Pilgrimage of Grace

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Pilgrimage of Grace
Banner of the Holy Wounds (Pilgrimage of Grace).svg
A banner bearing the Holy Wounds of Jesus Christ, which was carried at the Pilgrimage of Grace
Location York, Yorkshire, England
Date October 1536 – October 1537
Attack type
Uprising and subsequent suppression
Perpetrators Robert Aske
Thomas Darcy, Baron Darcy
Robert Constable
Sir Francis Bigod
Number of participants
Defender Thomas Cromwell, Vicegerent in Spirituals to Henry VIII
Henry VIII of England

The Pilgrimage of Grace was a popular rising in Yorkshire in the autumn of 1536 against Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the policies of the King's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, as well as other specific political, social and economic grievances. It has been termed "the most serious of all Tudor rebellions".[1]

Although sometimes used to refer to other risings in northern England at the time, including the Lincolnshire Rising twelve days before the Pilgrimage of Grace, the term technically refers only to the uprising in Yorkshire. The traditional historical view portrays it as "a spontaneous mass protest of the conservative elements in the North of England angry with the religious upheavals instigated by King Henry VIII". Historians have noted that there were contributing studied economic issues.[2]

Lincolnshire Rising[edit]

Plaque commemorating the Lincolnshire Rising, opposite south entrance to St James' Church, Louth.

The Lincolnshire Rising was a brief rising by Roman Catholics against the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries set in motion by Thomas Cromwell. Both planned to assert the nation's religious autonomy and the king's supremacy over religious matters. The dissolution of the monasteries resulted in much property being transferred to the Crown.[3]

The rising began on 2 October 1536[1] at St James' Church, Louth, after evensong, shortly after the closure of Louth Park Abbey. The stated aim of the uprising was to protest the suppression of Catholic religious houses, not the rule of Henry VIII himself.[3] It quickly gained support in Horncastle, Market Rasen, Caistor and other nearby towns.[3]

Angered by the actions of commissioners, the protesters or rioters demanded the end of the collection of a subsidy, the end of the Ten Articles, an end to the dissolution, an end to taxes in peacetime, a purge of heretics in government and the repeal of the Statute of Uses. With support from local gentry, a force of demonstrators, estimated at up to 40,000, marched on Lincoln, Lincolnshire, and, by 14 October, occupied Lincoln Cathedral. They demanded the freedom to continue worshipping as Catholics and protection for the treasures of Lincolnshire churches. The protest was led by a monk and a shoemaker and involved 22,000 people.[4]

The moratorium effectively ended on 4 October 1536, when the King sent word for the occupiers to disperse or face the forces of Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, which had already been mobilised. By 14 October, few remained in Lincoln. Following the rising, the vicar of Louth and Captain Cobbler, two of the main leaders, were captured and hanged at Tyburn.[3]

Most of the other local ringleaders were also executed during the next twelve days, including William Moreland, or Borrowby, one of the former Louth Park Abbey monks.[5] A lawyer from Willingham was hanged, drawn and quartered for his involvement.[3] The Lincolnshire Rising helped inspire the more widespread Pilgrimage of Grace.

Pilgrimage of Grace and the early Tudor crisis[edit]

Pilgrimage of Grace

The movement broke out on 13 October 1536, immediately following the failure of the Lincolnshire Rising. Only then was the term 'Pilgrimage of Grace' used. Historians have identified several key themes of the revolt:


The northern gentry had concerns over the new Statute of Uses. The poor harvest of 1535 had also led to high food prices, which likely contributed to discontent.


Many people in northern England disliked the way in which Henry VIII had cast off his wife, Catherine of Aragon. Although her successor, Anne Boleyn, had been unpopular as Catherine's replacement, as both a rumoured Protestant and a southerner, her execution in 1536 on trumped-up charges of adultery and treason had done much to undermine the monarchy's prestige and the King's personal reputation. Aristocrats objected to the rise of Thomas Cromwell, who was 'base born'.


The local church was, for many in the north, the centre of community life. Many ordinary peasants were worried that their church plate would be confiscated. There were also popular rumours at the time which hinted that baptisms might be taxed. The recently released Ten Articles and the new order of prayer issued by the government in 1535 had also made official doctrine more reformed, which went against the conservative beliefs of most northerners.


Robert Aske was chosen to lead the insurgents; he was a barrister from London, a resident of the Inns of Court, and the youngest son of Sir Robert Aske of Aughton, near Selby. His family was from Aske Hall, Richmondshire, and had long been in Yorkshire. In 1536, Aske led a band of 9,000 followers, who entered and occupied York. He arranged for expelled monks and nuns to return to their houses; the King's newly installed tenants were driven out, and Catholic observances were resumed.

