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Negotiating Heresy in Tudor England: Anne Askew and the Bishop of London

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 December 2012


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Copyright © North American Conference of British Studies 2007

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1 For Bonner's comparison of himself to a surgeon—what Askew calls his “unsaverye symylytude”—see Bale, John, The First Examinacyon of the worthye servaunt of god Mastres Anne Askewe (Marburg, 1546), 23rGoogle Scholar.

2 Bale, First Examinacyon, 19r.

3 Ibid., 19v.

4 Ibid.; Bale, John, The Lattre Examinacyon of the worthye servaunt of God mastres Anne Askewe (Marburg, 1547)Google Scholar. Hereafter referred to as the First Examinacyon, the Lattre Examinacyon, or (in combination) the Examinations.

5 Gregory, Brad S., Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA, 1999), 17Google Scholar.

6 According to Foxe, Askew's torture at the hands of the Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley, along with another member of the Privy Council (probably Richard Rich), was part of an attempt to implicate as heretics female members of Catherine Parr's close circle, if not the queen herself (Foxe, John, The Ecclesiasticall History contaynyng the Actes and Monumentes… [London, 1570], 1422–25)Google Scholar.

7 For discussion of the construction of Askew as a “type of the church” and of Bale's contribution to the creation of English Protestant martyrology, see Collinson, Patrick, Elizabethan Essays (London, 1994), 99100Google Scholar; Hickerson, Megan L., Making Women Martyrs in Tudor England (Basingstoke, 2005), 2334, 38–41, 44–52, 69–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Knott, John R., Discourses of Martyrdom in English Literature, 1563–1694 (Cambridge, 1993), 49–57Google Scholar. See also Betteridge, Thomas, Tudor Histories of the English Reformations, 1530–83 (Aldershot, Hants, 1999), esp. chap. 2Google Scholar.

8 Bale, John, A brefe Chronycle concernynge the Examinacyon and death of the blessed martyr of Christ syr Johan Oldecastell the lorde Cobham (Geneva, 1544)Google Scholar. Bale's sources for this account include a pamphlet attributed to Tyndale, William, The examinacion of Master William Thorpe preste accused of heresye … & The examinacion of the honorable knight syr Jhon Oldcastell Lorde Cobham … (Antwerp, 1530)Google Scholar. The Tyndale account, however, cannot be classified as martyrology, lacking as it does (in the case of both Oldcastle and Thorpe, whose fate is actually unknown) scenes of death and arguments for the subjects’ sanctification. The first edition of the English-language Acts and Monuments was published in 1563. Foxe produced three further versions during his lifetime, in 1570 (as the Ecclesiasticall History), 1576, and 1583.

9 Askew places her first set of examinations in March 1545 but according to old-style dating used in public documents (by which the dates between January 1 to March 24 were included as part of the previous year); this would mean, according to the new-style calendar used after 1571, that they actually took place in March 1546 (see Beilin, Elaine, ed., The Examinations of Anne Askew [Oxford, 1996], xxxxii)Google Scholar. Bonner's register, however, attaches the date 20 March 1544 (new-style 1545) to the confession Askew signed (bringing her first set of examinations to a close), encouraging the conclusion that they took place in March 1545, a date that I accept and use in this paper (Bishop Bonner's Register, MS 3591/12, 109r, Guildhall Library [hereafter GL]). Since 1544, according to parliamentary legislation (35 Henry VIII, c. 5), bishops were required to achieve indictment of suspected heretics before pursuing charges against them (see n. 58 below).

10 For Askew's importance in the context of Foxe's larger narrative, see Freeman, Thomas S. and Wall, Sarah Elizabeth, “Racking the Body, Shaping the Text: The Account of Anne Askew in Foxe's Book of Martyrs,” Renaissance Quarterly 54, no. 4, pt. 1 (Winter 2001): 1165–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 “Evangelical” is a term used to describe Henrician quasi-Protestantism. This was a period of flux in English religious orientation, and an evangelical could hold any number of doctrines gesturing toward or fully embracing either positions held by English Lollardy or specific Protestant doctrines appearing, in their variety, on the continent. (For Foxe's impression of religious policy during the 1530s, please see Foxe, Ecclesiasticall History, 1295.)

