On this day in 1546, in the final full year of Henry VIII’s reign, 25-year-old Anne Askew was burnt at the stake at West Smithfield for heresy, for preaching against the then still orthodox belief in transubstantiation (see also June 18th and June 27th postings). She had previously been racked in the Tower of London – the only woman to have suffered both fates. And she had to be carried to, and seated at, the stake.
The Protestant martyrologist John Foxe, in his “Book of Martyrs” of 1563, gives the following as Anne Askew’s own account ..
“They said to me there, that I was a heretic, and condemned by the law, if I would stand in my opinion. I answered, that I was no heretic, neither yet deserved I any death by the law of God. But, as concerning the faith which I uttered and wrote to the council, I would not, I said, deny it, because I knew it true. Then would they needs know, if I would deny the sacrament to be Christ’s body and blood. I said, ‘Yea: for the same Son of God that was born of the Virgin Mary, is now glorious in heaven, and will come again from thence at the latter day like as he went up. And as for that ye call your God … a piece of bread … , … let it but lie in the box three months, and it will be mouldy, and so turn to nothing that is good. Whereupon I am persuaded that it cannot be God.’
… Then they did put me on the rack, because I confessed no ladies or gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long time; and because I lay still, and did not cry, my lord chancellor [Sir Thomas Wriothesley] and Master Rich [Sir Richard Rich] took pains to rack me with their own hands, till I was nigh dead. Then the lieutenant caused me to be loosed from the rack. Incontinently I swooned, and then they recovered me again. After that I sat two long hours reasoning with my lord chancellor upon the bare floor; where he, with many flattering words, persuaded me to leave my opinion. But my Lord God (I thank his everlasting goodness) gave me grace to persevere, and will do, I hope, to the very end.”
West Smithfield is visited on our “Historic Smithfield, Clerkenwell and Holborn” standard walk, and on our “Medieval London”, “Post-Medieval (Tudor and Stuart) London” and “Rebellious London” themed specials.
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