Pilgrimage of Grace

Pilgrimage of Grace

The Pilgrimage of Grace is the collective name for a series of rebellions in northern England, first in Lincolnshire and then in Yorkshire and elsewhere between October and December 1536 CE. Nobles, clergy, monks, and commoners united to oppose both the decision of Henry VIII of England (r. 1509-1547 CE) to split the Church in England from Rome and his policy of closing monasteries and confiscating their estates, the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Other grievances included the fear of new taxes and confiscation of Church property and a general lack of political representation in the north of England. The Pilgrimage of Grace, so-called because its participants considered themselves 'pilgrims', did not threaten London, but it was the largest rebellion of the Tudor period (1485-1603 CE). The 40,000 protestors were dispersed by the threat of armed force and false promises of pardons and reforms but, ultimately, many of the leaders, including the lawyer Robert Aske and Lord Darcy, were executed as traitors and Henry continued apace with the Reformation in England.

Henry VIII's 'Great Matter'

Henry VIII had a problem. He wanted to divorce his first wife Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry the younger and more beautiful Anne Boleyn (c. 1501-1536 CE) who might give him what he so desired: a male heir. The problem, which the king called his 'Great Matter', was that in the Catholic Church divorce was not permitted. After much diplomatic activity, the Pope refused to grant Henry an annulment of his marriage. The king, aided by his Chancellor Thomas Cromwell (l. c. 1485-1540 CE), then decided he would make himself head of his own Church in England and so be able to grant himself his own divorce. Consequently, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury formally annulled Henry's first marriage in May 1533 CE which meant that Henry could now marry a second time (which he had already done in secret a few months before). There was the additional consequence that Henry's daughter with Catherine, princess Mary (b. Feb. 1516 CE), was declared illegitimate and so disinherited. Henry was excommunicated by the Pope for his momentous actions, but this was only the beginning.

The first trouble, the Lincolnshire Rising, began in Louth in October 1536 CE when an ordinary church procession developed into a mass protest march.

The Act of Supremacy of 28 November 1534 CE formally made the English king head of the Church of England which meant that Henry, and all subsequent English monarchs, only had one higher authority: God himself. The next scene in this momentous drama came in 1536 CE when Henry presented Parliament with a bill to abolish all monasteries in his kingdom, the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The bill was passed and the estates of the monasteries began to be redistributed to the Crown and Henry's supporters. The abbots of Glastonbury, Colchester, Reading, and Woburn were all hanged. And so began the English Reformation which would see Catholicism give way to Protestantism in England. Finally, Cromwell introduced The Injunctions in August 1536 CE, a set of recommendations on what exactly the clergy should be teaching their congregations such as explaining better the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Causes of the Rebellion

Henry VIII was likely very pleased with his clever side-stepping of papal authority, and many of his nobles were equally content to grab their bit of Church lands and riches. Additionally, many commoners were quite happy, too, to see the back of those rapacious and corrupt priests and monks who had blighted their villages. However, monasteries, in particular, had been an integral part of local communities for centuries, giving out alms to the poor, education to young children, providing employment and giving spiritual guidance. There were, then, quite a lot of other people who did not like the king's closure of some monasteries and his plans to close many more. This was especially so in the north of England where there was a high concentration of monasteries. First and foremost amongst the king's critics was Henry's respected former Chancellor Sir Thomas More (1478-1535 CE) who had disagreed with both the royal divorce and the Act of Supremacy. Sir Thomas was executed for his beliefs in July 1535 CE but there were many like-minded people still to deal with and these were the founders of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the most serious rebellion in England since the infamous Peasant's Revolt of 1381 CE.

The protest movement compiled a list of weighty demands of their king in the hope of reversing worrying changes to traditional parish life. The principal aims of the Pilgrimage of Grace were:

  • to restore relations between the Papacy and England.
  • to restore the monasteries and prevent further closures.
  • to restore Princess Mary as the king's heir.
  • to eliminate commoners from the King's circle of ministers (especially Cromwell).
  • to remove two of the main architects of the Reformation: the Archbishop of Canterbury Cranmer and Hugh Latimer, Bishop of Worcester.
  • to repeal the 1536 CE Statute of Uses, a tax on inherited land.
  • to ensure better political representation for the northern counties.

The rebels, who called themselves 'pilgrims', did not want to replace their king, rather they considered him misguided by corrupt councillors, mostly either social upstarts or rich southern nobles only too keen to plunder the north of England for their own short-term gain. It did not help the volatile situation that the 1535 and 1536 CE harvests had been poor ones, rents were constantly increasing, and the policy of land enclosure - taking public hunting and fishing land for private use by the wealthy - was still ongoing.

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Lincoln & York Rise

The first trouble, the Lincolnshire Rising, began in Louth, Lincolnshire in October 1536 CE when an ordinary church procession developed into a mass protest march. The grassroots members joined the movement after persistent rumours had swept across the North of England that, after the closure of monasteries, parish churches would be next on the king's hit list. There was a fear that the king would, at the very least, plunder churches for their valuables such as gold crosses. Traders, meanwhile, feared that the local fairs held to celebrate saints' days might be repressed. There were even rumours that baptisms, marriages, and burials would all receive a new tax. Government commissioners had already been visiting the north to assess what was available for confiscation and if the Injunctions were being enforced.