12 Ryrie, Alec, “The Strange Death of Lutheran England,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 53, no. 1 (January 2002): 68CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

13 See ibid., 64–92.

14 Shagan, Ethan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge, 2003), 2122Google Scholar; Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 70; Zagorin, Perez, Ways of Lying: Dissimulation, Persecution, and Conformity in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, MA, 1990), 67CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

15 Ryrie, Alec, The Gospel of Henry VIII: Evangelicals in the Early English Reformation (Cambridge, 2003), 6971CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

16 Crome's friendship with Askew is referred to twice in Bale, First Examinacyon (12v, 17v).

17 Crome, however, used the opportunity provided by the staging of his first recantation at Paul's Cross following his sermon to instead explicitly deny his recantation (and preach an “evangelical” sermon), earning himself both the king's fury and another trip to Paul's Cross—this time his choice was between sincere recantation and the sort of fate later suffered by Askew and their mutual friend John Lascelles, and he chose the former. For Crome's career of recantation, both “true” and “false,” see Wabuda, Susan, “Equivocation and Recantation during the English Reformation: The ‘Subtle Shadows’ of Dr. Edward Crome,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 44, no. 2 (April 1993): 224–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Shaxton were both former bishops (of Worcester and Salisbury, respectively) who had resigned their sees in protest against the Act of the Six Articles. John Lascelles was a gentleman of the king's Privy Chamber.

18 For example, according to Timothy Bright, who produced the first abridgment of Foxe's Acts and Monuments, Askew “would make no answere”; “she would not cast Pearles among swine”; “she would declare nothing”; “she made such answere as was not to the B. contentment”; she answered in many things parabolically”; “she boldly and roundly (with some checke unto the adversaries) made aunswere in such sort, as they could take no direct vauntage against her” (Bright, Timothy, An Abridgement of the Booke of Acts and Monumentes of the Church: written by that Reuerend Father, Maister Iohn Fox …, 2 vols. [London, 1589], 2:69–70)Google Scholar.

19 Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 14.

20 The “success” of the Henrician Reformation and the related question of England's development into a post-Henrician “Protestant” nation remain matters of some debate, hinging in part on the question of the Henrician Reformation's origins and development. The idea of rapid reform responding to popular pressure from below, advocated by A. G. Dickens, has been successfully challenged by a number of “revisionist” historians stressing popular doctrinal continuity faced with unpopular reforms from above, led by J. J. Scarisbrick, Christopher Haigh, and Eamon Duffy. Recently, and particularly since publication of Shagan's Popular Politics and the English Reformation, “postrevisionist” historians like Ryrie, Peter Marshall, and Shagan himself have begun engaging with the idea of the Henrician Reformation as appropriated by different groups for different purposes, considering it neither as a “top-down” nor a “bottom-up” phenomenon but rather as one “negotiated” between the regime and its subjects.

21 See, e.g., Berry, Boyd, “Of the Manner in Which Anne Askew ‘Noised It,’Journal of English and Germanic Philology 96, no. 2 (April 1997): 182203Google Scholar; Coles, Kim, “The Death of the Author (and the Appropriation of Her Text): The Case of Anne Askew's Examinations,” Modern Philology 99, no. 4 (May 2002): 515–40CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Matchinske, Megan, Writing Gender and State in Early Modern England: Identity Formation and the Female Subject (Cambridge, 1998)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Susannah Brietz Monta refreshingly argues that Askew “links martyrdom to the right of women to speak and even teach about doctrinal matters,” thus self-consciously violating strictures regarding women's interpretation of and teaching of Scripture (Monta, Susannah Brietz, “The Inheritance of Anne Askew, English Protestant Martyr,” Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 94 [2003]: 134–59, 138)Google Scholar.

22 Hickerson, Megan L., “‘Ways of Lying’: Anne Askew and the Examinations,” Gender and History 18, no. 1 (April 2006): 5065CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

23 See Davis, Natalie, Fiction in the Archives: Pardon Tales and Their Tellers in Sixteenth-Century France (Stanford, CA, 1987), 4Google Scholar. For an important discussion of this problem when it comes to the Askew Examinations, see Freeman and Wall, “Racking the Body,” 1167–70.

24 Bale, First Examinacyon, 38v.

25 Alexander, Gina, “Bonner and the Marian Persecutions,” in The English Reformation Revised, ed. Haigh, Christopher (Cambridge, 1987), 157CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

26 Duffy, Eamon, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400–1580 (New Haven, CT, 1992), 529, 534–37Google Scholar.

27 Alexander, “Bonner,” 157–75.

28 Askew's summons, dated 23 May 1546, is reproduced in Acts of the Privy Council of England, 1542–47, ed. Dasent, John Roche (London, 1890), 1:424Google Scholar. (There are thirty-two volumes in all.)

29 Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 14, 78–82.

