Clifford’s Tower, York.
Photo by: Chris Tuckley
Lawyer and rebel, Robert Aske was executed (by hanging in chains) outside Clifford’s Tower, the keep of York Castle, in July 1537.

Following his break from the Roman Catholic Church, Henry VIII and his ministers began reforming religious life in England. Chief among these changes was the confiscation of church property and the dissolution of monastic houses.

In October 1536, parts of northern Lincolnshire rebelled against these new religious policies.

This initial revolt inspired a larger uprising in Yorkshire, led by Robert Aske, a lawyer from the East Riding. This was to become the biggest political crisis of Henry VIII’s reign.

In its opening days, this rebellion was centred in Beverley. On the morning of Sunday 8th October, supporters of Aske rang the town bells declaring that all men should join the rebellion.

Up to 500 people gathered on the Westwood, and from there the surrounding countryside joined the rebellion, which called itself the “Pilgrimage of Grace for the Commonwealth”.

Through this uprising, the “Commonwealth” of northern England declared its opposition to the religious changes coming from London.

The Five Wounds of Christ

The rebels marched under a banner displaying the five wounds Christ suffered on the cross.

Among the Tudor carvings in St Mary’s there is a roof boss showing this symbol. This boss was made in the 1520s, during the restoration of St Mary’s after the fall of the tower in 1520.

Roof boss with the Five Wounds of Christ

At its peak, the Pilgrimage of Grace comprised 30,000 men, and it maintained control over the northern counties for several months. This was the largest peacetime revolt in English history.

Men from Beverley helped in the capture of Hull, and were involved in sieges near Doncaster and Pontefract.

Faced with such a large opposition, Henry VIII signed a treaty with the rebel leaders. Trusting that the king would address their concerns, the rebels disbanded and returned to their homes.

But Henry was made furious by these events, and went back on his promises. He ordered the capture of the rebel leaders, and in July 1537 Robert Aske was executed in York.

The failure of the rebellion meant that the dissolution of the monasteries could carry on undisturbed.

Between 1532-1540 the monasteries of England, Wales, and half of Ireland were destroyed.

The portrait which illuminates this chapter of Tudor history:


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