This vibrant play, based on historical characters and events, brings vividly to life the struggles of the early English Reformation under Henry VIII, where a wavering king, passionate Calvinists, and adherents of the Pope vie not only for supremacy in the church, but for the success or fall of the Tudor line, and life or death for themselves. The heroine is Anne Askew, “a poor knight’s daughter,” accused of not believing in the miracle of the Mass, and put on trial for her life by the Church. But the secular forces are also interested in Anne, not for her heresy (which they care nothing about) but because she may incriminate the Queen, their enemy. In the midst of the trial King Henry himself unexpectedly appears, ready and eager to interrogate Anne personally (as he did, historically, in several heresy trials). The outcome turns on Anne’s determination to defend her conscience against both Church and State, and against the extreme Protestants who see her as a tool in their own power struggle.
It has been twelve years since Henry VIII broke finally with Rome. At that time, Henry’s vicegerent, Thomas Cromwell, established limited tolerance for Protestantism, and its influence grew. But now Cromwell is dead, and Henry sees the growing Protestant movement as a threat to his crown. Schismatic he may be, but Henry is determined not also to be a heretic, and has taken a hard line with the Protestants, including burning them at the stake. But unknown to Henry, the Protestant cause is favored by some within his own household -- even those closest to him.
15 parts requiring a minimum of eight actors, of whom two must be female and at least two must be male. Most of the play is set in a church chancel, where Anne’s trial takes place; most churches will need few props. The actors may be dressed quite simply, or elaborate costumes of the time may be prepared.
A word of advice This play is not for children, owing to its portrayals of violence, intemperate language, sexism, and moral confusion -- all four quite typical of the Reformation era.