The rebels first began by opening up some of the closed-down monasteries. This was welcomed by many commoners who derived employment and charity from them. Henry responded by sending an army to deal with the protestors in Lincoln who duly dispersed by 18 October. However, news caught on of the protest and it became even more serious in the cities of York and Pontefract where the castle was taken over. Protestors now gathered under their banner, the 'Five Wounds of Christ' and called themselves the 'Pilgrimage of Grace for the Commonweal'. Members swore the following oath of allegiance to the cause:

To take before you the cross of Christ and your heart's faith to the restitution of his church and the suppression of heretics' opinions. (Miller, 105-6)

The leader of this group was the Yorkshire lawyer Robert Aske (c. 1500-1537 CE). Both York and Pontefract were taken over, and Aske formed a council which created the list of demands mentioned above, collectively known as the Pontefract Articles. Aske had the support of many of the minor local gentry but even managed to persuade such figures as Lord Darcy (1467-1537 CE) to join the cause, and it was he who gave up Pontefract Castle to the rebels. Darcy later claimed that he had wanted to infiltrate the protestors to better serve the king's interests. Other noble families who sympathised with the revolt were the Nevilles, Dacres, and Percys. To see the end of the new Statue of Uses laws which taxed inherited land was another motivating factor for the local gentry. There was also material support from such figures as Eustace Chapuys (c. 1490-1556 CE), imperial ambassador to England of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (r. 1519-1556 CE). Now with an ever-greater number of protestors efficiently organised into local corps led by captains, with both nobles and commoners being involved, and with the spread of uprisings now reaching Lancashire and Cumbria, the whole movement had become a sort of crusade and an exceedingly dangerous one for Henry VIII.

A Peaceful Settlement

The king responded emphatically by sending a second army north, this time consisting of 8,000 and led by Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk. The duke, a staunch Catholic himself and rival of Thomas Cromwell was a clever choice by Henry. To be absolutely sure of a favourable outcome, Henry also sent a fleet of ten ships to the north of England as backup. Crucially, the great northern earls of Northumberland, Westmorland, Cumberland, Derby and Shrewsbury all remained loyal to the king, even if some had initially hesitated.

Norfolk met the protestors as they marched to Doncaster. On 6 December, wary of the great number of the rebels he confronted - perhaps as many as 40,000, many of whom were armed - the Duke offered a general amnesty and the establishment of a new extended council of the North seated in York to better represent their grievances. Until this Parliament was in session, the closure of the monasteries and the confiscation of their wealth was to be put on hold. That the whole thing was merely a tactic to quash the rebellion is indicated in a letter from Norfolk to Henry in which the Duke states: I beseech you to take in good part whatsoever promise I shall make unto the rebels, for surely I shall observe no part thereof' (Miller, 105). Nevertheless, the protestors thought that they had won significant concessions and so stood down and dispersed on 8 December. This was a wise move as it later transpired that the singularly unimpressed king had only just been dissuaded by his own council to refrain from executing the leaders immediately.

The Reckoning

Henry, even if perhaps now more cautious, was still determined to press on with his religious reforms come what may and to prevent future disturbances he decided that the abbot and monks of Sawley were rounded up and hanged for he believed they had been the ones to stir up the initial trouble. The king did politely receive Ask at court but Henry, still very much a medieval monarch in outlook, was privately outraged that his subjects should ever question his policies whatever they happened to be.

Fatefully, a separate rebellion then broke out in January 1537 CE, also in Yorkshire. Henry, growing increasingly wary of the frequency of these troubles dealt brutally with this third outbreak of discontent and next decided to make an example of the Pilgrimage of Grace leaders, including Aske, Lord Darcy, the abbots of Whalley, Kirkstead, and Jervaux, the ex-abbot of Fountain's Abbey, and several prominent members of the Percy and Neville families. Consequently, 178 were arrested, given a mockery of a trial and then executed in June 1537 CE. The head of Darcy was put on a spike on London bridge while the body of Aske and several other rebels were hung in chains from the walls of York Castle as a stark warning to others. Meanwhile, the King's Privy Council did reduce illegal land enclosures and the Council of the North was reformulated which not only gave those in the northern counties a feeling of closer political representation but also allowed Henry to keep a closer watch on that part of his kingdom lest other rebellions occur to bother his reign.

The Constable brothers and The Pilgrimage of Grace

My last post on Katherine Parr got me thinking about the fate of the gentry involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace and the way in which events are often more complicated than we first suppose. Take the Constable brothers, though some texts identify them as an assortment of brothers and cousins. They weren’t young men. Two of them were veterans of Flodden. Sir John Constable of Burton Constable and Sir William Constable of Great Hatfield, one of the brothers at Flodden, lived some of the time in the wapentake of Holderness. Both of them were in residence in October 1536.

That month Anthony Curtis arrived in the area with the news that had spread through Lincolnshire and was now making its way through Yorkshire. The King, it was said, was going to limit the number of churches to one every five, or seven miles depending on the source, and was about to raise fees for marriages, christenings and funerals. Bad enough that the new articles of faith denied there was any such place as Purgatory. Soon the area was up in arms as the Commons answered the call to join the Pilgrimage of Grace. Those who were less than enthusiastic either fled or were ‘persuaded.’

