Pilgrimage of Grace


Nov 1536 - The Pilgrimage of Grace was one of the worst uprisings of Henry VIII's reign.
Recounted by Edward Hall

"....the King was truly informed that there was a new insurrection made by the northern men, who had assembled themselves into a huge and great army of warlike men, well appointed with captains, horse, armour and artillery, to the number of 40,000 men, who had encamped themselves in Yorkshire.  And these men had bound themselves to each other by their oath to be faithful and obedient to their captain.

The also declared, by their proclamation solemnly made, that their insurrection should extend no further than to the maintenance and defence of the faith of Christ and the deliverance of holy church, sore decayed and oppressed, and to the furtherance also of private and public matters in the realm concerning the wealth of all the king's poor subjects. They called this, their seditious and traitorous voyage, a holy and blessed pilgrimage; they also had certain banners in the field whereon was painted Christ hanging on the cross on one side, and a chalice with a painted cake in it on the other side, with various other banners of similar hypocrisy and feigned sanctity.  The soldiers also had a certain cognizance or badge embroidered or set upon the sleeves of their coats which was a representation of the five wounds of Christ, and in the midst thereof was written the name of Our Lord, and thus the rebellious garrison of Satan set forth and decked themselves with his false and counterfeited signs of holiness, only to delude and deceive the simple and ignorant people.

After the king's highness was informed of this newly arisen insurrection he, making no delay in so weighty a matter, caused with all speed the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the marquis of Exeter, the Earl of Shrewsbury and others, accompanied by his mighty and royal army which was of great power and strength, immediately to set upon the rebels.  But when these noble captains and counsellors approached the rebels and saw their number and how they were determined on battle, they worked with great prudence to pacify all without shedding blood.

But the northern men were so stiff-necked that they would in no way stoop, but stoutly stood and maintained their wicked enterprise.  Therefore the abovesaid nobles, perceiving and seeing no other was to pacify these wretched rebels, agreed upon a battle; ... but the night before the day appointed for the battle a little rain fell, nothing to speak of, but yet as if by a great miracle of God the water, which was a very small ford which the day before men might have gone over dry shod, suddenly rose to such a height depth and breadth that no man who lived there had ever seen before, so that on the day, even when the hour of battle should have some, it was impossible for one army to get at the other.

After this appointment made between both the armies, disappointed, as it is to be thought, only by God who extended his great mercy and had compassion on the great number of innocent persons who in that deadly slaughter would have been likely to have been murdered, could not take place.  Then... a consultation was held and a pardon obtained from the king's majesty for all the captains and chief movers of this insurrection, and they promised that such things as they found themselves aggrieved by, all would be gently heard and their reasonable petitions granted, and that their articles should be presented to the King, so that by his highness' authority and the wisdom of his council all things should be brought to good order and conclusion.  And with this order every man quietly departed, and those who before were bent as hot as fire on fighting, being presented by God, went now peaceably to their houses, and were as cold as water..."

Why was there the revolt anyway? Well it was the result of a series of events which when added together generated enough heat and lack of thought as to the possible consequence that it just seemed to feed off one half truth and rumour till it swept onward ever onward until finally running out of purpose and real leadership that it fizzled out like a damp squib. The only trouble was that the sparks created a real conflagration. Particularly the executions which followed.

The churches in the main Lincolnshire towns were extremely rich and possessed some very valuable treasures which were thought to be under threat of confiscation. As well as cutting down of feast days and other traditional holidays there were increasing taxes, foreign wars, unpopular ministers, the split from Rome and the divorce from Catalina de Aragon were all part of the general unrest which caused the march from Horncastle, Louth, Caistor and other Lincs towns to get things sorted out at Lincoln. It also prominently raised the question of Princess Mary's status; in the north Mary was still looked on as the king's legitimate daughter, who, on her mother side, came of the gratest blood in the Christendom and whom the Roman Church had never proclamed to be baseborn.

Three government commissions were at work in Lincolnshire at Michaelmas in 1536. That for dissolving the smaller monasteries had been in the county since Jun, a second commission was assessing and collecting the subsidy and a third was appointed to enquire into the fitness and education of the clergy. They worked in an atmosphere of rumour and alarm. It was asid that jewels and plate were to be confiscated from parish churches, that all gold was to be taken to the mint to be tested, and that taxes were to be levied on all horned cattle, and on christenings, marriages and burials. There were even wilder rumours: "that there shall be no church within five miles, and that all the rest shall be put down", that people would not be allowed to eat white bread, goose or capon without paying a tribute to the King. It was said that every man would have to give an account of his property and income and a false return would lead to forfeiture of all his goods. There is evidence that these rumours had spread to many parts of the eastern and midland counties by the autumn of 1536. But they were strongest in Lincolnshire. The rising there, based on the three towns of Louth, Caistor and Horncastle, was an outburst by people who, as Wriothesley told Cromwell, "think they shall be undone for ever".

