Edited by Howard Douglas King
The following account is taken verbatim from the old book, Cross and Crown, by James D. McCabe, a collection of accounts of the martyrs of the Protestant Reformation period. Only the introduction, section headings, and conclusion are mine.
Why would anyone want to hear the story of one of the church's martyrs? From the human point of view, it seems like nothing but a tragedy of hopelessness -- the good and beautiful trampled into the dust by gigantic, unstoppable forces of evil. But from the Divine viewpoint, it's the story of one saint's super-human courage, strength, and triumph! She looked the devil in the face, and did not flinch. She dared his minions to do their worst, and braved their furious hate! She overcame them by the blood of the lamb, and the word of her testimony, and she is now in heaven, out of the reach of any evil, at rest, surrounded by saints and angels, held in honor by all, awaiting the day of Jesus Christ, and the glorious resurrection!
All honor to her! And to the countless unsung heroes of the Great War! All glory to the Lamb, who gave them the victory! We may be sure that her death was not defeat, and that it was fruitful in glory to God, as well as confirming the truth of the gospel. Why would someone willingly die for a lie? Would people of character and sober judgment give themselves up to bitter pains for a delusion?
So let us fortify our own hearts by contemplating their courageous lives and deaths. Here, then, is one of the numerous examples of men and women who gave their all for Jesus Christ. Let us hear the true story of Anne Askew.
How Anne Came to be Persecuted
THERE lived in Lincolnshire, in the reign of Henry VIII., a knight, of ancient and honorable family, Sir William Askew by name. He resided at Kelsay, his ancestral home, and was the father of several daughters and a son. Close by him lived his most intimate friend, a Mr. Kyme, who was a man of great wealth. Mr. Kyme was the father of a son who was just entering upon manhood, and who would one day be the heir to his vast estate. Wishing that the young man should marry and settle down early, he began to look about him, as was the fashion with parents in those days, for a wife for his son, and his choice fell upon the eldest daughter of his old friend, Sir William Askew. The young people were betrothed, but before the marriage could be solemnized, the lady, who had been greatly averse to the proposed union, died. Sir William then proposed to Mr. Kyme that his son should marry Anne, his second daughter, who was more beautiful and attractive than her sister had been. The knight was not willing to lose the chance of an alliance with so much wealth, and Mr. Kyme, on his part, was very anxious that his son's wife should be a member of such a good old family. Young Kyme does not seem to have been very much concerned as to whom he married, but Anne Askew was earnestly opposed to becoming his wife. She begged her father not to compel her to marry a man whom she did not love, and who was personally disagreeable to her, but Sir William turned a deaf ear to her appeals, and in due time the marriage was celebrated.
Anne Askew was not only a beautiful and high spirited woman, but she was also well educated for a woman of her time, and was possessed of unusual mental gifts. She was a very pious woman, and having become a wife, she endeavored faithfully to discharge her duty to her husband. They lived together in peace for some time, and she bore him two children. Yet she could not bring herself to love her husband, or even to feel attached to him, and there is very good reason for thinking that he was not worthy of such a feeling on her part. There were frequent causes of discontent between them, and their married life at length became entirely the reverse of happy.
About this time the English Bible was given to the people by means of the printing press, and one of these copies came into the possession of Anne Askew, or Mistress Kyme. She read it with avidity, and it had the effect of working a complete revolution in her feelings and life. Up to this time she had been a Romanist, but the perusal of the Scriptures opened her eyes to the errors of Rome, and she soon abandoned her old faith and became a convert to the religion of Jesus Christ as set forth in the Holy Gospel. Her Bible readings were watched with suspicion by the priests, who were quick to advise her husband to compel her to abandon a practice which they declared to be full of danger. Mr. Kyme, who was a bigoted Papist, endeavored to compel her to discontinue her studies, and thus drew from her the avowal that she was no longer a Romanist, but a follower of the doctrines of the Reformation. Instigated by the priests, he ordered her to give up her religion, and return to his own faith; but she refused, telling him that her conscience was not subject to his control. He treated her very cruelly on account of her change of faith, and at length finding that he could not force her into obedience to his tyrannical demands, turned her out of his house.