John and William Constable took themselves off to Hull and remained behind the town’s walls. They, together with the two Sir Ralph Ellerkers (which must have been uncomfortable as there was something of a feud going on between the two families) were the leading gentry of the area and it wasn’t long before the pilgrims arrived at Hull’s gates demanding the town and the gentry to lead them. Burton reveals that their brother Sir Robert Constable who’d been knighted by Henry VII after the Battle of Blackheath in 1487 was already in Pontefract Castle and that their other brother Sir Marmaduke, another veteran of the Scottish wars, went into hiding where he remained a loyal man of the king…always easier to achieve when you haven’t got a mob threatening to do very nasty things to you or your family.

On the 19 th of October Hull capitulated when it started to run out of food. The rebels forced the men behind its walls to take their oath. Sir John Constable after initially refusing to submit to the rebels found himself in charge of Hull whilst Sir William, together with the pilgrims, headed in the direction of Pontefract.

Pontefract Castle fell to the rebels on the 21 st and the Constable family found another of their number sworn to the pilgrim oath. Sir Robert now began working with Aske to organise the host of men who’d answered the call to arms or had been forced into rebellion. Later Sir Robert would negotiate with the various captains and commons for negotiation with the Duke of Norfolk rather than battle although it is evident there was a time when he wanted to continue beyond Doncaster towards London. This did not endear him to Henry VIII. Moorhouse reveals that Henry had a little list of men he wished to make an example of including Robert Aske and Lord Darcy. Sir Robert Constable’s name also featured on the list.

In the aftermath of the rebellion Sir John managed to talk his way out of the situation. In 1537 he oversaw the trials and executions of Hull’s pilgrims. Sir William also sat on the trial commission.

King Henry VIII did not forget his little list of men who did not deserve pardon in his opinion. Sir Robert was at Templehurst (Temple Newsam) , home of Lord Darcy, when Robert Aske arrived there on January 10, 1537. He’d been wined and dined over Christmas by the king so had no idea that Henry was after vengeance as he was now trying to damp down renewed calls for rebellion. Notices had been stuck on church doors across the area demanding a return to the old format of service. The three men decided the best thing to do was to try and keep the north calm until the Duke of Norfolk arrived. The problem was that all three of them would soon be summoned to London. Sir Robert received his politely worded note on the 19th February. By Easter he was in the Tower. The men went voluntarily believing that the king would treat them fairly. They didn’t understand that Sir Francis Bigod’s rebellion in January 1537 nullified the agreement that Henry had reached with them…in Henry’s mind. It didn’t matter that Robert Aske even had a letter of recommendation from the Duke of Norfolk.

Due process of the law now kicked into play. The Duke of Norfolk put together a jury to hear the accusations against the men. This was held in York. Moorhouse notes that the jury was composed of a large number of relatives of the three men. This effectively ensured that there would be an indictment, or as Moorhouse observes, the three men would have been joined in the Tower by some of their nearest and dearest. There were three men prepared to turn evidence against Constable. Moorhouse details it (p298-99) and the fact that it was undoubtedly a fix – not least because one of the prosecution witnesses was a certain Sir Ralph Ellerker (you’ll remember him from Hull where he also signed the pilgrim oath). Ellerker was either buying his own safety or taking the opportunity to take out a member of the Constable family with whom the Ellerkers were feuding.

Lord Darcy was executed in London but Sir Robert Constable, Robert Aske and Lord Hussey, another leader of the pilgrimage, were sent back to the places where they’d rebelled against the king. It must have been an unhappy convoy that set off from London. Lord Hussey was dropped off at Lincoln where Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk awaited him with an executioner. The convoy continued north. Aske would die in chains in York but Sir Robert was destined for Hull. When he arrived there was time to spare as his execution was set for market day (plenty of spectators). He was executed on the 6th of July 1537 and his body was hung in chains.

As for Sir Marmaduke – he purchased Drax Priory from the Crown because of it’s links to his wife’s family.

To find out more about the history of the Pilgrimage of Grace double click on the image to open up a new webpage. Rather alarmingly I have added to my list of posts for this week – there’re Sir Nicholas Tempest who was hanged at Tyburn for his part in the pilgrimage as well as Sir John Bulmer and his wife Margaret Stafford. She was burned at Smithfield for her treason. It’s not that I’m turning this blog into a series of posts about who Henry VIII executed – although there’s enough material for it- it’s more that I’ve become curious about who escaped and who paid the ultimate penalty and why.

Bush, M.L. (1996) The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536 Manchester: Manchester University Press

Lipscomb, Suzannah. (2006) 1536: The Year That Changed Henry VIII Oxford: Lion Hudson

Moorhouse, Geoffrey. (2002). The Pilgrimage of Grace. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson

Just history.

Banner of the five wounds of Christ- Photo Credit- www.luminarium.org

Merry old England wasn’t very merry under Henry VIII, especially if you didn’t agree with the king on religion. The problem was Henry’s mind changed based on what his desires were and who was standing next to him at the time. By 1536, the average Englishman didn’t know what to believe nor who to ask because the wrong question to the wrong person and you got burned at the stake.

Because of the King’s Great Matter, England had broken with the Roman Catholic Church so Henry could divorce Katherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Reformers began dismantling the abbeys and taking the spoils for their own. However, the rank and file of the kingdom were confused. They never asked for these changes. Very few people in the country supported the dissolution of the monasteries. G. W. Bernard gives the number of religious houses in England as 900 and that equated to about one man in fifty being in religious orders. Religious houses provided a social safety net for the kingdom’s poor as well as education and an object of veneration for pilgrimages. Suddenly, all of that was gone as well as all of those formerly in religious life finding themselves homeless.

