Anne Askew

Anne Askew

A costumed guide dressed as Anne Askew at the Tower of London

Protestant martyr

Location: Cradle Tower

Imprisoned: 1546

Years inside: 0.1

Fate: Tortured on the rack


Reading in Church

Anne Askew was born in 1521 in a rural village in Lincolnshire. When she was 15 her father, Sir William Askew, forced her to marry Thomas Kyme the son of a neighbouring farmer. She had a rebellious spirit even when she was young, so Anne married Kyme but protested by refusing to change her surname. 

After they got married Anne concentrated on being a housewife for a while and the couple had two children. Anne was a keen reader of the bible and she developed radical ideas about her Christian faith and became a Protestant. At the time, the churches in England were conservative and so Anne got criticised by her local church. Her friends warned her to be careful. But that just made Anne more determined.

In 1543 Henry made it illegal for low rank men and all women to read the bible. In protest Anne travelled to Lincoln and spent a week openly reading her bible in the Cathedral. Her religiously conservative husband had had enough. Depending on who you believe; either her husband kicked her out or Anne left of her own accord to spread her religious ideas… and get a divorce.

In 1544 Anne arrived in London. She had relatives in the royal household and friends who were lawyers - but she also had enemies. The Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Wriothesley sent a spy to report back on her activities.

Anne became a famous preacher, reading and quoting from the Bible to Protestant and Evangelical men and women of all classes. Eventually the authorities had had enough and they arrested Anne in 1545 for heresy. Fortunately for her, no witnesses came forward so the charges were dropped.

While in Newgate Prison Anne wrote protest songs and poems. She saw herself as a brave knight fighting injustice and she described the King as cruel. But she also asked God’s forgiveness on behalf of the men who persecuted her.

A martyr’s death

On 28 June 1546 Anne was charged with heresy at the Guildhall. The next day she was taken from Newgate prison to the Tower of London to await execution. Lord Chancellor Sir Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Richard Rich, another councillor, tried to force Anne to name other protestants. Anne, as stubborn as ever, refused. So they put her on the rack. Rope was tied around her wrists and ankles and then pulled tight, which lifted her up and then stretched her. The Lieutenant of the Tower, Anthony Knevet, was horrified. Anne should never have been racked because she was the daughter of a knight, had already confessed, and was condemned to die. Anthony refused to continue and left to tell the King. Sir Thomas and Sir Richard continued to torture Anne themselves. When she fainted, they paused until she revived, then they racked her again. 

Anne described her torture in letters which were smuggled out of the prison, 'And because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellor and master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands till I was nigh dead.'

Anne never revealed names to Sir Thomas and Sir Richard. And less than three weeks later, on 16 July 1546 she was taken away to be executed. But after her torture on the rack her muscles and ligaments were so torn and injured that she was unable to walk, so men carried her in a chair to Smithfield. When she arrived she was tied to a stake. As sticks were piled up around her, Sir Thomas Wriothesley came and offered her a pardon if she agreed to publically recant and say that she had been wrong in her beliefs. Anne cried out defiantly that she would not… and she was burnt to death.

Since her death Anne as become famous as a protestant martyr, because she was willing to be tortured and die for her beliefs.

You may also be interested in...