30 Bale, Lattre Examinacyon, 53r. Bonner's decision to keep Askew's confession secret was not singular. The preacher Robert Wisdom, certainly a prominent enough figure to serve the regime's propagandistic purpose—as he did when forced publicly to recant in 1543—had also met with confidentiality in dealings with Bonner. Wisdom had signed an orthodox confession for Bonner in 1541 with the promise that it would not be publicized, a promise kept until the intervention of Stephen Gardiner, who used it to force him into a choice between public recantation and burning (Robert Wisdom, “Revocatyon of that shamfull byll that Winchestre divised and Wisdome reedde at paules crosse in london on the relique Sondaye the xiiii daye of Julie Anno dom 1543,” MS 261, Emmanuel College Library, Cambridge, 88r–130v).

31 Hickerson, Making Women Martyrs, 61, 200 n. 85. Askew's agenda here might very well have driven her to present her interaction with authority in a way more favorable to herself than the real circumstances demanded.

32 Askew here uses the term “catholic” to denote “universal.” All Christians considered themselves members of the “catholic” church of Christ, and victims of religious prosecution often used this language to avoid explicitly rejecting mandated religious practice.

33 As quoted in Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 28.

34 Ibid., 31.

35 On Edward VI's reaction to the Act of the Six Articles, see MacCulloch, Diarmaid, The Boy King: Edward VI and the Protestant Reformation (Los Angeles, 2002), 2930Google Scholar.

36 Rory McEntegart, e.g., argues that five of the Act's six clauses (arts. 2–6) rose directly from negotiations between the English regime and the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League (Henry VIII, the League of Schmalkalden, and the English Reformation [London, 2002])Google Scholar. Richard Rex, on the other hand, sees them as contrived, at least in part, as part of an effort to reassure Catholic powers of Henry's doctrinal orthodoxy (Henry VIII and the English Reformation [Basingstoke, 1993], 154–55)Google Scholar.

37 Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 29–34.

38 A necessary doctrine and erudicion for any chrysten man set furth by the kynges maiestye of Englande, &c (London, 1543), F(r)–Fiii(v)Google Scholar.

39 Bale, First Examinacyon, 1v-2r. According to a witness, John Louth, Askew expressed her rejection of the Real Presence in more explicit terms when interviewed by the lord mayor of London, prior to meeting with Bonner: “I have redd that God mayd man; but that man can make God I never yet redd, nor I suppose ever shall red yt” (The papers of John Foxe, MS Harleian 425, 139r, British Library [hereafter BL]).

40 Bale, First Examinacyon, 4r.

41 According to Zwingli, in his 1530 confession to Charles V of his faith (published in English in 1543), “if then the flesch of christe be so holsom and siche salvation unto the soule/ it must nedis be eten spiritually and not carnally/ that is to saye with faith & not with our tethe” (The rekening and declaracion of the faith and belief of Huldrik Zwingly bisshoppe of Ziiryk …, trans. Joye, George [Antwerp, 1543], cc.iiii[v])Google Scholar. On Luther's insistence upon bodily eating (along with spiritual eating), see, e.g., arguments between himself and Oeclampadius at the Marburg Colloquy of 1529, translated into English and quoted in Hillerbrand, Hans J., The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants (Grand Rapids, MI, 1987), 155–62Google Scholar.

42 Bale, First Examinacyon, 6v.

43 Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 51.

44 A necessary doctrine, Tvi(r).

45 Ibid., Tvii(v)–Tviii(r).

46 Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 142.

47 Bishop Bonner's Register, MS 9531/12, 26v, GL; The papers of John Foxe, MS Harleian 425, 66r, BL.

48 Duffy, Stripping of the Altars, 91.

49 The papers of John Foxe, MS Harleian 425, 65r–66r, BL.

50 Bale, Lattre Examinacyon, 33r.

51 Ibid., 59r.

52 Bale, First Examinacyon, 29r–v.

53 All obdurate heresy was punished by burning during this period. De Haeretico Comburendo (1401), giving bishops the authority to condemn heretics and turn them over to secular authority for burning, had been repealed in 1534 (25 Henry VIII, c. 14), but only such that the king's writ was now required to enforce the will of the bishop. The Act of the Six Articles (1539) was considered draconian, not because under its terms heretics were subject to burning but because according to its penal code those falling foul of the first article on the Real Presence were deprived of the opportunity to recant. Parliament had undermined the penal code attached to the Act in 1544 (35 Henry VIII, c. 5) by requiring that bishops’ proceedings against suspected heretics be preceded by grand jury indictment. For this reason Askew's imprisonment following her appearance before the grand jury was technically illegal. Nevertheless, common law and ecclesiastical courts were still in contention at the time of Askew's arrest over jurisdiction of heresy cases (McQuade, Paula, “‘Except that they had offended the Lawe’: Gender and Jurisprudence in the Examinations of Anne Askew,” Literature and History 3, no. 2 [Autumn 1994]: 5)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Bonner, by continuing to hold and interrogate Askew, showed a certain willingness to flout the letter of parliamentary law, and he could certainly have returned her to a second jury had he been so inclined and for heresies other than her sacramentarian rejection of the Real Presence.

