«Western Illinois Historical Review © 2011 Vol. III, Spring 2011 ISSN 2153-1714 Her Intollerable Arrogancy:”1 Comparing the Martyrdoms of Anne ...»
Western Illinois Historical Review © 2011
Vol. III, Spring 2011
Her Intollerable Arrogancy:”1
Comparing the Martyrdoms of Anne Askew and Elizabeth Barton Under Henry VIII
In his assessment of the religious changes initiated during the reign of Henry VIII in
England, historian Richard Rex remarks, “The Henrician Reformation had been a curious hybrid,
driven by and riven with contradictory impulse.”2 Henry VIII, once a defender of the Catholic
Church and papacy, launched the English Reformation, which separated England from the pope's power. Henry wanted to be the supreme head of the Church of England. In the process, many evangelicals seeking significant theological changes rose to power within the government, while loyal Catholics fell from the king's favor. For a while, the so-called Reformation Parliament had its way with rather liberal reforms between 1529 and 1536.3 Then conservatives came back to power after chief minister Thomas Cromwell's fall from power in 1540. One of Henry's main goals was to have a secure monarchy. The Henrician Reformation divided England and the court, but being a powerful monarch meant having a stable, united country. Michael A. R. Graves As quoted in Megan Hickerson, “Gospelling Sisters „Going Up and Downe‟: John Foxe and Disorderly Women,” Sixteenth Century Journal 35 no. 4 (Winter 2004): 1035-51, http://www2.truman.edu/esjc/ (accessed September 2009).
Henry's court contained both liberal and conservative factions. Many people would switch sides depending on what side Henry was on at the time. He supported liberal factions for a while, but when he agreed to the Six Articles of 1539 during his later reign, he supported a more conservative policy. Historians debate Henry's position as to whether he was a conservative or liberal. However, historians tend to agree that his main goal was to achieve royal supremacy. See Richard Rex, Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 2nd ed. (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), xvi-xvii.
In this context "liberal reforms" were religious and political reforms, which veered away from Roman Catholic traditions. The papacy had a prominent role in European governments at this time.
asserts that there was “one consistent belief and unswerving aim: unity. Henry‟s insistence on uniformity and the punishment of nonconformity were directed to that end."4 Elizabeth Barton and Anne Askew did not conform to Henry and his court's will. These two young women represented two extremes of nonconformity that occurred during Henry's reign. Barton was a Catholic nun who would not conform to the policies of the Reformation Parliament and who publicly proclaimed her objections concerning Henry's divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Her confrontation with the king occurred in the 1530s, and she was executed in 1534. Askew was a Protestant woman who was put on trial and executed for being a heretic in 1546. Askew's clash with conservative leaders in Henry's government occurred toward the end of Henry's reign, which was when his policy and advisors became more conservative. In 1539, for example, the Act of the Six Articles passed, which almost sounded almost Catholic in its theology, as it supported transubstantiation, confession before a priest, and celibacy for priests.
These two women were victims of Henry's effort to create a stable monarchy that ruled over a religiously and politically unified nation. The nation was filled with factions waiting for their chances to be in the king's favor and to make an example of proponents of the other side to deter dissent. Barton and Askew embodied political, religious, and social, specifically gender, challenges that were deemed threatening enough to warrant execution. This paper argues that these women created a "perfect storm" of religious, political, and female deviance that endangered Henry's royal supremacy over the English Church. It was not just that these women would not conform to Henry's religious and political doctrines, but that they transgressed proper female boundaries as well.
Michael A. R. Graves, Henry VIII: A Study in Kingship, Profiles in Power, edited by Keith Robbins (London:
Pearson Longman, 2003), 166.
