Pilgrimage of Grace

The Pilgrimage of Grace was a popular uprising that began in Yorkshire in October 1536, before spreading to other parts of Northern England including Cumberland, Northumberland and north Lancashire, under the leadership of lawyer Robert Aske. The "most serious of all Tudor rebellions", it was a protest 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.[1]

Pilgrimage of Grace
A banner bearing the Holy Wounds of Jesus Christ, which was carried at the Pilgrimage of Grace
LocationYork, Yorkshire, England
DateOctober 1536 – October 1537
Attack type
Uprising and subsequent suppression
PerpetratorsRobert Aske
Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy de Darcy
Sir Robert Constable
Sir Francis Bigod
No. of participants
DefenderThomas Cromwell, Vicegerent in Spirituals to Henry VIII

The following the suppression of the short-lived Lincolnshire rising of 1536. The traditional historical view portrays the Pilgrimage 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 economic factors. [2]

Lincolnshire Rising

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 royal commissioners seized not only land, but the church plate, jewels, gold crosses, and bells. Silver chalices were replaced by ones made of tin. In some instances these items had been donated by local families in thanksgiving for a perceived blessing or in memory of a family member. There was also resistance to the recently passed Statute of Uses, which sought to recover royal fees based on land tenure.[4] On the 30th of September 1536, Dr. John Raynes, Chancellor of the Diocese of Lincoln, and one of Cromwell's commissioners, was addressing the assembled clergy in Bolingbroke, informing them of the new regulations and taxes affecting them. One of his clerks further enflamed matters regarding new requirements for the academic standards of the clergy saying'Look to your books, or there will be consequences' (Mervyn James 1988), which may have worried some of the less educated attendees. Word of his discourse and rumours of confiscation spread rapidly throughout Lindsey and soon reached Louth and Horncastle.

The rising began on 1 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 against the suppression of the monasteries, and not against the rule of Henry VIII himself.[4]

Led by a monk and a shoemaker called Nicholas Melton,[5] some 22,000 people are estimated to have joined the rising.[6] The rising quickly gained support in Horncastle, Market Rasen, Caistor, and other nearby towns. Dr.John Raynes, the chancellor of the Diocese of Lincoln, who was ill at Bolingbroke, was dragged from his sick-bed in the chantry priests' residence and later beaten to death by the mob, and the commissioners' registers were seized and burned.[4]

Angered by the actions of commissioners, the protesters demanded the end of the collection of a subsidy, the end of the Ten Articles, an end to the dissolution of religious houses, 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 and occupied Lincoln Cathedral. They demanded the freedom to continue worshipping as Roman Catholics and protection for the treasures of the Lincolnshire churches.[6]:56

The protest 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 executed during the next twelve days, including William Moreland, or Borrowby, one of the former Louth Park Abbey monks.[7] Thomas Moigne, 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

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. The dissolution of the monasteries also affected the local poor, many of whom relied on them for food and shelter.


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 Protestant, which went against the Catholic 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.[8]

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.[8]

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 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,[8] 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.[9]

The details of the trial and execution of major leaders were recorded by the author of Wriothesley's Chronicle:[6]:63-4[10][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;[11] 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;[12] Abbot quondam of Fountains;[13] and Doctor Pickering, friar,[14] 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 failures for the following reasons:

  • 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.


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.[15] 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.[16]

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.[17]

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.[18]

List of executions

After the Lincolnshire Rising

After the Pilgrimage

The sub-prior of the Augustinian Cartmel Priory and several of the canons were hanged, along with ten villagers who had supported them.[19] The monks of the Augustinian Hexham priory, who became involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace, were executed.

