Women during the 16th century lived in a dominant patriarchal society. Stigmatized as the “weaker sex”, women had many restrictions such as voting, receiving inheritance and little to no education. Even wealthier families, women were only taught by private tutors and were not able to attend universities. In poorer families, husbands and parish priests taught the women. Marriage was seen as mandatory and most women stayed home as housewives and mothers. Living a domesticated lifestyle left them in an “inferior stature” in society and at the bottom of the hierarchy. Their possessions belonged to their husbands and divorce was unknown. Occasionally some marriages were annulled. Women were expected to be obedient and servitude towards their husbands or men in general. Men were considered the “bread winners” and had every right to control the women in their lives including their wife, daughter or even sisters. Women were not permitted to enter respectable professions such as medicine or law but only services like sewing, cooking, or cleaning. It can also be perceived one of their jobs was to give birth to as many children as possible. Although there were many independent and strong-minded women during the 16th century, many were chastised and even killed for being too outspoken. Some of them were even martyred such as Anne Askew, an avid Protestant who was condemned as a heretic.
During the 16th century, Henry VIII made himself head of the Church in England but kept old Catholic doctrines intact while persecuted Protestants. Anne Askew, a keen Protestant, was condemned for her beliefs and persistence to preach. She is the only woman to ever be recorded to be tortured in Tower of London and is the first Englishwomen to demand a divorce. During interrogation, she refused to name anyone like-minded and received “the rack” (a device that pulled your limbs apart) and finally was burned at the stake at Smithfield, London. Witnesses admired her bravery and perseverance to show little to no pain and some reported to her never screaming until the flames reached her chest. Anne Askew was the epitome of someone who disobeyed the social structure she was born into. She impacted religious social changes with her firm Protestant beliefs and even became one of the most famous reformation martyrs because of it. She was also one of the few women who contradicted many of the gender roles of that time period. Although modern feminism ceased to exist during the 16th century, and many women were believed to be submissive and meek, they played an important role to the progression and development in society.