To understand the threat these women posed, it is first necessary to examine the events of their lives and the processes that led to their deaths in greater detail. Elizabeth Barton was a young servant girl who came down with an illness in the 1520s. While sick, she asked if the sick child in the house (the master‟s child) was dead yet. This was her first prophetic experience because the child died shortly after her question. Barton had a vision that if she would visit the chapel of Our Lady of Court-of-Street, then she would be healed. A Catholic supporter of Barton, Edward Thwaites, wrote A Marvilous worke, an account of Barton's miracles, which was then edited by a Protestant, William Lambarde, in his Perambulation of Kent. The Perambulation states that that after Barton visited the chapel, she was revived “from the very point of death” and that her healing “should be rong for a miracle.”5 Barton's attainder for treason in the Statutes of the Realm described her healing in similar terms as a “myracle.”6 After this incident, influential Catholic men, such as the Archbishop of Canterbury, took notice of her. These men encouraged Barton, so she became a nun with considerable influence at Canterbury. She prophesied about purgatory and people‟s sins. Many of her contemporaries compared her actions to Saint Catherine of Sienna, a venerated prophetess, and considered Barton a "holy maid," a title given to highly regarded female prophets in the medieval tradition.
Barton transgressed the holy maid boundaries, however, when her prophecies attacked the king's William Lambard, A Perambulation of Kent: Conteining the Description, Hystorie, and Customes of that Shire (1576; reprint, London: Chatham 1826), 172, available from http://www.archive.org/details/perambulationofk00lambuoft (accessed September 2009). Original spelling and punctuation is maintained in all primary source quotations used in this article.
United Kingdom, Statutes of the Realm, edited by A. Luders and other, 11 vols, (London: HMSO, 1810-28).
http://heinonline.org/HOL/Welcome (accessed October 2009).
credibility and propriety.7 When she warned that Henry would see the wrath of God if he divorced Katherine of Aragon and predicting his death, doubt entered the minds of some of her supporters, and rebellion entered the hearts of others. Barton refused to deny papal authority, despite new legislation declaring Henry to be the Supreme Head of the English church, and she was a fierce proponent of Katherine of Aragon. She wanted an audience with King Henry, and apparently she received her desire at least two times, although Katherine never gave her an audience. Apparently, though, Anne Boleyn, Katherine‟s rival and Henry‟s second wife, was in communication with Barton in an attempt to get Barton on her side, but Barton refused to alter her position.8 The parliamentary attainder of treason claimed that Barton and her associates, such as her confessor Dr. Bocking, spread false prophecies concerning the king's marriage. Parliament called these prophecies "lyes by them unlawfully and traiterously practysed devysed ymagyned and conspired, as well to the blasphemy of Almyghty God.”9 Parliament believed Barton had enough sway to disrupt Henry‟s divorce proceedings and possibly cause others to rebel against Henry‟s will. Parliament believed Barton's male associates worked with her to commit such traitorous acts. For example they mentioned her miracles and revelations to have been "falsely devysed compased conspired wrytyn and maynteyned, by the seid Elizabeth Edward Bockyng Richarde Maister and John Deryng, to thonely intente to bryng the seid Elizabeth in the fame and credyte She was not the only holy maid during Henry's reign. Many contemporaries also considered Anne Wentworth to be a holy maid. Ethan Shagan, Popular Politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 64-65.
Sharon L. Jansen, Dangerous Talk and Strange Behavior: Women and Popular Resistance to the Reforms of Henry VIII (New York: St. Martin‟s Press, 1996), 41-55.
Statutes of the Realm.
of the people of this Realme."10 Parliament considered Barton's words concerning the end of Henry's reign to be punishable by death, but they did not want to make Barton a Catholic martyr.
Instead they made her a traitor and attempted to discredit her reputation.11 There was a rigorous interrogation, and sermons were preached across England portraying Barton as a fraud. 12 Protestant chroniclers and editors, including Lambarde, who inserted his own perspective in Thwaites‟s original, sympathetic account, altered records of her story and her words. Barton's opponents claimed she was in communication with the devil and attacked her chastity by claiming she was having an affair with Dr. Bocking, her confessor.13 Protestant chronicler Edward Hall recorded her confessing that she had lied against the Holy Spirit and made everything up.14 Anne Askew was on the opposite side of the religious spectrum, but like Barton she would not conform to Henry‟s conservative councilors‟ will either. She became a public figure more than a decade after Barton‟s humiliating execution. Askew was the daughter of a wealthy gentleman, William Askew. As the new humanistic learning advanced, she benefitted from learning how to read, and since her father supported Reformation and allowed his children to be Ibid.
