A banner bearing the Holy Wounds of Jesus Christ, which was carried during the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion.
A banner bearing the Holy Wounds of Jesus Christ, which was carried during the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion.

The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was an uprising in the North which was sparked off initially by trouble in Lincolnshire. This trouble, in turn, was caused by discontent over the dissolution of Louth Abbey, the government commissions in the area and rumours that these commissions would confiscate jewels and plate from churches and impose new taxes.1

Here is a brief timeline of the main events of the Pilgrimage of Grace:

  • 1 October 1536 – Thomas Kendall, Vicar of St. James’ Church, Louth, preached a sermon which is thought to have “affirmed that the church or its faith, or both, were in danger.”2
  • 2 October 1536 – The commons of Louth, led by shoemaker Nicholas Melton, seized John Heneage, the Bishop of Lincoln’s registrar, as he tried to read out Thomas Cromwell’s commission to the townspeople. His papers were ripped from his hands and burned.
  • 3 October 1536 – 3,000 men marched from Louth to Caistor and seized the King’s subsidy commissioners.

  • 4 October 1536 – Trouble erupted in Horncastle. Two men – Thomas Wulcey (or Wolsey), one of Cromwell’s men, and Dr Raynes, the chancellor of the Bishop of Lincoln – were murdered by the rebels. Articles of complaint were drawn up by the gentry, Sheriff Edward Dymmoke and his brother, and then presented to the crowd who held up their hands and said “We like them very well.” Their grievances included the dissolution of the religious houses, the grant to the king of the tenths and first-fruits of spiritual benefices, the rise of Thomas Cromwell and Richard Rich onto the King’s Council and the promotion of archbishops and bishops who they felt “subverted the faith of Christ”. See 4th October 1536 – The Lincolnshire Rising and Trouble at Horncastle. The rebels then decided to march to Lincoln Cathedral.
  • 5 October 1536 – The rebels mustered support at Towes and Hambleton Hill.
  • 6 October 1536 – The rebels mustered support at Dunholm.
  • 7 October 1536 – The rebels from Horncastle, Louth and other Lincolnshire towns met at Lincoln Cathedral. Some say that there were 10,000 men there and others that there were 20,000.
  • 8 October 1536 – Lawyer Robert Aske called the people of Beverley, Yorkshire together, asking them to be true to “God, the king, the commonwealth” and “to maintain the Holy Church”.
  • 9 October 1536 – The rebels of Horncastle, Lincoln, dispatched their petition of grievances to the King, and also north into Yorkshire.
  • 10 October 1536 – Robert Aske had become the leader of the commons in the West Riding of Yorkshire, who were now in rebellion.
  • 11 October 1536 – The King’s herald arrived at Lincoln with the King’s reply. You can read the King’s reply in my article 4th October 1536 – The Lincolnshire Rising and Trouble at Horncastle. Henry VIII did not give into their demands and concluded his message with a warning, “We charge you, eftsoon, upon the foresaid bonds and pains, that ye withdraw yourselves to your own houses, every man ; and no more to assemble, contrary to the laws and your allegiances ; and to cause the provokers of you to this mischief to be delivered to our lieutenant’s hands or ours and you yourselves to submit to such condign punishment as we and our nobles shall think you worthy.” The King threatened the rebels with the forces of the Duke of Suffolk and the rebels made the decision to disperse rather than face charges of treason if they were captured.
  • 13 October 1536 – Lord Darcy reported to Henry VIII that the East Riding, West Riding, North Riding and “all the commons of Yorshire” were “up” in rebellion.
  • 14 October 1536 – Sir George Lawson and William Haryngton, Mayor of York, wrote to the King asking for aid because “the commons… have rebelliously assembled to take York”.
  • 15 October 1536 – Henry VIII wrote to the Earl of Shrewsbury, the Duke of Suffolk “and others” with instructions on handling the rebellion which we now know as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The King also wrote to the rebels in Lincolnshire promising “to show them mercy if they leave all their harness and weapons in the market-place of Lincoln”.
  • 19 October 1536 – Henry VIII wrote to the Duke of Suffolk, saying, “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.” He also wrote to the Earl of Derby, giving him instructions on how to deal with the rebels at the Abbey of Salley in Lancashire: “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.”
  • 20 October 1536 – Lord Darcy yielded Pontefract Castle to the rebels. The castle’s inhabitants – which included the likes of Lord Darcy, Sir William Gascoigne, Sir Robert Constable, Edmund Lee, Archbishop of York, and Thomas Magnus, Archdeacon of the East Riding – then swore the rebel oath.
  • 21 October 1536 – Lancaster Herald, on nearing Pontefract Castle, encountered a group of armed peasants. The peasants explained that they were armed “to prevent the ‘comontte’ and Church being destroyed; for, they said no man should bury, christen, wed, or have beasts unmarked without paying a tax and forfeiting the beast unmarked to the King’s use.” Rebel leader Robert Aske then met with Lancaster Herald at Pontefract Castle. Aske refused to let the Herald read out the proclamation which told of how the Lincolnshire rebels had submitted, and declared that he and his people were intent on staying true to their cause and would be marching on London. Lancaster Herald reiterated that he was required to read his proclamation to the people but Aske would not let him and instead offered him safe conduct out of the castle and town.
  • 25 October 1536 – Four chaplains of Poverty were appointed by the Pilgrimage of Grace rebels: Barnard Townley (chancellor to the Bishop of Carlisle and rector of Caldbeck), Christopher Blenkow (vicar of Edenhall), Christopher Slee (vicar of Castle Sowerby) and pluralist Roland Threlkeld. Historian M L Bush points out that the rebels threatened them with execution if they failed in their duty, which was “to instruct the commons ‘concerning faith’”. Also on this day in 1536, and the following day, a special mass, called the Captains’ Mass was performed at Penrith Church.
  • 26 October 1536 – The rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace halted at Scawsby Leys, near Doncaster, where they met troops captained by the Duke of Norfolk. The rebels were said to number around 30,000 and Norfolk’s army only a fifth of the size, but Robert Aske chose to negotiate.
  • November 1536 – A deal was eventually struck, with Norfolk giving promises from Henry VIII that the people’s demands would be met and that they would be pardoned. Aske then dismissed his troops. Unfortunately, Henry VIII later broke his promises to the rebels.
  • 3rd December 1536 – A proclamation was made to the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace offering them a pardon.
  • January 1537 – A further rebellion led by Sir Francis Bigod broke out in Yorkshire. Robert Aske tried to prevent it but Bigod went ahead. Bigod’s Rebellion failed and Bigod was arrested. Robert Aske and other men involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion – such as Lord Darcy, Thomas Percy and Robert Constable – were arrested, convicted of treason and executed.

