In the 1540s, Henry VIII sought
to return the English church to a doctrinally
Catholic position, and Protestants were subjected
to persecution. The outspoken Protestant
Anne Askew, possibly denounced to the authorities
by her estranged husband, was called in for
questioning in 1545; the next year, she was
tortured and burned at the stake. Askew's
accounts of her two examinations were smuggled
out of England and published in Germany by
the reformer John Bale (1546–1547). The texts
were later incorporated into John Foxe's Acts
and Monuments (1563), better known as Foxe's
Book of Martyrs. (For Foxe's account
of the execution of Lady Jane Grey, see NAEL
8, 1.674.) Foxe's book, which in its final
form recorded the persecution of English
Christians from Roman Times to the reign
of Mary Tudor, had an enormous influence
on English Protestantism and on England's
sense of itself as a nation. In 1570 the
government ordered that Foxe's Acts be
placed with the Bible in all cathedral churches.
The theological controversies
over the eucharist, for which Askew and her
companions along with many other Protestants
and Catholics were willing to lay down their
lives, require some explanation. Catholic
doctrine held that sacraments properly performed
were independent of the spiritual condition
either of the priest or of the worshipper.
Hence, for example, if the formula of consecration
of the bread and wine was correctly spoken
by an properly ordained priest, the miraculous
transubstantiation of the Host into the body
and blood of Christ would occur, whether
or not the priest or the communicant was
in a state of grace. Indeed, some Catholic
theologians argued, since the bread had objectively
been transformed into the body of God, even
a mouse, nibbling on a consecrated host,
would be receiving Christ's flesh. Protestants
argued that the efficacy of certain key religious
sacraments, including the Lord's Supper,
depended on the spiritual state of the minister
and the congregant. An evil priest, in such
a conception, not only would be damning himself
(as Catholics also believed) but would be
turning the Lord's Supper into the Devil's
To satisfy your expectation, good people
(sayeth she), this was my first examination
in the year of our Lord 1545, and in the
month of March. First Christopher Dare examined
me at Saddlers' Hall,
>> note 1 being
one of the quest,
>> note 2 and
asked if I did not believe that the sacrament hanging over the altar
>> note 3 was
the very body of Christ really. Then I demanded this question of him: wherefore Saint
Stephen was stoned to death. And he said he could not tell. Then I answered
that no more would I assoil
>> note 4 his
Secondly, he said that there was a woman
which did testify that I should read
>> note 5 how
God was not in temples made with hands.
Then I showed him the seventh and
the seventeenth chapters of the Acts of
the Apostles, what Stephen and Paul had
said therein. Whereupon he asked me how
>> note 6 those
sentences. I answered that I would not throw pearls among swine,
>> note 7 for
acorns were good enough.
Thirdly, he asked me wherefore I said that
I had rather to read five lines in the Bible,
than to hear five masses in the temple. I
confessed that I said no less. Not for the
dispraise of either the Epistle or Gospel,
but because the one did greatly edify me,
and the other nothing at all. As Saint Paul
doth witness in the 14th chapter of his first
Epistle to the Corinthians, where as he doth
say: "If the trumpet giveth an uncertain
sound, who will prepare himself to the battle?"
Fourthly, he laid unto my charge that I
should say: "If an ill
>> note 8 priest
ministered, it was the Devil and not God." My
answer was that I never spake such thing.
But this was my saying: "That whatsoever
he were which ministered unto me, his ill
conditions could not hurt my faith, but
in spirit I received nevertheless the body
and blood of Christ." He asked me
what I said concerning confession. I answered
him my meaning, which was as Saint James
sayeth, that every man ought to knowledge
>> note 9 his
faults to other, and the one to pray for the other.
Sixthly, he asked me what I said to the
>> note 10 And
I answered him that I could say nothing
to it, because I never saw it.
Seventhly, he asked me if I had the spirit
of God in me. I answered if I had not, I
was but reprobate or cast away. Then he said
he had sent for a priest to examine me, which
was there at hand. The priest asked me what
I said to the sacrament of the altar.
