Pilgrimage of Grace

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The name given to a series of uprisings in northern England in the reign of Henry VIII, but especially to the rebellion in Yorkshire in late 1536. The first outbreak, at Louth in Lincolnshire in early October 1536, quickly had most of that count in an uproar but collapsed within three weeksthough not before it had incited the southeast corner of the neighboring county of Yorkshire. Here a much more serious rebellion developed, led by Robert aske. By late October Aske had a large force behind him, carrying the banner of St. Cuthbert and badges of the Five Wounds of Our Lord. Had he marched southward he might have broken the king, henry viii. But, insisting that he and his men were pilgrims seeking justice, not rebels, he halted at Doncaster to await a parley with Thomas Howard, Duke of norfolk. After six weeks of suspense, Pilgrim "councils" at York and Pontefract drew up a petition to the king that was presented to Norfolk on December 5. Norfolk made insincere promises and announced a dubious royal pardon, whereupon the Pilgrims, trusting Henry's goodness, disbanded. Two more rebellions broke out in January and February of 1537: one in Yorkshire, led by Sir Francis Bigod; the other in Cumberland. Both failed quickly.

These were sudden, popular, incoherent uprisings. Inevitably there was a wide variety of motives behind them. In particular, landlordism, heavy taxation, regionalism, and political conservatism all played a part. The Lincoln rebels, who recruited little help from either religious or gentry, made no mention of the pope and were even ready, some of them, to accept the Royal Supremacy, while the Yorkshire Pilgrims' articles included several purely secular demands. Bigod was a Protestant, driven to rebellion by motives far different from Aske's. The Cumberland peasants were stirred by oppression and hunger. But if these risings were not simply the protest of a Catholic north against the Reformation under Henry, they certainly had a large religious content. The Pilgrims' articles rejected explicitly the Royal Supremacy, called for a return to Rome (though not to papal fiscalism), and demanded that heresy in England be repressed and the Church's liberties restored. Above all, both the Lincolnshire and Yorkshire rebels opposed the suppression of the monasteries, then under way, and even asked that dissolved houses be restored. Had material and political motives not been added, the rebellion might have been smaller (and more coherent), but Aske claimed it would still have happened.

No other Tudor faced so large and courageous a domestic challenge as this. Henry bided his time, yielded nothing, and then wreaked terrible vengeance. Hundreds suffered death, including the admirable Aske, a number of religious (including several heads or former heads of houses), and some secular priests. The uprisings provided the excuse to suppress larger monasteries in the north, which had escaped the first act of dissolution.

Bibliography: m. h. and r. doods, The Pilgrimage of Grace, 15361537, and the Exeter Conspiracy, 1538, 2 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 1915), standard work. h. f. m. prescott, The Man on a Donkey (New York 1952), excellent historical novel about Aske. d. knowles, The Religious Orders in England, 3 v. (Cambridge, Eng. 194860) v.3. a. g. dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Diocese of York, 15091558 (New York 1959), on Bigod.

[j. j. scarisbrick]

Pilgrimage of Grace

views updated May 11 2018

Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536–7. The Pilgrimage was a widespread northern rising against Henry VIII's religious policies and the greatest challenge to his position during his reign. It seems to have been triggered by the dissolution of the smaller monasteries, began at Louth in Lincolnshire, spreading to Yorkshire and then to Cumberland and Westmorland. The rebels, who took the badge of the five wounds of Christ and called themselves pilgrims, were led by Robert Aske and for some weeks commanded overwhelming numbers. Henry's response was to temporize, to offer pardons, and to attempt to split gentry from commoners. By the spring of 1537 most of the rebels had dispersed and he was able to take a bloody revenge on the pilgrims. Aske was executed at York and Lord Darcy, who had surrendered Pontefract castle to the rebels, was beheaded on Tower Hill. The weakness of royal control which the rising had demonstrated led at once to the establishment of the Council of the North in October 1537 to reassert authority.

J. A. Cannon

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Pilgrimage of Grace

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