She at once repaired to London, where she found friends, and began a suit for a divorce from her husband. The probability is that she abandoned the suit, finding it would be impossible to obtain justice at the hands of the Roman Catholic judges by whom her case would be considered. She resumed her maiden name, however, and steadfastly refused to return to her husband, or to have anything to do with him. She found friends at Court, and the queen, Catharine Parr, became warmly attached to her, and is said to have made her one of her ladies in waiting.
It was at this time that the Romanist enemies of Queen Catharine were busily working to accomplish her ruin. They found it a difficult and a dangerous thing to attack the queen directly, for she still retained her influence over Henry. Her enemies hoped that by selecting one or more of her friends they might wring out of them by the torture, evidence enough to warrant them in bringing an accusation against her.
They, therefore, made common cause with Anne Askew's husband, and determined to make Anne the means of involving her royal friend and benefactress in the ruin they designed for every English Protestant. They accordingly surrounded her with spies, whose business it was to note and report every act or utterance upon which a charge of heresy could be based.
One of these, a worthless wretch named Wadloe, took lodgings next door to her house, and even went so far as to enter her residence and watch her through the door of her sleeping apartment. He could discover nothing, however, and being conscience stricken went back to his employers with this confession: " She is the most devout woman I have ever known ; for at midnight she begins to pray, and ceases not for many hours, when I and others are addressing ourselves to sleep and work." The priests kept up their watch upon her, however. They wished to destroy her because of her renunciation of their creed and practices, and they also hoped to wring from her in the agony of torture some confession which would be damaging to the queen.
Her First Arrest and Examination
They were at length rewarded for their vigilance. She was heard to say she had rather read five lines in the Bible than hear five masses in the chapel. She also expressed her disbelief as to the efficacy of the sacrament of the eucharist being dependent on the character or intention of the priest; and observed that whatever was the character or intention of the priest who administered to her the eucharist, he could not prevent her from receiving spiritually the body and blood of Christ. These expressions were promptly reported to the priests, who obtained from the civil authorities a warrant for her arrest on the charge of heresy.
In March, 1545, she was brought before a commission in London, and examined concerning her belief. In this, as in all her subsequent examinations, the question most strongly pressed was, what her sentiments were as to the doctrine of Transubstantiation. She refused to answer some of the questions, knowing the malice of her judges, and not wishing to criminate herself. Others she answered with great readiness and freedom. The chief examiner was Christopher Dare, who began by asking her: " Do you believe that the sacrament upon the altar is the very body and blood of Christ?"
If she had answered frankly according to her belief she would have rendered further examination useless, and her judges could have condemned her to death upon this confession. She was aware of this, and was determined not- to gratify them, or to criminate herself, so she said to Christopher Dare: "Please tell me why St. Stephen was stoned to death?" " I cannot tell," replied Dare. "Neither will I tell you whether I do or do not believe the sacrament upon the altar to be the very body and blood of Christ."
"Why did you say," asked Dare, " that you would rather read five lines in the Bible than hear five masses in' the church ?" "I confess that I said no less," she answered, " because the one greatly edifies me, the other nothing at all." Then, without censuring the idolatry of the Mass, for she had no wish to needlessly prejudice her case, she quoted in proof of the uselessness of performing the service connected with it in a tongue not understood by the people, the words of St. Paul (1 Cor. 14:8), "If the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?" She also quoted the 19th verse of the same chapter: " In the Church I had rather speak five words with my understanding, that by my voice I might teach others also, than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue."
They asked her many other questions, among others what she thought of the book the king had written against Luther, and which had won him from the Pope the title of "Defender of the Faith." They hoped she would answer that she did not approve it, and thus make the king her enemy, for he was merciless to those who failed to praise his book; but, fortunately for her, she was able to answer, "I can pronounce no judgment upon it, as I never saw it." They also asked her, "Do you not think that private masses help souls departed ?" "It is great idolatry," she answered, "to believe more in these than in the death which Christ died for us."
