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Pilgrimage of Grace Banner of the Five Wounds of Christ


PILGRIMAGE OF GRACE, a name assumed by religious insurgents in the north of England, who opposed the dissolution of the monasteries. The movement, which commenced in Lincolnshire in Sept. 1536, was suppressed in Oct., but soon after revived in Yorkshire; and an expedition bearing the foregoing name, having banners on which were depicted the five wounds of Christ, was headed by Robert Aske and other gentlemen [cf. Lord Darcy and Robert Constable], and joined by priests and 40,000 men of York, Durham, Lancaster, and other counties. They took Hull and York, with smaller towns. The Duke of Norfolk marched against them, and by making terms dispersed them [see 24 Articles]. Early in 1537 they again took arms, but were promptly suppressed, and the leaders, several abbots, and many others were executed.

Text source:

Haydn's Dictionary of Dates. 17th Ed. Benjamin Vincent, ed.
New York: Harper & Brothers, 1883. 530.

Watercolour illustration of the Pilgrimage of Grace by Fred Kirk Shaw, 1913.

By J. Franck Bright

With the death of Catherine some of the dangers which threatened insurrection in England disappeared. It was no longer impossible that Charles should be reconciled to his uncle [Henry VIII]. As the year therefore passed, the chances of an insurrection in England became less, and the real opportunity for successful action on the part of the reactionary party was gone. But, perhaps because they felt that time was thus passing away, or because accidental circumstances led the way to an outbreak, the discontented party, before the year was out, were in arms throughout the whole North of England. Nor did this party consist of one class alone. For one reason or another, nearly every nobleman of distinction, and nearly every Northern peasant, alike joined in the movement.

The causes which touched the interests of so many different classes were of course various. There was indeed one tie which united them all. All, gentle and simple, were alike deeply attached to the Roman Church, and saw with detestation the beginning of the Reformation in the late Ten Articles, and the havoc which Cromwell and his agents were making among the monasteries. In fact, the coarseness with which the reforms were carried out were very revolting. Stories were current of how the visitors' followers had ridden from abbey to abbey clad in the sacred vestments of the priesthood, how the church plate had been hammered into dagger hilts. The Church had been always more powerful in the North, and the dislike to the reforms was proportionately violent. But, apart from this general conservative feeling, each class had a special grievance of its own. The clergy, it is needless to mention—they were exasperated to the last degree.

The nobles—always a wilder and more independent race than those of the South—saw with disgust the upstart Cromwell the chief adviser of the Crown. They had borne the tyranny of Wolsey, but in Wolsey they could at least reverence the Prince of the Church. They had even triumphed over Wolsey, and had probably believed that the older nobility would have regained some of their ancient influence. They had been disappointed. Cromwell, a man of absolutely unknown origin, and with something at least of the downright roughness of a self-made man, was carrying all before him.

The gentry, besides that they were largely connected with the superior clergy, and suffered with their suffering, were at the present smarting under a change in the law, which deprived them of the power of providing for their younger children. By the common law it was not allowed to leave landed property otherwise than to the eldest son or representative. To evade this it had been customary to employ what are called uses:—that is, property was left to the eldest son, saddled with the duty of paying a portion, or sometimes the whole, of the rent to the use of the younger son. A long continuance of this practice had produced inextricable confusion. There were frequently uses on uses, till at length it was often difficult to say to whom the property really belonged. This difficulty had been met by the "Statute of Uses" in the preceding year, by which the holder of the use was declared to be the owner of the property, and for his benefit a Parliamentary title was created. At the same time, to prevent a repetition of the difficulty, i>uses were forbidden. Till, therefore, the law was altered a few years afterwards, the old common law held good, and, uses being impossible, gentry with much land and little money were deprived of all power of helping their younger children.

The lower orders were suffering principally from a change in the condition of agriculture in England, for which the Government could not be held responsible. There was a strong tendency to convert arable land into pasture. Complaints on this head are constant. Mercantile men also had begun to find that possession of land gave them influence irrespective of birth. Bringing the mercantile spirit with them to the country, they had worked their properties to the best advantage, regardless of the feelings of their tenants and labourers. The consequence was, that where in the old days there had been thriving villages, there were now in many instances barren sheep-walks, supporting only two or three men. The rest of the old inhabitants, uprooted from their connection with the soil, thronged the towns, or of necessity became dependent upon charity. They were suffering very deeply, and as usual attributed their sufferings to their governors.

The insurrection broke out in Lincolnshire, at Louth. Thither Heneage, one of the clerical commissioners, and the Bishop of Lincoln's chancellor were going on their business on the 1st of October. It was rumoured that they intended to rob the treasury of the church. A crowd collected under the leading of a man who called himself Captain Cobler. The church was locked and guarded, the great cross fetched out by way of standard, and the whole township marched to raise the neighbouring towns and villages. The insurrection in Lincoln was essentially a popular one. It was on compulsion that the gentry joined it. There was a strong party for murdering them. They were in fact besieged by the populace in the Close at Lincoln, and quickly threw their weight upon the side of the Government.

At Lincoln, during this quarrel between gentry and people, was a young lawyer, Robert Aske, who had been stopped by the insurgents, as he said, returning to his work in London. However this may be, he at once imbibed the spirit of the insurrection, and hurried off into Yorkshire, where he had interest, and where a rebellion of quite a different sort from that in Lincoln was quickly organized. The Lincolnshire rebels never came to open fighting. They sent a petition to the King from Horncastle, begging that religious houses should be restored, the late subsidy remitted, the "Statute of Uses" be repealed, the villein blood[1] removed from the Privy Council, and the heretic bishops[2] deprived.

