Anne Askew


[A woodcut of the execution of Anne Askew and other religious dissenters. Accessed 15 January 2016. This image is in the Public Domain.]

This week’s historical hottie is probably familiar to those who know a bit about early modern British history (I’m looking at you, Tudors fans). I’ve found that students in tutorials, especially those interested in gender dynamics, enjoy learning about her, so I’m featuring Anne Askew here today.

Anne was born into a noble family in 1521. In her mid teens, Anne’s father arranged her marriage to the betrothed of her recently deceased sister. Anne, an increasingly radical Protestant, thus found herself married to a Catholic husband. Though Anne’s youth and gender might lead one to believe that she yielded to her father and husband, she and her husband couldn’t reconcile their beliefs and their marriage. They had two children, but then separated, and Anne worked toward a divorce. She was, and remains, known by her maiden name.

In either 1544 or 1545, Anne moved to London. Her unorthodox beliefs led to her investigation by London’s quest (the commission dealing with heresy). This investigation did not end in punishment, but she was interrogated much more seriously by king’s council in 1546. Anne was imprisoned, first in Newgate, and then in the Tower of London. She refused to recant, and was condemned to die.

As if often the case in religious trials (in the early modern Christian context), her interrogators would have preferred that she recant and name names in order to escape execution. In Anne’s case, her family’s close connection to Henry’s court led to her extensive questioning under torture about which women at court held radical beliefs. Anne refused to incriminate any other women, despite the presence of other radicals in Henry’s court, including his wife, Katherine Parr. Normally, Anne’s standing sentence of death and her position in English society would have exempted her from torture. After being tortured, Anne was allowed time to convalesce and recant. She did not, and was subsequently burned as a heretic. She was twenty-five.

People who die for their beliefs tend to inspire, and there is nothing inherently wrong with this. But we must be cautious when reading about such figures. In Anne’s case, authors John Bale and John Foxe both adopted her as a Protestant martyr. Now, both of these authors were male, and their individual views and agendas informed their respecting framing of Anne. For Bale, Anne was a physically weak and pious woman who exemplified femininised virtues like chastity and obedience. For Foxe, she was more rebellious, but since she was driven by Protestant piety, this was laudable. In either depiction, Anne’s words and actions are mediated by men. Even recent scholarship, which casts doubt on the factual accuracy of these accounts (especially Bale’s), is necessarily informed by them. This is equally true of this post.

It’s also important to remember Anne’s status in society. Although it did not protect her from investigation, torture and execution, the degree to which contemporaries seem to have accepted her separation from her husband, as well as her reputation for piety and learning, were almost certainly informed by assumptions about status.

Despite these issues, Anne Askew knew her own mind. She refused to live with the husband chosen by her father. She held fast to her radical beliefs, even when it led her to the rack and the stake. In short, those parts of her life about which we are the most certain demonstrate that she was, to a greater or lesser degree, a rebel. 



Thomas S. Freeman and Sarah Elizabeth Wall, “Racking the Body, Shaping the Text: The Account of Anne Askew in Foxe’s “Book of Martyrs,” Renaissance Quarterly 54, no. 4 (Winter 2001): 1165-1196.

Diane Watt, “Askew , Anne (c.1521–1546),” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004,, accessed 15 Jan 2016, accessed 15 January 2015.


Anne Askew


There is very little information available about this week’s historical figure,* but what information there is makes her a hottie in my book. Fatima, an enslaved North African Muslim woman living in Christian Spain, tangled with the Spanish Inquisition in 1584. No mean feat. It is only through her Inquisition records that we know anything about her. Of course, such documents are rife with issues of unequal power dynamics, which must be kept in mind and navigated; nevertheless, Fatima’s rebelliousness is apparent.

Fatima came under the scrutiny of the Inquisition after a questionable baptism in a hospital in the city of Malaga. According to witnesses, during her time in hospital, Fatima, on death’s door, requested and accepted baptism. However, Fatima did not succumb to the illness, and, upon leaving the hospital, apparently continued to live as a Muslim.

The details of this case are muddy. What is clear, however, is that Fatima maintained throughout her interrogations that she had never agreed to be baptised a Christian, and, if she had, she was not in her right mind (i.e., her illness made her unfit to make decisions of such consequence). What is perhaps most striking about this woman, however, is her steadfast refusal to use her baptismal name (Ana) even when dealing with an institution as powerful as the Spanish Inquisition. Though inquisitors always address her as Ana (with the exception of noting her Muslim name in addition to her Christian one for the record), Fatima never bows to their conventions on this score. She insists instead that she is a Muslim woman, and correspondingly retains her Muslim name, directly flouting the deference expected in such a gendered, classed and cross-religious interaction.