Her First Imprisonment
Finding it impossible to elicit anything from her, the examination was brought to a close, and she was sent to the Lord Mayor, who undertook to question her, but with no better success. He then committed her to prison, although there was no law to justify him in his act. Her friends endeavored to procure her release on bail, but the priests took care to prevent it, and she lay for seven days in the Compter prison, no one being allowed to speak with her during that time save a priest who was sent by the Bishop of Winchester, the infamous Gardiner, to question her. He asked her this question: " If the host should fall, and a beast should eat it, does the beast receive God or no?" "Seeing you have taken the trouble to ask this question," she replied, " I desire you also to take the trouble to answer it yourself: for I will not, because I perceive you all come to tempt me."
Her cousin Brittayne, who was much attached to her, now endeavored to secure her release on bail. He appealed to the Lord Mayor to liberate her, but the magistrate told him that, as this was the Church's matter, he could not set her free without the consent of the Bishop of London. Bonner, the prelate referred to, professed the greatest interest in her case, assured her cousin that he would do everything in his power to obtain her freedom, and urged him to advise her to speak her sentiments freely. The crafty bishop was fully resolved to burn Anne Askew, but he wished to beguile her into making an open confession of heresy, which he might use as a pretext for her murder. He had her brought before him on the 25th of March, and finding that he could not draw anything from her which would incriminate her, taunted her with the cowardly insinuation that her life was not as pure as the Scriptures she read required. Looking him full in the face, she answered calmly: "I would, my lord, that all men knew my conversation and living in all points; for I am so sure of my self this hour, that there is none able to prove any dishonesty in me. If you know any that can do it, I pray you bring them forth."
Finding it impossible to make her utter anything for which she could be punished, the bishop drew up a confession, which he ordered her to sign.
This confession would have committed her to the very doctrines she condemned, and she refused to sign it. At length, in compliance with the entreaties of her friends who were seeking her release, she wrote under the confession: "I, Anne Askew, do believe all things contained in the faith of the Catholic Church."
Bonner burst into a furious passion as he read this subscription, well knowing that by it she did not mean the "Roman Catholic Church", and it was with difficulty that he could be brought to a sufficient degree of calmness to consent to her release. Bail was given, and she was set at liberty. But the priests were resolved that she should not escape them. Her youth, her beauty, her intellectual attainments, and her virtues were winning her too many friends, and she was too dangerous a heretic to be suffered to live. In less than three months she was again a prisoner in their hands. She was brought before the Lords of the Privy Council at Greenwich, and by them sent to Newgate prison, to be dealt with according to the law.
Anne Before the King's Privy Council
The Lord Chancellor of England at this time was Thomas Wriothesley, one of the cruelest and most bigoted Romanists that ever held power in England. He was intimately associated with the old Duke of Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner in all the measures brought forward by the Romanist party to throttle the Reformation. He now undertook the prosecution of the beautiful woman whose innocence and pure womanliness had no power to touch his cruel heart. He caused her to be brought before the council on the 25th of June, and subjected her to an examination which lasted for five hours. He asked her what was her opinion as to the bread in the eucharist. She replied: "I believe that as oft as I, in a Christian congregation, receive the bread in remembrance of Christ's death, and with thanksgiving, according to His holy institution, I receive therewith the fruits also of His most glorious passion." Bishop Gardiner interrupted her, angrily, and ordered her to give a direct answer, and not to speak in parables, at the same time calling her a parrot. " I am ready," she said, calmly, "to suffer all things at your hands; not only your rebukes, but all that shall follow besides, yea, and that gladly."
The next day her examination was resumed, and her answers not being satisfactory to Gardiner, that merciless prelate cried out to her, "You will be burned." She answered: "I have searched all the Scriptures, yet could I never find that Christ or His apostles put any creature to death." Mr. Paget, one of the council, now asked her, more kindly than the others had done: " How can you avoid the very words of Christ, 'Take, eat, this is my body which is broken for you?'" "Christ's meaning in that passage, "she
replied, "is similar to the meaning of those other places of Scripture, 'I am the door,' 'I am the vine,' 'Behold the Lamb of God,' 'That rock was Christ,' and such like. You are not in these texts to take Christ for the material thing which He is signified by, for then you will make Him a very door, a vine, a lamb, a stone, quite contrary to the Holy Ghost's meaning. All these indeed do signify Christ, even as the bread signifies His body in that place. And though He said there, 'Take, eat this in remembrance of me,' yet did He not bid them hang up that bread in a pix and make it a god, or bow to it'".
