19 October 1536 – Henry VIII Gets Tough on the Pilgrimage of Grace Rebels

Henry VIIIOn the 19th October 1536, Henry VIII got tough on the Pilgrimage of Grace rebels. In a letter to Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, Henry wrote:

“You are to use all dexterity in getting the harness and weapons of the said rebels brought in to Lincoln or other sure places, and cause all the boats on the Humber or means of passage into Yorkshire to be taken up. After this, if it appear to you by due proof that the rebels have since their retires from Lincoln attempted any new rebellion, you shall, with your forces run upon them and with all extremity ‘destroy, burn, and kill man, woman, and child the terrible example of all others, and specially the town of Louth because to this rebellion took his beginning in the same.’ We have sent you this day a good sum of money, and will send more as required.”

And in a letter to the Earl of Derby:

“We lately commanded you to make ready your forces and go to the earl of Shrewsbury, our lieutenant to suppress the rebellion in the North; but having since heard of an insurrection attempted about the abbey of Salley in Lancashire, where the abbot and monks have been restored by the traitors, we now desire you immediately to repress it, to apprehend the captains and either have them immediately executed as traitors or sent up to us. We leave it, however, to your discretion to go elsewhere in case of greater emergency. You are to take the said abbot and monks forth with violence and have them hanged without delay in their monks’ apparel, and see that no town or village begin to assemble.”

You can read more about the events of the Pilgrimace of Grace rebellion in my article October 1536 – The Pilgrimage of Grace.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1469 – The marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the famous ‘Reyes Católicos’ and the parents of Catherine of Aragon, in the Palacio de los Vivero, Valladolid, Spain. Isabella became Queen Isabella I of Castile in 1474 and Ferdinand became King Ferdinand II of Aragon in 1479, so their marriage united the powerful kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, a vast territory which comprised most of what is modern-day Spain.

Notes and Sources

  • LP xi. 780
  • LP xi. 783
  • Extract taken from On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway

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8 thoughts on “19 October 1536 – Henry VIII Gets Tough on the Pilgrimage of Grace Rebels”
      1. There are some very interesting quotes in the book you mentioned, I have just looked it up Lizadmirer, I am going to have to read it, what did you think of it?…

        Quote…’Since love and fear can hardly exist together, if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared that loved’…think that says it all for a lot of the earlier monarchs, not just Henry. Of course the cruelty inflicted by past rulers is hideous to us, but different times had different ways….

        1. right on to Dawn……. those times were depended on a very strong sense of action. Very male.

  1. Henry had been really shaken by the events first in Lincolnshire and by now in York and Lancashire and then Pontefract. The letters above show a mixed practical approach of taking over the methods of rebellion, taking the horse and harness, and taking over the means of rebellion to prevent further actions by the commons in Lincolnshire where the actual trouble was over within a couple of weeks. It then shows the more ruthless side of the King; a King who ironically was himself insecure and afraid at this time as this was the worst threat to his authority and to his reign since it began thirty years beforehand. Henry was six years old when his own father faced rebellion on several fronts, the city of London was attacked and his mother had to flee in the night with him and his sisters to the Tower. He must have seen the entire thing again and relived it; this affected his mind, his response and his actions all through this period of northern rebellions.

    Henry’s threats to the familes of the commons is terrible; terror is meant to be the end result and that should horrify us; but by this time, in LIncoln the main threat was over, so the letter is more bluster than actual orders to carry out such actions. In any event, Suffolk does not have the arms or the men to supress over 10,000 rebels; the money is even too late. However, in Yorkshire things would be much worse than this, and there reprecusions would follow that struck fear for the following generations.

    Henry did supress the Yorkshire rebellion: the Pilgrimage of Grace with some measure of severity, though, even though he did not kill thousands of men, women and children as depicted in the Tudors. Susanna Lipscombe puts some of his extreme anger and reaction to rebellions to signs that he is turning into the latter tyrant. There are varied reasons given for the change in personality; including the bang of the temperol lobs, the brain damage and of course the fallout from his marriage and his execution of Anne Boleyn. Earlier groups of rebels had been dealt with in much more measured ways, through negotiations, pardons, spectacular pardons in fact, agreements and petitions, with token executions only. The famous May Day Riots of 1517 was one such act of mercy and theatre, although some dozen or so youths were brutally hung drawn and quartered before the King intervened. Now those days were over and Tudor rebellions from this day forth would always be treated with severity by Henry, Elizabeth, Edward and to a much lesser degree Mary.