>> note 11 And
required much to know therein my meaning.
But I desired him again to hold me excused
concerning that matter. None other answer
would I make him, because I perceived him
>> note 12
Eighthly, he asked me if I did not think
that private masses did help souls departed.
>> note 13 And
[I] said it was great idolatry to believe
more in them than in the death which Christ
died for us. Then they had me thence unto
my Lord Mayor and he examined me, as they
had before, and I answered him directly
in all things as I answered the quest afore.
Besides this my Lord Mayor laid one thing
unto my charge which was never spoken of
me but of them. And that was whether a
mouse eating the host received God or no.
This question did I never ask, but indeed
they asked it of me, whereunto I made them
no answer but smiled. Then the Bishop's
Chancellor rebuked me and said that I was
much to blame for uttering the scriptures.
For Saint Paul (he said) forbade women
to speak or to talk of the word of God.
I answered him that I knew Paul's meaning
as well as he, which is, 1 Corinthians
14, that a woman ought not to speak in
the congregation by the way of teaching.
And then I asked him how many women he
had seen go into the pulpit and preach?
He said he never saw none. Then I said,
he ought to find no fault in poor women,
except they had offended the law. Then
my Lord Mayor commanded me to ward.
>> note 14 I
asked him if sureties
>> note 15 would
not serve me, and he made me short answer, that he would take none.
Then was I had to the Counter,
>> note 16 and
there remained 11 days, no friend admitted
to speak with me. But in the meantime there
was a priest sent to me which said that
he was commanded of the Bishop to examine
me, and to give me good counsel, which
he did not. But first he asked me for what
cause I was put in the Counter. And I told
him I could not tell. Then he said it was
great pity that I should be there without
cause, and concluded that he was very sorry
Secondly, he said it was told him that I
should deny the sacrament of the altar. And
I answered him again that, that I had said,
I had said. Thirdly, he asked me if I were
>> note 17 I
told him so that I might have one of these
three, that is to say, Doctor Crome, Sir
William, or Huntingdon,
>> note 18 I
was contented, because I knew them to be
men of wisdom. "As for you or any
other I will not dispraise, because I know
Then he said, "I would not have you
think but that I or another that shall be
brought you shall be as honest as they. For
if we were not, ye may be sure, the king
would not suffer us to preach."
Then I answered by the saying of Solomon, "By
communing with the wise, I may learn wisdom:
But by talking with a fool, I shall take
>> note 19 (Proverbs
Fourthly, he asked me if the host should
fall, and a beast did eat it, whether the
beast did receive God or no. I answered, "Seeing
ye have taken the pains to ask this question
I desire you also to assoil it yourself.
For I will not do it, because I perceive
ye come to tempt me." And he said it
was against the order of schools that he
which asked the question should answer it.
I told him I was but a woman and knew not
the course of schools.
>> note 20 Fifthly,
he asked me if I intended to receive the sacrament at Easter or no. I answered
that else I were no Christian woman, and there I did rejoice, that the time
was so near at hand. And then he departed thence with many fair words.
In the meanwhile he commanded his archdeacon
>> note 21 with
me, who said unto me, "Mistress, wherefore
are ye accused and thus troubled here before
To whom I answered again and said, "Sir,
ask, I pray you, my accusers, for I know
not as yet."
Then took he my book out of my hand and
said, "Such books as this hath brought
you to the trouble you are in. Beware," sayeth
he, "beware, for he that made this book
and was the author thereof was an heretic,
I warrant you, and burnt in Smithfield."
Then I asked him if he were certain and
sure that it was true that he had spoken.
And he said he knew well the book was of John
Frith's making. Then I asked him
if he were not ashamed for to judge of the
book before he saw it within or yet knew
the truth thereof. I said also that such
unadavised and hasty judgment is token apparent
of a very slender
>> note 22 wit.
Then I opened the book and showed it to him. He said he thought it had been
another, for he could find no fault therein. Then I desired him no more to
be so unadvisedly rash and swift in judgment, till he thoroughly knew the
truth, and so he departed from me.