Housewife Theologian Gone Wild
My friend and fellow housewife theologian, Dana Tuttle, is back to commemorate another Anne from the Tudor era. As we are about to come upon the anniversary of Anne Askew's execution, Dana ponders the implications of the gospel message for a housewife theologian. She began to wrestle with this idea as she learned more about this fiery housewife theologian gone wild. Read for yourself and see if you think Anne should have served God differently.
Being a Housewife Theologian during the Reformation was dangerous business! Reforming your faith from Catholicism or being raised in a Protestant home could get you arrested and examined, or even executed for heresy against the church.
Not many women were brave enough speak out during that time, but the ones who did made a huge impact on the cause of the Reformation. This was a time in history when scripture was finally available to be read privately in homes. The women who were first to get this privilege were of high rank and well-educated. King Henry’s sixth wife was among those women. “Katherine Parr gathered around her court a number of ladies-in-waiting keenly interested in theology and bible study” (Diana Lynn Severance, Feminine Threads, 170).
I keep telling Aimee that this is her queen to obsess over. Katherine Parr was the ultimate queen of housewife theologians! She led bible study right in her court. She also taught and nurtured Henry’s children, Edward and Elizabeth, who would both grow up to become England’s first Protestant King and Queen. She kept an old and ailing King happy and even wrote and published a book. Now that is a housewife theologian!
One of the women that were invited to Katherine’s court studies was Anne Askew. She is not well-known, but caused a stir nonetheless. An interesting website teaches that “She was highly educated and much devoted to biblical study…She was seen daily in the cathedral reading the bible and engaging the clergy in discussions on the meaning of particular texts. According to her own account she was superior to them all in argument, and those who wished to answer her commonly retired without a word.”
We can tell from her own words that Anne has a bit of arrogance in her tone. To make things worse, the site goes on to note that she was forced to marry her sister’s husband after her death… “and had two children by him. But having, as it is said, offended the priests, her husband put her out of the house, on which she, for her part, was glad to leave him and was supposed to have sought a divorce.”
In another article, A.Baylor claims that Anne “memorized entire passages of scripture and attracted a following when she began to teach the radical protestant faith she felt compelled to follow. Unfortunately, her husband was not one of her devotees. He forbade not only her public preaching but all study of the scripture.” Whether she was put out or left on her own, she went to London.
Diana Lynne Severance picks up the rest of her story in her book, Feminine Threads:
She was active in sharing the gospel throughout London, primarily through the distribution of the Bible, tracts and religious books. Anne was first arrested in 1545 and particularly examined about her attitude toward the mass. The Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation included the belief that during the sacrament of the mass, the bread and wine were transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ…She was arrested and interrogated again in 1546, followed by another arrest and interrogation under torture a few months later. Anne’s answers to her examiners showed an extensive knowledge of Scripture, ready wit, boldness, and courage to maintain her faith under intense persecution and the possibility of death…When exhorted to believe that at the mass the priest transformed the bread and wine into Christ’s body and blood, Anne replied, "I have read that God made man; but that man can make God, I never read, nor I suppose, ever shall read." She further asserted that "my God will not be eaten with teeth, neither yet dieth he again, and upon these words that I have now spoken will I suffer death." Her examiners tried to persuade Anne that her views were heretical, but Anne clung to her understanding of Scripture…the examiners…put her on the rack, where she was stretched to try to break her will. This was illegal, since the racking of women was forbidden…Several of her bones were dislocated and broken, yet Anne remained silent, not even crying out in pain…Anne was so broken in body by her tortures that when she was taken to Smithfield to be burned, she was unable to walk and had to be tied in a chair and carried, Anne Askew was chained to the stake and burned along with 3 others, on July 16th 1546. She was 25 years old. (pg. 170-171)
Now this is a housewife theologian gone wild! Do you think she did the right thing? After carefully digging into her story, I feel like I have more of the puzzle pieces than when I began writing this article. Although I still love this beautiful martyr who is recorded in history, I wonder if things could have turned out better for her had she made different choices. I was sad to read that she left two of her own children behind when she left her husband.
I wondered if Anne had paid attention to Katherine’s mothering of her step children, Edward and Elizabeth. If she only knew that because of Katherine’s godly obedience to her calling, Edward would become England’s first Protestant King, and Elizabeth would reign for 40 years in England under Protestant rule. I wondered if Katherine secretly confessed to her that she was once in love with another man, but accepted the King’s proposal of marriage, knowing that several women before her were cast aside or lost their heads. I wondered if she even noticed the good that Katherine was doing from inside her home as she went about her daily duties as a wife of a King and a mother to a future King and Queen. A true housewife theologian, Katherine accomplished amazing things from her quiet quarters inside the castle.
There is no doubt that Anne Askew was devoted to Christ and to the truth. She genuinely thought that she was doing the right thing. And maybe she was, but I am not convinced that it was her right calling. She left two children at home that surely needed her. What if, like Katherine, she taught and nurtured here children that were right there at her feet? What amazing adults Anne had the opportunity to churn out of her household. She also had the opportunity to love a man, who was devoted to Christ as well, but had different beliefs than she did.
As housewife theologians, we can’t loose focus on our highest calling…our household and the people who live in it and around it. There is nothing greater than that. We may think that our destiny is to preach the gospel in the streets, but what are the implications of the gospel message for the vocation of a housewife theologian? How should we respond in love to our husband, our children, and our neighbors? I began this story with a fascination for the martyr, Anne Askew, but fell in love with a good and godly Queen that I wish Anne would have paid more attention to. A life lost too early to a cause that, with patience, would have come in her own lifetime. Just 13 years after her death, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England.
Dana Tuttle is a housewife theologian who is obsessed with headless queens. She is the mother of 7-year-old twin boys, and the wife of King Henry, ahem, she meant to say Troy. She daydreams about owning a pub, but is happy with her role as the crazy theme mom and scrapbooking fool. Dana is an over-achiever in Book Review Club, and can often be found hiding in her closet reading books written by dead theologians while eating the latest leftover holiday candy.