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Definition: Pilgrimage of Grace from The Macquarie Dictionary

a Catholic rising in northern England in 1536, directed against the Reformation.

See Also: Robert Aske

Summary Article: Pilgrimage of Grace
from Encyclopedia of Tudor England

Occurring in late 1536 and early 1537, the Pilgrimage of Grace was an armed uprising of the common people of northern England against the religious policies of Henry VIII as implemented by his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell. The Pilgrimage was the most serious act of popular resistance to the king’s break with Rome.

The Pilgrimage eventually comprised five separate uprisings occurring in seven different counties and affecting roughly the northern third of the kingdom. The disorder began in Lincolnshire in October 1536, after the dissolution of the smaller monasteries and the recent issuance of royal injunctions of religion gave substance to rumors that the government planned all manner of religious changes, including the closure of parish churches and the seizure of church goods. In this tense atmosphere, the movement soon spread to Yorkshire, where leadership was assumed by a local attorney named Robert Aske. Some historians have argued that Aske knew about or was involved in anti-Cromwell intrigues at court and that he and his gentry colleagues turned a disorganized religious protest into an orderly effort to discredit Cromwell and his supporters. However, most current views of the Pilgrimage see it as a popular defense of traditional religion that was curbed in its initial violence by a gentry leadership that was more willing than its followers to trust royal promises.

Under Aske’s direction, the rising assumed the guise of a pilgrimage of loyal subjects seeking to inform their king of the misdeeds of his evil councillors, especially Cromwell, who was blamed for initiating both the break with Rome and unwanted modifications in the liturgy. Although social and economic grievances played a role, fear of further religious changes was the immediate cause of the uprising. Aske emphasized this religious conservatism by having his forces march under the banner of the five wounds of Christ, and the articles drafted by the pilgrims and given to Thomas Howard, third Duke of Norfolk, on 6 December also stressed religious fears and concerns. Troubled by the dissolution of the monasteries and the quarrel with Rome, the rebels also declared their opposition to royal control of Convocation and requested that all the Church’s ancient liberties be respected.

By November, the pilgrim army grew to more than 30,000, and Aske and the pilgrims soon controlled the city of York and most of the county of Yorkshire. Lacking the military power to suppress the rebellion by force, Henry VIII negotiated with the pilgrims, promising them pardon and a fair hearing if they would go home, but using the delay to assemble armed forces to crush the uprising. Aske accepted the king’s terms and persuaded the suspicious pilgrims to disband and await the promised dismissal of Cromwell and the redress of their other grievances. Many of the pilgrim gentry took advantage of the pardon to disassociate themselves from the movement. With only a few exceptions, such as Thomas Darcy, Lord Darcy, who served as Aske’s chief lieutenant, the northern nobility remained neutral or actively opposed the Pilgrimage.

In January 1537, Sir Francis Bigod and other rebel leaders, distrusting the king’s word, raised new rebellions. Henry used these fresh disorders as an excuse to send Norfolk into the disaffected counties to suppress the rebellion by force. Rebel leaders, including Aske, were seized and hanged, despite the king’s earlier promises of pardon. To secure royal authority in the north, the heretofore intermittently appointed Council of the North became a permanent body headquartered at York, where it effectively replaced the Percies and other noble families as the chief agent of royal power in the region. Although unsuccessful in saving the monasteries or securing the removal of Cromwell, the pilgrims caused sufficient alarm to slow Henry VIII’s reform of the English Church.

Further Reading
  • Bush, M. L. The Pilgrimage of Grace: A Study of the Rebel Armies of October 1536. Manchester University Press Manchester, UK, 1996.
  • Dodds, Madeleine Hope, and Ruth Dodds. The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536-1537, and the Exeter Conspiracy, 1538. F. Cass London, 1971.
  • Hoyle, R. W. The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Politics of the 1530s. Oxford University Press Oxford, 2003.
  • Moorhouse, Geoffrey. The Pilgrimage of Grace: The Rebellion That Shook Henry VIII’s Throne. Phoenix London, 2003.
  • Copyright 2012 by ABC-CLIO, LLC

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