Anne Askew and Catherine Parr; John Foxe and David Hume

A tragic story links our today’s additions to the Library – the works of Anne Askew, Catherine Parr, John Foxe and David Hume.

  • I am a Woman Poor and Blind by Anne Askew
  • The Examinations of Anne Askew by Anne Askew, With Elucidations by John Bale, and the Ballad of Anne Askew
  • The Lamentation of a Sinner by Catharine Parr
  • Acts and Monuments by John Foxe, Volume 2, Part 1 (in our Folder The Literature of the Sacred)
  • The History Of England From The Invasion Of Julius Cæsar To The End Of The Reign Of James The Second, by David Hume (from Henry the 7th to Mary)

Anne Askew and Catherine Parr are two writers contemporaries who each have a distinction of being the first to have done something (or lived through, in the case of Anne) and whose lives are intertwined in a tragic manner. Anne is the first Englishwoman to have been tortured. Catherine is the first Englishwoman to have published a literary work in English under her own name. However, it was Anne’s silence under torture that made it possible for Catherine to live and write. John Foxe, an historian and martyrologist, and David Hume, known to us as a philosopher, are the two writers who felt that the stories of Anne and Catherine needed to be told.

On 16 July 1546, in London, Anne Askew, 25, and several others were burned at the stake.  

Anne had been accused of heresy. Under torture she was asked about the beliefs of anyone close to the Queen. Anne’s connections at Court through friends and family put her in a position to inform on the Queen and her entourage. 

The King’s health was failing. The heir to the throne was still a child. Various factions were fighting for political control. Conservative forces wanted to curtail the influence of Catherine Parr, the progressive, brilliantly educated Queen, who, for instance, had opposed the Act for the Advancement of True Religion (1543), prohibiting women and common men to read and interpret the Bible (noblewomen were allowed to read the Bible in private). 

Anne made no implicating confession. There was no other evidence that would have made it possible to accuse Queen Catherine, the last wife of Henry the 8th, of heresy — a prosecution on these grounds would have been likely to result in a death sentence. Within a few months of Anne’s execution, Catherine wrote “The Lamentation of a Sinner”.

Anne wrote down her conversations with her torturers. Her account, The Examinations of Anne Askew, with a commentary by John Bale, was printed almost immediately after her death. John Foxe included her account in his Acts and Monuments (1563), also known as Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.

David Hume became Keeper of the Library of the Faculty of Advocates, the predecessor of the National Library of Scotland, in 1752. Access to a collection of 30,000 volumes enabled him to write his best-selling History of England, published between 1754 and 1762. In his History, he gave an account of the story of Anne Askew and Queen Catherine.

Below, we include a small excerpt of Anne Askew’s Examinations and David Hume’s description of the events. The books are now in our Library. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (Volume 2, Part 1) is in our library. (We will keep you updated on further additions of David Hume’s works and the rest of Foxe’s martyrology.)

Note that Bale, the first publisher of Anne’s Examinations, and Foxe are likely to have altered Anne’s original text. 

Both Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and Hume’s History are much larger in scope than the stories of Anne and Catherine. You can use Quotations’ Words Tab to find Anne or Catherine in either work. 

If you wish to look up either Anne or Catherine, clear any text in the Writing Aid Tab and any book selections in the Books Tab. Select either Foxe’s Book of Martyrs or Hume’s History in the Books Tab, and set ‘Arrange’ to ‘Quotations for my words in their order in the literary text selected’. In the Words Tab, choose Askew, if you are exploring The Book of Martyrs, and Ascue, if you are exploring Hume. The name of Anne Askew occurs in Foxe’s martyrology 45 times, in Hume – 2 times. The martyrologist spelt the name of Queen Catherine as Katharine Parre and the philosopher – Catharine Par.

Anne Askew:

ON Tuesday I was sent from Newgate to the sign of the crowne,* where as M. Rich and the B. of London with all their power and flattering words, went about to persuade me from God: but I did not esteme their glosing pretences.

Then came there to me Nich. Shaxton, and counsel∣led me to recant as he had done. I sayd to hym, that it had bene good for him, neuer to haue bene borne, with many other like wordes. Then M. Rich sent me to the Tower, where I remayned till three a clocke.