The Lincolnshire Uprising

On the cool evening of Saturday 30th Sep, in the little village of Louth in Lincolnshire, the spark which was to end in the tragic Pilgrimage of grace was kindled. Some local people, proud of the magnificent spire of their church completed only twenty years before, feeling threatened by the imminent arrival of the commissioners, collected the keys of the church and handed them to a shoemaker, Nicholas Melton to keep safe. He thus became "Captain Cobbler" the leader of a rebellion against the King. The people gathered in the twilight on the village green and, with the great silver cross af the parish before them, marched through the streets in protest at the coming of John Heneage, one of Cromwell's examiners, to "visit" the local Church. They established a guard over the property, and when Heneage appeared the next morning, the people swarmed into the streets, protesting the injustice of the visit with louth voices and weapons. When Heneage attempted to read Cromwell's commission in the marketplace, a "hideous clamour" broke out. The people bore down the hapless man, tearing the book from his hand and threatening him with a sword at his breast; his companions were put into the stocks.

In that part of England the Duke of Richmond, natural son of the Henry VIII, had the most influence, and a great number of contacts and relatives including his mother,  Elizabeth Blount, the widow of Lord Talboys and now the wife of Edward, Lord Clinton.

By Monday 2 Oct, men from Horncastle and East Rasen arrived in Louth. By then a large crowd, they marched to Caistor where the King's Commissioners were at present taking inventories of church property. Here they were joined by Sir Robert Dymoke and his sons and friends who "just happened to be staying with them at that time". From Goltho, home of Richmond's step-grandmother, Lady Talboys' chaplain arrived with a large group of armed men. More than 500 armed retainers from South Kyme joined the rebels, under the leadership of Sir Thomas Percy, a relative of the Talboys family, (who "just happened to be there for the hunting") and a similar number headed by Edward Dymoke.

The same Monday, 2nd Oct, Lord Clinton left home on horseback, with just one servant. He headed first for Sleaford, and Lord Hussey. Hussey had been Princess Mary's Chamberlain, and his wife had been imprisoned for continuing to refer to her as "Princess Mary" not "Lady Mary". Hussey had been assured of the support of the Emperor (Mary's cousin) and seemed a natural leader of the rebellion against the King. But he was not their leader. Clinton galloped on to Nottingham, then on to Lord Huntington at Ashby. By Friday, he reached the Earl of Shrewsbury at Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire. He carried letters from Cromwell. Meanwhile the rebels were joined by other groups of armed men, alerted by beacons, and had spread across the Humber to Yorkshire. The Member of Parliament for Lincoln, Thomas Moigne met Robert Aske, who led the rebellion in Yorkshire.

Sir John Russell and Sir William Parr both had been in the service of the Duke of Richmond, blocked the Great North Road at Stamford, with a large force of armed men, they were in the way of anyone coming up from London. The only substantial Lincolnshire landowner that the King could depend on was his friend and brother-in-law, the Duke of Suffolk. Suffolk arrived at Stamford with a large, equipped army. The rebellion lacked a positive leadership and cause, so dispersed.

Henry VIII's answer to the grievances that had been put to them was read out in the Chapter House of Lincoln Cathedral by Moigne. The King had never yet heard that a prince's counsellors and bishops should be appointed by ignorant common people, and least of all by the "rude commons of one of the most brute and beastly shires in the realm". The rebellion was put down with punishing retribution and many executions.

The rebellion failed because there was no one uniting leadership and cause. Had the Duke of Richmond still been alive, then he might have been there, at his palace of Collyweston, by Stamford, with an army at least as large as the 5,000 men the Duke of Suffolk brought with him. As the King's son and the heir to the throne, he would have provided an alternative to his now very unpopular father. But Richmond had died on 23 Jul 1536.

The King's strange reaction to his son's death may be because he had information that he was to lead an uprising against him. There is no direct evidence, but any such would have been destroyed as soon as Richmond died. His death might just have been a timely coincidence, or arranged. If the King had been told there were plans for an uprising to replace him with his son, then that might account for his reaction to his son's death, it might even account for his timely death.

Eventually when the King sent word at about the ten day mark they all left for home and the rising was over except for the recriminations. The "insurrectionists" insisted all along that they were loyal to the King and went home after only ten days when the King commanded it.

There is no real evidence of underlying plots which caused the Gentry to join in but it is evident that some were threatened by the mob and forced to join and some joined to try for a damage limitation reason.