54 It is often forgotten that Bonner himself had something of an “evangelical” pedigree. See Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 217.

55 Ibid., 218.

56 Bale, First Examinacyon, 24v.

57 Theresa Kemp also notes the provocative nature of this answer before Bonner (suggesting that it “seems to deny transubstantiation”), with the caveat, however, that Askew concludes her statement by expressing orthodoxy in her reference to receiving the body and blood of Christ. Sacramentarians, however, routinely referred to themselves as receiving the body and blood—in “spirit and faith”—so Askew's conclusion need not be read as pointing to orthodoxy. Kemp does not note the soteriological implications of Askew's statement. See Kemp, Theresa D., “Translating (Anne) Askew: The Textual Remains of a Sixteenth-Century Heretic and Saint,” Renaissance Quarterly 52, no. 4 (Winter 1999): 1039CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

58 See, e.g., his examination of Elizabeth Young in 1558. When Young describes her receipt of the elements in a manner reminiscent of Askew—“when I do receave this Sacrament in faith and in spirite, I do receive Christ”—Bonner responds, “No more I warant you, but the Sacrament of Christes body and bloud, received but in spirit and faith with these heretickes,” one of his fellow examiners exclaiming: “Ah whore? Spirite and fayth whore?” See Foxe, Ecclesiasticall History, 2270.

59 Bishop Bonner's Register, MS 3591/12, 109r, GL.

60 Articles devised by the kynges highnes maiestie, to stablyshe christen quietnes and vnitie amonge us … (London, 1536), Cii(r–v)Google Scholar.

61 For recent arguments that the Ten Articles provided a traditional definition of transubstantiation, see, e.g., Rex, Henry VIII, 147; and Bernard, G. W., The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church (New Haven, CT, 2005), 285Google Scholar.

62 See n. 8 above. Bale's version of the Oldcastle account was apparently one of the few exile-produced books to enjoy high circulation in England, at least in London (Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 107).

63 Tyndale, The examinacion of Master William Thorpe, Cviii(v)–Di(v).

64 Ibid., Dii(r).

65 Ibid., Hv(r).

66 As quoted in Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 27–28.

67 When Edward Crome was finally convinced “sincerely” to recant in June 1546, the majority of his submission was devoted to admitting to his “false recantation” of the month before. Robert Wisdom had also been forced, in 1543, to admit to having “counterfett before” (Bishop Bonner's Register, MS 3591/12, 44r, GL). For further relevance to Askew's case of the “false” confessions of her evangelical contemporaries, see Hickerson, “Ways of Lying,” 53–55.

68 Brigden, Susan, London and the Reformation (Oxford, 1991), 333–35Google Scholar; Rex, Henry VIII, 165–66.

69 The jury had initially refused to indict Mekins, but a second hearing had resulted in his indictment (Brigden, London and the Reformation, 334–35; Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 24). Askew's brother Christopher (d. 1543) had been a gentleman of the king's Privy Chamber, and her brother Edward was in Archbishop Cranmer's service, serving also as a cupbearer to the king (Beilin, The Examinations of Anne Askew, xvii). Diarmaid MacCulloch suggests that Askew was likely known to Cranmer, and it seems clear that she had some connection to a number of ladies of Catherine Parr's household (and through them to their powerful male relatives), if not necessarily to the queen herself (MacCulloch, Diarmaid, Thomas Cranmer: A Life [New Haven, CT, 1996], 353Google Scholar; Ryrie, Gospel of Henry VIII, 55).

70 Even if the Bonner examination took place in March 1546, rather than 1545, it still predated Crome's sermon.

71 Bale, Lattre Examinacyon, 41v–43r.

72 Knevet described his experiences to John Foxe, as Foxe prepared to publish the second edition of his Acts and Monuments. Testimony of Anthony Knevet, Lieutenant of the Tower of London in 1546 (taken by John Foxe), MS Harleian 419, 2r, BL.

73 Bishop Bonner's Register, MS 3591/12, 109r, GL. Of course, Askew was not in open court arraigned and condemned—she was arraigned (without indictment) in open court in 1545 and subsequently condemned (still without indictment) in a closed session of the Privy Council in 1546.