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Pilgrimage of Grace

The Pilgrimage of Grace was a popular rising in Yorkmarker, Yorkshiremarker during 1536, in protest against Englandmarker's break with Rome and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, as well as other specific political, social and economic grievances. Technically the term Pilgrimage of Grace refers specifically and inclusively to the uprising around Yorkmarker, though sometimes it is used in relation to the risings in general which took place around Northern England; first from Lincolnshiremarker, twelve days before the actual Pilgrimage of Grace.

Lincolnshire Rising

The Lincolnshire Rising was a brief dissent of Catholics against the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries set in motion by Thomas Cromwell's suggested plan of asserting the nation's religious autonomy and the king's supremacy over religious matters.

It began at St. James Church, Louthmarker, after evensong on 1 October 1536, shortly after the closure of Louth Abbey. The uprising was only against the attempt to suppress the religious houses, these being Catholic, and was not against the king or the church. It quickly gained support in Horncastlemarker, Market Rasenmarker, Caistormarker and other nearby towns. Angry with the actions of commissioners, the protestors/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 Lincolnmarker and, by 14 October, occupied Lincoln Cathedralmarker. They demanded the freedom to continue worshiping as Catholics, and protection for the treasures of Lincolnshire churches.

The moratorium effectively ended on 4 October 1536, when King Henry 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. Most of the other local ringleaders met the same fate over the next twelve months, with a lawyer from Willingham, being hanged, drawn and quartered for his involvement. Soon, however, the Lincolnshire Rising helped inspire the more widespread Pilgrimage of Grace.

Pilgrimage of Grace, the early Tudor crisis

The movement broke out on 13 October 1536, immediately following the failure of the Lincolnshire Rising, and at this point was the term 'Pilgrimage of Grace' used. The causes of the expostulations have long been debated by historians, but several key themes can be identified:

  • Economic grievances. The northern gentry had concerns over the new Statute of Uses. There were also popular fears of a new sheep tax. The harvest of 1535 had also led to high food prices, which may have contributed to discontent.

  • Political grievances. Many people in northern England had disliked the way in which Henry VIII had 'cast off' Catherine of Aragon. Although her successor, Anne Boleyn, had been unpopular, both as Catherine's replacement, a rumoured Protestant and a Southerner, her execution in 1536 on trumped-up charges of adultery, witchcraft and treason, had done much to undermine the monarchy's prestige and the king's personal reputation. There was also anger at the rise of Thomas Cromwell.

  • Religious grievances. 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 baptism 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. This went against the conservative beliefs of most northerners.

Robert Aske was chosen to lead the insurgents; he was a Londonmarker barrister, a resident of the Inns of Court, and the youngest son of Sir Robert Aske of Aughtonmarker near Selbymarker. His was an old Yorkshire family from Richmondshiremarker (Aske Hallmarker). In 1536 Aske led a band of nine thousand followers, who entered and occupied Yorkmarker. There he arranged for the expelled monks and nuns to return to their houses; the king's newly installed tenants were driven out and Catholic observance resumed. The success of the rising was so great that the royal leaders, Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk and George Talbot, 4th Earl of Shrewsbury, opened negotiations with the insurgents at Doncaster, where Aske had assembled between thirty and forty thousand men.

Henry authorised Norfolk to promise a general pardon and a Parliament to be held at York within a year. Trusting in the king's promises, Aske dismissed his followers.


The King's promises were not kept, and in January 1537 a new rising took place in Cumberlandmarker and Westmorelandmarker (which Aske attempted to prevent) under Sir Francis Bigod, of Settringtonmarker in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Upon this the king arrested Aske and several of the other leaders, such as Lords Darcy, Constable, and Bigod, who were all convicted of treason and executed. Aske was hanged in chains from the walls of York Castlemarker as a warning to other would-be 'rebels'. Sir John Bigod, Sir Thomas Percy, Sir Henry Percy, Sir John Bulmer, Sir Stephan Hamilton, Sir Nicholas Tempast, Sir William Lumley, Sir Edward Neville, Sir Robert Constable, the abbots of Barlings, Sawley, Fountainsmarker and Jervaulx Abbeysmarker, and the prior of Bridlington were executed in July 1537. In all, 216 were put to death; lords and knights, half a dozen abbots, 38 monks, and 16 parish priests. The loss of the leaders enabled the Duke of Norfolk to quell the rising and martial law was imposed upon the demonstrating regions, ending predication.

Successes and failures

The Lincolnshire Rising and the Pilgrimage of Grace have traditionally been seen as complete failures. They did, however, achieve several results.


Contrary to popular myth, there were some partial successes due to the rebellions:

  • The government postponed the collection of the October subsidy. This had been a major grievance amongst the Lincolnshire organisations.
  • The Statute of Uses was 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. This 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.


  • 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 monarchy and its supporters.
  • The moves towards official Protestantism achieved by Cromwell were not reversed (except in the reign of Mary I 1553–1558).

See also


  • The Pilgrimage of Grace is brought to life by John Buchan in his historical novel The Blanket of the Dark (Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1931).
  • H. F. M. Prescott (1952). The Man on a Donkey. A finely researched novel, set in the form of a chronicle, of Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries and the answering rebellion in the North of England, the Pilgrimage of Grace
  • Geoffrey Moorhouse (2002). The Pilgrimage of Grace is a detailed historical account of the Pilgrimage.

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