    In Yorkshire the forces were 30,000-40,000 for the rebels and Shrewsbury had about 8,000, so Henry’s injunctions to attack were more in hope than reality as here Norfolk who took charge was forced to negotiate. We all know the story that followed; a meeting is arranged, the rebels under Aske gain the support of Lord Darce at Pontefract and take charge also of York. All sorts of promises are made to make sure the rebels go home and negotiations follow to prevent them from marching on London. Henry to gain time duped Aske into coming with others to present a petition and invited to court for Christmas. Aske gives Henry his reasons and is well treated, given a rich coat by the King and spent New Year with Henry and the Court before coming back north. A second rising broke out and Cromwell moved to prosecute the rebels. The King was given the excuse that he needed to send in the troops, this time with adequate forces and the trials began. But not with impunity and not with the bloodiness of the Tudors. Most trials were fairly conducted by the standards of the day; were conducted lawfully, most executions only after proper legal proceedures. The number of executions is hotly debated, but some historians include in that some 700 that were injured or killed after the seige at Carlisle in which the attackers were stormed. It is actually unknown the number that were killed, but most were taken prisoner, so the figure was not 700. In Lincolnshire it is believed that about 127 were executed and 216 in Yorkshire and other places, taking the figure to about 341 in total. Yes, this is a ruthless act, but this was a ruthless age and rebels were not shown mercy, they were a threat; Kings did not deal with terrorists as some were often seen as. But compared to the actual number in the field, it also shows restrait and in fact Henry complained as the Dukes refused to execute rebels to the fullest extent of the law; merely hanging them or beheading them instead of the full sentence of hanging, drawing and quartering. Having said this, to make sure that the message was not forgotten some poor souls were hung in their own gardens, on hill sides, monks were hung from the beams of Sawley Abbey and in one place more than 70 died in, with most villages feeling the horror of the retributions.

    The gentry had supported the risings and a number were also beheaded; Lords Darce and Hussey were beheaded and Aske, seen as the leader and the most rebellious was in some twisted variety of the KIng’s hung in chains for three days from the walls of the towers of York Castle.

    This was a brutal response to what in the north was seen as a religious pilgrimage, but the pilgrims had also used violence and it was taken as a serious threat. However, its repression was not untypical, nor the most cruel in contemporary history or since. In Germany some 25,000 peasants were hunted down and killed after the revolts of 1525. Edward’s administration repressed at least three similar rebellions in Kent and the Prayer Book Revolt or 1549 with similar if not more severity. Mary, faced with a rebellion to attempt to stop her from coming to the crown with mercy and wisdom, she showed mercy to most of the Wyatt rebels, the leaders only being executed and a third rebellion, 100 at most were executed, many leaders were actually pardoned even though they rebelled three times. Elizabeth did not meet rebels with love, she tried and executed them the same as any other King or Queen. 700 plus where executed after the northern rebellion of 1569. Elizabeth may have been beloved by the majority of her subjects and she may have tried to show love to most of her people; but she certainly knew how to order a brutal execution when she had to.

    1. ‘Elizabeth may have been beloved by the majority of her subjects’. So was Henry, despite his brutality. It was only ever seen by those close to him or those who turned against him. The vast majority would have been unaware of his real character. There was no facebook or youtube back then!
      (I personally think Elizabeth was a very tolerant Queen and should not be judged by modern morals. Ruthless aftermaths were part and parcel of the day and she was defending a faith as well as her personal life. The vast majority of Catholics in her age were prepared to accept her as Queen but woe betide any who didn’t.)

  2. What can not judge the way Henry reacted to the rebellion even if we think it was cruel to kill women and children .He was the king he was determined to make an example of these people he was a powerful man who himself lived in fear all his life ! It must have been terrible for the men who carried out his orders after all he got others to do his dirty work I wonder how he would have felt if he had seen them being executed especially the children .would he have had the guts to kill them we will never know !!!

    1. The orders to destroy the families and children were not carried out as they were given as a threat. The orders were rescinded. The government soon realized that to carry out such an order was out of the question. The rebellion settled down for one thing, negotiations followed and pardons. It was a breach and second rising that resulted in the leaders and a number of troublmakers, after trial being executed. There kids were not killed.

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