Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Anne Askew (1521–1546)

Anne Askew (1521-1546)Edit

Anne Askew was an English writer and Protestant Reformist in the 16th century. Askew is known for her autobiographical accounts of her trials within the court of King Henry VIII where she voiced religious and feminist views that were considered controversial in her time. Askew's life experiences and her own accounts of them made her a martyr of the English Reformation[1] where she got tried for hearsay twice, condemned to execution, and burnt at the stake in 1537. The feminist ideals that underpin her writing have solidified her place in history as a significant example of women's writing.[2]

BiographyEdit

Early LifeEdit

Anne Askew was born in 1521 in the village of Stallingborough, North East Lincolnshire, England. Her father, William Askew (1450 – 1541), was a gentleman in the court of King Henry VIII, where he was knighted to the title of Sir William Askew in 1521. Anne’s mother, Elizabeth Wrotessley, was the first of William Askew’s three wives, however, little is known about Wrotessley's family background. Reportedly, Anne was educated to read and write by household tutors, and became particularly well-read in scriptures. There is little evidence to suggest that the Askew family encouraged Anne’s deviance from their traditional conservatism towards Protestant reformists, however, it is clear that from an early age she had a keen interest in literacy and perusing intellectual curiosities which would have still quite unconventional for the time, providing a basis to which her feminist thinking and work was first perused.

MarriageEdit

Following the death of her older sister Martha, William forced Anne to take Martha’s place in the arranged marriage to Thomas Kyme, so as not to lose the dowry or noble family alliance. Anne and Kyme’s marriage was troubled and ultimately unsuccessful, and Anne was expelled from the Kyme’s Lincolnshire home. Anne never adopted her husbands surname, traditionally signing off her literary works as “Anne Askew”, and eventually became the first Englishwoman to demand a divorce (citation needed?). After the breakdown of her marriage, Anne moved to London where she petitioned King Henry VIII to grant her a divorce, a request that he ultimately denied.

Arrest, Interrogation and ExecutionEdit

In London, Anne gained publicity for preaching her Protestant reformist views, creating the platform to which she expressed clear, radical dogma that was very controversial to public opinion at the time. Whilst in London, it is reported that Anne met John Lasselles. Lasselles was an English courtier and Protestant martyr. This meeting created a connection between Askew and other prominent Protestants and her reputation began to grow as a reformist.

In addition to publicity, Askew gained the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities and was arrested on the grounds of hearsay on March 10 1545.[3] Anne was put on trial by Edmund Bonner (1500 – 1569), the Bishop of London, also nicknamed as “Bloody Bonner” due to his violent involvement in the persecution of heretics under the Catholic government. After her trial on this matter, Askew endured a in a twelve-day imprisonment. Anne was harshly interrogated during this time about her religious beliefs and the other Protestants she was involved with. After twelve days, Anne was released and ordered back to the house of her husband, however, she instead moved back to Lincolnshire to live with her brother, Sir Francis Askew.

Anne Askew was illegally rack-tortured by members of the Kings council[4] in the hope that she would disclose the names of other reformist conspirators, most notably that of Katherine Parr. Anne refused to disclose any information on herself or others, by both outright refusing her interrogators and keeping her silence.[2] On the 18th of June, 1546, Anne was condemned as a heretic, due to her disbelief in eucharistic[5], and sentenced to burning at the stake. She became the only known woman to have been both tortured at the Tower of London and burned at the stake. This undeniable strength of character and individual pursuit, highlights Askew's clear and important role in the progression of women's writing and more broadly feminist thinking and the legacy she holds even up to modern day.

WorksEdit

Anne wrote autobiographical accounts of the trials she faced within the court of King Henry VIII, while imprisoned[2]. These works were eventually published by John Bale (1495 – 1563), an English bishop and Protestant controversialist who wrote the oldest known historical verse drama written in English. Bale claims that after Anne Askew’s death, her manuscript was smuggled out of England. He states to have published the work in Marpurg, Germany, however, this has been questioned by contemporary scholars. Patricia Pender illustrates that the ambiguity surrounding the printing of Askew's work "suggests that the production, publication, and circulation of the Examinations occurred under conditions of stress".[6] Anne’s work was then again published by John Foxe (1516 – 1587), an English historian and martyr, as Acts and Monuments in 1563. Bale and Foxe’s manuscripts provide the majority of the biographical information historians and literary theorists know about Anne Askew today.