The government were well aware of what could be the result of all the religious reforms but ploughed on anyway. The King of course answered the demands in his usual subtle way. Find out the leaders and execute the lot! The bloodier the better. Except that this time each was examined under oath Thomas Moigne’s attempted to clarify why some of the gentry were involved and the sort of pressures put on some of them such as Edward Dymocke. His reward for his efforts was to be Hanged, Drawn, Headed and Quartered! (Throttled by being strung up until about unconscious, lowered down and opened up with a knife, his entrails etc drawn from his body whilst alive and then his head cut off. What then followed didn’t concern him too much but he was cut into four quarters and the parts displayed on hooks and poles to the public as a lesson as to what happens if you cross the King or government of the day.)

Pilgrimage of Grace

The name given to the religious rising in the north of England, 1536. The cause of this great popular movement, which extended over five counties and found sympathizers all over England, was attributed to Robert Aske, the leader of the insurgents, to "spreading of heretics, suppression of houses of religion and other matters touching the commonwealth". And in his "Narrative to the King", he declared:

In all parts of the realm men's hearts much grudged with the suppression of abbeys, and the first fruits, by reason the same would be the destruction of the whole religion in England. And their especial great grudge is against the lord Cromwell.

The insurrectionary spirit spread from the Humber to the Tweed; and all who joined in the enterprise bound themselves by oath to stand by each other, "for the love which they bore to Almighty God, his faith, the holy church, and the maintenance thereof; to the preservation of the king's person and his issue; to the purifying of the nobility; and to expulse all villein blood and evil counsellors from his grace and privy council; not for any private profit, nor to do displeasure to any private person, nor to slay or murder through envy, but for the restitution of the church, and the suppression of heretics and their opinions."

At York the commons took no part in the earliest stages of the rebellion, yet their sympathies lay predominantly with the rebels. The mayor, William Harrington, would have resisted had he not mistrusted the commons of the city; amongst the other loyalists mentioned are Dr. Stephens, physician to the Earl of Northumberland, Roger Radcliffe, and the parson of St. Mary's, Castlegate. On 9 Oct Lord Darcy, still behaving correctly, ordered the mayor to resist, pointing out that the rebels lacked artillery. The following day the Sheriff of Yorkshire urged Darcy to send a force immediately to York to overawe its rebel faction. The subsequent testimony of Lancelot Colyns, treasurer of the minster, illuminates the next stages. On 10 Oct Colyns heard of the rising under Aske in Howdenshire, and the very next day 'they were up in York itself', the insurrection being spread by the letters of a friar of Knaresborough, who said churches should be pulled down and men taxed for christening and marriage - the usual false rumours which contributed so powerfully to rouse the common people. The same day it became known that Edward Lee, Archbishop of York, Lord Darcy, and others of the king's council had fled to Pontefract: Colyns thought their flight encouraged the insurrection. Darcy himself reported to the King from Pontefract on 13 Oct that he had told the mayor to look to the safety of the city and the good order of the people there, 'who, I hear, are lightly disposed'. In detailing the extent of the rising he adds that 'the city of York favours them'.

To excite the enthusiasm of the pilgrims, and to induce people to join their ranks, a body of priests marched at their head, bearing a banner, on which was painted the image of the crucified Saviour, with the chalice and the host; and each soldier wore on his sleeve the emblem of his holy cause - a representation of the five wounds of Christ, with the name "Jesus" in the centre. The enterprise was quaintly called "The Pilgrimage of Grace," and wherever the pilgrims appeared, their first object was to re-instate the ejected monks in their monasteries. Wilfrid Holme, a writer of that age, residing at Huntington, near York, tells us that the pilgrims were wont to regale themselves by reciting the following lines from the so-called prophecies of Merlin:

Foorth shall come a worme, an Aske with one eye,
He shall be the chiefe of the mainye;
He shall gather of chivalrie a full faire flock
Halfe capon and halfe cooke:
The chicken shall the capon slay,
And after that shall be no May.

The movement broke out on 13 Oct 1536, immediately following the failure of the Lincolnshire Rising; and Robert Aske, a London barrister of good Yorkshire family, who had been to some extent concerned in the Lincolnshire rising, putting himself at the head of nine thousand insurgents, marched on York. The castles of Scarborough and Skipton held out against them, but within a week York had opened its gates to a host of 20,000, many of them mounted, led by Aske. There he arranged for the expelled monks and nuns to return to their houses; the king's tenants were driven out and religious observance resumed.

As the news spread, there were other risings; the great lords of the north were organising . By Oct 23, thirty or forty thousand men, well mounted, well provided.

Already the success of Yorkshire men was encouraging unrest in East Anglia and Norfolk, and there was always the danger of intervention of the Scots or from Continental power. In Fact the Pope gave legatine powers to Reginald Pole, son of the countess of Salisbury and scion of the Plantagenet line, and sent him to Flanders to wait the opportune moment to cross to England and lead the rising.