It is of course important to resist the temptation to romanticise such a woman. We can never know exactly what took place while she was in hospital. It may be that Fatima had consented to baptism in order to receive the higher standard of care afforded to Christians. If she did consent, considering the severity of her illness (it was presumed by all that it would be fatal), such a decision might have been a last ditch attempt to save her life. It may be that she unwittingly accepted baptism when illness compromised her mental competence. Or, perhaps, she never had converted, but those at the hospital wished to have an inspiring story to spread around. We can only speculate. Whatever the circumstances though, Fatima, by denying the baptism and by refusing to call herself Ana, seized what power was available to her to stand by her convictions and retain her identity as a Muslim. She was ultimately sentenced to confinement in a convent for religious (Christian) education and 200 lashes. Whether or not she did eventually adopt Christianity is unknown.


*Full disclosure: absolutely everything I know about Fatima comes from Perry’s illuminating article, which is dedicated to interrogating her Inquisition records.

Mary Elizabeth Perry, “Finding Fatima, a Salve Woman of Early Modern Spain,” Journal of Women’s History 20, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 151-167.


(Gaspar) Yanga

A statute of (Gaspar) Yanga, erected in the modern day town of Yanga, Veracruz, México [public domain].
A statute of (Gaspar) Yanga, erected in the modern day town of Yanga, Veracruz, México [public domain].
Although today known as El Primer Libertador de America (the first liberator of the Americas), (Gaspar) Yanga is an often-overlooked freedom fighter in the histories of enslavement* in the Americas. Captured and sold into enslavement in what at the time was referred to as New Spain, today known as México, Yanga became known to the Spanish settlers as Gaspar Yanga.

According to the folkloric history of Yanga’s life, he was born in West Africa to a royal family. He was captured, enslaved, forced to endure the Middle Passage journey across the Atlantic Ocean, and eventually made to work as an enslaved worker in the sugarcane labour camps* of Veracruz, New Spain (modern day Veracruz, México). In the year 1570, Yanga led a revolt with other enslaved African peoples, leading to his escape and the settling of a maroon mountain colony.

Yanga and his community lived free of European enslavement for near forty years, disrupting the trade routes established along el Camino Real between Veracruz and la Ciudad de México throughout this time. Eventually, the threat that a community of free Africans posed to not only the individual communities of Spanish settlers but the entire system of chattel slavery in the area became too strong, in the eyes of the Spanish-controlled government of New Spain. The Spanish, as an attempt to maintain “order” in the area, established the town of Córdoba near Yanga’s self-governing maroon colony.

In 1609, a Spanish militia was sent to destroy Yanga’s community. Instead, they were defeated. Following the defeat of the Spanish militia, yet another group of Spaniards was sent to defeat Yanga – who instead offered to make peace so long as the Spanish meet his eleven demands. The most important of these demands were that recognition of free status be granted to all of the residents in Yanga’s community prior to 1608; that Yanga’s community was a legal, self-governing settlement; and that no Spaniards were welcome in the community. Following years of negotiations, San Lorenzo de Los Negros was established as a town in 1618 that would pay tribute to the Spanish Crown. Eventually, San Lorenzo de Los Negros was renamed Yanga, after the African freedom fighter (Gaspar) Yanga. The town of Yanga still stands today, with a statute erected in his honour.

Yanga’s fate, along with the fates of his community members, following 1618 is unknown. But his importance as an African who was enslaved in New Spain (México) and fought for (and won!) his freedom is critical to the intertwined colonial histories of the Americas, Africa, and Europe. Yanga demonstrates the importance of the African diaspora in the shaping of modern day México. He shatters the mythology that it is only Indigenous and European influences that inform México’s rich cultural and revolutionary political traditions.

~ Monique

* Monique does not use the terms “slavery,” “slave,” or “plantation.” Instead, she uses the terms “enslavement,” “enslaved,” and “labour camp” in order to serve as a reminder of the continuous acts that constituted the centuries-long enslavement of African peoples in the Americas. By eschewing more passive words such as “slavery” for “enslavement,” the active, continual choice to enslave people is forcibly brought to the surface of historical discourse surrounding these attempts at dehumanization and injustice. For further reading on the importance of linguistic choices when writing history, see Michael Todd Landis’s freely accessible article “These Are Words Scholars Should No Longer Use to Describe Slavery and the Civil War,” found here:


Black Past. “Yanga, Gaspar (c. 1545- ?).”

Landers, Jane G. “Cimarrón and Citizen: African Ethnicity, Corporate Identity, and the Evolution of Free Black Towns in the Spanish Circum-Caribbean,” in Jane Lander and Barry Robinson, eds., Slaves, Subjects, and Subversives: Blacks in Colonial Latin America. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2006.

Rowell, Charles Henry. “‘El Primer Libertador de las Americas’/The First Liberator of the Americas: The Editor’s Notes.” Callaloo 31.1 (Winter 2008): 1-11, 181-  192.

(Gaspar) Yanga