Then came Rich and one of the Counsell, charging me vpon my obedience,* to shew vnto them if I knew any mā or woman of my secte. My aunswere was, that I knewe none. Then they asked me of my Lady Suffolke, my La∣dy of Sussex, my Lady of Hertford, my Lady Denny, and my Lady Fitzwilliams. I said, if I should pronounce any thing against them, that I were not able to proue it. Then sayd they vnto me, that the kyng was informed, that I could name if I would, a great number of my secr. I aun∣swered, that the kyng was as well deceiued in that behalf, as dissembled with in other matters. …

Then they did put me on the racke, because I confes∣sed no Ladies or Gentlewomen to be of my opinion, and thereon they kept me a long tyme. And because I lay still and did not cry, my Lord Chancellour and M. Rich, tooke paynes to racke me with theyr owne handes,* tyll I was nigh dead.

Then the Lieftenaunt caused me to be loosed from the racke. Incontinently I swounded, and then they recoue∣red me agayne. After that I sate two long houres reaso∣ning with my Lord Chauncellour vppon the bare floore, whereas he with many flattering wordes,* perswaded me to leaue my opinion. But my Lord God (I thanke his e∣uerlasting goodnes) gaue me grace to perseuer, and wil do (I hope) to the very end.

Then was I brought to an house, and layd in a bedde, with as weary and paynefull bones, as euer had pacient Iob, I thanke my Lord God therefore. Then my Lorde Chauncellour sent me worde if I would leaue my opini∣on,* I should want nothing: If I would not, I shoulde forth to Newgate, and so be burned. I sent him agayne word, that I would rather die, then to breake my fayth.

Thus the Lord open the eyes of their blinde hartes, that the truth may take place. Farewell deare friend, and pray, pray, pray.”

David Hume:

Anne Ascue, a young woman of merit as well as beauty,[**] who had great connections with the chief ladies at court, and with the queen herself, was accused of dogmatizing on that delicate article; and Henry, instead of showing indulgence to the weakness of her sex and age, was but the more provoked, that a woman should dare to oppose his theological sentiments.

     * Burnet, vol. i. p. 342, 344. Antiq. Brit. in vita Cranm.

     ** Bale. Speed, p. 780.

She was prevailed on by Bonner’s menaces to make a seeming recantation; but she qualified it with some reserves, which did not satisfy that zealous prelate. She was thrown into prison, and she there employed herself in composing prayers and discourses, by which she fortified her resolution to endure the utmost extremity rather than relinquish her religious principles. She even wrote to the king, and told him, that as to the Lord’s supper, she believed as much as Christ himself had said of it, and as much of his divine doctrine as the Catholic church had required: but while she could not be brought to acknowledge an assent to the king’s explications, this declaration availed her nothing, and was rather regarded as a fresh insult. The chancellor, Wriothesely, who had succeeded Audley, and who was much attached to the Catholic party, was sent to examine her with regard to her patrons at court, and the great ladies who were in correspondence with her: but she maintained a laudable fidelity to her friends, and would confess nothing. She was put to the torture in the most barbarous manner, and continued still resolute in preserving secrecy. Some authors[*] add an extraordinary circumstance; that the chancellor, who stood by, ordered the lieutenant of the Tower to stretch the rack still farther; but that officer refused compliance the chancellor menaced him, but met with a new refusal; upon which that magistrate, who was otherwise a person of merit, but intoxicated with religious zeal, put his own hand to the rack, and drew it so violently that he almost tore her body asunder. Her constancy still surpassed the barbarity of her persecutors, and they found all their efforts to be baffled. She was then condemned to be burned alive; and being so dislocated by the rack that she could not stand, she was carried to the stake in a chair. Together with her were conducted Nicholas Belenian, a priest, John Lassels, of the king’s household, and John Adams, a tailor, who had been condemned for the same crime to the same punishment. They were all tied to the stake; and in that dreadful situation the chancellor sent to inform them, that their pardon was ready drawn and signed, and should instantly be given them if they would merit it by a recantation. They only regarded this offer as a new ornament to their crown of martyrdom; and they saw with tranquillity the executioner kindle the flames which consumed them. Wriothesely did not consider, that this public and noted situation interested their honor the more to maintain a steady perseverance.

     * Fox, ii. p. 578. Speed, p. 780. Baker, p. 299.