Hull, and Pontefract also opened their gates, probably because they were insufficiently garrisoned to offer any resistance.

In a great conference at Pontefract, 200 representatives; peers, knights, gentry and commons met in order to prepare a reasoned statement of their demands. This has survived, and it shows the Pilgrimage unique among insurrections.

On the Pilgrims Council which sat at Pontefract were:

Lords: John Scrope, Lord Scrope of Bolton; John Neville, Lord Latimer; Christopher Conyers, Lord Conyers of Hornby; John Lumley, Lord Lumley; Thomas Darcy, Lord Darcy and Lord Neville.

Knights: James Strangways, Christopher Danby, Thomas Hilton, William Constable, John Constable, Robert Constable, Peter Vavasour, Ralph Ellerker, Christopher Hilliard, Robert Neville, Oswald Wolsthrope, Edward Gower, George Darcy, William Fairfax, Nicholas Fairfax, William Mallory, Ralph Bulmer, William Bulmer, Stephen Hamerton, John Dawnye, Richard Tempest, Thomas Johnson, and Henry Gascoigne.

Gentlemen: Robert Bowes, Marmaduke Neville, Robert Chaloner, William Babthorpe, John Norton, Richard Norton, Roger Lasells, Richard Lasells, Richard Bowes, Ralph Bulmer, Metham Saltmarsh, Messrs De la River, Barton of Whenby, Place, Fulthorpe, Redman, Hamerton, Palmes, Aclom, Rudston, Plumpton, Middleton, Mallory of Wothersome and Allerton.

Commons: Robert Pullen, Nicholas Musgrave, 6 from Penrith, William Collins, Harry Bateman and Brown from Kendal, Mr Duckett, Edward Manser, Mr. Walter Strickland, Anthony Langthorn and John Ayrey.

Thomas Percy and Thomas Tempest (both knights) were unable to attend although they were involved.

The demands were wholly in accordance with the stance of Catholicism: a recognition of the Pope, and a request for the stifling of heresy and plunder.

In the castle of Pontefract, a herald from the Duke of Norfolk, Lord President of the North and leader of the royal army, was admitted to the presence of Aske, who sat in state between the Archbishop of York and Lord Darcy, but on hearing the contents of the proclamation he refused to allow it to be published to the army. The insurgents then, to the number of 30,000, marched to take possession of Doncaster. But here they were met by Norfolk, who, with a battery of cannon, guarded the bridge over the Don, and the ford was, at the same time, rendered impassable by the swollen state of the river.

This was fortunate for the Duke, as his small force of 5,000 men was quite inadequate to cope with the large army of insurgents. Negotiations for a compromise were entered into by the Duke, and purposely prolonged until the arrival of the King with fresh reinforcements. 

The Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Shrewsbury, opened negotiations with the insurgents at Doncaster, where Aske had assembled between thirty and forty thousand men. An armistice was then agreed upon, and the insurgents laid their demands before the King. They were as follows: 

The Duke of Norfolk was appointed by the King to confer with the insurgents, and was empowered to offer a pardon to all except ten persons, six named and four unnamed, but these terms were refused. The conference was broken up, and the pilgrims decided to commit their cause to the arbitrament of arms. The Duke was alarmed, as his force was disproportionately small, and besought the King to comply with, at least, some of their demands. A delegation was received by Henry VIII at Windsor. Simultaneously agreeing to summon a new Parliament and threatening to have them all burned alive by his soldiers, he persuaded the insurgents to return to their homes. The royal mercy was then extended to all the rebels, and a promise given that their grievances should be patiently discussed in a parliament which should be held at York. Aske then dismissed his followers, trusting in the king's promises. "On these terms the pilgrimage was dissolved (Dec 9th, 1536), but the King, on the dispersion of the insurgents, read them a lecture, in a royal manifesto, of a nature which would, in these days, rather have raised than suppressed a rebellion. In answer to that part of their petition which related to the removal of his ministers, who were charged with a design to subvert the religion of the state and to enslave the people, the King says:

 'And we, with our whole council, think it right strange that ye, who be but brutes and inexpert folk, do take upon you to appoint us who be meet or not for our council; we will, therefore, bear no such meddling at your hands, it being inconsistent with the duty of good subjects to interfere in such matters.' 

(from Baines' History of Lancashire.)

Bigod's insurrection of Jan 1537

The rebel army dispersed; but the cause of their discontent remained unremoved, nor did the King show any disposition to redeem his promises. Early the following year the pilgrims were again in arms in several places in the north. Sir Francis Bigod of Settrington, Yorkshire, led an uprising at Beverley. The new rising took place in Cumberland and Westmoreland, and was spreading to Yorkshire. They attempted the capture of Hull and Carlisle, but were repulsed in both cases, and in their retreat from the latter town they were intercepted by the Duke of Norfolk, with a largely augmented army, and seventy-four officers were hanged on the walls of the city.