No original manuscript of Askew’s writing exists today, however, Bale's editions of Askew’s First Examinacyon (1546) and Lattre Examinacyon (1547) are both available through the Women's Writers Project of Northeastern University. In the First Examinacyon, Anne describes her frustrations about being faced with hostility when trying to preach her beliefs, and her ongoing efforts to defeat her religious opposition. The Lattre Examinacyon is a narrative of her second arrest and the torture she faced prior to her execution. Her works act as a record of the writings of one of the first female martyrs of the Tudor period. In both of her first-person accounts, Askew uses rhetoric, a literary form mainly used by men in the 16th century, encompassing the strategy of irony[7].

Generally, however, Anne Askew’s writings have remained largely unanalysed by literary or historical scholars. Recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in Anne’s writings, with most scholars choosing to focus on the text as an early example of women’s writing. Particularly when studying Bale’s edition of the work, scholars have criticised the two ‘parts’ of the literature. Elaine Beilin (1996) comments on Bale’s continuous comments on Anne’s perceived “womanly weakness”, criticising what she argues to be Bale’s misogynistic approach to Anne’s narrative.[8] Megan Hisckerson (2006) takes a similar approach, discussing Bale’s commentary that Anne’s writings is hindered by her femininity.[9] Thomas Freeman and Sarah Wall (2001) comment on Foxe’s contributions to Askew’s work and encourage readers to consider Foxe, and thus also Bale, as not simply a means of publication, but also as significant contributors to the narrative.[10] In summary, however, Anne Askew’s writings remain largely under-studied in comparison to accounts of her life, trials and eventual execution.

In addition to her Examinacyons, it is possible that Askew also wrote a poem known as A Ballad of Anne Askew. However, as there is no surviving original manuscript and a lack of reputable evidence the authorship remains debated by scholars, who question whether the poem was written by, or merely inspired by Askew.[11] While the persona of this poem displays similar experiences to the life of Askew there are many details that do not align with her experiences. For example, the ballad's opening stanza states that she is "poor", "blind" and with "little knowledge" which opposes Askew's rather privileged and educated upbringing. Additionally, her passive voice in this poem goes against the strong feminist rhetoric she employs in Examinacyons. Regardless of whether A Ballad of Anne Askew was written by Askew herself, this poem reflects the ideology of Protestant martyrology, showing Askew's influence in her own time.

Reputation/LegacyEdit

During Askew's lifetime, she was regarded as a progressive and informed Protestant reformist, actively advocating for her faith. Her religious beliefs against transubstantiation[5] in the Catholic faith ultimately lead to the personal opposition of ecclesiastical authorities which resulted in Askew's arrests, interrogation, and eventual death. Her continued efforts to defend both the people closest to her and her faith highlights Askew's clear strength of character and is fitting of the legacy in which Ashew's holds both personally and professionally as a female writer of the time.

The manner of her imprisonment and execution combined with her Protestant efforts made Askew a martyr for the Protestant religion, where she has been "appropriated for causes well beyond the one she embraced"[1]. This is evident in the poetry inspired by Askew's life and experiences such as A Ballad of Anne Askew.

Today, Anne Askew is rightly celebrated as a woman who died in a passionate defence of her faith, whose contributions to women's writing pushed forward and inspired other women to do the same. As Joan Pong Linton describes, Askew's "circumstances combine to give the martyr an unusually resilient reputation in historical memory".[1] Anne’s writings deviate from the typical works of Tudor women, providing a unique portrayal of religion, politics, society and feminism under the reign of King Henry VIII. Anne’s work may have been edited by the male personalities of Bale and Foxe, but it still stands as an extremely important account of sixteenth-century English society, most significantly from the perspective of a Protestant woman. Examinacyons acts as the legacy to Anne Askew’s martyrdom, and was written into the Protestant hagiography when it was published by John Foxe in his Acts and Monuments (1563). For historians, Anne’s work is influential as the narrative of a Protestant martyr. For studies of literature, in particular, those of women’s literature, Anne’s work exists as one of the earliest examples of women’s feminist writing, for her subversion of gender roles and inventive rhetoric[12].