Parliament was changing the treason laws around the same time that they created the attainder against Barton.
Jansen points out that she wanted to study Barton because she was political and did not want to discuss Askew because she was a heretic. Jansen did not want to deal with religious women, unless they were women using religion to get into the political realm. Entrance into the political realm was not a boundary women should cross. G. R. Elton mentions, "Cromwell had proposed to make it treason to attack the marriage and succession not only by some overt act, of which 'writing' would be one form, but also in words only, and the advisers shied away from this drastic step." Barton took a stand against the marriage, which made her a traitor. The treason laws were formulated during
the 1530s. G.R. Elton, “The Law of Treason in the Early Reformation,” The Historical Journal 11, no. 2 (1968):
212-22. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2637780 (accessed October 2009).
Jansen, Dangerous Talk and Strange Behavior, 42.
“The Sermon against the Holy Maid of Kent and Her Adherents, Delivered at Paul's Cross, November the 23rd, 1533, and at Canterbury, December the 7th,” ed. L.E. Whatmore, English Historical Review 58, no. 232 (Oct. 1943):
468-74. http://www.jstor.org/stable/553675, (accessed September 2009).
Jansen, Dangerous Talk and Strange Behavior, 42.
educated in evangelical teachings, Askew may have read Tyndale's English translation of the Bible. Evangelicals like Askew believed in the authority of the Bible rather than papal authority, and in salvation through faith, not salvation through good works and the sacrament of confession. Evangelicals believed in a more personal religion, whereas Catholics sought a mediator between God and themselves. The Catholic clergy and ritual filled this role of mediation. Askew‟s brother Francis was a supporter of reform as well, but he valued his land and had enough power to stay out of trouble. William died before conservatives like Gardiner and Wriothesley came to power, but Francis did not feel the need to do any “gospelling” like Anne had done, perhaps fearing the ramifications. William arranged Anne‟s marriage to Thomas Kyme, an uneducated, wealthy farmer. Because Kyme was supportive of Catholic theology, he had no sympathy for Anne‟s beliefs and was criticized within his parish for Anne‟s "gospelling."
She would read the Bible aloud to others, which was not considered proper for a woman. Anne returned to the household of her birth family, possibly leaving two children behind. She claimed that her husband had forced her to leave, which might be true because he was obviously embarrassed by her.
Anne traveled to London to secure a divorce, share her faith, and grow in her faith under the guidance of other Protestants. She easily made enemies because the conservatives at court did not like her reading from the English translation of the Bible to others thereby spreading disunity.15 Anne never attained her divorce, and her husband grew tired of being tied to a There have been debates on Henry's policies and as to whether his country was Protestant or Catholic at the end of his reign. Henry's Six Articles makes it sound like the English Church was "Catholicism without the Pope." Richard Rex argues, "that while elements of the mix looked Catholic they were not retained on Catholic principles, and while elements of the mix looked Lutheran or evangelical they were not adopted on evangelical principles...What tied the whole bundle together was the doctrine of the royal supremacy." Rex wants his readers to see that a crucial element of Catholicism was missing from the English Church, and that was "universalism." He questions just how conservative Henry was in reality. It seems like Henry turned the Reformation into a way to be in complete control.
Rex, Henry VIII and the English Reformation, 150, 166.
nonconformist wife. She was arrested after refusing to quit reading the Word of God and sharing her faith. Brought before many men to be examined, she never wavered and often outwitted her opponents according to her own written account of her interrogations, which was edited by Protestant John Bale. After her first examination by authorities she was released and returned to the home of her brother Francis, but Kyme refused to let the issue go. Conservatives like Wriothesley and Gardiner saw Anne as way to get at Catherine Parr, the final wife of Henry VIII, and some of the other ladies at court who protected Protestants. In the end Anne was burned at the stake for heresy after being tortured in an effort by Wriothesley and his partner Rich to get information about Catherine.16