The Year 1520

The year 1520 was monumental for England and for St Mary’s in Beverley.

After years of bitter fighting, in May 1520 King Henry VIII of England met the French king, François, for a peace summit.

Both kings arrived with lavish retinues, and the whole area was transformed into a city of tents, with hundreds of pounds worth of opulent fabric rolled out for this regal display.

Known as ‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’, this meeting was orchestrated by King Henry’s chief political advisor, Cardinal Wolsey.

As Lord Chancellor and Archbishop of York, Wolsey’s power in 1520 was almost unassailable.

None of this was to last. Within 18 months, England was again at war with France.

Meanwhile, Henry was beginning to worry about the future. His wife, Katherine of Aragon, was 34, and yet to grant him the male heir he so desperately wanted.

St Mary’s church was also entering an uncertain future.

On 29th April 1520, the church’s tower fell, causing significant loss of life and extensive damage to the building.

The citizens of Beverley jumped into action to save the church. Resources were quickly gathered, as the great and the good gave generously to support the rebuild.

One of those who helped was Sir Richard Rokeby, comptroller of the household of Cardinal Wolsey.

Some of the other donors and their gifts are commemorated in carvings on the north side of the nave. Opposite them we find further carvings of prominent people from the 1520s.

Among them is a king and a cardinal. These must be King Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey.

St Mary’s reopened for services in March 1531. The speed of this restoration was remarkable, and speaks to the church’s great importance to the town.

But much had changed in the preceding 11 years, and England was about to enter one of its most fractious periods.

Portraits which illuminate this chapter of Tudor history:.


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