The rising was so successful that the royalist leaders, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, and George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, opened negotiations with the insurgents at Scawsby Leys, near Doncaster, where Aske had assembled between thirty and forty thousand people.[6]

Norfolk promised a general pardon and a Parliament to be held at York within a year, as well as a reprieve for the abbeys until the parliament had met. Naively trusting the king's promises, Aske dismissed his followers.[6]

Jesse Childs (a biographer of the Earl of Surrey, Norfolk's son) specifically notes that Henry VIII did not authorize Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk to grant remedies for the grievances. Norfolk's enemies had whispered into the King's ear that the Howards could put down a rebellion of peasants if they wanted to, suggesting that Norfolk sympathized with the Pilgrimage. Norfolk, seeing their vast numbers (he and the Earl of Shrewsbury were outnumbered: they had 5000 and 7000 respectively but there were 40,000 pilgrims) negotiated and made promises to avoid being massacred.


In February 1537 there was a new rising (not authorised by Aske) in Cumberland and Westmorland, called Bigod's Rebellion, under Sir Francis Bigod, of Settrington in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Because he knew the promises he made on behalf of the King would not be met, Norfolk reacted quickly to the new uprising: he could demonstrate his virtue[clarification needed] after the Pilgrims did not disperse as they had promised.

The rebellion failed and King Henry arrested Bigod, Aske and several other rebels, such as Darcy; John Hussey, 1st Baron Hussey of Sleaford, the Chief Butler of England; Sir Thomas Percy; and Sir Robert Constable. All were convicted of treason and executed. During 1537 Bigod was hanged at Tyburn; Lords Darcy and Hussey both beheaded; Thomas Moigne, M.P. for Lincoln was hanged, drawn and quartered; Sir Robert Constable hanged in chains at Hull; and Robert Aske hanged in chains at York. In total 216 were executed: several lords and knights (including Sir Thomas Percy, Sir Stephen Hamerton, Sir William Lumley, Sir John Constable and Sir William Constable), 6 abbots (Adam Sedbar, Abbot of Jervaulx, William Trafford, Abbot of Sawley, Matthew Mackarel, Abbot of Barlings and Bishop of Chalcedon, William Thirsk, Abbot of Fountains and the Prior of Bridlington), 38 monks, and 16 parish priests. Sir Nicholas Tempest, Bowbearer of the Forest of Bowland, was hanged at Tyburn, Sir John Bulmer hanged, drawn and quartered and his wife Margaret Stafford burnt at the stake.

In late 1538, Sir Edward Neville, Keeper of the Sewer was beheaded. The loss of the leaders enabled the Duke of Norfolk to quell the rising,[6] and martial law was imposed upon the demonstrating regions. Norfolk executed some 216 activists (such as Lord Darcy, who tried to implicate Norfolk as a sympathizer): churchmen, monks, commoners.[7]

The details of the trial and execution of major leaders were recorded by the author of Wriothesley's Chronicle:[8][9][1]

Also the 16 day of May [1537] there were arraigned at Westminster afore the King’s Commissioners, the Lord Chancellor that day being the chief, these persons following: Sir Robert Constable, knight; Sir Thomas Percy, knight, and brother to the Earl of Northumberland; Sir John Bulmer, knight, and Ralph Bulmer, his son and heir; Sir Francis Bigod, knight; Margaret Cheney, after Lady Bulmer by untrue matrimony; George Lumley, esquire;[10] Robert Aske, gentleman, that was captain in the insurrection of the Northern men; and one Hamerton, esquire, all which persons were indicted of high treason against the King, and that day condemned by a jury of knights and esquires for the same, whereupon they had sentence to be drawn, hanged and quartered, but Ralph Bulmer, the son of John Bulmer, was reprieved and had no sentence.

And on the 25 day of May, being the Friday in Whitsun week, Sir John Bulmer, Sir Stephen Hamerton, knights, were hanged and headed; Nicholas Tempest, esquire; Doctor Cockerell, priest;[11] Abbot quondam of Fountains;[12] and Doctor Pickering, friar,[13] were drawn from the Tower of London to Tyburn, and there hanged, bowelled and quartered, and their heads set on London Bridge and divers gates in London.

And the same day Margaret Cheney, 'other wife to Bulmer called', was drawn after them from the Tower of London into Smithfield, and there burned according to her judgment, God pardon her soul, being the Friday in Whitsun week; she was a very fair creature, and a beautiful.


