, "It was against the order of schools that he which asked the question should answer it." I told him [that] I was but a woman and knew not the course of schools.

Fifthly he asked me, if I intended to receive the sacrament at Easter, or no? I answered, that else I were not Christian woman, and thereat I did rejoice, that the time was so near at hand, and then he departed thence with many fair words.

The twenty-third day of March, my cousin Brittain came into the Counter unto me, and asked me whether I might be put to bail or no? Then went he immediately unto my Lord Mayor, desiring of him to be so good unto me. That I might be bailed. My Lord answered him, and said that he would be glad to do the best that in him lay. Howbeit he could not bail me, without the consent of a spiritual officer: requiring him to go and speak with the chancellor of London. For he said, like as he could not commit me to prison without the consent of a spiritual officer, no more could he bail me without consent of the same.

. . .

On the morrow after, the Bishop of London sent for me, at one of the clock, his hour being appointed at three, and as I came before him, he said he was very sorry for my trouble, and desired to know my opinion in such matters as were laid against me.

. . .

In the mean while he commanded his archdeacon to common with me, who said unto me: "Mistress wherefore are you accused and thus troubled here before the bishop?" To whom I answered again and said: "Sir, ask I pray you my accusers, for I know not as yet." Then took he my book out of my hand, and said: “Such books as this, have brought you to the trouble you are in. Beware," (saith he), "beware, for he that made this book and was the author thereof, was an heretic I warrant you, and burnt in Smithfield." Then I asked him, if he were certain and sure, that it was true that he had spoken. And he said he knew well the book was of John Frith's making. Then I asked him if he were not ashamed for to judge of the book before he saw it within, or yet knew the truth thereof. I said also, that such unadvised and hasty judgement is a token apparent of a very slender wit. Then I opened the book and showed it to him. He said he thought it had been another, for he could find no fault therein. Then I desired him no more to be so unadvisedly rash and swift judgement, till he thoroughly knew the truth, and so he departed from me.

. . .

Then brought he forth this unsavoury similitude: that if a man had a wound, no wise surgeon would minister help unto it before he had seen it uncovered. "In like case," saith he, "can I give you no good counsel, unless I know wherewith your conscience is burdened." I answered, that my conscience was clear in all things: and for to lay a plaster unto the whole skin, it might appear much folly.

. . .

Then said my Lord unto me, that I had alleged a certain text of the scripture. I answered that I alleged none other but Saint Paul's own saying to the Athenians in the eighteenth chapter in the Apostle's acts, that God dwelleth not in temples made with hands. Then asked he me what my faith and belief was in that matter? I answered him, "I believe as the scripture doth teach me."

Then enquired he of me, "What if the scripture do say that it is the body of Christ?" "I believe," said I, "as the scripture doth teach me." Then asked he again, "What if the scripture do say that it is not the body of Christ?" My answer was still, "I believe as the scripture informeth me." And upon this argument he tarried a great while, to have driven me to make him an answer to his mind. Howbeit I would not: but concluded this with him, that I believe therein and in all other things as Christ and his holy apostles did leave them.

Then he asked me why I had so few words? And I answered, "God hath given me the gift of knowledge, but not of utterance. And Solomon saith: "That a woman of few words is a gift of God." Proverbs nineteen.

. . .

"Be it known," (saith he), "of all men, that I Anne Askew do confess this to be my faith and belief, notwithstanding my reports made afore to the contrary. I believe that they which are houseled at the hands of a priest, whether his conversation be good or not, do receive the body and blood of Christ in substance really. Also I do believe, that after the consecration, whether it be received or reserved, it is no less than the very body and blood of Christ in substance. Finally I do believe in this and in all other sacraments of holy church, in all points according to the old Catholic faith of the same. In witness whereof I the said Anne have subscribed my name."

There was somewhat more in it, which because I had not the copy, I cannot not remember. Then he read it to me and asked me if I did agree to it. And I said again, "I believe so much thereof, as the holy scripture both agree unto: wherefore I desire you, that ye will add that thereunto." Then he answered, that I should not teach him what he should write. With that, he went forth into his great chamber, and read the same bill before the audience, which inveigled and willed me to set to my hand, saying also, that I have favour showed me.

. . .

"The true copy of the confession and belief of Anne Askew, otherwise called Anne Kime, made before the Bishop of London, the twentieth day of March, in the year of our Lord God after the computation of the Church of England, 1545, and subscribed with her own hand, in the presence of the said bishop and other, whose names hereafter are recited, set forth and published at this present, to the intent the world may see what credence is now to be given unto the same woman, who in so short a time hath most damnably altered and changed her opinion and belief, and therefore rightfully in open court arraigned and condemned," Ex. Registrum.

