Anne Locke – An Influential Woman of the English Reformation

            John Knox considered Anne Locke one of his dearest friends and valued her advice and support. He confided in her at some the most difficult times of his life, even in the midst of military battles.

            In spite the scarcity of information about her life, Anne’s influence was obvious not only in Knox’s life, but in the overall progress of the English Reformation. Born to a wealthy family of London around 1530, she received an extensive education. Her mother Margaret died when Anne was 14, and her father Stephen Vaughan remarried.

            Vaughan’s second wife Margery was the widow of Henry Brinklow, a polemicist who had promoted a stronger abolition of Roman Catholicism in England and might have influenced Anne with some of these ideas.

            In 1549, Anne married Henry Locke, a dealer in fabrics and lover of learning. We don’t know much about Henry’s religious convictions, but Knox, who was freed from the French galleys the same year, was a frequent guest in their house.

            Apparently, Knox remained in close communication with Anne. Thirteen of his letters to her survive, and there were probably more. Anne was one of the close friends who gave him comfort when he was evicted from Frankfurt, partially on account of a disparaging comment on Emperor Charles V (comparing him to Nero).

            On 9 December 1556, while in Geneva with his wife Marjorie and mother-in-law Elizabeth, Knox encouraged Anne to join them, describing the city with the famous epithet: “the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the Apostles.”

            Anne accepted his invitation. Five months later, she traveled to Geneva with her two children, Harry and Anne. Sadly, Anne died within four days of their arrival.

            We don’t know how Henry Locke reacted to his wife’s departure, but he might have shared Knox’s concerns. England was at that time ruled by Mary Tudor, who had re-established Roman Catholicism in the country. In Knox’s eyes, leaving the country was the only way to keep pure from idolatry.

            In any case, there is no indication of Henry’s disapproval. In fact, a copy of a translation into English of four of Calvin's sermons on Isaiah 38, which Anne completed in Geneva, remained in his possession with the inscription Liber Henrici Lock ex dono Annae uxoris suae, (“Henry Lock’s book, a present by his wife Anne,” now in the British Library).

            Anne returned to England by the summer of 1559, after Elizabeth I had replaced Mary. From then on, she remained Knox’s main point of contact in her country, since Elizabeth (offended by his First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstruous Regiment of Women) had forbidden his entry. Besides providing words of comfort and a listening ear, she passed on his letters to others, solicited support, and sent him books.

            Henry died in 1571 after a long illness, leaving all his goods to Anne. Her next suitor was Edward Dering, about 10 years younger than her. Dering was the most popular and fiery preacher in London, often compared to Knox. His letter of marriage proposal is an exercise in Christian forbearance: “If your affection shall be inclined as I do with it to be bent, the Lord's name be praised. If you shall better like other where, I pray God bless you. I will endure my loss under this hope: when we shall have better eyes that shall be able to see God, our faith shall lead us both into a happy society.”

            Anne said yes, and the two married in 1572. The union – troubled by the government’s crack-down on puritans such as Dering - didn’t last long, as he died of tuberculosis in 1576.

            Anne’s third husband was Richard Prowse, a widower who had been mayor of Exeter three times. A draper by trade, Prowse is remembered for building a tennis court and some bowling alleys at Exeter. Richard and Anne had at least two sons.

            During this marriage, Anne continued her work as translator by rendering into English a book by French-speaking Dutch minister Jean Taffin (who had studied in Geneva while Anne was there), The book, Of the Markes of the Children of God, and of their Comfort in Afflictions, had been originally written for the comfort of the oppressed Protestants in the Netherlands. Most likely, Anne saw its value for the persecuted Puritans of her day.

            Anne considered her translating work a contribution in the edification of Christ’s church. In the preface to Taffin’s translation, she wrote, “Everyone in his calling is bound to do somewhat to the furtherance of the holy building, but because great things by reason of my sex I may not do, and that which I may I ought to do, I have according to my duty brought my poor basket of stones to the strengthening of the walls of that Jerusalem whereof (by grace) we are all both citizens and members.”

            It was an echo to the prayer in Psalm 51:18, “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; build up the walls of Jerusalem” – a prayer she paraphrased in poetry:

Shew mercie, Lord, not unto me alone:

But stretch thy favor and thy pleased will,

To sprede thy bountie and thy grace upon

Sion, for Sion is thy holly hyll:

That thy Hierusalem with mighty wall

May be enclosed under thy defense,

And bylded so that it may never fall

By myning fraude or mighty violence.

            Anne’s poetic rendition of Psalm 51, originally appended to a copy of her translation of Calvin’s sermons, has been considered innovative and even controversial, because her choice of verse form (the sonnet) was relatively new to England and normally associated with courtly love.

            This poem is the only surviving expression of Anne’s personal feelings and struggles, ending with a prayer for assurance of salvation – a common theme in Puritan writings.

Be, Lord of mercie, mercifull to me:

Restore my feling of thy grace againe:

Assure my soule, I crave it not in vaine.

We don’t know when Anne died. She most likely preceded her husband, who died in 1607. Her son Harry (better known as Henry Locke, or Lok), became a celebrated (albeit often penniless) poet, mostly famous for a poetic rendition of the book of Ecclesiastes.

            Today, Anne Locke is considered one of the most important female writers of the English Renaissance, and one of the most influential voices of the English Reformation.

Simonetta Carr