Pilgrimage of Grace

From Academic Kids

The Pilgrimage of Grace was a rising by Roman Catholics in the north of England in 1536, in protest at the conversion of England to Protestantism, and the Dissolution of the Monasteries, as well as other specific political, social and economic grievances. Although the Pilgrimage was a specific rising around York, the term has come to describe a series of rebellions that occurred in the North in late 1536 and early 1537.


Phase One, the 'Lincolnshire Rising'

The Lincolnshire Rising was a brief rebellion of Roman Catholics against the establishment of the Church of England by Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries. It began at St. James Church, Louth, after evensong on October 1, 1536, shortly after the closure of Louth Abbey, and quickly gained support in Horncastle, Caistor and other nearby towns. The people of Louth had recently purchased a new church spire. Angry with the actions of commissioners, the rebels 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 rebel force, whose size has been estimated at up to 40,000, marched on Lincoln and by October 6 had occupied Lincoln Cathedral, demanding the freedom to continue as practising Catholics and protection for the treasures of Lincolnshire churches.

The rebellion was effectively ended on October 10th 1536 when King Henry sent word for the occupiers to disperse or face the forces of the Duke of Suffolk, which had already been mobilised. By October 14, few remained in Lincoln. Following the Rising, Thomas Kendall, the vicar of Louth and its spiritual leader, was captured and executed, as were most of the other local ringleaders over the next twelve months. However, the Lincolnshire Rising would inspire shortly the more widespread Pilgrimage of Grace.

Phase Two, the 'Pilgrimage of Grace'

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 rebellion 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 Northerners had disliked the way in which Henry VIII had 'cast off' Catherine of Aragon. 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, a London barrister from a Yorkshire family, and a band of nine thousand followers entered and occupied York. There he arranged for the expelled monks and nuns to return to their houses; the king's tenants were driven out and Catholic observance resumed. The success of the rising was so great that the royal leaders, the Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Shrewsbury, opened negotiations with the insurgents at Doncaster, where Aske had assembled between thirty and forty thousand men. Henry VIII authorised Norfolk to promise a general pardon and a Parliament to be held at York within a year. Aske then dismissed his followers, trusting in the king's promises.

Phase Three

These promises were not kept, and in January, 1537, a new rising took place in Cumberland and Westmoreland (which Aske attempted to prevent) under Sir Francis Bigod, and was spreading to Yorkshire. Upon this, the king arrested Aske and several of the other leaders, such as Darcy, Constable, and Bigod, who were all convicted of treason and executed. The loss of the leaders enabled Duke of Norfolk to quell the rising, and martial law was imposed upon the rebellious regions, ending the Rebellion.

Successes and Failures

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


- The government postponed the collection of the October subsidy. This had been a major grievance amongst the Lincolnshire rebels.

- The Statute of Uses was negated by a new law, the Statute of Wills.

- The Four Sacraments were ommitted from the Ten articles, 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.

- Thomas Cromwell was pushed from power in 1540.

- Princess Mary (later Queen Mary I of England) was restored to the succession in 1544.

- The Council of the North was established in 1537.


- The dissolution of the monasteries continued unabated, with the largest monasteries being dissolved in 1540.

- Masses of land was taken from the Church and given to the monarchy.

- The moves towards official protestantism achieved by Cromwell were not reversed (excepting the reign of Mary I 1553-1558).

This article incorporates text from the public domain Catholic Encyclopedia.


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