"Be it known to all faithful people, that as touching the blessed sacrament of the altar, I do firmly and undoubtedly believe, that after the words of consecration be spoken by the priest, according to the common usage of this Church of England, there is present really the body and blood of our saviour Jesus Christ, whether the minister which both consecrate, be a good man, or a bad man, and that also whensoever the said sacrament is received, whether the receiver be a good man or a bad man, he doth receive it really and corporally. And moreover, I do believe, that whether the said sacrament then received of the minister, or else reserved to be put into the pix, or to be brought to any person that is impotent or sick, yet there is the very body and blood of our said saviour: so that whether the minister or the receiver be good or bad, yea whether the sacrament be received or reserved, always there is the blessed body of Christ really.

"And this thing with all other things touching the sacrament and other sacraments of the church, and all things else touching the Christian belief, which are taught and declared in the king's majesty's book lately set forth for the erudition of the Christian people, I Anne Askew, otherwise called Anne Kime, do truly and perfectly believe, and so here presently confess and knowledge. And here I do promise that henceforth I shall never say or do anything against the promises, or against any of them. In witness whereof, I the said Anne have subscribed my name unto these presents. Written the twentieth day of March, in the year of our Lord God 1545." Ex Registrum.

By me Anne Askew, otherwise called Anne Kime. . . .

Here mayest thou note gentle Reader in this confession, both in the bishop and his register: a double sleight of false conveyance. For although the confession purporteth the words of the bishop's writing, whereunto she did not set her hand, yet by the title prefixed before, mayest thou see that both she was arraigned and condemned before this was registered, and also that she is falsely reported to have put to her hand, which indeed by this her own book appeareth not so to be, but after this manner and condition: “I Anne Askew do believe all manner things contained in the faith of the Catholic Church, and not otherwise.” It followeth more in the story.

Then because I did add unto it the Catholic Church he flang into his chamber in a great fury. With that my cousin Brittain followed him, desiring him for God's sake to be good Lord unto me. He answered that I was a woman, and that he was nothing deceived in me. Then my cousin Brittain desired him to take me as a woman, and not to set my weak woman's wit to his lordship's great wisdom.

Then went in unto him Doctor Weston, and said, that the cause why I did write there "the Catholic Church," was that I understood not "the church" written afore. So with much ado, they persuaded my Lord to come out again, and to take my name with the names of my sureties, which were my cousin Brittain, and Master Spilman of Gray's Inn.

This being done, we thought that I should have been put to bail immediately according to the order of the law. Howbeit, he would not suffer it, but committed me from thence to prison again, until the next morrow, and then he willed me to appear in the Guildhall, and so I did. Notwithstanding, they would not put me to bail there neither, but read the bishop['s] writing unto me, as before, and so commanded me again to prison.

Then were my sureties appointed to come before them on the next morrow in Paul's Church: which did do indeed. Notwithstanding they would once again have broken off with them because they would not be bound also for another woman at their pleasure, whom they knew not nor yet what matter was laid unto her charge. Notwithstanding at the last, after much ado and reasoning to and fro, they took a bond of them recognizance for my forthcoming. And thus I was at the last delivered.

Written by me Anne Askew.

. . .

Hitherto we have entreated of this good woman. Now it remaineth that we touch somewhat as concerning her end and martyrdom. After that 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, now had been so tormented, that she could neither live long in so great distress, neither yet by her adversaries be suffered to die in secret: the day of her execution being appointed, she was brought into Smithfield in a chain, 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, Doctor 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 stakes ready to their martyrdom, began their prayers. The multitude and concourse of the people was exceeding, the place where they stood being railed about to keep out the press. Upon the bench under Saint Bartholomew's Church, sat Wriothesley Chancellor of England, the old Duke of Norfolk, the old Earl of Bedford, the Lord Mayor with diverse other more. Before the fire should be set unto them, one of the bench hearing that they had gunpowder about them, and being afraid lest the faggots 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 faggots, but only about their bodies to rid them out of their pain, which having vent, there was no danger to them of the faggots, 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 likewise offered unto the other, 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 justitia."

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, anno 1546, leaving behind her singular example of Christian constancy for all men to follow.

"Foxe's Book of Martyrs: Select Narratives," ed. John N. King. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 22–35.