When the King beheaded Anne Boleyn and married Jane Seymour, there was hope for the cause of orthodoxy. The new Queen’s family was for the old faith, however, the King maintained as his Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. It was Cromwell who headed the royal commission to “inspect” monasteries as well as took the the first attempt to codify the break from Rome with the Ten Articles. Rumors abounded that the treasure in the parish churches were being replaced by tin or brass. This was not taken well, especially in the North where the old faith was still strong. The country was rife for rebellion.

Pockets of rebellion popped up in the summer 1536, and the instigators were promptly hanged. New laws were passed that no priest was allowed to carry a weapon more lethal than his meat knife. The first large scale rebellion began in October 1536 in Lincolnshire, but was put down in a fortnight. However, ‘the matter hangeth yet like a fever, one day good, one day bad’, an official wrote to Cromwell. The embers had been lit for the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Pilgrimage of Grace depicted in later generations. Photo Credit- Google images

The bells rang in the town of Beverley and the rebellion marched under the leadership of Robert Aske and the banner of the five wounds of Christ. They demanded the restoration of the old faith, the monasteries and ‘the Lady Mary be made legitimate.’ It gained steam and picked up Lord Thomas Darcy from Yorkshire, the King’s steward in York , as another leader. Together they commanded an army that was estimated at 30,000 strong. The royal army under the Earl of Shrewsbury and the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk were much smaller and in disarray. However, instead of attacking they accepted the Earl’s offer to discuss terms at Doncaster. The believed they were dealing with a rational king and were good loyal subjects. They only wanted to remove the king’s corrupt ministers and restore the old ways. It was their fatal mistake.

The Pilgrims were initially offered a general pardon and they began to negotiate with the leaders. Norfolk agreed the King was ill advised by Cromwell and promised the king would consider their requests at parliament if they disbursed. Norfolk was a political enemy of Cromwell, and was trying to turn the situation to his advantage, but they didn’t care as long as their aims went together. The king even met with Aske and gave him a scarlet jacket and asked him to prepare a history of the last few months. Aske and the other leaders must have thought they had won. They were getting everything they asked for. It was all an elaborate ruse.

Additional risings in the North gave the King the excuse he needed to turn on Aske and Darcy. He tried to split them by asking Darcy to betray Aske. Darcy refused. They both died for it. The pardons that he had given them weren’t worth the paper they were printed on. The pilgrims were hung at crossroads, market squares and in their own gardens. Women who tried to take down the bodies of their menfolk were punished. Robert Aske begged that he be not drawn and quartered. Instead he was ’hung in chains’ or gibbetted at York. The knife might have been a kindness. Lord Thomas Darcy was executed on Tower Hill.

Right or wrong, Henry VIII brought them down through the duplicity that he was becoming famous for. He now found he could move with impunity.

Sources: Ackroyd, Peter- Tudors
Fletcher, Catherine- The Divorce of Henry VIII

The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536 Summary & Information

The account within the article was written by the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall.

The Pilgrimage of Grace was the worst uprising of Henry VIII’s reign. It was a direct result of the dissolution of the monasteries, a policy which confused and angered most Englishmen. The original rebellion began at Louth in Lincolnshire in early October 1536. The presence of a royal commission was the spark the local clergy encouraged it to flame. The Lincolnshire rebellion lasted but a fortnight, but Yorkshire – led by the lawyer Robert Aske – was next. With the charismatic Aske as their leader, the rebellion spread quickly.

Dissatisfaction with the king’s religious and fiscal policies was deep and widespread. An army of perhaps 30,000 men gathered in the north. The king ordered the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and the earl of Shrewsbury to respond. But there was no standing army in England also, popular sympathy lay with the rebels.

The king’s forces were hopelessly outnumbered. Worse, their soldiers lacked equipment and the desire to fight their countrymen. And the rebel forces were far more experienced in battle, having fought the Scots near-continuously during Henry’s reign.

Faced with such odds, the king turned to diplomacy. The rebels, after all, did not seek to overthrow him. Their primary desire was for the dissolved monasteries to be restored. They also criticized the king’s ‘low-born’ advisers, particularly Thomas Cromwell. His policies of high taxation and forced enclosures had worsened poverty throughout northern England it was already, as Norfolk told the king, ‘the most barren country of the realm’.

The king negotiated peace through Norfolk, conceding their demands and promising a free pardon to all rebels who dispersed. Monastic lands would be restored and a new parliament called to address their concerns. The rebels accordingly dispersed. And then, on the slightest pretext, Henry broke his word martial law was declared, rebel leaders were indicted and put on trial (many faced a jury of their peers.) Several hundred rebels, including Aske, were executed.

[T]he 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.

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The causes of the Pilgrimage of Grace

The causes of the Pilgrimage of Grace have remained difficult to pin down for many years. The Pilgrimage of Grace was essentially specific to Yorkshire. What would have caused many thousands of people to rise up in Yorkshire to cause a rebellion that clearly rattled the government of Henry VIII?