The Pilgrimage found sympathisers and promoters in the diocese of Carlisle. Robert Jerby, abbot of Holm Cultram; Towneley, chancellor of Carlisle; the Prior of Lanercost, and a nameless Vicar of Penrith, made themselves especially obnoxious to the King by their activity. Carlisle was held for the King by Sir Thomas Clifford and Sir Christopher Dacre; certain unfounded suspicions about Dacre's fidelity were evidently in circulation, but he in the end thoroughly vindicated it. Penrith appears to have been the local focus of insurrection, and thither repaired Abbot Jerby, and there he aided and abetted in the sending [of] men to the insurgents at York. He warned his tenants of the manor of Holm Cultram, on pain of hanging, to attend illegal gatherings at Wayttyrighow (?) and on Broadfield, and, when on 12 Feb 1536/7, some eight thousand rabble from Kendal, Richmond, Kirkby Stephen, Appleby, and Hexham, under Nichol Musgrave, laid siege to Carlisle, he rode with them and acted as their commissioner to demand the surrender of the town. Clifford and Dacre repulsed and pursued the disorderly assailants, who rallied and made a stand, but melted away in panic on hearing of the approach of the royal forces under the Duke of Norfolk.

Henry considered this second rising as a breach of the amnesty he had granted; and though many of the former leaders were not concerned in this second rebellion, they were apprehended, tried, and executed. Hundreds were summarily executed, many of them sentenced to by juries coerced into rendering guilty veredicts. The rebel leaders, including Darcy and Hussey, were beheaded, and Robert Aske was carried to York to be hanged in chains till he died. Many country people were hanged in their own gardens as examples to their fellow villagers, and monks of Swaley Abbey, a suppressed monastery which the Pilgrims had re-established, were hanged from the steeple of their church. The loss of the leaders enabled Norfolk to crush the rising. The King avenged himself on Cumberland and Westmoreland by a series of massacres under the form of martial law. Though Aske had tried to prevent the rising he was put to death. In all, 216 were put to death, lords and knights, half a dozen abbots, 38 monks, and 16 parish priests: Lord Darcy, Sir Henry Percy, Sir Thomas Percy, Sir Robert Constable, Sir John and Lady Bulmer (the latter being burnt at Smithfield; his first wife was an aunt of Sir Francis Bigod, the second Margaret Stafford, widow of William Cheney and possibly a dau. of the Duke of Buckingham), Sir Stephen Hamilton, Nicholas Tempest, William Lumley and several other gentlemen, together with the four Abbots of Fountains, Jervaulx, Barlings, Sawley, and Rivaulx, and the prior of Bridlington.

After the uprising was quashed by virtue of Henry's betrayal of his promise of a general pardon, he wrote to the Duke of Norfolk, his agent:

Our pleasure is that . . . you shall cause such dreadful execution to be done upon a good number of the inhabitants of every town, village, and hamlet that have offended, as they may be a fearful spectacle to all others hereafter that would practice any like matter.

The letter also orders the Duke to get and send the Vicar of Penrith and Chancellor Towneley to the King, and to visit

Salleye (Sawley), Hexam, Newminster, Leonerdecaste, Saincte Agatha, and all such other places as have made any maner of resistence, or in any wise conspired or kept their houses with any force sithens th' appointement at Doncastre, you shall, without pitie or circumstance, nowe that our baner is displayed, cause all the monkes and chanons, that be in anywise faultie, to be tyed uppe, without further delay or ceremoney, to the terrible example of others.

The Abbot of Sawley and the Prior of Hexham were certainly hanged; the fate of the other three is not known, nor what became of Chancellor Towneley and the Vicar of Penrith. Seventy-four persons were executed in the towns of Cumberland and Westmorland; by some oversight they were not hanged in chains, as were the insurgents who endured that fate in Yorkshire, and the Bishopric of Durham: "the bodies were cut down and buried by certain women", to the anger of the Duke. Nothing is said as to the fate of the Abbot of Holm Cultram, but as Sir Thomas Wharton writes, in Aug 1537, of "the dethe of the laytt Abbot of Holm" he was probably hanged, unless he cheated the wood by dying. Sir Thomas Wharton, in his letter, also says he had attended the assizes in Cumberland:-

...when dyvers henyus riottes and oyer unlawfull demenors er laytly doune. Ther is on grett ryott foundon to be doune by the commandment of the byschoppe of Kerlesle...

Two or three years later another outbreak took place in Yorkshire, in which Sir John Neville and ten other persons were taken in arms and executed at York.

