July 16th – On this day in 1546, in the final year of Henry VIII’s reign, Anne Askew was burnt at the stake at West Smithfield for her allegedly heretical beliefs (see also June 27th Blog, about protestants martyred under Queen Mary). She had previously been tortured in the Tower of London, in an unsuccessful effort to ellicit the names of fellow heretics – the only woman on record to have suffered both fates.
It is curious to note that this execution of a protestant took place during the reign of the King who broke with Rome, thereby establishing the Church of England. But the Anglican orthodoxy of the time still held to a belief in transubstantiation, a doctrine against which Anne Askew gave sermons in London.
Anne Askew is also noted as the first Englishwoman to have demanded a divorce – in this case as an innocent party on ‘scriptural’ grounds, since she claimed her husband was not a believer.
West Smithfield is visited on our Wednesday morning “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn – Fanfare and Plainsong” walk.