While much has been written about the Pilgrimage of Grace, it has proved difficult to specifically pin down why so many people rallied to the cause. The document presented to the Duke of Norfolk at Doncaster – the ‘24 Articles’ – should give many clues as the demands should have been directly linked to the grievances of the rebels. However, the document was produced by a select group of nobles. No ‘commoner’ was present, nor invited to attend, and as they constituted the vast bulk of the rebels, their beliefs are seemingly excluded from these articles. Some of the articles are specific to religion, others to political issues. While these articles give a clear indication of what a select group wanted, they cannot be assumed to be what the ‘commoner’ wanted.

Certain rumours are known to have been very common in Yorkshire immediately prior to the rebellion taking hold. One was that Henry was about to order all parish churches to hand over their silver to the government and that they would be replaced with tin ones. There is no evidence that the government of Henry contemplated this but the rumour spread with due speed. Another rumour that spread was that a tax was going to be placed on ‘rites of passage’ – baptism, marriage and burial. This would have made financially pressed families feel even more financially vulnerable if brought in. A final rumour that was popular at this time was that the poorer classes were to be forbidden to eat certain types of food.

While these rumours seem nonsense now, they were believed in the mid-1530’s and with good reason. Many believed that Henry wanted to keep the ‘commoners’ in their place many believed that Henry was so short of money that he would resort to anything to get a new source of cash. Whereas there are religious aspects to these rumours, they also overlap into social and economic issues that dominated lives of the ‘commoner’. It is doubtful if you could have separated all three at the time.

There can be little doubt that religious changes were a main reason for the Pilgrimage of Grace. Robert Aske would not have chosen the title for his followers if the protest had not had a religious input. The Reformation had affected over 100 small monasteries in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Many of these monasteries had worked with their local communities in both educational and medical aspects of day-to-day life and the projected loss of these were, at a local level, potentially very negative. There can be little doubt that some pilgrims were also angered at the thought of the Pope’s position being eroded by the introduction of new reforms. Basic religious beliefs had been held since childhood and any attempt to change them must have seemed very threatening.

There is little doubt that some of the rebels also had economic grievances and used the Pilgrimage of Grace to vent their anger. Rent increases seem to have been the primary reason for the anger of some of the ‘commoners’. However, historians who have researched the rebellion tend to play down just how widespread this anger was and point to the fact that rent increases would have been common throughout the country but that the Pilgrimage was limited to the north.

Those nobles who joined the rebellion (as opposed to being forced into it) seem to have done so because they believed that their traditional ‘feudal’ rights were being eroded and replaced with more modern methods that, in their opinion, undermined the power that they believed was theirs by right. The blame for this erosion of local power was put on Thomas Cromwell who wanted to see an expansion of central government’s power within the localities. It was this perceived policy of central intervention that angered the nobility in the north.

With so many people involved in the Pilgrimage, it is almost certain that individuals or small groups had their own reasons for joining. However, any record of what their grievances were has been lost to history. The belief that the Pilgrimage of Grace was primarily a rebellion led by aggrieved nobles backed by ‘commoners’ who, in the main, had serious concerns about the direction of religious reforms seems to be the best accepted cause. This was shown in the 24 Articles presented to Norfolk a Doncaster. If the rebellion was solely based on religious grievances, then the articles would have been purely about religion – similar to Luther’s 95 Theses. However, as the articles contained statements that were political/social, it is safe to conclude that the causes of the Pilgrimage of Grace were a combination of these.


A crowd of civilians being confronted by the Duke of Suffolk before their executions

The uprising was put down with sheer brutality, and 216 people were executed, including 6 abbots, 38 monks, 16 parish priests, and several knights. The Duke of Suffolk felt guilty about his role in crushing the uprising, but he later told his wife Catherine that he would have killed his own children if it meant remaining in the King's favor he was then sent to the north to massacre men, women, and children. Cardinal Reginald Pole condemned King Henry in the vilest of terms, as a "heretic" and "adulterer", in response to his brutal suppression of the Pilgrimage of Grace uprising. The same cardinal was granted private audience with King Francis I of France, and he attempted to persuade King Francis and others to help rekindle the rebellions against King Henry. The Pilgrimage of Grace was the most significant of the Tudor rebellions, and England would not be reconciled to the Catholic Church, except during the brief reign of Mary I of England from 1553 to 1558.

Pilgrimage of Grace (Commentary)

Q1: Read the introduction and study sources 2, 3, 4, 9 and 11. Give as many reasons as you can for the Pilgrimage of Grace.

A1: (a) The monasteries in the North made a substantial contribution to the local economy. Closing down the monasteries increased the number of people unemployed. (b) The transfer of land from open field to enclosure and from arable to pasture also increased unemployment. (c) The monasteries provided help for the poor and the sick. (d) monasteries provided shelter for travellers. (e) People in the North had recently suffered from poor harvests. (f) Henry VIII had upset people by introducing new taxes. (g) Robert Aske and other Pilgrimage of Grace leaders believed that Parliaments should be held in the North.

Q2: Do you think the artists who painted sources 1 and 10 were supporters or opponents of the Pilgrimage of Grace?

A2: Both these artists provide very positive views of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace. They appear as dignified and devout.

Q3: Read the biographies of Eustace Chapuys and Edward Hall. Give reasons why these two men might not be providing completely reliable information.

