Henry VIIIOn this day in 1536, 3rd December, a proclamation was made to the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace offering them a pardon. It read:

“Proclamation of the King’s pardon to the rebels of the different districts, viz.: That those of Yorkshire, with the city of York, Kingston upon Hull, Marshland, Holdenshire, Hexham, Beverley, Holderness, &c., on their submission to Charles duke of Suffolk, president of the council and lieutenant general in Lincolnshire, at Lincoln or elsewhere that he may appoint, shall have free pardons granted to them under the Great Seal without further bill or warrant or paying anything for the Great Seal. Richmond, 3 Dec., 28 Henry VIII.”

The same proclamation was also made in “Northumberland, Cumberland, Westmoreland, York, city of York, bishopric of Durham, &c., and in the parts north of Lancaster, on their submission to Henry earl of Cumberland”.

Henry VIII had also consented to the rebels’ demand for a free Parliament to be held at York. The rebellion dispersed, but was followed by another rebellion led by Sir Francis Bigod in Yorkshire in early 1537. 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.

You can read more about the Pilgrimage of Grace in my timeline post “October 1536 – The Pilgrimage of Grace”.

Notes and Sources

  • LP xi. 1235

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3 thoughts on “A Pardon for the Pilgrimage of Grace Rebels”
  1. I think Henry would have said anything to get these men to disperse and I don’t think he would have relished civil war within his own country.So I do feel these men were tricked into doing what Henry wanted.He wanted the freedom to take them down without any objections.Possibly also to enrich his treasury.

  2. The rebellion at Lincolnshire collapsed after a couple of weeks, the one in Yorkshire and the north was obviously more widespread, stronger and dangerous. But the crown only had about 8,000 men to the 30,000 to 50,000 in the north. I believe that although part of the pardon had a purpose and was intended; the entire thing was used to gain more time and to allow a plan to be put in place; get the rebels to go home; then if they rise again; or there is any act of violence we can use it as an excuse for repression as we will need to make examples of the leaders even if we pardon the rest. The crown needed to be seen to be strong and this has been described by historians as the greatest threat to Henry’s rule; although they claimed they did not want to harm the King and their quarrel was with Cromwell, his heretical bishops and what they saw as men of low birth on the counci who had given the King poor advice; they were strong enough to march south to London and to attack the capital and they seem to have been well armed. Their demands were totally ridiculous from the point of view of the state and Henry was never going to dismiss his council or Cromwell when they were implementing policies that he had approved and agreed with. The surrender and dissolving of religious houses was bringing land and wealth into the hands of the crown. Henry’s religious reforms had gone too far to simply be reversed. And who were these people he was to ask who were telling the King who he should and should not appoint as his counsillors?

    The pardon may have had the right effect in getting the commons and gentry to go home, disarm and to submit to the crown authority, in the form of Norfolk, Suffolk and Shrewsbury, but it also gained precious time for the King and his ministers. And, as so often happens, when talking is going on and no real positive action happens over night, a more radical group rise up and take action of their own, supported by other small risings across the north in January after the pardons have been given and the King withdraws his promised agreements. The mere idea of a free Parliament that can speak its mind being promised at this period, when free speech was being repressed by Cromwell’s treason laws, must have been horrifying to Henry. Just how the commons even fell for it; is beyond belief, or it would be, but for the way in which the King and the nobles were viewed in the 16th century. The commons trusted the word of the King; because they trusted the King as the last hope for their cause and the man to whom they could bring their petition and ask for justice and a hearing. That was the theory in any case; but there must have been some who were not prepared to take the King or anyone else at his word; as the second risings show. They did not believe what they were promised: they did not trust Cromwell; and may have heard something to alarm them. In any event, while Robert Aske was away at Christmas at court, some of his followers chose to act alone. They attacked Carlisle and some 700 were killed or injured in the process. The Brigod rising was a seperate affair and other risings also took place in Lancashire and across the north. Henry now sent his captains and commanders with stronger forces north to confront these much smaller gatherings and rebel armies and they were defeated with ease.

    It was the excuse that Cromwell, King and Council needed and the pardons were now declared null and void and the acts of trials and hunting down the ringleaders began. Norfolk toured through Yorkshire with brutal intent and during 1537 trials and executions occured right across the county, and there may have been some summary executions. One report says that they were hung in their gardens and in every village someone was executed. The government evidently were not too bothered about guilt or innocence; they wanted reprisals and revenge and to make an example to deter future risings. Royal authority also had to be stamped on the county and oaths of loyalty werre also administered. Numbers differ in different books on the subject but vary between 176 and 226 people officially being executed by varied means; some hanging, some hung drawing and quartering, some of the nobles beheaded, and one noble lady, a cousin of the Duke of Nofolk was burnt at the stake; a terrible death. In Lincolnshire it was a similar story, but the number executed was about half those killed in Yorkshire.

    Robert Aske was taken to York, held in the castle and hung in chains from the walls of the keep. Reports from the time say he took three days to die. How horrible! He had asked that his body be not quartered and was promised it would not be. Henry kept his word in the most macarb fashion. There is one mercy in this case: unlike in the Tudors Aske did not have a wife and children that saw him die; thankfully. Although I feel sorry for Aske and commemorate his death when I can; I do not see him as a martyre; he led a rebellion and allowed acts of violence against many innocent people to take place to compel people to join his cause. He may have been liked by many people: I am sure he was but in my opinion he was not someone to feel was an innocent victim of a violent government. He had terrorised Eleanor Brandon at the seige of Skipton by holding her and her party hostage as they took shelter and the near-by abbey; and his men also compelled Katherine Parr’s second husband, Lord Latimer to join his cause; as he did others who later testified they joined by being compelled. I cite for the Brandon story; a document contained in an old history of the castle by her grand-daughter, and a letter written by the King praising the young Lord Henry Clifford holding out against threats against his wife’s life, while the Earl of Cumberland was out fighting the rebels. A brother of Aske, and a family relative, Sir Christopher went out at night and brought the Countess and her infant son to safety. I used to highly praise Robert Aske for his defense of the monastic cause and the faith and his death; but in more recent years the more I read about him; the more I have somewhat adjueted my views of him; a good man, strong in the faith yes, but also ruthless and a match for the crown.

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