October 20 – Lord Darcy surrenders his castle to the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace

Oct20,2022 #Pilgrimage of Grace

On this day in Tudor history, 20th October 1536, in the reign of King Henry VIII, Lord Darcy, owner of Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, surrendered his castle to the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace.

However, all was not as it seemed. Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy, and others in the castle were actually sympathetic to the rebel cause.

Find out more about the situation at Pontefract Castle in October 1536, the letters Darcy wrote to King Henry VIII, and what happened on the night of 19th October and morning of 20th October, and why Darcy came to a sticky end…

For more on the Pilgrimage of Grace Rebellion, see:


On this day in Tudor history, 20th October 1536, Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy, owner of Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire, yielded his castle to the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace. The castle’s inhabitants – which included Edmund Lee, Archbishop of York; Thomas Magnus, Archdeacon of the East Riding; Sir William Gascoigne, and Sir Robert Constable, as well as Lord Darcy – then swore the rebel oath.

Lord Darcy had written to King Henry VIII a week earlier, on 13th October 1536, regarding the rebellion. He wrote that “Although policy has been used according to your letters yet a great number of your subjects rebelliously assembled on Monday last, and are up in the East Riding, and all the commonalty of this shire seem to favor their opinions, sounding in every behalf to the very like matter begun in Lincolnshire. The gentlemen cannot trust any but their household servants.”
He then went on to say:
“As I wrote before I have repaired to your Castle of Pomfret for the better ordering of the country; but have received no answer of money, ordnance, artillery, gunpowder, gunners, laying of posts, or who shall be your lieutenant. I hear the rebels will visit me here in two or three days, and that they hasten to York trusting there to find part of your treasure. On hearing of the insurrection I wrote to the mayor of York to look to the safety of the city and the good order of the people there who, I hear, are lightly disposed. As I think my last letters to your Grace not fully answered I enclose copy of the instructions sent by my son, Sir Arthur, which seem not to have been declared. Meanwhile I shall do my best with policy. I have great assistance from the archbishop of York and your counsellor, Mr. Magnus. Pomfret Castle, 13 Oct.”

Sir Arthur Darcy also sent letters to the king “from the lords in Pomfret Castle” stating that they were in great danger and could see no means of resistance.

On the night of 19th October 1536, Thomas Maunsell, Robert Aske and the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace threatened an assault on Pontefract Castle, and Aske, wrote down the grievances of the common people in a letter, asking the lords in the castle to intercede with the King on their behalf.

No force was necessary. Aske visited the castle and rebuked the lords for failing in their duty to their people by allowing heresy in their territory, and by not making the King aware of ‘the poverty of his realm and that part specially’. Lord Darcy replied that they would submit to him on 21st October, but Aske insisted on it happening that day, 20th, threatening action against the castle otherwise, so Darcy surrendered. It was all over by 8am on 20th.

Darcy had little choice when there were only around 300 men in the castle, and the rebels numbered in the tens of thousands, but historian M.L. Bush makes the point that the castle inmates could have tried to crush the rebels ten days earlier when the rebellion was in its infancy and its numbers much, much smaller. Bush explains that the elderly Lord Darcy actually sympathised with the rebel cause, because of his reservations about the dissolution of the monasteries and the power of Thomas Cromwell, whom he would have viewed as a heretic and an “upstart”. The grievances of the rebels were justified in Darcy’s opinion, but he did not want to raise a revolt himself, or take an active part in one, so he fled to Pontefract Castle and hoped that he would not need to get involved.

Lord Darcy ended up being convicted of high treason for his part in the rebellion and was executed by beheading on Tower Hill on 30th June 1537.

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