Pilgrimage of Grace

Sarah from Sarah’s History has been kind enough to write a guest post for this blog.  Sarah is currently studying for a Bachelor of History with Latin degree at an English university and regularly blogs at her site Henry III. So over to Sarah, and what she has to say about the Pilgrimage of Grace.

On July 12th, 1537, Robert Aske was executed in York for his part in the uprising against Henry VIII known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, six days after the death of his fellow ‘pilgrim’ Robert Constable. Before this rebellion, the men were relatively unknown. The time of the uprising was a time of great religious upheaval and reform, and the men unfortunately got themselves involved in a very dangerous situation.

Robert Aske was born sometime in the early 1500s in Yorkshire, England; a younger son of Sir Robert Aske, a member of the lower gentry. He received an education, trained as a lawyer, and was made a fellow of Gray’s Inn.

Robert Constable was born into the Yorkshire gentry of England in around 1478, the son of Marmaduke Constable and his wife, Joyce. As a member of the gentry, he will also have been literate and received some education. In around 1492, Robert married a woman called Jane in Yorkshire. They had several children together, including two sons, Marmaduke and Thomas.

Robert served as a soldier in the reigns of both Henry VII and Henry VIII. He was in Henry VII’s army in the summer of 1497 during the Cornish rebellion, which was an uprising of English subjects who were unhappy about Henry VII’s taxes. Robert was awarded a knighthood after the king had successfully defeated the rebel army. In September 1513, he joined the armies of the Earl of Surrey and Catherine of Aragon at the Battle of Flodden Field against the Scottish. Henry VIII was in France during this battle, which resulted in the death of James IV of Scotland and a great victory for the English.

In the early 1520s, Robert had a disagreement with Thomas More; Robert was charged with taking Thomas’ ward, Anne Cresacre, and betrothing her to his son Thomas, without permission of either Thomas More or the king. After the dispute was dealt with, Anne married Thomas More’s own son John.

Everything began to change in 1536 for the English people. King Henry VIII, in deciding to create a Church of England, had broken with the Roman Catholic church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries had begun and the abbey in Louth, Lincolnshire was closed. A small uprising broke out in October 1536 but was promptly dealt with by the royal army.

A larger, more dangerous rebellion broke out soon afterwards. The people of Yorkshire and the north were unhappy with the reformation of religion in England. Constable and Aske, equally angered at the destruction of the Catholic faith, joined forces to become the leaders of the rebellion. However, they did not call themselves rebels; they instead called themselves pilgrims, undertaking a Pilgrimage of Grace. They claimed they were not rising up against the king’s rule, rather, they wanted the reformation to be stopped and their abbeys restored. They blamed Thomas Cromwell and other ‘heretic’ councillors, for the changes that were happening and called for them to be replaced with more suitable men of noble birth.

The rebels, or pilgrims, marched into York and took Pontefract Castle soon after. Lord Thomas Darcy, the holder of Pontefract Castle, sympathised with the rebel cause and joined their army of pilgrims. By the time the army marched towards Doncaster their ranks had swollen to 40,000 men. No-one had been injured or had died during their pilgrimage, they travelled in complete peace.

On October 27th, the rebels met with the Duke of Norfolk in Doncaster who delivered a message of the king’s displeasure to the rebels, but as he was so vastly outnumbered he was forced to parley with them. The men were offered a pardon and told their demands would be considered fairly if they called a truce and went home. Aske, Constable, and their fellow pilgrims agreed to the truce. The rebel army dispersed and the Duke of Norfolk returned to London. Norfolk spent a lot of time following the meeting discussing the demands of the rebel army. It appeared to the leaders of the rebel army that the king was not being honest when he said he would consider their demands.

In January 1537, Norfolk returned to the north and spent time seeking out the instigators of the rebellion. The subjects in the north were made to swear oaths of their allegiance to the king- men were tried by martial law and hanged for taking part in the uprising if they did not swear allegiance.

On February 14th 1537, 6,000 men laid siege in Carlisle and attempted to take Hull. A local man, Sir Christopher Dacre, stopped the uprising quickly in the name of the king. Even though he was not a part of this new uprising, or did not play a part in its organisation, Aske and Constable were asked to go to London and explain the incident. Aske was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower, but Constable refused to travel down to London and a sergeant had to be sent to arrest him. He was soon also in the Tower of London.

Both men were tried for treason on May 14th, 1537 at Westminster, where they were both found guilty and sentenced to death. They would not, however, suffer the usual traitor’s deaths of being hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn. Instead they were to be returned to Yorkshire and made an example of.

On the morning of July 6th, 1537, Robert Constable was hanged in chains over Beverly Gate at Hull. It was market day, meaning most of the people in Hull will have witnessed his execution, as did the Duke of Norfolk. Six days later, Robert Aske was hanged in chains as his punishment for the rebellion. The north was quietened, but at an extremely high cost.

Select further reading:

Derek Wilson, In the Lion’s Court, Hutchinson books, 2001

Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace: The Rebellion that Shook Henry VIII’s Throne, W&N, 2003

J.J. Scarisbrick, Henry VIII, Yale University Press, 1997

John Schofield, Cromwell to Cromwell: Reformation to Civil War, The History Press, 2011

John Schofield, The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell, The History Press, 2011

Peter Wallace, The Long European Reformation, Palgrave Macmillan, second edition, 2012

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A lot is always talked about how Henry revitalised the navy and made England fit to be a naval power. We also know that Elizabeth’s success with the Armada was partly due to Henry’s interest in building a modernised navy. During his reign, plenty of money was poured into ship-building, devising naval strategies, buttressing up coastal defences and building of a navy. Henry inherited a total of just six warships when he took the throne, and he left 57 warships to his heir, along with 15 galleys or smaller ships.

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Mary Tudor The First Queen is a biography on Mary Tudor. It looks into Mary’s life from her birth to her death and attempts to explore all facets of her life. The author, Linda Porter has tried to give her a sympathetic portrayal quite at odds with her more common ‘Bloody Mary’ image.

The style of writing is very good and flows easily from one chapter to another. The book is divided into parts each part dealing with a specific phase in Mary’s life. This makes it really easy to consult a certain thing without having to browse through the entire book.

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It still amazes me how one man could be denied a divorce that was easily obtained by most nobles by means of various loopholes in the canon law. The intense corruption of the Catholic Church meant that such dispensations were easily achieved by rich and powerful nobles, but the same backfired on Henry. The Great Matter was divided in two phases, one when Henry tried to get Rome’s support for his divorce, and the next phase when he tried to get the work done in England by Englishmen. Wolsey was in charge of the first phase, and Cromwell of the second, bringing about the fall of the former and the rise of the latter.

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