For those interested in learning more about the rebellion, all the letters and reports cataloguing this rebellion can be found in Letters and Papers Volume 11 – see www.british-history.ac.uk/ for October and November 1536.

On this day in history…

  • 1565 – Statesman and poet, Thomas Chaloner, died at his home in Clerkenwell, London. Click here to read more about him.
  • 1586 – The Trial of Mary Queen of Scots began at Fotheringhay Castle – click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

  1. Santschi, David Andrew (2008) Obedience and Resistance in England, 1536-1558, p25
  2. Bowker, Margaret (1981) The Henrician Reformation: The Diocese of Lincoln Under John Longland 1521-1547, p149

Further Reading

  • Bush, M L (1996) The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536
  • Hoyle, R W (2001) The Pilgrimage of Grace and the politics of the 1530
  • Gasquet, Francis Aidan (1893) Henry VIII And the English Monasteries

Related Post

5 thoughts on “October 1536 – The Pilgrimage of Grace”
  1. I am sorry, I do not understand the comment above: how has the death of Anne Boleyn got to do with the Pilgrimage of Grace?

    Never mind, the Pilgrimage of Grace was the most dangerous challenge to the reign of Henry VIII and it was a real challenge. Although they did not want to dethrone Henry and declared they were loyal they demanded the changes in his policies and those of Thomas Cromwell whom they aimed their anger at for the dissolution of the monastries. In the north the monastries were viewed with great affection and some other rumours made them even more unhappy about Cromwell and his attacks on the true faith. The pilgrimage was meant as a religious, social and political movement to petition the King but they where prepared to fight and die for their faith if they had to. There were also stories that some of the leaders used violence and threats against the families of the gentry to compel them to join the cause. Cromwell had a lot to risk if the King listened to the pilgtims and he made sure that they were discredited.