Motivating Factors

Historians have long debated the nature of the motivating factors behind the Pilgrimage of Grace. The traditional view of the revolt was that of a spontaneous mass backlash, by the conservative north, against the religious reforms of the Henrician government. Over the years, however, this interpretation has been challenged by others, which have suggested grievances of a more secular nature, i.e. political, social and economic, as the underlying causes of the revolt.  For Dr Michael Bush, the Durham Pilgrims were motivated by a combination of all of these factors. As he points out, although no manifesto of their specific demands has survived, grievances pertinent to affairs in Durham can be identified in the Articles, drawn up by the Pilgrims’ Council, at Pontefract, in Dec 1536. In addition, there is evidence drawn from the statement of several rebels, which also provides some insight into the grievances that persuaded the men of the Bishopric into revolt.

A variety of common grievances, it is suggested, served to unite the Durham Pilgrims with those across the north, as a whole. However, intertwined with these general concerns were other, more locally specific, areas of discontent. Opposition to the ‘heresies’ of the new religious reforms loomed large in Durham as elsewhere. Indeed, the implementation of the policy to dissolve the lesser monasteries combined with the increasing attacks, by government, upon the privilege of sanctuary and upon the veneration of the saints must, inevitably, have created considerable unease within the patrimony of St. Cuthbert. As Bush points out, from the outset of the revolt, the men of Durham rallied, in accordance with tradition, behind the legendary Banner of St. Cuthbert. The presence of the Banner, at the head of the formidable Durham and North Riding pilgrim host, thus served to highlight the rebels’ attachment to and their willingness to fight in defence of the ‘old religion’.

In political and socio-economic terms also, general grievances became enmeshed with local concerns.  The encroachments of the government in the political and administrative affairs of the north aroused widespread concern and this manifested itself in a general hatred of the King’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell and his associates. Such animosity, Bush argues, was probably as rife in Durham as elsewhere in the north. Indeed, the legislation of 1536, which abolished franchises and liberties, had severely curtailed the Bishop of Durham’s regalian authority in respect of his palatine franchise. Legislation such as the Statute of Uses, which exploited the Crown’s feudal prerogatives and restricted the ability of landholders to devise their properties by will, and the fiscal policies of Cromwell (which, perhaps, raised fears that the Palatinate would lose its tradition immunity from direct taxation) probably all contributed further to the growing sense of unease and discontent within the Bishopric.

Michael Bush considers all of these main areas of debate, both from a general perspective and also from that of individual rebel participants. Much of the surviving evidence relates, unsurprisingly, to members of the upper orders of Durham society. The participation of members of the leading families - such as the Nevilles, Lumleys, Bowes, Hiltons and Tempests – is thus discussed in the light of their own personal animosities towards the Henrician regime. Inevitably, this leads into the debate surrounding the role of the upper orders in the revolt. Here, the view is taken that the Pilgrimage was, in the first instance, a commons’ inspired revolt and that the Durham gentry participants were, as they claimed, coerced into joining. As the revolt gathered momentum, however, attitudes changed and the gentry came increasingly to control the progress of the revolt. Bush charts this progression showing how, as the fragile unity of purpose between the commons and gentry began to erode in the days following the Dec agreement, the impetus for revolt gradually petered out. Despite sporadic outbursts of unrest in the city of Durham, Barnard Castle, Darlington and Bishop Auckland, the men of the Bishopric failed to rise again in support of the second phase of the rebellion, led by Sir Francis Bigod.

Though these risings had for their object the preservation of the monastic institutions, they only hastened the downfall of the remainder. The monks were charged with encouraging their tenants to join in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and a commission was appointed to investigate their conduct. But this was only a plausible excuse for the dissolution of the larger monasteries, in which it had been said, by an Act of Parliament, that "in divers of them religion was right well kept and observed". The visitation occupied four years, during which time the visitors went from house to house, trying, by offers of pensions and church preferments, to obtain the voluntary surrender of the monastery; and, where these failed, threats and menaces were used. The pensions given to the superiors varied £266 to £6 per annum, and those to the other monks from £6 to £2, with a small sum to each, as a departure fee, to provide for his immediate wants.

