Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the only woman ever tortured on the rack in Reformation England.

It is the 18th of June 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


This story has everything: King Henry VIII, divorce, the tower of London, court intrigue, transubstantiation, and the sheriff of Nottingham(shire) making a cameo.

Her name was Anne Askew, and she was, to some- the most frustrating woman in 16th century England (although, there is competition and I can find 2 dozen more frustrating men of the same era).

Anne was of noble birth- her father had been knighted before her birth in 1521. He, William Askew, was a member of Parliament and was a juror on the case of Anne Boleyn- Henry’s second wife and the first to be beheaded.  

Anne was given an education and used her skills to both read and memorize the Bible and to be amongst the first females to write poetry in modern English. She was taken by the primary ideas of the Reformation- namely, that she could read the Scriptures on her own and that the Catholic Church could err.

And that would fly in Henry’s England…. Some times. It depended on his temper and his court advisors. Henry broke from Rome over the issue of his first marriage and the desire for a divorce. But he would ricochet back to conservative Catholic views, for instance, in the affirming of the 6 Articles in 1539, which reaffirmed some Catholic teaching- most importantly the doctrine of Transubstantiation- that the bread and wine ceased to exist as such after the words of institution.

Anne was decidedly on the side of the Protestants despite her family's old and more conservative leanings. None of this would have bothered Anne had her older sister not died. Her sister, Martha, was betrothed to Thomas Kyme a devout Catholic. The two had two children, but it seems to not have been a happy marriage, with the two arguing theology in general and transubstantiation in particular. Kyme’s advisors would have him put Anne out, and she would move to London to find a more radical set that encouraged not only her theology but also her desire to teach.

Not only had Askew run afoul of the 6 Articles of 1539, but she would also be in particular breach of a new act of Parliament- the Act for the Advancement of True Religion in 1543. This act forbade the reading and teaching of the Bible, only allowing it to religious leaders and men over a certain rank. Women, provided they were of the right class, could read the scriptures privately but not teach. And anyone who taught must avoid what some considered the damnable “plain speak,” wherein doctrines are made simple for the unlearned. Anne was a criminal on many accounts.

Her husband, afraid of what he could be held liable for being that they had not divorced, had Anne arrested in 1545 when she was interrogated and released. The following year, she would be arrested again, this time at the behest of the Bishop of Winchester, who had arranged to rid Henry’s England of troublesome non-conformists- he had also wanted to implicate Henry’s now 6th wife Catherine Parr, whom he believed to be in concert with Anne Askew.

Anne Askew was this time, brought to a room without a friend or sympathizer, and on this, the 18th of June in 1546, was found guilty and condemned to die. But Gardiner wanted her to implicate the queen- thus, he had her moved from the prison to the tower of London, where she was to be put on the rack. The master of interrogation refused as women were not allowed to be tortured- Gardiner had his own men turn the screws, and Askew’s joints and ligaments were torn such that she, upon being released, could not walk. She was fastened to a chair a set ablaze- the anti-Protestant faction happy to quiet another dissenter. Little did they know that stories such as Anne’s- and similar ones with horrific details were being collected by John Foxe, who would come to fame as a publisher of grotesque stories called “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs”- an anti-Catholic tool which helped turn the tide of the Reformation in England. Today, we remember the high profile woman who wouldn’t be quiet- was arrested and put to death- Anne Askew, arrested on this day in 1546 and put to death at the age of only 25.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary and a good word from Revelation 22… please remember, that is “Revelation” No S.

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 18th of June 2024, brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a fan of rack and pinion steering, A Rack of Lamb, and Nordstrom Rack… but not the torture device- he is Christopher Gillespie. 

The show is written and read by a man with another Sheriff of Nottingham reference- and a doozy on tomorrow’s show! I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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