Your RDA of Irony

Did You Expect Me to Write About Guy Fawkes?

Since it is Guy Fawkes Day, I’ll talk about Anne Askew.  Racked and then burned at the stake, she was at the other end of the theological extreme:  too Protestant.  Ms. Askew was also a martyr to bad timing.  Had she been a belligerent Protestant some five years earlier, Henry VIII might have been more tolerant of her dogma.  He definitely would have been more interested in an attractive young woman.  But by 1546, a death bed was all Henry could manage.  His councilors were plotting against each in anticipation of the Regency, and a loudmouth lady evangelist found herself caught between the factions. 

Henry’s Reformation had been a political divorce from Rome, not a theological one.  He simply presumed that he would make as good a Pope as a Medici would, which unfortunately was true.  So the Church of England was supposed to be the English Catholicism.  With that official policy, an enthusiasm for Luther was just as treasonable as a nostalgia for Rome.  But maintaining that middle ground–half of a Reformation–was impossible.  Even the Crown would periodically oscillate, straying one moment closer to Rome and other times toward Wittenburg.  It was difficult to keep pace and your head.  Thomas Cromwell couldn’t.  If a wily bastard like him couldn’t survive, what chance did the devout and impractical Anne Askew have.

Obviously, she was of a good family.  A preaching fishmonger would have been completely ignored or promptly quashed.  But the noble Miss Askew had connections; and connections can be incriminating.  That certainly was the hope of the Pro-Catholic faction that had Askew arrested.  Threatened with prison, torture or death, she was expected to volunteer names and agree to every suggestion from her interrogators.  “Have you ever seen Lord Somerset reading the Bible in English?”  “Has Katherine Parr ever denied her lust for John Knox?”  These were all treasonable offenses, and Askew’s corroborating confession would have made one faction very happy and  the other very dead.

Of course, Anne Askew really wasn’t your typical upper-class debutante.  Would she talk?  Well, she wasn’t shy about her dogma and the errors and damnation of any other doctrine.  But she wasn’t betraying anyone.  Imprisoned in the Tower of London, she was given a guided tour of the torture chambers.  The imminent threat had no effect on her.  Her captors must have realized that they had an insistent martyr on their hands.  She might scream but she wasn’t going to talk.  But even if torture was pointless, they had to maintain their professional standards.  It was better that Anne Askew lose her limbs than they lose their face.  Ms. Askew earned the distinction of being the only woman tortured at the Tower. 

Burned alive in 1546, at the age of 25, Anne Askew earned a certain artistic distinction.  The idea of a lovely, young woman being racked apparently seemed a suitable tableau in a number of wax museums’ Chamber of Horrors.

p.s.  Oh, yeah, him:

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