Women's Writing Before Woolf: A Social Reference/Anne Askew (1521–1546) (2)

Anne Askew edit

Biography edit

Born in 1521, Anne Askew was the daughter of Sir William Askew and his first wife, Elizabeth Wrottesley. She had two brothers and two sisters. Sir Askew was appointed a knight in 1513 and named the high sheriff of Lincolnshire in 1521, around the time of Askew’s birth. This position in society allowed Sir Askew to provide his children with an upper-class education at home.

When Askew was fifteen her oldest sister, Martha, died unexpectedly. At the time Martha was engaged to marry a landowner named Thomas Kyme. After her untimely death, Askew was forced to step up and marry Master Kyme in her sister’s place. Askew rebelled against the marriage and refused to take Kyme’s surname, instigating a series of marital arguments. Among other things, Kyme rejected Askew’s religious beliefs, which caused a lot of tension in the household. Where Kyme was a Catholic, Askew supported Martin Luther, a theologist who questioned traditional Catholic teachings. Askew said, “I would sooner read five lines of the Bible than hear five masses in the "Church".” According to English historian and biographer, Alison Plowden, Askew was an “educated, highly intelligent”[1] and “passionate”[1] woman. Askew could read, and she used this to her advantage as she read and studied the bible. Despite her husband’s denunciation, Askew’s religious studies encouraged her beliefs, including her right to both bodily autonomy and divorce.

Inevitably, Kyme and Anne separated and with no hope of attaining a divorce from the bishop of Lincoln, Askew moved to London where she intended to meet Henry VIII and argue her plight before “the court of Chancery”. There, she met other protestants and furthered her bible studies. She used her maiden name and became a preacher of the protestant faith. At the time, according to author and historian, David Crowther, Askew’s brother Edward, “was cup-bearer to the king and her half-brother, Christopher had been a gentleman of the privy chamber” and her sister, Jane, perhaps most importantly, “was married to George St Poll, a lawyer in the service of the duke and duchess of Suffolk, Catherine Willoughby, a member of the Queen’s household.”

She was arrested in 1545 under the charge of heresy, and questioned over a book in her possession, written by the Protestant priest, John Frith, who was burned for heresy in 1533. After relentless interrogation from Edmund Bonner, the orthodox bishop of London, Anne signed a confession of faith and was released after twelve days in prison. Crowther states the confession was written by Edmund Bonner to coerce Askew into making a statement in alignment to the Orthodox faith, essentially stating, “I, Anne Askew, do believe all manner of things contained in the faith of the Catholic Church”. Master Kyme ordered her to return to Lincolnshire where he kept her prisoner against her will. However, she managed to escape and return to London, but, was arrested for a second time in 1546.

During this three-year period, she experienced great speculation from spies “assigned to keep a close eye on her behaviour”, according to the historical team from the Spartacus Educational website. In the May of 1546, Askew was arrested again and tortured inside the Tower of London. Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Richard Rich performed the torment in order to extract information about other protestant heretics, including Queen Catherine Parr, who was suspected of heresy due to her connection to Anne and other known protestants. However, Askew refused to deter from her beliefs and kept the names of her accomplices secret.

She was convicted of heresy on June 18th, 1546, and at the age of twenty-five, she was executed by being burned alive on July 16th, 1546 at Smithfield, London.

Works edit

The Examinations of Anne Askew edit

Initially published, with commentary, by John Bale, a contemporary of Askew, The Examinations of Anne Askew has been recently compiled and edited by Elain V. Beilin for the series Women Writers in English (1350 - 1850). The work discusses, in retrospective first-person reflections, the development of Askew’s faith, her imprisonment in the Tower of London, torture, trial, and interrogation. The modern edition brings together John Bale's published version of Askew's Examinations, including his commentary, and the version of Askew's text which was printed, without Bale's commentary, in John Foxe's Acts and Monuments (1563).[2]

Askew's Examinations are split into two parts. The first part recounts her questioning by Christopher Dare, William Laxton the Lord Mayor of London, and Edmund Bonner the Bishop of London. The second part details her imprisonment and further interrogation and torture. While the text had been long lost to history, it was re-discovered forty years ago by scholars and has since attracted considerable scholarly attention (King 48-9).[3]

This collection of writings offers insight into the reformation and social politics of sixteenth-century English society. In 1546 it was illegal to torture women but regardless, Askew was tortured and imprisoned. This collection of works recounts her experience and role as a Protestant martyr, while simultaneously deliberating the theological errors in British society. As the text provides a demonstration of Askew's rebellion against dominant religious dogma and social power structures, it also offers powerful insights into the traditional roles of sixteenth-century women, the way these roles were structured by religious and patriarchal institutions, and the ways women actively challenged and tried to overthrow these roles. As John N. King argues (49), the text also provides evidence of the practice of scripture reading and critical interrogation.[4] In addition, John Bale and John Foxe's involvement in Askew's publication also provides evidence of the ways women's writing was enabled and shaped by prominent men.

Reputation & Legacy edit

Anne Askew was a social pariah in her time. Like other protestant preachers during this period, she was hunted by the Church and labelled a heretic, largely due to her interpretation of the bible and its teachings. She was therefore initially received with hostility by the public and the dominant institutions of her time.

After her death, however, Askew was labelled a martyr by the Protestant movement and her writings played a key role in cementing this later image. The quote by Askew, “God has given me the bread of adversity and the water of trouble,” suggests that she perceived of herself, and actively projected an image of herself, as a martyr.

Contemporary historians and critics now perceive her actions as markers of historical significance, celebrating Askew as one of the foremost voices of the protestant movement due to her position as a woman who stood against the Church of England and documented her experience. The assessment by Alison Plowden of Askew as "educated, highly intelligent" and "passionate" testifies to this positive reappraisal by scholars, which emphasises her achievements as an educated, critical and courageous female thinker.[5]

References edit

  1. Plowden, Alison. Tudor Women: Queens & Commoners. Stroud, Gloucestershire, The History Press, 2002.
  2. “Anne Askew.” Spartacus Educational, Spartacus-educational.com/TUDaskew.htm#references. Accessed 8 Sept. 2022.
  3. “A BRIEF BIOGRAPHY of ANNE ASKEW.” Local Histories, 14 Mar. 2021, localhistories.org/a-brief-biography-of-anne-askew/.
  4. “Anne Askew, Martyr and Author – the History of England.” Thehistoryofengland.co.uk, 24 June 2018, thehistoryofengland.co.uk/resource/anne-askew-martyr-and-author/.
  5. Tooher, Jane. “Tragedy and Triumph: The Story of Anne Askew.” The Gospel Coalition | Australia, au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/tragedy-and-triumph-the-story-of-anne-askew/. Accessed 8 Sept. 2022.
  6. Almasy, Rudolph P. “Anne Askew Constructing Her Text, Constructing Her Self.” Reformation, vol. 10, no. 1, Jan. 2005, pp. 1–20, 10.1179/ref_2005_10_1_002. Accessed 19 Mar. 2020.
  7. Watkins Zurawski, Lindsay. Beyond the Text: Finding Anne Askew. Centreviile, Virginia ed., College of William & Mary - Arts & Sciences, 2010, scholarworks.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=5885&context=etd.
  1. a b “Anne Askew, Martyr and Author – the History of England.” Thehistoryofengland.co.uk, 24 June 2018, thehistoryofengland.co.uk/resource/anne-askew-martyr-and-author/.
  2. Askew, Anne. The Examinations of Anne Askew. Edited by Elaine V. Beilin. Women Writers in English, 1350-1850, edition, Oxford University Press, 1996.
  3. King, John N. "How Anne Askew Read the Bible." Reformation, vol. 25, no. 1, Jun 2020, pp. 47-68. Taylor and Francis Online, doi:10.1080/13574175.2020.1743560.
  4. King, John N. "How Anne Askew Read the Bible." Reformation, vol. 25, no. 1, Jun 2020, pp. 47-68. Taylor and Francies Online, doi:10.1080/13574175.2020.1743560.
  5. Plowden, Alison. Tudor Women: Queens & Commoners. The History Press, 2002.

Further Reading edit

  • Askew, Anne. The Examinations of Anne Askew. Edited by Elaine V. Beilin. Women Writers in English, 1350-1850, edition, Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Foxe, John. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. S.L., Whitaker House, 2019.
  • A martyrology of sixteenth century Protestants, executed at the hands of Catholic inquisitors, by John Foxe. Foxe addresses the trial against Askew and dissects how her propagation of Protestant beliefs defined her literary works.
  • Ashgate Critical Essays on Women Writers in England, 1550-1700: Volume 3: Anne Lock, Isabella Whitney and Aemilia Lanyer. Edited by Micheline White