A3: Eustace Chapuys worked for King Charles V. He was based in London and supplied regular reports for the French king. As a Roman Catholic he was sympathetic to those complaining about the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He was also keen to report on anything that was critical of the rule of Henry VIII. When he writes "the number will increase, especially if they get some assistance in money from abroad" he appears to be suggesting that the King provides money to help the rebels.

Edward Hall was a loyal supporter of Henry VIII and would not have written anything that would have upset the king. There is also evidence that he helped Anne Askew, a woman arrested on suspicion of heresy in March 1546. Askew was a religious reformer who was highly critical of the behaviour of monks. Hall illustrates his hostility to the Pilgrimage of Grace by claiming that "they tried to deceive the ignorant people".

Q4: How many people took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Why is it difficult for historians to give an accurate number of people involved in this movement?

A4: The author of source 7 estimates that as many as 20,000 people "may have actively supported the rebellion at some stages" and this suggests "that over one-third of the inhabitants were active rebels indicates a high level of involvement". This figure was based on eyewitness accounts. However, it is extremely difficult to calculate the number of people in large groups of people.

Q5: Read sources 12 and 14. Explain why Henry VIII wanted the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace to be punished in this way.

A5: Henry VIII made it very clear that he wanted the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace to be executed in public so that it would "be a fearful warning". (source 12) During the Tudor period it was believed that the worst way to punish someone was to have them "hung, drawn and quartered". According to the judge in the Pilgrimage of Grace case this meant: "You are to be drawn upon a hurdle to the place of execution, and there you are to be hanged by the neck, and being alive cut down, and your privy-members to be cut off, and your bowels to be taken out of your belly and there burned, you being alive and your head to be cut off, and your body to be divided into four quarters, and that your head and quarters to be disposed of where his majesty shall think fit." (source 14)

Q6: Sources 13, 15 and 16 give the names of the leaders of the rebellion who were executed. Source 15 gives the name of a person who is not mentioned in 13 and 16. Can you give reasons for this.

A6: Margaret Cheyney is the name of the person listed as being executed in source 15 but not in 13 and 16. Of the estimated 200 people who were executed as a result of the Pilgrimage of Grace, it is believed that Cheyney is the only woman punished in this way. It is possible that Thomas Cromwell felt guilty about having a woman executed and that is why her name is not mentioned in the letter. Sharon L. Jansen, the author of Dangerous Talk and Strange Behaviour: Women and Popular Resistance to the Reforms of Henry VIII (1996) has accused historians such as John Guy of ignoring the role played by women in Tudor politics.

Power & The People: The Pilgrimage of Grace

I am a Geography specialist who has also been teaching GCSE history for the past few years. I have uploaded some lessons for History and Geography. I hope people find them useful.

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AQA GCSE history lesson for The Power & The People thematic unit. In this lesson we look at the events of the Pilgrimage of Grace and why it failed.

We start with a game of 'Whose graves are these?. The pupils need to guess, based on the limerick on the gravestone, which historical key person it belongs to based on previous learning. We then recap using picture prompts the changes that Henry and Cromwell had made to The Church and why. We then look at the Lincolnshire uprising. The pupils have a ext extract and various tasks they need to do relating to the text including highlighting, summarising and answering questions etc. We then look at the events of the Pilgrimage of Grace after briefly looking at the symbolism on the banner. The pupils have a summarising activity and questions based on the events to complete. We then create a paragraph detailing the reasons why the pilgrimage failed, we then compare, with the help of video clips, The Peasants Revolt with the Pilgrimage of Grace using a comparison hexagon Venn diagram. There is also an Ode to Robert Aske plenary/ consolidation activity.

I hope that this saves you some valuable planning time.


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How much of a threat did the Pilgrimage of Grace pose to Henry VIII?

The pilgrimage of Grace was the largest rebellion that a Tudor monarch faced. The rebellion started in the north of England in 1536 following Henry’s decision to dissolve the monasteries in an attempt to seize their wealth. Due to Henry and Cromwell’s cunning, the rebellion passed with very little loyalist blood being spilt. It could be argued that the rebellion posed an enormous threat to Henry. If nothing else, the sheer number of men that the rebellion attracted posed a threat. 40,000 men from the north of England marched south with the intention of heading to London. This was much larger than the royal army and, as a result, it is possible the Pilgrims could have reached well into the south before facing any opposition. Equally, the range of people that the rebellion attracted arguably makes the rebellion more of a threat. The common people, gentry (including the leader of the rebellion Robert Aske) and even some of the nobles (including the lord of Pontefract castle) were attracted to the rebellion. Arguably, had the rebellion not been quashed so quickly, other nobles sympathetic to the cause may have been attracted to it leading to another civil war. In this sense, the pilgrimage was an enormous threat to the crown. However, the variety of the pilgrimage was also a major weakness for it. Due to the wide geographic area the rebels came from, there was significant disparity between the rebels interests depending on the area they came from. The issues ranged from economic decline to specific issues with local lords (Henry had tried to impose a southern noble on the more troublesome northern provinces). This failed to present a united front weakening the rebellion. It is worth noting that very few of the rebels that originated from the common people were interested in the religious aspect of the rebellion- a sharp contrast to the leaders of the rebellion (Aske and the gentry) who were very much more concerned with the religious aspects of the monasteries closing. To conclude, it can be argued either way but perhaps it is more convincing to say that the Pilgrimage of Grace was a great threat but, due to Henry’s shrewdness, the threat was negated.

