Anne Askew: standing fast to verity

The concept of martyrdom took on huge significance and power in the Reformation world. Both Catholics and Protestants venerated the memories of those that they saw as martyrs — ‘witnesses’ — to their faith; those that had lain down their lives for religious truth. Executed as a heretic on 16 July 1546, the English evangelical Anne Askew [c. 1521–46] became one such important yet controversial figure. This is the frontispiece to the second volume of an account of Askew’s trials edited, interpreted and brought to print by the Protestant polemicist John Bale [1495–1563]. This went through more editions than any other account of an individual English martyr in Tudor England. Drawing on early Christian iconographies of sainthood, this cover image shows Askew, armed with both a Bible and a palm leaf (a symbol of martyrdom), triumphant above a beast symbolising papal power. This is both a memorial to Askew and an encouragement to those who might follow in her path. One Elizabethan reader of this book has paraphrased part of the text of this title page, perhaps to underline the point: ‘Ann askewe stoud fast to the verytie to the ende’. CL

The lattre examinacyon of Anne Askewe, latelye martyred in Smythfelde, by the wycked synagogue of Antichrist, with the elucydacyon of Johan Bale (Marpurg [for Wesel]: [D. Van der Straten], 1547), title page.

CUL: Syn.8.54.121, item 2

Further Reading

Elaine V. Beilin (ed.), The examinations of Anne Askew (Oxford, 1996).

Kimberly Anne Coles, Religion, Reform, and Women’s Writing in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 2008).

John N. King, ‘The Godly Woman in Elizabethan Iconography’, Renaissance Quarterly 38 (1985), pp. 54–7.

Ruth Samson Luborsky and Elizabeth Morley Ingram, A Guide to English Illustrated Books, 1536-1603 (Tempe (AZ), 1998), vol. 1, pp. 36–7.

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