In Newgate Prison
She was sent back to Newgate, and the next day was very ill. Believing that she was dying, she requested leave to receive a visit from the good Hugh Latimer, who afterwards proved so faithful a witness for Christ, that he might comfort her with his godly counsel, but her request was refused. It was now very plain to her that her enemies were resolved upon her death. She was a brave woman, as all her history proves, and she was a sincere Christian as well. She turned for support and comfort to the only true source, and she found strength to bear all her trials with Christian fortitude and meekness. Her feelings are well described in the following poem, written by her during her imprisonment in Newgate:
Like as the armed knight,
Appointed to the field,
With this world will I fight,
And Christ shall be my shield.
Faith is that weapon strong,
Which will not fail at need;
My foes, therefore, among,
Therewith will I proceed.
As it is had in strength
And force of Christ's way,
It will prevail at length,
Though all the devils say nay.
Faith in the fathers old
Which makes me very bold
To fear no world's distress.
I now rejoice in heart,
And hope bids me do so;
For Christ will take my part,
And ease me of my woe.
Thou say'st, Lord, whoso knock
To them Thou wilt attend;
Undo, therefore, the lock,
And Thy strong power send.
More en'mies now I have
Than hairs upon my head:
Let them not me deprave,
But fight Thou in my stead.
On Thee my care I cast,
For all their cruel spite;
I set not by their haste,
For Thou art my delight.
I am not she that list
My anchor to let fall,
For every drizzling mist,
My ship substantial.
Not oft use I to write,
In prose, nor yet in rhyme;
Yet will I show one sight
That I saw in my time.
I saw a royal throne,
Where Justice should have sit,
But in her stead was one
Of moody, cruel wit.
Absorbed was righteousness,
As of the raging flood;
Satan, in his excess,
Sucked up the guiltless blood.
Then thought I, Jesus, Lord,
When Thou shalt judge us all,
Hard is it to record
On these men what will fall.
Yet, Lord, I Thee desire,
For that they do to me,
Let them not taste the hire
Of their iniquity.
Second Examination by the Privy Council
In all her previous examinations, Anne had avoided a direct answer to the question concerning her faith in the doctrine of Transubstantiation, but now feeling that her enemies were determined to kill her, and that she had no longer anything to gain by refusing to answer their questions, she wrote to the Privy Council a plain statement of her belief, in these words:
"That the sacramental bread was left us to be received with thanksgiving in remembrance of Christ's death, the only remedy of our soul's recovery, and that thereby we also receive the whole benefits and fruits of His most glorious passion."
On Monday, June 28th, she was taken to Guildhall to be examined again by the council. She was taunted with being a heretic, but she denied the imputation, and declared that she had done nothing for which she deserved death by the law of God. When they asked her if she denied the Sacrament of the eucharist to be Christ's body and blood, she answered, without hesitation:" Yes, 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 last day in like manner as He went up. And as to what you call your God, it is but a piece of bread. As an additional proof of this (mark it when you please), let it lie in the pix but three months and it will be mouldy, and so turn to nothing that is good. I am therefore persuaded that it cannot be God."
"Do you deny," she was asked, "the bread in the pix to be God?" "God is a spirit," she replied, "and not a wafer-cake, and He is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth, and not by the impious superstitious homage paid to a wafer, converted, by Popish jugglery, into a God."
"Do you plainly deny Christ to be in the Sacrament?" she was asked again. "I believe,"she answered, "the eternal Son of God not to dwell there." She fortified her declaration—she quoted many passages of Scripture. " I neither wish death," she concluded, "nor fear his might. God have the praise thereof with thanks."
The council urged her to take the benefit of a priest, but she replied, with a smile, that she would confess her sins to God, from whom alone she could obtain absolution.
The Lord Mayor of London, Sir Martin Bowes, now asked and received permission to question her. "Thou foolish woman," he began, "sayest thou that the priest cannot make the body of Christ?" "I say so, my lord," replied Anne, "for I have read that God made man, but that man can make God I never yet read, nor I suppose ever shall."
