ANNE Askew wasn't a witch: she was so much more powerful than that. Anne was born in Stallingborough, Lincolnshire, in 1521. As a teenager, she was forced to marry Thomas Kyme, in place of her sister, Martha, who had been betrothed to Kyme, but died before the wedding. Anne's father offered up his younger daughter instead: she was only 15, and the marriage was to prove brutal and abusive.

Anne refused to settle, though she had two children. She wouldn't use her married name, and demanded a divorce – indeed, she was the first English woman to do so. Anne was a Protestant, and vocal about it: this was unusual, given that the Act of Supremacy (which established Henry VIII as head of the Church of England) had passed as recently as 1534.

It was also dangerous: there were members of the King's court who hoped to violently root out Protestant noblewomen and destabilise the Queen, Catherine Parr, believed to have Protestant sympathies herself. If Anne was aware of this danger, she didn't show it: she went as far as committing a public protest by sitting for six days in Lincoln Minster and reading the Great Bible there (under the law, women were only permitted to read the Bible in private).

Anne ran away from Kyme (or he threw her out for her insubordination – accounts differ) and was eventually arrested. She was detained for being "obstinate and heady in reasoning of matters of religion." Her initial punishment was interrogation under the Act of Six Articles, passed in 1539 and rather frighteningly sub-titled "an act abolishing diversity in opinions." This act held that the Eucharist (or Communion) represented a moment of transubstantiation: when consecrated, the bread and wine literally became the body and blood of Jesus. As a Protestant, Anne argued that this was not the case, claiming instead that the Eucharist was a metaphorical representation of Jesus. Refusal to comply with the Act of Six Articles was heresy, with which Anne was charged.

Before she was executed, Anne was illegally tortured on the rack by Lord Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley and Sir Richard Rich. They hoped she would break under torture and reveal the names of other Protestant noblewomen. Anne did not break, though the injuries inflicted on her were severe. She was burned at the stake on 16th July, 1546, aged just 25.

We've never been able to prove for certain that we're related to Anne Askew, but the story has always been passed down through our family. Even sharing a name with this incredible woman feels like a huge honour. Anne's story has influenced my writing in innumerable ways: I've created a series of poems about her, and learning about her life has led to a much wider interest in the historical period she inhabited.

I now collect stories of other women who were persecuted and executed in the 16th and 17th centuries: some as heretics, but most as witches. I've written about some of these women in my poetry collection Break & Closure, forthcoming from Bloodaxe in 2021. To me, Anne was a trailblazer: an early example of a woman fighting against forced marriage and other forms of patriarchal oppression. If you're looking for a mantra, you could do a lot worse than "what would Anne Askew do?"

What You Pay For by Claire Askew is published by Hodder & Stoughton, priced £16.99