The Lincolnshire Rising and the Pilgrimage of Grace have traditionally been seen as complete failures:

  • England was not reconciled to the Roman Catholic Church, except during the brief reign of Mary I (1553–1558).
  • The dissolution of the monasteries continued unabated, with the largest monasteries being dissolved by 1540.
  • Great tracts of land were seized from the Church and divided among the Crown and its supporters.
  • The steps towards official Protestantism achieved by Cromwell continued except during the reign of Mary I.

However, they had some successes:


Their partial successes are less known:

  • The government postponed the collection of the October subsidy, a major grievance amongst the Lincolnshire organisations.
  • The Statute of Uses was partially negated by a new law, the Statute of Wills.
  • Four of the seven sacraments that were omitted from the Ten Articles were restored in the Bishop's Book of 1537, which marked the end of the drift of official doctrine towards Protestantism. The Bishop's Book was followed by the Six Articles of 1539.
  • An onslaught upon heresy was promised in a royal proclamation in 1538.


Historians have noted the leaders among the nobility and gentry in the Lincolnshire Rising and the Pilgrimage of Grace and tend to argue that the Risings gained legitimacy only through the involvement of the northern nobility and gentlemen, such as Lord Darcy, Lord Hussey and Robert Aske.[14] However, historians such as M.E. James, C.S.L. Davies and Andy Wood, among others, believe the question of leadership was more complex.

James and Davies look at the Risings of 1536 as the product of common grievances. The lower classes were aggrieved because of the closure of local monasteries by the Act of Suppression. The northern nobility felt their rights were being taken away from them in the Acts of 1535-1536, which made them lose confidence in the royal government. James analysed how the lower classes and the nobility used each other as a legitimizing force in an extremely ordered society.

The nobles hid behind the force of the lower classes with claims of coercion, since they were seen as blameless for their actions because they did not possess political choice. This allowed the nobles an arena to air their grievances while, at the same time, playing the victims of popular violence. The lower classes used the nobility to give their grievance a sense of obedience since the "leaders" of the rebellion were of a higher social class.[15]

Davies considers the leadership of the 1536 Risings as more of a cohesion. Common grievances over evil advisors and religion brought the higher and lower classes together in their fight. Once the nobles had to confront the King's forces and an all-out war, they decided to surrender, thereby ending the cohesion.[16]

Historian Andy Wood, representing social historians of the late 20th century who have found more agency among the lower classes, argues that the commons were the effective force behind the Risings. He argues that this force came from a class group largely left out of history: minor gentlemen and well-off farmers. He believes these groups were the leaders of the Risings because they had more political agency and thought.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Cross 2013.
  2. ^ David Loades, ed., Reader's Guide to British History (2003) pp 1039-41
  3. ^ a b c d e "Lincolnshire Uprising – A Very Religious Affair by Baron Halpenny – BBC". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-09-19. 
  4. ^ Wriothesley's Chronicle
  5. ^ "The abbey of Louth Park". Houses of Cistercian monks. Victoria County History. Retrieved 4 August 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c Burton, Edwin. "Pilgrimage of Grace." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. 13 Jul. 2015
  7. ^ Jesse Childs: Henry VIII Last Victim (2008, Vintage, p115)
  8. ^ Hamilton 1875, pp. 63–4.
  9. ^ Dodds & Dodds 1971, p. 214.
  10. ^ Father of John Lumley, 1st Baron Lumley.
  11. ^ James Cockerell, Prior of Guisborough.
  12. ^ William Thirsk.
  13. ^ John Pickering of Bridlington.
  14. ^ Anthony Fletcher and Diarmaid MacCulloch, Tudor Rebellions (Edinburgh: Pearson Education Limited, 2008), 29.
  15. ^ M.E. James, "Obedience and Dissent in Henrician England: The Lincolnshire Rebellion 1536", Past & Present, no. 48 (Aug., 1970): 68-76.
  16. ^ C.S.L. Davies, "The Pilgrimage of Grace Reconsidered”" Past & Present, no. 41 (Dec., 1968): 55-74.
  17. ^ Andy Wood, Riot, Rebellion and Popular Politics in Early Modern England, Social History in Perspective (Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, New York: Palgrave, 2002), 19-54.


Further reading[edit]

  • John Buchan (1931). The Blanket of the Dark (Hodder and Stoughton, London).
  • H. F. M. Prescott (1952). The Man on a Donkey.
  • Geoffrey Moorhouse (2002). The Pilgrimage of Grace.
  • M. L. Bush, "The Tudor Polity and the Pilgrimage of Grace." Historical Research 2007 80(207): 47–72. Issn: 0950-3471 Fulltext: Ebsco

External links[edit]

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pilgrimage of Grace". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.