"Thou foolish woman!" continued the pompous magistrate, "after the words of consecration, is it not the Lord's body?" "No, it is but consecrated or sacramental bread," she answered. "What if a mouse eat it after the consecration?" asked the mayor, confident of annihilating her with this argument. "What shall become of the mouse? What sayest thou, foolish woman?" Anne Askew gazed at him a moment, and then asked, quietly: "What shall become of it, say you, my lord?" "I say that the mouse is damned," he answered, quickly. "Alack! poor mouse!" she exclaimed, with mock pity.
Some of the council burst into a laugh at these words, and seeing how badly their champion was faring at the hands of Mistress Anne, they put a stop to his question ing, and "proceeded," says Strype, "to the butchery they intended before they came thither."
Condemned Without a Proper Trial
By the law of England, Anne Askew was entitled to an open trial by jury, but the Roman Catholic influence was strong enough in the council to deprive her of this right. The Lord Chancellor Wriothesley and Bishop Gardiner exerted themselves to induce the council to condemn her, and were successful in their efforts.
There is nothing so hateful to Rome as civil freedom, and nothing which gives her greater delight than the trampling down of the barriers with which the laws of a country encompass that freedom. On the 28th of June, Anne was condemned by the council in company with Christopher White, and a Mr. Adams, a tailor. They were all three informed that they had been found guilty of heresy by their own confessions. The lord chancellor then read to them the sentence of the council, which was that they should be burned at the stake. They were then sent back to Newgate.
Back in Newgate Prison
Anne now appealed to the king for justice, but her appeal fell upon an ear of stone. Henry was too intensely selfish to care for the life of this poor woman, and he left her case in the hands of the priests, her sworn enemies. These people endeavored to make it appear that her appeal was based upon her fear of death ; but this was not so. She did not fear death, but she wished to have justice done her. She felt that the law was being violated in her case, and that her rights as an English woman were being trampled under foot by the myrmidons of the Pope, and she was brave enough to contend for them to the last. In a letter to her old tutor, John Lascels, who suffered with her, she thus meets this charge of cowardice: "Friend, most dearly beloved in God, I marvel not a little what should move you to judge in me so slender a faith as to fear death, which is the end of all misery. In the Lord, I desire of you not to believe of me such wickedness ; for I doubt not, but God will perform His work in me, like as He hath began."
The Romanists now began to annoy her with efforts to induce her to recant. They sent to her Nicholas Shaxton, the apostate ex-Bishop of Salisbury, and others, who did their utmost, by promises of mercy and freedom, to move her. She remained firm, however, and told Shaxton to his face that it had been good for him if he had never been born. When her visitors left her she was sent to the Tower of London—the day being the 13th of July—where, at three o'clock in the afternoon, she underwent a new examination.
Anne's Enemies Resort to Torture
This examination was conducted by the Lord Chancellor Wriothesley, who wished to compel her to say something that would incriminate the queen, or the Duchess of Suffolk, the Countess of Sussex, the Countess of Hertford, Lady Denny, or Lady Fitzwilliams, all of whom the Romanists were anxious to destroy. Some of these ladies had been very kind to her since her imprisonment. The chancellor plied her with questions, but could discover nothing to the prejudice of these ladies. He then ordered her to be stretched upon the rack, in order to force her through sheer suffering to say something that he might twist into an accusation against the ladies mentioned. She was fastened to the rack, and the levers were turned, causing her the keenest suffering. She bore the cruel torture without a cry or a murmur. The torture of the rack, or stretching, was applied in various ways, the object being always to cause the victim to suffer by the stretching.
The chancellor was furious at not being able to extort anything from her, and ordered the torture to be increased ; but the lieutenant of the Tower, Sir Anthony Knevet, ordered the jailors to release her. Wriothesley angrily commanded the lieutenant to obey him, but Sir Anthony told him that he commanded in the Tower, and reminded the chancellor that he had not the king's order to put the prisoner to the torture, and that he, the lieutenant, was incurring a serious risk in allowing one of the king's subjects to be racked without express orders from the king.