    As with all great movements; this one also had more than one leader with varied beliefs of how to proceed to get their ends agreed. They were also betrayed and deceived by Norfolk and the King when two of their leaders went to the King to present the petition to him. While Robert Aske also was at Court for Christmas, Henry and his advisors were planning to crush the rebellion as they called it if the rebels took up arms again and did not accept pardon and royal authority. When Aske was away, some of the other leaders fell out and decided to rise again seeing that the promised Parliaments and so on may not be granted. It was clear that Cromwell would not let the King agree to restore the monastic houses and the fate of the larger ones was in the balance. Many clergy joined the pilgrims and this meant that from 1538 onwards the larger houses were also dissolved.

    A second rising happened and they attacked Carlisle. 700, were either killed in the attack or taken prisoner. Henry and Cromwell saw they had broken their words and made it as an excuse to put the rising down with reprisals. Henry ordered Norfolk to return to Yorkshire and make a terrible example. He ordered Suffolk to do the same in Lincolnshire but there he was not as severe. In the end there was not a mass slaughter as there was in the Tudors. Most were in fact tried and hung through due process but some arrears seem to have been more hit than others. Norfolk also made sure that in every village someone was taken and hung. There were executions in every area of the rebellious territory. Most were after a trial, but others may have been summery, although this was not allowed in English law. It is significant were the executions took place as well.

    Monks were hung from the walls and towers of Sawley and Waverley Abbeys; men where even hung in their own gardens and the leaders were executed at York, Pontefract and London. Robert Aske was hung in chains from the Tower walls at York Castle. He did not have a wife and children as shown in the Tower and he may have been considered a lawyer of good standing but he did not have the kindly character shown either. He was a bully when it came to scaring women into handing over their homes and to accept his side during the early stages of the pilgrimage; there is evidence that his men did this to Katherine Lady Latimer and to Lady Eleanor Brandon, Countess of Cumberland, youngest daughter of the Duke of Suffolk. Lords Darcy and Lord Hussey were also beheaded for aiding and abetting the rebels and giving them support and protection, even though Darcy said he did not agree with the second rising. In the book Last of the White Rose it is suggested that he had plotted for some years for a rising and that he was very much behind this one.

    In total authors believe that 226 were executed at Yorkshire and a further 153 in Lincolnshire and Lancashire. These may be conservative estimates but it is not the massacre of men women and children as in the Tudors. In fact Henry wrote to Norfolk to complain that he had only hung the rebels and not quartered the bodies. Henry did order the executions should be on a larger scale but he also stated that would be if they had not given up their arms. Hundreds of others were found to have been pardoned and not taken part in the second rebellion. He also told Norfolk to ensure that some restraint was done to those in charge of the executions as he did not want excesses to be put at his door. He has often been condemned for his harsh treatment of the rebels at the Pilgrimage of Grace, but it was not as harsh as some rulers, and even Elizabeth had hundreds more executed, some 700 plus. That is in addition to hundreds of more in prisoned and in Europe it was very much over the top in the way rebellion was treated. I agree this number seems harsh and it was, but rememeber it was Cromwell who pushed for this in order to save his own head.

    At the time the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Northern Risings were seen as rebellions in the eyes of the crown and as religious risings with just causes in the midlands and north. Today we have a more balanced view of both the risings and the crown. The risings are also seen in the light of social and economic risings, as rebellions, and as just causes for people whose way of life had been overturned. Some individuals joined the risings as they complained against the enclosures of the fields and common lands and people also feared about taxation on their livestock. Risings may start with good intentions but could turn violent and it is because of their attacks on private property and the threats to life and the disruption of the Kings peace that the crown saw they had the right to repress rebellions. We may see these as protests but lets face it even when people protest in peace or lawfully today, and they trun violent, no one who is not civilized would not call for penalties to prevent violence in the future.

    1. I agree there that is true even today something would have to be done about it if this was happening! I remember Jane telling Henry to restore the abbeys as well as the monasteries but did not listen to her as he replied by telling her not to meddle in his affairs! Had he had listened to her and taken her word that would of meant taking the side of the “Rebels ” and having to pardon them as a result! Which we all know he did not! He trapped Aske by saying that he would pardon him he was foolish to have accepted and taken his word for it! Talk about “Actions speak louder than words”!

    1. Well, maybe when your traditions and customs and your homes and way of life are being destroyed by those in power you have to choose to fight for survival or fade into nothing.

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