Works Cited/Further ReadingsEdit

“Anne Askew” Wikipedia. 2021.

Beilin, E., editor. Examinations of Anne Askew. Oxford UP. 1996.

Freeman, T. and Sarah Elizabeth Wall. “Racking the Body, Shaping the Text: The Account of Anne Askew in Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 4, part 1. 2001.

Graban, Tarez S. "Feminine Irony and the Art of Linguistic Cooperation in Anne Askew's Sixteenth-Century Examinacyons." Rhetorica, vol. 25, no. 4, 2007, pp. 385-411.

Hickerson, M. “Negotiating Heresy in Tudor England: Anne Askew and the Bishop of London” Journal of British Studies, vol. 46, no. 4. 2007.

Hickerson, M. “Ways of Lying: Anne Askew and the Examinations” Gender & History, vol. 18, no. 1. 2006.

Kemp, T.D., “Translating (Anne) Askew: The Textual Remains of a Sixteenth-Century Heretic and Saint” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 4. 1999.

Linton, Joan P. "Scripted Silences, Reticence, and Agency in Anne Askew's Examinations." English Literary Renaissance, vol. 36, no. 1, 2006, pp. 1-25.

Parry, David. "Pregnant Silences: Gender, Theology and Resistance in the Trials of Anne Askew and Anne Hutchinson." Moreana (Angers), vol. 45, no. 175, 2008, pp. 161-187.

Pender, P. “Reading Bale Reading Anne Askew: Contested Collaboration in The Examinations” Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 73, no. 3. 2010.

Wabuda, S. “Anne Askew” Reputation Reformations. Fordham University, NY. 2020.

Whitworth, P. “Anne Askew” Project Continua. 2013.

Zurawski, L. W., “Beyond the Text: Finding Anne Askew” Dissertations, Theses, and Master Projects. 2010.

  1. a b c Linton, Joan P. "Scripted Silences, Reticence, and Agency in Anne Askew's Examinations." English Literary Renaissance, vol. 36, no. 1, 2006, pp. 3.
  2. a b c Graban, Tarez S. "Feminine Irony and the Art of Linguistic Cooperation in Anne Askew's Sixteenth-Century Examinacyons." Rhetorica, vol. 25, no. 4, 2007, pp. 388.
  3. Graban, Tarez S. "Feminine Irony and the Art of Linguistic Cooperation in Anne Askew's Sixteenth-Century Examinacyons." Rhetorica, vol. 25, no. 4, 2007, pp. 387-8.
  4. Graban, Tarez S. "Feminine Irony and the Art of Linguistic Cooperation in Anne Askew's Sixteenth-Century Examinacyons." Rhetorica, vol. 25, no. 4, 2007, pp. 387.
  5. a b Parry, David. "Pregnant Silences: Gender, Theology and Resistance in the Trials of Anne Askew and Anne Hutchinson." Moreana (Angers), vol. 45, no. 175, 2008, pp. 163.
  6. Pender, P. “Reading Bale Reading Anne Askew: Contested Collaboration in The Examinations” Huntington Library Quarterly, vol. 73, no. 3. 2010.
  7. Graban, Tarez S. "Feminine Irony and the Art of Linguistic Cooperation in Anne Askew's Sixteenth-Century Examinacyons." Rhetorica, vol. 25, no. 4, 2007, pp. 390.
  8. Beilin, E., editor. Examinations of Anne Askew. Oxford UP. 1996.
  9. Hickerson, M. “Ways of Lying: Anne Askew and the Examinations” Gender & History, vol. 18, no. 1. 2006.
  10. Freeman, T. and Sarah Elizabeth Wall. “Racking the Body, Shaping the Text: The Account of Anne Askew in Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs”” Renaissance Quarterly, vol. 54, no. 4, part 1. 2001.
  11. Parry, David. "Pregnant Silences: Gender, Theology and Resistance in the Trials of Anne Askew and Anne Hutchinson." Moreana (Angers), vol. 45, no. 175, 2008, pp. 164.
  12. Parry, David. "Pregnant Silences: Gender, Theology and Resistance in the Trials of Anne Askew and Anne Hutchinson." Moreana (Angers), vol. 45, no. 175, 2008, pp. 169.