1517 Classroom Activity on Anne Askew – Burnt at the Stake (Commentary)

This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Anne Askew – Burnt at the Stake

Q1: Study source 1. Why do you think that it was painted a long time after Anne Askew's death?

A1: It was the policy of Henry VIII to destroy all portraits of people executed for treason or heresy. After the death of the king, Anne Askew's supporters would have commissioned this painting of her.

Q2: Read the introduction and sources 2 and 3. Explain why Anne Askew was arrested in 1545.

A2: In March 1545 Anne Askew was arrested on suspicion of heresy. She was questioned about a book she was carrying that had been written by John Frith, a Protestant priest who had been burnt for heresy in 1533. Jasper Ridley (source 2) points out that she had been distributing illegal Protestant books books. Antonia Fraser (source 3) agrees that she held "strongly reformist views". She was interviewed by Edmund Bonner, the Bishop of London. After a great deal of debate Askew recanted and was released and sent back to her husband.

Q3: Read the introduction and source 4. What does the historian Alison Plowden mean when she says: "Bishop Gardiner and his ally on the Council, the Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, planned to attack the Queen Catherine Parr through her ladies and believed they possessed a valuable weapon in the person of Anne Kyme, better known by her maiden name of Anne Askew."

A3: In May 1546 Henry VIII gave permission for twenty-three people suspected of heresy to be arrested. This included Anne Askew. Bishop Stephen Gardiner selected Askew because he believed she was associated with Henry's sixth wife, Catherine Parr. Catherine also criticised legislation that had been passed in May 1543 that had declared that the "lower sort" did not benefit from studying the Bible in English. Bishop Gardiner suspected that Queen Catherine was a Protestant reformer. Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley thought that by torturing Askew she would reveal that Queen Catherine was also a religious reformer.

Q4: Read sources 5 and 7 and describe what is going on in source 6.

A4: Source 6 shows a heretic being tortured on the rack in the Tower of London. The victim's ankles are fastened to one roller and the wrists are chained to the other. As the interrogation progresses, a handle and ratchet mechanism are used to very gradually increase the tension on the chains, inducing pain. The main objective was to force Anne Askew to answer questions about people such as Catherine Parr (see A3).

Q5: Why was Anne Askew tortured?

A5: Alison Weir points out (source 5) that "Anne Askew later dictated an account of the proceedings, in which she testified to being questioned as to whether she knew anything about the beliefs of the ladies of the Queen's household. She replied that she knew nothing." Anne's own account (source 7) claimed that the "Lord Chancellor and Master Rich took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nearly dead. I fainted... and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours arguing with the Lord Chancellor, upon the bare floor... With many flattering words, he tried to persuade me to leave my opinion... I said that I would rather die than break my faith."

Q5: After reading sources 9, 11, 12 and 13, explain what is going on in sources 8, 10 and 14.

A5: Sources 8, 10 and 14 show Anne Askew on the day she was burnt at the stake. Sources 8 and 10 are images of Anne Askew (Emma Stansfield) from a recent television series The Tudors (2010). Source 8 shows her being taken to the scaffold. According to John Foxe: "the day of her execution being appointed, she was brought into Smithfield in a chair, because she could not go on her feet" because she had not fully recovered from being tortured. (source 9). Source 10 shows her being placed on the stake and source 14, a Tudor woodcut, illustrates her being burnt at the stake.