The causes of Tudor Rebellions from 1485-1601

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536

The Pilgrimage of Grace is the name given to a number of northern risings which happened in 1536. There is no doubt that the Pilgrimage of Grace had a religious undercurrent. The revolt began in Yorkshire where people were alarmed by the arrival of two ecclesiastical commissioners who were investigating the quality of parish clergy and closing small monasteries. They were concerned that there parish churches would be closed and their pride and joy- the 295 foot spire at Louth would be dismantled. Similar fears emerged in Yorkshire where over 100 monasteries were being threatened with closure. The rebels argued that a range of social and economic services would have be affected, the poor and children's education would decline, and spiritual teaching provided by monks. Monks joined the rebels often encouraging further to support the uprisings. Rebels were also concerned by the reduction of holy days and the recent assault on pilgrimage and saints. As a result the carrying of the banner of the 5 wounds of Christ is demonstrative of this pilgrimage these rebels felt they had began. Many of the changes that rebels resented had been introduced some time prior to the rebellion however, the appearance of the commissioners brought the reality of these new reforms to the door of clergy and peasant alike.

Some historians have identified economic causes for the Pilgrimage of Grace not least the rumour of additional taxation. In reality the subsidy was relatively small and affected few people however many rebels argued that they could not afford it.

In addition the Pontefract articles produced by the rebels identified the concern over illegal enclosures. There had been rioting in 1535. Over 300 people in Giggleswick in Yorkshire pulled down hedges and dykes.

There were also a number of social concerns that are expressed in the rebels articles including rack-renting, excessive rents, restriction of rights. Several of these changes impacted on the wealthy and they found in 1536 they were fighting on the same side as the lower orders to highlight their concerns to the King.

Nobles were also concerned by the pre-eminence of Cranmer and felt that they were being marginalised at court.

Controversial: Elton writes that it was feudal – ‘the effort of a defeated court faction to create a power base in the country for the purpose of achieving a political victory at court.’ Margaret and Ruth Dodds see a religious movement directed by gentlemen and a social movement directed by the poor against gentlemen. Fletcher and McCulloch list economic causes as resentment over taxation [1534 subsidy act], economic hardship [two years of bad harvests and bad weather], enclosures [ less serious], entry fines [more serious – payment on taking up an inheritance or tenancy] and tithes [more an attack on bad landlords]. Fletcher rejects Elton’s theory. M.L.Bush argues that the poor insisted on the gentry and nobles taking leading roles, and that the aristocracy tried not to get involved in a ‘conspiracy of inaction’.

It was preceded by a smaller rosining in Lincolnshire, where the common people of Louth thought that their church’s treasure was to be seized along with their weapons. The rising spread, and was led by gentry. 10,000 men marched on Lincoln. The aristocracy fled. The people of Horncastle produced the first banner with the five wounds of Christ. The people were persuaded to go home by a Lancaster herald.
Robert Aske was one of those who started the Pilgrimage in the East Riding of Yorkshire in October 1536. 10,000 Pilgrims forced the city to yield peacefully. Other areas of the North rose: Yorkshire, Durham, Northumberland, Westmoreland [but less in Lancashire, where the gentry opposed it]. There was little resistance – Barnard castle then Lord Darcy in Pontefract Castle surrendered. Government response was slow and confused. The Dukes of Norfolk and Shrewsbury were sent North to treat with the rebels. The Royal Army had 8,000 men, the rebels had 30,000 at Doncaster Bridge. Aske argued that they should trust Norfolk. A truce was signed [27th Oct] the rebels demands were sent to Henry VIII at Windsor. Henry’s first response was to reject the demands, but Norfolk persuaded him to delay rejection and to keep negotiating. After more negotiations, the rebels thought they had won and agreed to disperse, with all gaining full pardons. Henry never intended to keep his promises.
Bigod’s pathetic rising in the east of Riding in Jan 1537 gave him an excuse to crack down and take revenge. Martial law was declared, the leading pilgrims were rounded up and 178 were executed, including Aske, Hussey and Darcy.

The rebels had the men to defeat the royal army, and had gentry and aristocracy in the leadership. 1536 was a difficult time for Henry VIII, with the reformation still new and uncertain, and no male heir produced yet. But the rebels never sought to unseat Henry, and he had no intention to give in to them, so their efforts were doomed from the outset

It broke the dangerous Dukes of Northumberland – Percy made his lands over to the crow. The Council of the North was reorganised, made permanent, and strengthened- it crushed a plot in Wakefield in 1541. But Henry took care not to push the North too far. He made a lavish progress there in summer 1541, and no college chantries were dissolved in the north as they were in the south. But Henry had to rely on paid mercenaries to defend his northern border, as the North remained a pressing military and administrative problem.

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