Wriothesley was a true son of the Romish Church, and he was not to be stopped in his cruelty. He threw off his gown, and called on Richard Rich, who had accompanied him, and who was afterwards lord chancellor, to do likewise. Then these brutal men themselves seized hold of the levers. The chancellor, pausing a moment, asked Anne if she was with child.
"Ye shall not need to spare for that," replied the heroic woman. "Do your wills upon me." The chancellor and Rich then applied themselves to their horrid task. The rack was usually a stout wooden frame with two rollers or windlasses, one at each end, placed horizontally, seven feet apart. The arms and feet of the victims were fastened to these rollers by sharp, cutting cords. The windlasses were then turned by levers, until the body of the victim was in a state of tension, some times so great as not only to dislocate the limbs, but to tear the muscles. The agony of the sufferer was also increased by the cords cutting through the ankles and wrists to the very bone. The rack has always been a favorite instrument of punishment with the Romish Church. The victim on the rack was a woman whose helplessness and gentleness might have moved any hearts but those hardened by the religion of Rome. They were merciless, and with their own hands they stretched her body until her joints were pulled asunder, and her bones almost broken. She endured it all, however, and to the end refused to say one word which might compromise any one who had befriended her, or whom she had reason to think held the same faith as herself. Nothing but the fear that she would die under the torture made these wretches desist.
As soon as she was released from the rack, she swooned from the awful agony. Restoratives were applied and her consciousness returned. Then the brutal chancellor kept her sitting for two hours on the bare floor, while he urged her to renounce her faith. After this, she says, in her touching narrative of her sufferings, "was I brought to a house, and laid in a bed, with as weary and painful bones as ever had patient Job; I thank my Lord God therefor."
Her words do not convey a fair idea of her condition. The torture had deprived her of the use of her limbs, which had been pulled apart, and her sufferings were intense. Her condition was such that she could have lived but a short time at the best, for it was not possible for a human body to rally from injuries such as she had received.
The lieutenant of the Tower set out for the king's presence immediately upon the departure of the chancellor, who had threatened him with the royal displeasure for refusing to continue the torture. He reached the palace before the chancellor, and gave the king an exact account of the affair, declaring that he had not the heart to torture a poor woman when it was useless, without express orders from his majesty. Henry approved his conduct, and sharply censured the chancellor. There the matter ended, and he allowed the priests and their followers to work their will on the poor victim whom they had already brought down to the gates of death.
The chancellor and the Privy Council endeavored to prevent their treatment of Anne from becoming known, but without effect. They were ashamed that their cowardly brutality should be made known to the people. The chancellor sent her a message that if she would change her faith she should want for nothing, but that if she continued obstinate she should be sent to Newgate and put to death. She replied that she would rather die than break her faith.
A Vain Attempt to Discredit Her
Bonner and his associates, who were adepts at circulating false reports in such cases, endeavored to damage their victim in the eyes of the people by printing and circulating the paper which he had written after her first imprisonment, and which she had refused to sign. The reader will remember that she had written under this paper, "I, Anne Askew, do believe all things contained in the faith of the Catholic Church." Now, however, Bonner printed the paper with her unqualified signature to it, and with the names of upwards of a dozen of ecclesiastics and laymen appended to it as witnesses. It was a trick worthy of its author. She at once drew up an answer, in which she utterly denied the genuineness of the document printed by Bonner, and declared that she had never, at any time since her trials began, ceased to profess the faith she then held. She was then committed to Newgate, and while she lay in prison there, suffering and sore from the effects of her torture, she drew up the following confession of her faith:
"I, Anne Askew, of good memory, although my merciful Father hath given me the bread of adversity and the water of trouble, yet not so much as my sins have deserved, do confess myself here a sinner before the throne of His heavenly Majesty, desiring His eternal mercy. And forasmuch as I am by the law unrighteously condemned for an evil-doer concerning opinions, I take the same most merciful God of mine, who hath made both heaven and earth, to record that I hold no opinions contrary to His Holy Word. And I trust in my merciful Lord, who is the giver of all grace, that He will graciously assist me against all evil opinions, which are contrary to His most blessed verity. For I take Him to witness that I do, and will unto my life's end, utterly abhor them to the uttermost of my power.