  • 1537: George ab Alba Rose, Augustinian;
  • George Ashby (Asleby), monk;[20]
  • Ralph Barnes, monk;
  • Laurence Blonham, monk;
  • James Cockerell, Prior of Gisborough Priory;
  • William Coe, monk;
  • William Cowper, monk;
  • John Eastgate, monk;
  • Richard Eastgate, monk of Whalley Abbey; hanged 12 March 1537
  • John Francis, monk;
  • William Gylham, monk;
  • William Haydock, monk of Whalley Abbey; hanged 13 March 1537
  • Nicholas Heath, Prior of Lenton;
  • John Henmarsh, priest;
  • Robert Hobbes, Abbot of Woburn;
  • Henry Jenkinson, monk;
  • Richard Laynton, monk;
  • Robert Leeche, layman;
  • Hugh Londale, monk;
  • John Paslew, Abbot of Whalley Abbey; hanged at Whalley
  • 25 May 1537: John Pickering, priest;[21]
  • Thomas Redforth, priest;
  • 26 May 1537: Adam Sedbar, Abbot of Jervaulx;
  • William Swale, monk;
  • John Tenant, monk;
  • Richard Wade, monk

Executed after Bigod's rebellion (1537)

See also


  1. Cross 2013.
  2. Loades, David, ed. (2003). Reader's guide to British history. New York: Fitzroy Dearborn. pp. 1039–41. ISBN 9781579582425.
  3. Halpenny, Baron. "Lincolnshire Uprising – A Very Religious Affair". BBC Lincolnshire. Retrieved 19 September 2013.
  4. Gasquet, Francis Aidan. Henry VIII and the English Monasteries, G. Bell, 1906, p. 202 This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  5. BBC. "Lincolnshire Uprising - A Very Religious Affair". www.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 7 November 2019.
  6. Hamilton, William Douglas, ed. (1875). A Chronicle of England During the Reigns of the Tudors by Charles Wriothesley. London: Camden Society. pp. 56–64.
  7. Page, William, ed. (1906). A History of the County of Lincoln: Volume 2. London: Victoria County History. pp. 138–141.
  8.  Burton, Edwin (1911). "Pilgrimage of Grace" . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia. 12. New York: Robert Appleton.
  9. Childs, Jessie (2008). Henry VIII's last victim : the life and times of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. London: Vintage. p. 115. ISBN 9780712643474.
  10. Dodds, Madeleine Hope; Dodds, Ruth (1915). The Pilgrimage of Grace 1536–1537 and the Exeter Conspiracy 1538. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 214.
  11. Father of John Lumley, 1st Baron Lumley.
  12. James Cockerell, Prior of Guisborough.
  13. William Thirsk.
  14. John Pickering of Bridlington.
  15. Fletcher, Anthony; MacCulloch, Diarmaid (2015). Tudor Rebellions. Routledge. ISBN 9781317437376.
  16. James, M. E. (August 1970). "Obedience and Dissent in Henrician England: The Lincolnshire Rebellion 1536". Past & Present (48): 68–76. JSTOR 650480.
  17. Davies, C. S. L. (December 1968). "The Pilgrimage of Grace Reconsidered". Past & Present (41): 55–74. JSTOR 650003.
  18. Wood, Andy (2002). Riot, rebellion and popular politics in early modern England. New York: Palgrave. pp. 19–54. ISBN 9780333637623.
  19. "British History Online: The Priory of Cartmel". Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  20. "Catholic Encyclopedia: George Ashby". Newadvent.org. 1 March 1907. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  21. "London Martyrs List.PDF" (PDF). Academic.regis.edu. Retrieved 5 November 2016.
  22. Dodds, p. 225.
  23. Dodds, p. 194.


Further reading

  • Hoyle, R.W. The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Politics of the 1530s (Oxford UP, 2001) 487 pp; scholarly study
  • Geoffrey Moorhouse The Pilgrimage of Grace: The Rebellion That Shook Henry VIII's Throne. (2002) excerpt; popular non-fiction
  • M. L. Bush, "The Tudor Polity and the Pilgrimage of Grace." Historical Research 2007 80(207): 47–72. online


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pilgrimage of Grace" . Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.

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