The Pilgrimage of Grace was a popular revolt in 1536 which spread across the north of England, beginning in Yorkshire and then moving across to Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire. It was seen as the most serious of Tudor rebellions as it spread so quickly and had so much support.
It was caused by the dissolution of the monasteries and the break with the Catholic Church but also financial reasons such as the rising food prices and the law regarding land. The Pilgrims from the rebellion wanted to restore Henry VIII’s eldest daughter Mary to the line of succession, and remove Thomas Cromwell, amongst others.
In October of 1536, in Horncastle, Lincolnshire, there were two murders committed by the disgruntled crowd. Their first victim was Dr Raines, the Chancellor of the Bishop of Lincoln, who was allegedly dragged from his sick bed and put on the back of a horse, paraded through the streets and taken to the rebels in a nearby field. Raines was killed after much jeering by the crowd, ‘many of which were parsons, vicars and priests’ who were shouting ‘Kill him! Kill him!.’ The second murder that day was a Thomas Wulcey (Wolsey), who was hanged by the group for being associated with Thomas Cromwell. These murders shows the brutality of the crowd. It was on this day that Robert Aske agreed to be their leader and it is possible that he wanted to guide them into a more effective strategy of protest. Aske was a lawyer and must have had a magnetic personality to whip up such support. He was a deeply devout man who objected to Henry VIII’s religious reforms, the Break with Rome and the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries. He was not the initial instigator of the rebellion but took up their cause when he came across the beginnings of the protests on his way back to Yorkshire from a visit to London.
The group sent a list of demands to the King; to stop the Dissolution, the granting of tithes and first fruits of spiritual benefices, halt the promotions of Thomas Cromwell and Richard Rich to the King’s Council, and of certain Archbishops and Bishops as they were not conducting themselves in the ‘faith of Christ’.
These dispatches were immediately sent to the King who wrote back that he would not take advice on matters of policy from “rude and ignorant common people”, referring to the group as “rude commons of one shire”. He stated that it was his own right to choose who he felt should govern, and they should not attempt to ‘rule your prince whom ye are bound to obey and serve with both your lives, lands and goods’.
The reasons for the Pilgrimage of Grace were not all religious however. Some Northern gentry resented the new Statute of Uses, which was an Act of Parliament restricting it the application of uses in English property law. The previous year had yielded meagre harvests and the poor were starving, due to increased food prices. This was exacerbated by the closure of the lesser monasteries as they were the social, financial, and medical support for many of the underprivileged. PThere were rumours that baptisms would also be taxed and that this too would hit the poorest in society.
Many disliked Henry’s attitude towards his Catholic first wife Katherine of Aragon, and her replacement, Anne Boleyn had been executed on trumped-up charges of adultery and incest, leading to people having a lower opinion of the King in general. A lot of the nobility took issue with Thomas Cromwell’s rise to power, as he was low-born and wished him to remain in lower echelons of court life. The publication of the Ten Articles had overtly made the church beginning its drift to Protestantism, and this upset many Catholics.
The Pilgrimage of Grace, despite its numbers of supporters, was quelled and was ultimately a failure. The Dissolution continued, swallowing up even the larger Monasteries by the end of the decade, thousands of unnamed people went hungry, and the church continued to turn away from Catholicism.
There were more than forty executions of monks, priests, and all walks of life, following the various stages of the Pilgrimage. Robert Aske was charged with High Treason and executed on a specially made gallows outside Clifford’s Tower in York on the 12th July 1537.
The Pilgrimage was perhaps a culmination of the increasing outrage at the King and the way he ran the country. Henry never listened, and ignored the masses, doing what he wished as he always did.