The causes of Tudor Rebellions from 1485-1601

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The rebellion of the Northern Earls 1569-70

Defence of the Catholic faith, together with personal and political motives, go a long way to explaining the reason for the Northern Earls rebellion. Westmoreland had been born a Catholic while Northumberland was converted in 1567. The North of England had hung on to the old religion despite the 5p fine charged for missing the weekly Protestant service however, the wealthy were frequently protected by their local JP. The rebels actions suggest there was an element of religious motivation as they restored the mass at Durham cathedral.

However there was undeniably factional reasons for this rebellion. The Northern Earls schemed to overthrow William Cecil who they considered as too influential at court. They held him responsible for the uncertain succession and poor policy decisions. The plan involved Norfolk marrying Mary Queen of Scots who was at the time under house arrest in England.

Most of the plotters confessed to the Queen however unwisely the Northern Earls pressed their cause. Westmoreland was bullied by his wife to continue while Northumberland had an axe to grind as his wardship had been given to a local rival.

National/Factional/Political – Mary Queen of Scots was semi-captive in England, and her proposed marriage to the catholic Duke of Norfolk was blocked by Elizabeth, who was threatened by such a move. Mary was tireless in her letters to plotters abroad and in England to help her against Elizabeth, including the papal agent Ridolfi and the Spanish ambassador De Spes. Norfolk, when forbidden to marry Mary, had left court without permission, and many thought hw had left to start a rebellion. This encouraged the Northern earls to think of rebellion.
Religious- Fletcher quotes Marcombe and Taylor in emphasising local insecurities caused by the new bishop of Durham, the strongly protestant James Pilkington, who was aggressive in his assault on religious imagery and church furniture, and in his regaining full legal control over church lands. Northumberland was also pushed by his wife, a fervent catholic. All leaders were influenced by the Counter-reformation. Fletcher thinks religions was an important cause, but Elton writes ‘ religion played little part in the disaffection, though it supplied a useful cloak’.
Local/Factional – The catholic earls of Northumberland [Percy] and Westmoreland [ Neville] were pushed into rebellion by their tenants and by Sussex [President of the council of the North] calling them to answer for their actions. Elizabeth had put her cousin Lord Hunsdon in charge of Berwick, and built up the clientele of Northumberland’s rival, Sir John Forster. Northumberland had many personal grievances against Elizabeth; she dropped him as Lieutenant of the North, took away his Wardenship if the middle march, ignored his claim over a copper mine etc. Many of the rebels were retainers or tenants of the Earls.

Norfolk leaving court and then his summons to London provoked the two earls to call out their follows [Fletcher writes that the followers called out the earls]. On 14 November the rebels entered Durham cathedral, said mass, tore up the English bible and prayer book, and marched south to free Mary Queen of Scots and Norfolk and to restore Catholicism. Sussex was penned in York with the royal forces until the rebel forces melted away in the face of Hunsdon moving south from Newcastle and rumours of a huge royal force under Warwick being gathered in the south. After minor skirmishes, the earls fled to Scotland. A belated rising by Leonard Dacre was crushed by Hunsdon at Naworth. It had been almost bloodless.

No danger. The plotters had been told by De Spes before it started that it was likely to fail. Norfolk and both Earls showed no courage or determination, and seemed reluctant to act. Many of the northern gentry had ‘answered coldly’ to rebel calls. Clifford, Earl of Cumberland, failed to act and Dacre was too late. The rebellion was in midwinter, and many rebels were freezing and starving, The support for the rebels was very limited geographically. Fletcher cites its ‘incoherence and aimlessness’

Elizabeth order severe punishments, Elton says 800 were executed, Fletcher says less than 450 were executed due to bad weather allowing many to escape and the reluctance of Bowes to pursue them. The Puritan Earl of Huntingdon became the new president of the council of the North, and he systematically broke down the feudal links that had kept the northern Earls so powerful, and imposed much more centralised rule. England’s bonds with Scotland were strengthened due to Regent Moray backing the English and handing over Northumberland. De Spes and Mary were weakened, and there were calls from the 1570 Parliament for Mary to be executed, and calls for Elizabeth to get married and have an heir. Her moves towards marriage and alliance with Henri Duke of Anjou were an indirect result.


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