The Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536, was a rebellion during Henry VIII’s reign. It was more of a rising spurred by a complaint rather than a rebellion against the King. It took place in the north of England and was considered by its leaders to be an act of disobedience against the reformation.

The King saw it in a very different light.

The reformation was an attempt by Henry to limit the power the Catholic church held over him and what he saw as his legitimate right to govern. Henry’s attempt of breaking Papal power in England was brought on by his wish to obtain a divorce from Anne Boleyn, which was forbidden by Papal decree.

The rising was also, in part, due to a discontent of many against the Reformation legislation of King Henry VIII and resentment against Henry’s minister Thomas Cromwell’s attempts at increasing government control in the north. Opposition of new laws governing enclosures for pasture were among what was a serious destruction and dissolution of the monasteries. All of this was seen by the Catholic Church and many leading nobles as a power grab by Henry.

A serious rising began in Yorkshire. The leaders of the rising, who saw themselves more as the mouthpiece of the disaffected than rebels, chose Robert Aske, a gentleman and lawyer, as their spokesman.

News reached Henry’s court that York had fallen to rebel forces on October 24 and an army of over 30,000 armed men led by magnates such as Edward Lee, archbishop of York, and Thomas Darcy the Baron Darcy of Templehurst. Panic ensued in Henry’s court and he realised he had insufficient troops in the area to quell what he saw as an uprising against his rule.

Eventually, Thomas Howard, the 3rd Duke of Norfolk, met and parlayed with Robert Aske at Doncaster Bridge. Norfolk had been instructed to play for time until adequate crown forces could be assembled. By early December, the rebels held a council at Pontefract and drew up their demands. Central to these demands was a demand for a return of England to Papal obedience and the summoning of a Parliament free from royal influence. Norfolk made numerous promises and offered a full pardon to all who had taken part in the rebellion. Aske was naive in his assumption they had gained their full objectives and he persuaded his followers to disperse.

However, riots broke out in early 1537 due to many of the rebels believing Norfolk had lied to them. This enabled Henry’s government to arrest the perceived ringleaders of the insurrection and around 250 men were executed, including Darcy and Aske. The pilgrimage achieved nothing, and no support came from other parts of the country or from the Catholic realms of continental Europe or the Pope.

Henry sought to make an example of the ringleaders of the rebellion and those men and their families who directly supported the uprising. Over 70 men and their families were hung, and the ringleaders were executed by either beheading or, in some cases hung, drawn-and quartered, their heads affixed to poles on various bridges around London. Robert Aske was Gibbeted. His body being wrapped in chains while still alive, and then he was hung from makeshift gallows over the wall of York Castle, there left to rot. In one extreme case, the wife of one of the insurrection leaders was burned alive at the stake.

Copyright © Tom Kane 2021

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