Pilgrimage of Grace Succeeds

My POD is suggested by the following passage from Richard Rex, The Tudors, pp. 80-81:

". With other large rebel groups gathered at Carlisle and elsewhere, almost all England north of the Trent was under the control of the Pilgrims through the autumn of 1536. Their grievances were voiced at a representative assembly, and were consolidated into a list of demands which began with reconciliation with Rome, went on with the reversal of recent religious changes and the restoration of suppressed monasteries, included a number of material demands relating to taxation and land law, and, most threateningly, emphasised the need to eliminate the king's 'low-born' councillors, who were tactfully blamed for everything the Pilgrims hated. Foremost among these villains was of course Thomas Cromwell, but Cranmer and Lattimer were not far behind in the rebel demonology.

"We learn a great deal about Henry from the way he dealt with this broadbased challenge to his entire regime. The idea of resorting to concessions or compromise was inconceivable to him. His young wife, Jane, made her only venture into politics at this moment, begging Henry on bended knee to reverse his policy towards the monasteries. Henry pulled her roughly to her feet and warned her not to meddle in things which were not her concern, reminding her of the fate of her predecessor. Instead of holding out the prospect of concessions, Henry launched against the northern rebels a proclamation still sterner than that issued for Lincolnshire, and his instructions to the Duke of Norfolk were for direct military action and dire vengeance. The Pilgrims actually reopened some of the monasteries suppressed earlier that year, and Henry took this as a particular affront. He ordered Norfolk to hang some of the offending monks from the steeple of their own church. What irritated Henry more than anything was the presumption of the Pilgrims in telling him whom he should or should not have on his Privy Council.

"Had it not been for the tactful diplomacy of the Duke of Norfolk on the ground in Yorkshire, Henry's personal intransigence might have cost him his throne. For if Norfolk had followed early royal instructions and given battle to the rebels with his inferior force, he might have been cut to pieces, in which case the road south would have lain open to a force which had tasted blood, gone too far to consider retreat, and learned that the king would not listen. [my emphasis--DT] In the event, Norfolk persuaded the king that negotiation was the only realistic policy, although even the non-committal concessions which he offered were probably more than Henry would have liked him to make. He guaranteed them a full and free pardon if they dispersed, and promised that the king would listen to their grievances. The fact that they believed him helps us to understand the success of the English Reformation in particular, and of the Tudor regime in general. The Pilgrims were convinced that Henry was essentially one of them, conservative in religion and politics alike and they were thoroughly indoctrinated with the ideology of monarchy, which had long been ingrained into the English mind by the common law and the church, and which the Tudors, trading heavily on the memory of the Wars of the Roses, had made indispensable to the general sense of the viability of the social order. The fact is that Henry himself was irreversibly committed to the revolutionary policies of the 1530s, and that the only way to reverse them was to remove him from the throne. This solution was simply beyond the mental horizon of the Pilgrims.

"Henry reluctantly accepted Norfolk's fait accompli. But when an unstable northern knight, Sir Francis Bigod (ironically, one of the few northerners sympathetic to religious change and really enthusiastic for the royal supremacy) attempted for reasons of his own to raise the standard of rebellion anew early in 1537, Henry was quick to seize the chance for revenge. The embers of revolt were stamped out in fact by many of the local gentry who had themselves risen the previous autumn. But Henry reckoned this betrayal released him from the promises Norfolk had made in his name. He ordered exemplary executions across the north, and had the ringleaders of the original Pilgrimage brought to London for trial and execution. It was not justice, but it was a brutal display of power. Henry would see no further rebellions in England." https://books.google.com/books?id=oEchnmfzL4MC&pg=PT182

So my main what-if here is what if "Norfolk had followed early royal instructions and given battle to the rebels with his inferior force. "?

Of course another question is what if Norfolk, as a committed Catholic, changes sides and supports the Pilgrims? I don't think this was likely, but it is certainly true that there were a lot of doubts about Norfolk's loyalty, claims (admittedly by his enemies. ) that he really sympathized with the rebels, etc. (After all, would not their demand that the King get rid of 'all villeins' blood and evil counsellors'--meaning especially Cromwell of course--work to Norfolk's benefit?) In fact, this may be one reason he was so bloodthirsty in suppressing the Pilgrims in 1537 he had to go to extremes to prove his loyalty:

"Norfolk was well aware that he had exceeded his brief and that the concessions he had granted in the King's name would never be honoured. When, early in 1537, a few trouble spots in Yorkshire and Cumberland flared up, the Duke seized the opportunity to redeem himself and declare Martial Law on the region--'Now shall appear whether for favour of these countrymen I forebore to fight with them at Doncaster.' Having rounded up more than two hundred former rebels, Norfolk had them publicly hanged from the trees and steeples of their villages. When grieving mothers and widows attempted to cut the bodies down for burial, they too were punished." Jessie Childs, Henry VIII's Last Victim: The Life and Times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, p. 118 http://books.google.com/books?id=wYz-bwa3tN4C&pg=PA118

And yet, even this did not stifle the rumors:

