Seditious and Traitorous Voyage or Religious Pilgrimage?

Henry VII’s dissolution of the monasteries, is generally thought of as an act that was accepted by his subjects, but  there was a lot of opposition, with some churches hiding relics, bells and stained glass, and building secret rooms for  priests, but the most spectacular act was what became known as ‘The Pilgrimage of Grace’ of 1536/7 but which was treated as a full scale rebellion against the king.

This is from an account by Edward Hall:

"....the King was truly informed that there was a new insurrection made by the northern men, who had assembled themselves into a huge and great army of warlike men, well appointed with captains, horse, armour and artillery, to the number of 40,000 men, who had encamped themselves in Yorkshire.  And these men had bound themselves to each other by their oath to be faithful and obedient to their captain.

The also declared, by their proclamation solemnly made, that their insurrection should extend no further than to the maintenance and defence of the faith of Christ and the deliverance of holy church, sore decayed and oppressed, and to the furtherance also of private and public matters in the realm concerning the wealth of all the king's poor subjects.

They called this, their seditious and traitorous voyage, a holy and blessed pilgrimage; they also had certain banners in the field whereon was painted Christ hanging on the cross on one side, and a chalice with a painted cake in it on the other side, with various other banners of similar hypocrisy and feigned sanctity.  The soldiers also had a certain cognizance or badge embroidered or set upon the sleeves of their coats which was a representation of the five wounds of Christ, and in the midst thereof was written the name of Our Lord, and thus the rebellious garrison of Satan set forth and decked themselves with his false and counterfeited signs of holiness, only to delude and deceive the simple and ignorant people.

After the king's highness was informed of this newly arisen insurrection he, making no delay in so weighty a matter, caused with all speed the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the marquis of Exeter, the Earl of Shrewsbury and others, accompanied by his mighty and royal army which was of great power and strength, immediately to set upon the rebels.  But when these noble captains and counsellors approached the rebels and saw their number and how they were determined on battle, they worked with great prudence to pacify all without shedding blood.

But the northern men were so stiff-necked that they would in no way stoop, but stoutly stood and maintained their wicked enterprise.  Therefore the abovesaid nobles, perceiving and seeing no other was to pacify these wretched rebels, agreed upon a battle; ... but the night before the day appointed for the battle a little rain fell, nothing to speak of, but yet as if by a great miracle of God the water, which was a very small ford which the day before men might have gone over dry shod, suddenly rose to such a height depth and breadth that no man who lived there had ever seen before, so that on the day, even when the hour of battle should have some, it was impossible for one army to get at the other.

After this appointment made between both the armies, disappointed, as it is to be thought, only by God who extended his great mercy and had compassion on the great number of innocent persons who in that deadly slaughter would have been likely to have been murdered, could not take place.  Then... a consultation was held and a pardon obtained from the king's majesty for all the captains and chief movers of this insurrection, and they promised that such things as they found themselves aggrieved by, all would be gently heard and their reasonable petitions granted, and that their articles should be presented to the King, so that by his highness' authority and the wisdom of his council all things should be brought to good order and conclusion.  And with this order every man quietly departed, and those who before were bent as hot as fire on fighting, being presented by God, went now peaceably to their houses, and were as cold as water..."

Henry VIII’s commisioners had  been busy in the county of Lincolnshire, dissolving religious houses, assessing their value and inquiring into the fitness of the clergy. There was opposition to the king’s divorce, outrage at his claims that his daughter Mary was thus made illegitimate, and rumours of increasing taxation, wars and much else.

The opposition extended over 5 counties, and did not have a real focus or leader, though Robert Aske was blamed for itl He claimed :

“in all parts of the realm men’s hearts much grudged with the suppression of abbeys, and the first fruits, by reason the same would be the destruction of the whole religion in England. And their especial great grudge is against the lord Cromwell.”

Following the failure of the Lincolnshire uprising, Aske led a large group to York where he told the expelled nuns and monks to return to their houses and ejected the king’s tenants. Support spread; there was a group sponsored by the Pope on its way from France. York, Hull and Pontefract welcomed the rebels.

An attempt was made to negotiate a truce, and the rebels dispersed, but their anger still simmered. In Feb 1536/7 a second uprising, under Nichol Musgrave, laid siege to the town of Carlisle, which the king saw as a breach of the truce. He rounded up many of the earlier leaders, though not involved this time, and had them executed. Aske had tried to prevent the uprising but was still hanged for it. Many country people were hanged in their own gardens to set an example to others.  A total of 216 people were executed including lords and knights, and the abbots of Jervaulx, Fountains, Barlings, Sawley and Rivaulx.

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