The number of houses thus suppressed, in England and Wales, amounted to 645, exclusive of 96 colleges, 2,374 chantries and free chapels, and 119 hospitals. The value of the property seized by the King has been variously estimated, but, according to the Liber Regis, it yielded annually £142,914 12s. 91/4d., which, taken at twenty years' purchase, would produce £2,858,290, worth, according to the present value of money, £28,582,900. "A revenue so immense", says Baines, "as that yielded by the monasteries might, under judicious application, have extinguished all public burdens, both for the support of the state and the relief of the poor, and expectations of this kind were held out to the people; but they were soon undeceived; pauperism became more widespread than ever, and within one year from the period of the last appropriation, a subsidy of two-tenths, and another of two-fifteenths, were demanded by the King, and granted by parliament, to defray the expenses of reforming the religion of the state". A small portion of the monastic revenues was appropriated to the advancement of religion; six new bishoprics were erected, but very inadequately endowed; fourteen abbeys and priories were converted into cathedrals and collegiate churches; two colleges and a few hospitals and grammar schools were established. This, with the exception of a small sum expended on the improvement of Dover harbour, and the erection of five fortresses, was all the benefit that the nation received from the suppression of monasteries, and the poor, who before had been wholly supported by the religious orders and the church, have ever since been a burden on the people.

The total number of monastic institutions suppressed in Yorkshire amounted to 106. Of these 14 were abbeys, 44 priories and nunneries, 7 alien priories, 23 friaries, and 13 cells. After the dissolution of all the religious houses had been accomplished, Henry, accompanied by his Queen, visited the north, 'where the suppression had met with the greatest opposition', to receive the submission of the inhabitants. "On his entrance into Yorkshire," says Holinshead, he was met by two hundred gentlemen of the same shire, in coats of velvet, and four thousand tall yeomen and serving men, well horsed, who, on their knees, made submission to him by the mouth of Sir Robert Bowes, and gave to the King £900. On Barnsdale, the Archbishop of York, with more than three hundred priests, met the King, and, making a like submission, gave to him £600. The like submission was made by the mayors of York, Newcastle, and Hull, and each of them gave the King £100.

One of the complaints of the Pilgrims of Grace had been the injustice of requiring the inhabitants of the northern counties to lodge their cases for trial in the metropolis. To remove this hardship, Henry, during his visit to York, which extended to twelve days, established "His Majesty's Council in the Northern Parts". This court, which was in some sense viceregal, consisted of a council, with a president at its head, assisted by twenty-two noblemen, gentlemen, and officers of the law. Four sessions, of one month's duration each, were to be held in a year - one at York, another at Hull, the third at Newcastle, and the fourth at Durham; and that suitors might not be oppressed with heavy bills of costs, it was directed "that no attorney should take, in one sitting or session, above twelve pence, nor any councillor more than twenty pence, for that matter".

Henry VIII survived the suppression of monasteries little more than half a dozen years, and was succeeded by his son, Edward, a boy of nine years, who died at the early age of sixteen. Henry had been on the whole as favourably inclined to the "old learning" as to the new, and sent indiscriminately both Catholics and Protestants to the stake, but in the short reign of his son the Reformation made rapid progress. The Protector Somerset was a zealous reformer, and in the name of the young monarch, he closed by proclamation every place of worship, and no one was allowed to preach except he was duly licensed by the Protector or the Archbishop of York. A new order of divine worship, called a liturgy, or Book of Common Prayer, was drawn up with the "assistance of the Holy Ghost", as it was declared, and severe pains and penalties were enacted to enforce its adoption. These proceedings met with considerable opposition, and insurrections took place in several counties. At Seamer, near Scarborough, a rising was fomented by Thomas Dale, the parish clerk, John Stevenson, of Seamer, and William Ambler, of East Heslerton, yeoman. They demanded, among other things, the restoration of the old form of worship, and the repeal of the recent obnoxious acts. The signal for gathering was the firing of the beacon on Staxton, when the insurgents assembled to the number of 3,000. and proceeding to the house of one Mr. White, a gentleman, they seized him, Mr. Clapton, his wife's brother, Mr. Richard Savage, Sheriff of York, and Berry, a servant, and carried them off to the Wolds, where they were stripped and murdered. A detachment from York was sent against them, and when a pardon was offered, all the rebels accepted the King's mercy, and dispersed, except the nine ringleaders, who were taken prisoners soon after, and executed at York.

The reign of Mary, blood-stained, like those of her father and brother, we pass by, as possessing no features having a special reference to Yorkshire. She was succeeded by her half-sister, Elizabeth, who favoured the reformers, and Protestantism again became the religion of the state. During her sister's reign she had outwardly conformed to the old religion, but her preference for the new doctrines was well known. Now that she was at the head of the realm, she adopted the creed that was in harmony with her own convictions. But in effecting the change she proceeded with caution and prudence. One by one Catholic practices were prohibited in the chapel royal, and then commissioners were appointed to visit each diocese, to prepare both clergy and laity for the coming change. The statutes passed in the late reign for the support of the ancient religion were repealed, and the Acts of Edward VI partially revived. The Book of Common Prayer, with certain additions and emendations, was ordered to be used under the penalties of forfeiture, deprivation, and death, and all were bound to subscribe to the royal supremacy.