"Although Henry VIII declared himself thrilled with Norfolk's blood-lust--'you have done unto us such thankful and acceptable service as we shall never put in oblivion'--the rumour mill continued to grind at court. 'Here goeth so many lies and tales,' John Husee reported to Lord Lisle, 'that a man knoweth not whereunto to trust.' As Norfolk had himself observed, few of his soldiers had believed in their mission and most had been reluctant to fight their countrymen. According to a report of 29 November, many of Norfolk's men did in fact defect to the rebel camp. John Fowberry, a servant of Surrey, had taken part in the first insurrection, though he later redeemed himself by informing on the rebels' plan to take Hull. More worrying was a report claiming that Surrey himself had twice listened to a song in support of the Pilgrimage and had refrained from punishing the singer. The Howards also had known links with some of the rebel leaders. Dr Mackeral, the Abbot of Darlings, who was executed for his part in the Lincolnshire uprising, had preached at the Flodden Duke's funeral and Lords Darcy and Hussey, who were implicated in the rebellions in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire respectively, had discussed the possibility of a rising as early as 1534 and had suggested then that Norfolk might be willing to join them." http://books.google.com/books?id=wYz-bwa3tN4C&pg=PA119

As to the validity of the charges that Norfolk had expressed sympathy with the Pilgrimage, Childs writes:

"Even if one takes into account the number of men at Court who would have willingly perjured themselves in order to destroy the Howards, the accumulation of charges against them does imply that something must have been said in favour of the rebels at the time of the first meeting on Doncaster bridge. Considering the delicate nature of the negotiations, this is hardly surprising. Norfolk had had to placate the represenatives of forty thousand angry men. He had to convince them that he, and the King, thought their grievances worthy of consideration. Norfolk had warned as much in his letter to the King of 25 October. But whatever sympathy Norfolk or Surrey may have expressed for the rebels' ends, they had shown by their actions that they abhorred the means. Henry VIII was satisfied and no action was taken against either father or son." http://books.google.com/books?id=wYz-bwa3tN4C&pg=PA121

FWIW, at least one source fantasizes about a successful Piligrimage making Norfolk King!:

"Had the Pilgrimage of Grace succeeded, Norfolk might have sat upon the English throne, and revived the proud traditions of the great Plantagenet monarchs, his ancestors. At the worst, he would have ruled the land far better than did the half-bestial, perhaps half-crazy, despot whom fate had made his master, and whom he served so well. But instead of matching his powers against the monarchs of Europe, Norfolk was compelled to strive with his successive rivals at the British Court and although the odds were nearly always on the side of the enemy, he succeeded again and again in turning the tables upon them, and died unconquered at the last, the first and greatest noble of the realm." Gerald Brenan and Edward Phillips Statham, The House of Howard, Volume 2 (1907) p. 336. http://books.google.com/books?id=PpogAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA336

Norfolk's loyalty, incidentally, was not unusual among the Catholic nobles. For an argument that on the whole the nobility was loyal to Henry after the break with Rome, see G. W. Bernard, The King's Reformation: Henry VIII and the Remaking of the English Church, pp. 199 et seq. Besides Norfolk, he notes of another great Catholic noble, George Talbot, fourth earl of Shrewsbury, that while he objected to "excessive presure on the queen" in 1531, "like most Tudor noblemen, [he] would not lightly abandon his fundamental loyalty to the crown. There is nothing whatever to suggest that he spoke any further words, much less took any action, against the drift of royal policy: he must have sworn the oaths required in 1534 and in 1536 he would instinctively and immediately set his face against the Pilgrimage of Grace." http://books.google.com/books?id=HOiXAhKkTNEC&pg=PA201

I was thinking of another what-if--what if Bigod had not rebelled? But the answer is too obvious--Henry would have found another excuse for going back on Norfolk's agreement. "The leaders of the Pilgrimage undertook an impossible task when they promised at Doncaster to keep the north quiet until Norfolk's return. When a large region has been in open insurrection for three months, it cannot be restored to order at a word. It is true that the gentlemen did not realise what they were required to do. They expected Norfolk to return within a month, and they expected that the King would make allowance for the difficulties of their position. They were mistaken on both points. Norfolk's return was delayed, and Henry was prepared to exact from the north a state of immaculate order to which few counties in England ever attained, even in times of peace. The rising of Hallam and Bigod gave him a good excuse, but before that excuse was offered he had already found others. The disturbance at Beverley, the deer-stealing at Rylston, the tithe riots in Cumberland, the restoration of the monks at Sawley--anything was a sufficient pretext for declaring that the King was no longer bound by the terms, and for bringing the champions of the old faith to trial and execution. "M. H. & R. Dodds, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536-37 and the Exeter Conspiracy, 1538 (Cambridge UP 1915) http://books.google.com/books?id=vDU9AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA55

The authors of this work observe that "As soon as the Pilgrims allowed themselves to be put off by vague promises their cause was lost. Even if they had exacted a definite agreement with proper guarantees in Doncaster, it would probably have made no difference in the end. Nothing but force could have induced Henry to observe such a treaty. Even if the parliament which they desired had met, it is unlikely that it would have achieved anything. Henry was no Charles I. With Cromwell's help he knew how to manage parliaments. The Pilgrims' one chance of success had lain in battle. The two parties were very evenly balanced. Henry had a better general and on the whole better supplies, but the Pilgrims had the advantage in numbers and enthusiasm, and were on their own ground. They did not choose to push the matter to fighting, and they failed.

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