The arrival of troops under Sir John Russell and the Duke of Suffolk was sufficient to cool the rebels' ardour, and though they watched his progress sulkily, they did not absolutely oppose him. The ringleaders were given up and the insurrection dissolved. Suffolk had brought with him the King's very firm answer to their petition: "How presumptuous," he says, "are ye, the rude commons of one shire, and that one of the most brute and beastly of the whole realm and of least experience, to take upon you, contrary to God's law and man's law, to rule your Prince, whom ye are bound to obey and serve." He refused every request.

It was the duty of the great nobles in each county, under such circumstances, to call out the military force of the county to repress the insurrection. Lord Hussey, in Lincolnshire, had timorously held aloof and left the country. Lord Shrewsbury had gallantly taken his position at Nottingham. In Yorkshire this duty would have devolved on Lord Darcy of Templehurst, an old and tried soldier of both the late and the present King. His sympathies were, however, wholly with the movement, and, though Henry wrote to him to urge him to instant action, he threw himself with only twelve followers into Pontefract Castle, and there awaited the arrival of the rebels. These had rendezvoused on Weighton Common, and having elected Aske general, and having despatched a force to Hull, moved towards York. On the way they were joined by the Percies, with the exception of the Earl of Northumberland himself.

York surrendered to them. They then advanced to Pontefract, which was unable to hold out against them, and Lord Darcy and the Archbishop of York speedily took the oath which was exacted of all whom the rebels met in their march. Lord Darcy henceforward became the leader of the movement, second only to Aske. Of opposition in the North there was scarcely any. Hull was taken, and the army of insurgents, kept under rigid discipline, moved onwards till they reached the river Don. Their army consisted of 30,000 men, "as tall men, well-horsed and well-appointed, as any men could be;" and they had with them all the nobility and gentry of the North.

At Doncaster they found themselves face to face with Shrewsbury and Norfolk, well chosen agents for the purpose the Government had in view; for the rebels, claiming to uphold the rights of the old nobility and the old Church, here found themselves opposed by two nobles of the oldest blood and the strongest Catholic convictions in England. The rebels determined to treat, principally on the recommendation of Aske, who seems to have been really patriotic, and to have wished to avoid civil war. It was agreed that a conference should be held upon the bridge of Doncaster, and there a petition was intrusted to Sir Robert Bowes and Sir Ralph Elleskar to carry to the King, Norfolk agreeing to accompany them. Meanwhile, the rebel forces were disbanded.

The King contrived to win over these emissaries to his party, but Aske continued his organizations; and when no satisfactory answer had been given by the close of November, he recalled his army to his standards, and again advanced to the Don. At Norfolk's earnest intercession the King at last agreed, against his own judgment, to grant a general pardon, and to call a Parliament, to be held almost immediately, at York. A conference between Norfolk and Aske was held at Doncaster, and Aske on his knees accepted the conditions, and threw aside the badge of the five wounds of Christ which had been assumed by the rebels.

It seems certain that the rebels at the time believed that the whole of their petitions had been granted [see 24 Articles]. It is possible that Norfolk, who had much sympathy with them, held out larger promises than Henry intended. The King's views at all events were not what the rebels supposed. He at once proceeded to organize the North, to establish fortified posts, and secure the ordnance stores. Norfolk was sent to Pontefract to make preparations for the coming Parliament. All this looked very unlike a favourable answer to the insurgents' petition. Still more were they disappointed when they found that, instead of a general amnesty, each individual had to petition for his own pardon, and received it only in exchange for the oath of allegiance.

There was much natural disappointment and smouldering discontent. A man of little influence, called Sir Francis Bigod, contrived a disorderly rising in opposition to the old chiefs. This afforded opportunity for Norfolk to establish martial law, and seventy-four persons were hanged. Perhaps some new treasonable correspondence was discovered, and perhaps the opportunity for vengeance had now arrived, but without any very clear renewal of their offences, the three leaders of the old insurrection—Aske, Darcy, and Constable—were arrested (March). Discontented words could no doubt be proved against them, and on this the charges against them were chiefly based. They were all condemned and executed, as were also many others of the prominent gentry of the North. Nineteen of the Lincolnshire rebels were executed (July 1537).

Of the three leaders, by far the most interesting is Aske. His popularity and influence were enormous, his power of organization seems to have been great, and there is visible in his whole career a genuine desire for the objects of the insurrection, apart from his own aggrandizement, which, coupled with his marked moderation and uprightness, renders him a very remarkable character.

AJ Notes:
[1. Low-born (i.e., Cromwell, et al.). Villein: 'one of the class of serfs in the feudal system' —OED.]
[2. Cranmer and his fellow reformers.]

Text source:

Bright, J. Franck. English History for the Use of Public Schools.
London: Rivingtons, 1876. 404-8.

Other Local Resources:

Books for further study:

Bernard, G. W. The King's Reformation: Henry VIII And the Remaking of the English Church.
          New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007.

Bush, Michael. The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies
          of October 1536. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996.

Duffy, Eamon. The Stripping of the Altars. 2nd Ed.
          New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.

Hoyle, R. W. The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Politics of the 1530s.
          Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Moorehouse, Geoffrey. Pilgrimage of Grace: The Rebellion That Shook
          Henry VIII's Throne. London: Phoenix Press, 2003.

The Pilgrimage of Grace on the Web:

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Badge of the Five Wounds of Christ from the collection of the Baroness Herries.

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This page was created on April 13, 2007. Last updated October 19, 2022.

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