The Pilgrimage of Grace

A Song for the Pilgrims of Grace

These words were probably written by a monk of St. Mary's Abbey, Sawley, Yorkshire, in gratitude to the Pilgrims who had reinstated the monks in their house.

Christ crucified!
For thy wounds wide,
Us commons guide!
Which pilgrims be,
Through God's grace,
For to purchase
Old wealth and peace
Of the spirituality.

Great God's fame
Doth Church proclaim
Now to be lame
And fast in bonds,
Robbed, spoiled, and shorn
From cattle and corn,
And clean forth borne
Of house and lands.

          * * *
Alack, alack!
For the Church sake,
Poor commons wake,
And no marvel!
For clear it is,
The decay of this,
How the poor shall miss
No tongue can tell.

For there they had
Both ale and bread
At time of need,
And succor great
In all distress,
And heaviness,
And well entreat

In trouble and care,
Where that we were
In manner all bare
Of our substance,
We found good bate
At church men gate
Without checkmate
Or variance.

God, that right all,
Redress now shall,
And that is thrall
Again make free,
By this voyage
And pilgrimage
Of young and sage
In this country,

Whom God grant grace!
And for this space
Of this their trace,
Send them good speed,
With wealth, health and speed
Of sin's release,
And joy endless
When they be dead.

Church men forever
So you remember
Both first and later
In your memento
These pilgrims poor,
That take such cure
To stablish sure,
Which did undo

Crim, Cram, and Rich,
With three "L" and the lich
As some men teach.
God them amend!
And that Aske may
Without delay
Here make a stay
And well to end!

About the Pilgrims

George Throckmorton was sent to the Tower for spreading Aske's manifesto. His brother Michael Throckmorton was a follower of Cardinal Reginald Pole, a Yorkist heir.

The Stapletons of Wighill near Tadcaster were followers of the Earl of Northumberland. Brian Stapleton was Christopher Stapleton's eldest son by his first wife, his brother William Stapleton was a lawyer friend of Robert Aske.

Robert Southwell of Jotes Place, Mereworth, Kent was the King's Surveyor and Master of the Rolls at the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace. He married Margaret, daughter of Sir Thomas Neville (d. 1542) Privy Councillor to Henry VIII and Secretary of State - his brother Sir Edward Neville was executed in 1538 for supporting Reginald Pole.

The Earl of Shrewsbury, John Russell, William Parr, William Gonson, Francis Bryan and Admiral Sir William FitzWilliam were Royalists and mustered troops at Ampthill, Bedfordshire against the rebels. The 1,000 men from Gloucester who lived at Stony Stratford near Ampthill probably troops who took part.

William Hussey was a rebel at Lincoln. He was probably of the same family as John, lord Hussey, son of Sir William Hussey, Lord Chief Justice of the King's Bench in 1478 (17 Edward IV). John Hussey was involved in putting down Lovell's rebellion (1486) and was a partner of Sir Richard Empson, knight and Edmund Dudley, Sergeant at Law, Henry VII's tax gatherers executed on 17 Aug 1510 at Tower HiIl by order of Henry VIII. The Husseys' seat was at Sleaford, Lincolnshire which was granted to them. A subsequent Lord John Hussey was Chamberlain (1533) to Princess Mary and with his wife Anne, daughter of George Grey, Earl of Kent, was imprisoned for calling Mary princess after she was declared illegitimate. Elizabeth Hussey of Sleaford, Lincolnshire married first Walter Hungerford and after his death Sir Robert Throckmorton, grandfather of Francis Tresham and Robert Catesby, the Gunpowder Plotters.

John Topcliffe was a native of Topcliffe, near Thirsk, and sometime canon of Hexham Abbey. He often called John of Hexham. In 1527, he was raised to the Abbacy of Whitby, but only ten years later, King Henry VIII seized the revenues of the Abbot, under the pretext that he and his monks had encouraged the Pilgrimage of Grace. He resigned his office into the hands of the chapter and became an ordinary monk, only to see his abbey finally dissolved under his successor, three years later. He died ABT 1550.

The "Pilgrimage of Grace" involved the "White Rose" faction of Yorkists and ironically many of those who opposed Charles I were descendants of the Pilgrims - Phillip and Brian Stapleton, Richard Aske, Lord Fairfax (descendant of Nicholas Fairfax and Robert Aske) and William Constable.


Erickson, Carolly: "Bloody Mary" 1978

Luke, Mary M.: "A Crown for Elizabeth" 1971

Fletcher, A. and MacCulloch, D.: "Tudor Rebellions" 1997

Bush, Michael: "Durham and the Pilgrimage of Grace" 2000

'Tudor York: Religion and the Reformation', A History of the County of Yorkshire: the City of York (1961), pp. 142-55.

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