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More on Anne Askew

Woodcut from Foxe's Book of Martyrs: The order and the manner of the burning of Anne Askew

Anne Askew's own writings tell us much about her beliefs and the events at the end of her life. Thanks to the relatively good record-keeping of the Tudor era, we know additional facts about her family and the complicated religious and political milieu during Henry VIII's reign. We know Anne was the daughter of a Lincolnshire knight and was forced into an arranged marriage at a young age; that she had two children by her husband, Thomas Kyme, and was violently thrown out of the house by him; that she unsuccessfully sought a divorce, took back her own name, moved to London and became a famous gospeller (one who expounded publicly on the Christian Bible). We know she was a writer; that she memorized prodigious amounts of Scripture, was put on trial for her beliefs, was tortured in the Tower of London, wrote a detailed account of her trials and torture, which was smuggled out of the prison by her maid, and that she was burned at the stake on 16 July 1546.


The above is recounted in The Examinations of Anne Askew, the collection of her writings published shortly after her death by the Reformist John Bale. But a casual scan of internet sources will bring up assertions about Anne that my deeper dive into her history contradicts. From the time of her death, Anne's story has been used as a polemic by both traditionalists and reformists, and I think this accounts for why some misleading assertions about her keep getting repeated, including, at this writing, on her Wikipedia page.


Wiki says, for instance, that she was an Anabaptist and a friend of the Anabaptist Joan Bocher, who was burned four years after Anne, but, looking at primary sources from Anne's era, I found no evidence of that. I did find that she was accused of being an anabaptist by her enemies, just as she was accused of being a sectary, a heretic, a morally loose woman. The tale that she was friends with Joan Bocher was first published 53 years after her death in a diatribe against both women by a Jesuit priest, Robert Persons, who had his own agenda. This was during the reign of the very Protestant Elizabeth I, and Persons, who was born the same year Anne died, said he'd learned all this from someone who had been at Bocher's trial. Make of that what you will. I didn't put it in my novel, except for a fleeting appearance by a "Sister Joan" in an evangelical meeting in a London brewery near the end of the book, which I slipped in like an Easter egg for scholars of the era to find.  


One interesting fact I left out of the book is that Anne's father, Sir William Ayscough, served on the jury that condemned to death four of the purported lovers of Anne Boleyn. The trial was at Westminster on 12 May 1536, and Anne Boleyn lost her head seven days later. Prize for the Fire opens nine months after that. In drafting the novel, I wrote several versions where young Anne learns of her father's role on the jury and the condemned men's executions, as well as the beheading of Anne Boleyn, but it always came out as backstory, exposition, overheard conversations, and it carried the narrative too far from Anne's primary conflict—her grief and her miserable marriage—so this interesting historical tidbit remains a true part of Anne Askew's story but not of my book.



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