"But this is the heresy which they report me to hold: That after the priest hath spoken the words of consecration, there remaineth bread still. They both say, and also teach it for a necessary article of faith, that after those words are once spoken, there remaineth no bread, but even the selfsame body that hung upon the cross on Good Friday, both flesh, blood, and bone. To this belief of theirs, say I nay. For then were our common creed false, which saith, 'that He sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead. Lo, this is the heresy that I hold, and for it must suffer the death. But as touching the holy and blessed supper of the Lord, I believe it to be a most necessary remembrance of His glorious sufferings and death. Moreover, I believe as much therein as my eternal and only Redeemer, Jesus Christ, would I should believe.
"Finally, I believe all those Scriptures to be true which He hath confirmed with His most precious blood. Yea, and as St. Paul saith, those Scriptures are sufficient for our learning and salvation that Christ hath left here with us ; so that I believe we need no unwritten verities to rule His Church with. Therefore look what He hath said unto me with His own mouth in His holy Gospel, that have I, with God's grace, closed up in my heart. And my full trust is, as David saith, that it shall be a lantern to my footsteps.
"There be some that do say that I deny the eucharist, or Sacrament of thanksgiving ; but those people do untruly report of me. For I both say and believe it, that if it were ordered like as Christ instituted and left it, a most singular comfort it were unto us all. But as concerning your Mass, as it is now used in our days, I do say and believe it to be the most abominable idol that is in the world; for my God will not be eaten with teeth, neither yet dieth He again. And upon these words that I have now spoken will I suffer death."
Throughout the whole of her persecution, Anne Askew had preserved the patient sweetness of her demeanor. All the cruelties of her enemies had been powerless to change this, or to wring from her one unchristian complaint or unwomanly word. She was only in her twenty-fifth year, and life was very sweet to her, but not so sweet as to make it worth the sacrifice of her conscience. She did not desire martyrdom, but she did not shrink from it, and she bore all her sufferings with a firmness and gentleness never surpassed in the annals of Christian heroism. Not once did she revile her enemies, but like her blessed Master she prayed for her murderers, that they might be saved from the just punishment of their crimes.
At length the day of her execution arrived. Three stakes were set up in front of St. Bartholomew's Church at Smithfield, and the space surrounding them enclosed with a railing to keep off the crowd. A dense concourse of people filled the street, and lined the windows and housetops commanding a view of the stake. A platform had been erected at the side of the church, and on this sat the Lord Chancellor Wriothesley, the old Duke of Norfolk, the old Earl of Bedford, the Lord Mayor of London, and several other leaders of the Papist party.
Numerous monks and priests were scattered through the crowd, but there were also many friends and sympathizers of the martyrs, who had come as a matter of duty to witness the death of their friends, and to cheer them, if possible, with their prayers or their exhortations. Anne Askew, being unable to walk or stand, in consequence of her torture upon the rack, was brought in a chair to the stake, where she was fastened to the post by an iron chain passed about her waist, and was thus held up to it.
Three other victims of Rome were brought out to die with her. They were, John Lascels, a former member of the king's household and Anne's old tutor, Nicholas Belenean, a priest of Shropshire, and John Adams, a tailor, all condemned for holding the opinions for which Anne was to suffer. Anne was fastened to a separate stake, and the others to the remaining two. They spoke to each other constantly words of comfort and encouragement, and it was evident to all that the men became more intrepid and resolute on witnessing the courage and hearing the Christian exhortations of the beautiful woman who was to die with them. As for Anne, her face was calm and peaceful. "She had an angel's countenance, and a smiling face," says one who witnessed her death.
When the preparations were completed, the renegade Bishop Shaxton mounted the pulpit which had been erected in the square, and began to preach to the martyrs, urging them to repent of their sins and be reconciled to the Church of Rome. His words were in vain, however. In the eyes of the martyrs he was a traitor who had betrayed his Lord as basely as Judas had done, and he was the last man in the world that could have influenced them at such a time. Anne, in spite of her sufferings, followed him with marked attention throughout his discourse. When he spoke the truth she expressed her assent audibly, but when he advanced anything contrary to Scripture, she exclaimed: "There he misseth, and speaketh without the book."
The sermon being ended, the martyrs began their prayers—the last they were to utter on earth. Then the lord chancellor, in accordance with the law of Parliament, sent to Anne a letter sealed with the great seal of England, offering her the king's pardon if she would abjure her heretical opinions. She would not even look at the document, but waved the messenger back, saying, calmly and firmly: "I am not come here to deny my Lord and Master." The same offer was made to each of the other three martyrs, but they followed the example of their heroic sister in the faith, and refused to accept it. The messenger then returned to the platform on which the chancellor and the Roman Catholic nobles were sitting, and the Lord Mayor, rising to his feet, exclaimed, with a loud voice: "Fiat justitia! "
The reeds were immediately kindled, and the martyrs were instantly enveloped in the flames and smoke. Powder had been placed about their persons for the purpose of ending their sufferings speedily, and in a little while this exploded, killing them all instantly.
Up to the time of the lighting of the fire, the sky had been fair and peaceful, but the torch had hardly been applied to the reeds when the heavens were suddenly covered with dark clouds. There was a sharp peal of thunder, and then a slight shower of rain descended. This strange occurrence produced a profound impression upon the multitude assembled about the stake. The Reformers who were present cried out that it was a manifestation of God's displeasure at the cruel murder of his servants ; but the priests and monks standing by cried, ferociously: "They are damned! They are damned!" At the same time, they gnashed their teeth in impotent rage at the martyrs, whose lifeless bodies were being fast consumed by the flames; but whose souls had passed through the gates of affliction to the heavenly land, where the power and malice of Rome could not follow them.
So died Anne Askew, one of the noblest and purest witnesses of the truth of which the Christian Church can boast. She gave her life gladly for Christ, and she has her reward in the grateful reverence which is paid to her memory by the Church of Christ in every land.
What lessons can we take home with us? Have you been moved while reading this? It is well to be moved; but emotion is a transient thing. It may not do us any good at all: it all depends on what we do about it. So let's think about how we can profit from what we have just heard.
Ladies, there is a lesson for you in this -- spiritual warfare is not just for the guys. You too must be prepared to face severe temptation, and to overcome it. All of us are warriors, and we must either fight or die. There is no third option, no exemption for the fair sex.
And men, what a challenge it is to us that a woman showed such immense courage and constancy! It is not, by far, the only such case: many women have put men to shame by their constancy in the hour of persecution. Let us remember that we are men when such trials come upon us!
We all have our heroes, and a notion of what heroism is. Sadly the people we admire are often not really that admirable -- celebrities and athletes, for example. They may give a good example of overcoming some adversity, or adhering to a purpose -- but what purpose! Their personal victories don't even save anybody's life, much less save souls! On the other hand, we call some of our policemen, firemen and servicemen heroes; and so we should. For someone to risk his life to protect someone from danger, or in defense of hearth and home is commendable.
But the Christian martyrs show us true heroism! These die for something far nobler still -- for God and His truth, for His cause in this world! We ought to admire them. More, we ought to imitate them. Their names should be familiar in our households, and the role models for our children. It is not just what they died for that is admirable: it is how they died. Many a time, an enemy of truth was converted by observing the way that a martyr faced death. Such selfless courage is unexampled elsewhere in all the annals of the world!
But there is also great hope to be gained from the lives of the martyrs. Many -- yea, most of them were ordinary people, unknown, for the most part, to their own generation. Like Anne Askew, they had no idea of what they were about to face until they became the targets of an ever-escalating assault of the evil powers. Yet she rose to the occasion, by the grace of God. It was He who had chosen her, and who had fore-ordained that she would be honored with the gift of martyrdom. It was He who sustained her in the long hours of extreme suffering to which she was subjected. She
was given a peaceful heart and a gracious disposition to those who hated her so intensely. To the end, she was seeking the good of her enemies, bearing constant witness to the truth, even while chained to the stake. We too can triumph like this! If we will trust God, then grace will be given to us when we shall have need of it.
Sola Deo Gloria!