The 1536 to 1537 Yorkshire Rebellion against Henry VIII – also called the Pilgrimage of Grace – was the most extensive and serious revolt in Tudor England. Triggered by the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it affected the whole of northern England. The rebellion collapsed because of divisions among the rebels and Henry VIII’s tactics of playing for time and false promises.

The Reformation in England

Papal refusal to annul King Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon led to the king’s break with the Roman Catholic Church. The monarchy also needed money to pay for a royal lifestyle and potential wars. The Catholic Church owned 30 percent of the land in England and was viewed as a papal stronghold. Under the 1534 Act of Supremacy, Henry claimed a direct link to God that gave him the power to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England. The Act authorized Henry to separate England, Ireland and Wales from the authority of the Pope in Rome. It allowed him to break up monasteries and other religious houses throughout the kingdom, and to appropriate their funds and assets. The period between 1536 and 1540 became known as the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Dissolution of the Monasteries

In 1535, Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister and Vicar General, made a survey of the wealth of monasteries in preparation for their taxation and dissolution that began in early 1536. As well as changing religious beliefs and expropriating the monasteries, Henry imposed taxes on the landed gentry. The financial burden fell mostly on commoners who paid tithes to religious establishments and rents to the gentry. However, monasteries also provided charity and education for commoners.

The Lincolnshire Rising

The rebellion began in Louth, a market town in Lincolnshire in eastern England, following an incendiary sermon against the king’s policies given by the local vicar, Martin Thomas Kendall. Priests egged commoners on, who in turn forced some of the gentry to join the protest. Other landowners fled. The rebels, still a leaderless mob, captured Robert Aske, a London lawyer from a Yorkshire family. Aske took an oath supporting the rebels and returned to Yorkshire to take control of the rebellion spreading there. As it increased in strength in Yorkshire, the revolt collapsed in Lincolnshire. The king’s troops, under the Duke of Suffolk, imposed order in Lincolnshire by dividing the commoners from the gentry and executing 50 rebels.

The Pilgrimage of Grace

On October 16, 1536, Robert Aske led 10,000 rebels into the city of York. He renamed the uprising the Pilgrimage of Grace, called the rebels pilgrims, and demanded the return of paper power in England and the removal of Thomas Cromwell from office. Priests, monks and gentry joined the uprising, often under rebel duress. Further revolts occurred in Cumberland, Westmoreland and Lancashire. However, ongoing conflicts in these counties between commoners and gentry meant that many of gentry remained loyal to the king.

Suppression and Consequences

By late October 1536, Aske had assembled around 30,000 rebels at Doncaster while King Henry only had 8,000 troops in the region. Henry played for time by sending the Duke of Norfolk to meet with Aske to accept the rebels’ demands and to promise a general pardon. Henry received Aske and other gentry rebels, and promised them a pardon. Aske returned to Yorkshire and disbanded his army. Henry sent troops to Yorkshire and arrested Aske. More than 200 rebels were executed including Aske, who was hanged in chains from a tree in York. No other English regions supported the uprising, the rebels achieved nothing and Henry sped up the dissolution of the monasteries.