But Burnet questions the truth of this circumstance; Fox, however, transcribes her own papers, where she relates it. I must add, in justice to the king, that he disapproved of Wriothesely’s conduct, and commended the lieutenant.

Though the secrecy and fidelity of Anne Ascue saved the queen from this peril, that princess soon after fell into a new danger, from which she narrowly escaped. An ulcer had broken out in the king’s leg, which, added to his extreme corpulency and his bad habit of body, began both to threaten his life and to render him even more than usually peevish and passionate. The queen attended him with the most tender and dutiful care, and endeavored, by every soothing art and compliance, to allay those gusts of humor to which he was become so subject. His favorite topic of conversation was theology; and Catharine, whose good sense enabled her to discourse on any subject, was frequently engaged in the argument, and being secretly inclined to the principles of the reformers, she unwarily betrayed too much of her mind on these occasions. Henry, highly provoked that she should presume to differ from him, complained of her obstinacy to Gardiner, who gladly laid hold of the opportunity to inflame the quarrel. He praised the king’s anxious concern for preserving the orthodoxy of his subjects; and represented, that the more elevated the person was who was chastised, and the more near to his person, the greater terror would the example strike into every one, and the more glorious would the sacrifice appear to posterity. The chancellor, being consulted, was engaged by religious zeal to second these topics; and Henry, hurried on by his own impetuous temper, and encouraged by his counsellors, went so far as to order articles of impeachment to be drawn up against his consort. Wriothesely executed his commands; and soon after brought the paper to him to be signed; for, as it was high treason to throw slander upon the queen, he might otherwise have been questioned for his temerity. By some means this important paper fell into the hands of one of the queen’s friends, who immediately carried the intelligence to her. She was sensible of the extreme danger to which she was exposed; but did not despair of being able, by her prudence and address, still to elude the efforts of her enemies. She paid her usual visit to the king, and found him in a more serene disposition than she had reason to expect. He entered on the subject which was so familiar to him; and he seemed to challenge her to an argument in divinity. She gently declined the conversation, and remarked, that such profound speculations were ill suited to the natural imbecility of her sex. Women, she said, by their first creation, were made subject to men: the male was created after the image of God, the female after the image of the male: it belonged to the husband to choose principles for his wife; the wife’s duty was, in all cases, to adopt implicitly the sentiments of her husband: and as to herself, it was doubly her duty, being blest with a husband who was qualified by his judgment and learning not only to choose principles for his own family, but for the most wise and knowing of every nation. “Not so! by St. Mary,” replied the king; “you are now become a doctor, Kate, and better fitted to give than receive instruction.” She meekly replied, that she was sensible how little she was entitled to these praises; that though she usually declined not any conversation, however sublime, when proposed by his majesty, she well knew that her conceptions could serve to no other purpose than to give him a little momentary amusement, that she found the conversation apt to languish when not revived by some opposition, and she had ventured sometimes to feign a contrariety of sentiments, in order to give him the pleasure of refuting her; and that she also purposed, by this innocent artifice, to engage him into topics, whence she had observed, by frequent experience, that she reaped profit and instruction. “And is it so, sweetheart?” replied the king, “then are we perfect friends again.” He embraced her with great affection, and sent her away with assurances of his protection and kindness. Her enemies, who knew nothing of this sudden change, prepared next day to convey her to the Tower, pursuant to the king’s warrant. Henry and Catharine were conversing amicably in the garden, when the chancellor appeared with forty of the pursuivants. The king spoke to him at some distance from her; and seemed to expostulate with him in the severest manner: she even overheard the appellations of “knave,” “fool,” and “beast,” which he liberally bestowed upon that magistrate; and then ordered him to depart his presence. She afterwards interposed to mitigate his anger: he said to her, “Poor soul! you know not how ill entitled this man is to your good offices.” Thenceforth the queen, having narrowly escaped so great a danger, was careful not to offend Henry’s humor by any contradiction; and Gardiner, whose malice had endeavored to widen the breach, could never afterwards regain his favor and good opinion.[*]

     * Burnet, vol. i. p. 344. Herbert, p. 560. Speed p. 780.

     Fox’s Acts and Monuments, vol. ii. p. 58.

Useful Resources:

This area has been extensively researched by historians. This is but a small list of literature on the subject: