The only woman ever to be tortured at the Tower

The only woman ever to be tortured at the Tower

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In the latest in our special series of posts on our International Women’s Day series of walks, Jill Finch tells the tragic tale of Anne Askew, a woman who made the ultimate sacrifice for her conviction in her beliefs.


On the death of her sister, the 15 year-old Anne Askew was married to her Catholic brother-in-law.  Given her own staunchly Protestant beliefs, the union was doomed from the start; she was eventually thrown out of the house by her husband because of those beliefs (and was the first Englishwoman to demand a divorce).

Anne was thought to be part of a Protestant “clique” that included Anne Parr, sister and lady-in-waiting to Catherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife and was unwittingly caught up in the struggle between religious traditionalists and reformers at Henry’s court.

Certain “conservative” factions at court suspected Catherine Parr of harbouring Protestant beliefs and contacts that would have been considered heretic at the time and saw Anne as their best route to proving that; if only they could persuade her to implicate her friends and, by association, the Queen….

Anne Askew smithfieldsAnne was duly imprisoned and questioned at the Tower of London. When she proved too difficult a nut to crack through questioning, they resorted to torture, yet still she refused to give up any information on her Protestant friends.

Exasperated, her torturers gave up and committed Anne herself to trial for heresy (she had been preaching anti-transubstantiation) and she was burned at the stake at Smithfield on the 16th July 1546.

Anne fascinates. At an age when the average teenager can barely decide which outfit to wear, she made decisions that eventually ended her life and gave her the dubious distinction of the only woman ever to be tortured at The Tower of London.

The irony of being a protestant killed during the reign of Henry VIII is also something I find poignant and tragic.

If she could just have kept a low profile she might have survived as Henry himself died just six months later…


Anne Askew is one of the women you will meet on Jill’s Women of the City walk on 6th and 8th March, booking details are on Jill’s walks page.

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