John Foxe, from Acts and Monuments

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 Supper.

[The First Examination of Anne Askew]

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 vain question.

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 I took >> 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 king's book. >> 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 a papist. >> 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 for me.

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 shriven. >> 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 ye not."

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 scathe" >> note 19 (Proverbs 1).

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 to common >> note 21 with me, who said unto me, "Mistress, wherefore are ye accused and thus troubled here before the Bishop?"

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.

© 2010 W.W. Norton and Company :  Site Feedback  :  Help  :  Credits  :  Home  :  Top of page