Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The Execution of Anne Askew

Anne Askew had been arrested for heresy and was tortured in the Tower which in itself was unusual since the law forbade the usage of the rack on women. Little did that help poor Anne. Eventually she was found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake - it must have frightened the Protestants at Henry's court since it was a clear sign of yet another turn on the King's religious path.

On 16 July 1546 a crowd was gathering at Smithfield near the church of St. Bartholomew. Anne herself was carried to the place of execution because her legs had been crushed during her interrogations. Here she was offered a pardon from the King but she refused saying: "I would rather die than break my faith". She was then lifted onto a small chair which had been attached to the thick pole in the middle of the stake since she could not even stand. After placing the tortured woman on the chair the executioner hung a small bag of gunpowder around her neck (but from whom?) in the hope that her death would not be drawn out for too long.
Then a torch was brought to the stake and ignited the faggots piled up around her. Accounts from those who witnessed the execution were all stunned by Anne's extreme courage and self-control. It is reported that she did not scream until the flames reached her chest and by then it would only be a matter of seconds before the gunpowder exploded. Some of these accounts were smuggled out of England and soon made their ways through Europe.

The execution of Anne Askew was not just meant as a punishment for refusing to obey the King's order. It was also a warning to the present Queen Catherine Parr. This last Queen of Henry's was known to be an ardent Protestant and Stephen Gardiner had succeeded in making Henry suspicious enough to make a move against his otherwise beloved wife. Even tough the royal palace was no where near Smithfield the flames of Anne Askew's final moments echoed in the royal halls.

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