A Strong Tower

(This is an excerpt from a ladies Bible study lesson I gave last night)

As I’ve taught through these Psalms, I’ve taken occasion to share from the lives of woman martyred for their faith, women who were deeply immersed in the Psalms, who sang them, memorized them, and died quoting them. So far the women I have covered have all been subjects of the British Crown. One even wore it herself before she was executed by the rival heir to throne (click here for that epic tale). Today I would like to share about a woman who bore the unique distinction of having been the only female subject of the Crown to have been both tortured in the Tower of London and burnt at the stake. What kind of treachery earned her such renown? 

She refused to deny Scriptural truth.

Anne Askew was born in 1521 to a gentleman in the court of King Henry 8th who had the honor of having been a juror in the trial of Anne Boleyn. Even though she was a devout Protestant, when she was 15 years old she was forced to marry a Catholic, Thomas Kyme, who was betrothed to Anne’s older sister, Martha. But Martha died before the wedding and in order to save the price of the dowry which had already been paid, Anne’s father married her off for free.

On account of the fact that Anne refused to stop reading her Bible aloud to all who would listen, her husband eventually threw her out and in 1545 had her arrested. She managed to escape house arrest, returning immediately to London where she continued loudly proclaiming the Gospel in the public squares which earned her a second arrest in 1546 and then a third arrest that same year. This time however, she was taken to the Tower of London, where she became 1 of the only 2 women in history recorded to have been tortured within its walls.

During her time in the Tower, Anne underwent several examinations in an attempt to draw from her the names of like-minded sisters and brothers as well as a repudiation of Protestant doctrine. It is speculated that the main object of these examinations however, was to gain testimony that the current Queen, Catherine Parr, was in fact a practicing Protestant herself. Her refusal to give the officials what they wanted resulted in Anne’s being shown to the rack, which was illegal on account of her sex. Given one more chance to name other Protestants, she refused and was fastened to the bed of the rack by her ankles and wrists. Again she was asked for names. Again she refused and the wheels of the rack were turned, pulling Anne taught and up to about 5 inches above the bed, at which point she fainted. She was then lowered, revived and offered another chance to confess. Her refusal angered her torturers to the extent that they pulled her up again, this time turning the handles so hard that she was drawn apart, dislocating her knees and elbows and pulling her hips and shoulders from their sockets. 

Still alive, she was sentenced to be burned at the stake on July 16, 1546. On account of her extensive injuries she was carried to the stake on chair and granted one last opportunity for pardon. The Bishop mounted a pulpit and began to preach to her the Catholic doctrines. Anne listened carefully, audibly voicing her agreement on matters of truth. But whenever the Bishop said anything outside of Scripture she boldly proclaimed,

“There he misseth, and speaketh without the book!” 

Anne Askew was 25 years old when she was martyred for her faith.  She left behind extensive writings, including this version of Psalm 54 put in poetic form.

For thy name’s sake, be my refuge, And in thy truth, my quarrel judge. Before thee (lord) let me be heard,
And with favour my tale regard Lo, faithless men, against me rise,
And for thy sake, my death practise. My life they seek, with main and might
Which have not thee, afore their sight Yet help’st thou me, in this distress,
Saving my soul, from cruelness.
I wote know thou wilt revenge my wrong,
And visit them, ere it be long. I will therefore, my whole heart bend,
Thy gracious name (Lord) to commend. From evil thou hast, delivered me,
Declaring what mine enemies be. Praise to God.

The voice of Anne Askew out of the 54 Psalm of David, called Deus in nomine tuo.

How well do you know your Bible? If a Bishop, or book, or Instagram post, or ladies conference speaker, said something outside of Scripture, would you even recognize it as such? Could you point out where he or she “misseth and speaketh without the book”? 

How well do you love your Bible? If asked to die for truths it contained, would you do so?

How well do you rely on your Bible? If faced with trials and persecutions are the promises on those pages enough to sustain you? 

More than any other parts of Scripture, it is the Psalms which fellow sufferers throughout the ages have turned to for comfort. The very first Psalm we will be looking at is no exception. Imagine what the following words from Psalm 61:1,2 would have meant to Anne as she was held captive in that infamous Tower.

“Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer;  From the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I,  For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy.”

My prayer this semester is that through these Psalms we would come to know, love, and rely on Scripture as the sufficient source of truth and comfort for whatever trials lie immediately at hand or far ahead. But more than that my prayer is that we would come to know and love the Savior they point us to, our own Strong Tower, Jesus Christ. 

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