Henry VIII, the Reign
Reforms Too Drastic for Anti-Clerical Darcy –in the North, the Seymour and Cromwell Regime Is Rejected– The Pilgrimage of Grace – Thousands Called to Arms to March on London
Thousands of Englishmen and women resented the new Seymour–Cromwell regime. One of those ever more disgruntled was Lord Thomas Darcy of Templehurst in Yorkshire. He was anti-clerical in his views in as much as he abhorred religious interference in secular affair. He had wanted reform but, so far as he was concerned, in the recent turn of events the baby had been thrown out with the bath water, candles, scented water, nursemaid and all.
In the late 1520s, he had been Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s most ardent critic and had drawn up a list of charges against him. He could also claim to be one of the most prominent architects of Wolsey’s downfall, but he had never, back then, envisaged the savage stripping of the altars that had begun now. How now Wolsey’s deathbed speech reverberated.
In 1534, Darcy and his ‘brother’ as he called him, Lord John Hussey, of Sleaford in Lincolnshire, began what became a series of meetings with Eustace Chapuys, Charles V’s ambassador in London. The purpose of the meetings was to persuade Chapuys and so in turn the emperor to launch an invasion of England that, Darcy claimed, would be supported by most English people. The aim of the invasion would be to overthrow the Seymour–Cromwell regime and restore Mary’s right to the throne. The target was specifically the Seymour–Cromwell government – not the king himself.
In the autumn of 1536 at Louth, Lincolnshire, an uprising began. There were commissioners working in Lincolnshire at that time and the first of the lesser monasteries were being closed. The insurrection spread to the sound of church bells: they were rung in back rounds (the reverse of rounds – that is, ringing the bells in ascending order of pitch, from the tenor to the treble) all across the county and Lincolnshire rose up in arms.
Within days, thousands had assembled at Lincoln Cathedral and from there the common people issued five articles of grievance addressed to Henry VIII.
However, as mayhem engulfed the county, Lord Hussey left. Yorkshire was not yet ready to join the rebellion; coordination with Yorkshire rebels was lacking and no help had arrived from the Continent.
A response to the list of grievances arrived from London on 10 October 1536. It was full of threats and insults. Lacking the support of its allies north of the Humber and with no support from the Low Countries, the Lincolnshire Rising stalled.
Then, just as the Lincolnshire Rising was petering out, Yorkshire answered the call to arms.
The Yorkshire Rising began on 10 October. North of the Humber, the church bells rang out. In the East and West Ridings, ten thousand marched on York; lawyer Robert Aske was their leader, and by 16 October the city of York was in rebel hands.
The North Riding was soon up in support. Even before Aske arrived in York, another lawyer, Robert Bowes, was at the head of assemblies in Richmondshire and Richmond itself. Mashamshire rose, as did Sedbergh and Nidderdale, Jervaulx Abbey and Coverham Abbey. Then from even further afield more rebels set out from Durham, Westmoreland and Cumberland, marching under the banners of their saints. Their local leaders took on pseudonyms – Captain Charity, Captain Faith, Captain Pity and Captain Poverty – and they all came together.
Thomas Darcy controlled the principal stronghold, Pontefract Castle, in the king’s name, and on 19 October he turned the fortress over to the rebels and assumed a leadership role alongside Aske.
On the same day, lacking intelligence about Yorkshire, a government force that had been put together to resist the initial Lincolnshire Rising and that had only made it as far north as Ampthill, in Bedfordshire, was disbanded.
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, however, was mobilised to lead an army, albeit a fraction of the size of the rebel force at Pontefract, and by 23 October he had moved north to Newark-on-Trent. Despite his own military prowess, he nonetheless proposed negotiation, not armed confrontation.
Norfolk’s proposal – dialogue and peace – caused disagreement in the rebel ranks. There were tens of thousands of armed troops who were eager and impatient to move off south and oust Cromwell and his adherents by force, but their leaders procrastinated. Aske and Darcy believed that, by mediating through the Duke of Norfolk, they were dealing directly with the king, thus circumventing Cromwell. Darcy had served Henry VII and laid his trust in the person, the individual character, that was his son, Henry VIII, a man whom he believed that, left unmolested by the likes of Wolsey, de Boulogne and Cromwell, was good-hearted, generous and God-fearing.
The two sides did talk and, as a consequence, a parliament in York was promised to resolve their grievances, a royal progress to the north of England was pledged and Robert Aske was invited to spend Christmas as Henry VIII’s guest, which he did that December, following a peace agreement that was signed on 27 October 1536.
There was a faction of the rebels, however, led by Sir Robert Constable, who feared what Cromwell would do, to such a degree that they demanded to ‘have all the country made sure from the Trent northwards’. Indeed, Cromwell had threatened that ‘their example shall be fearful to all subjects whiles the world doth endure’.
Having been wined, dined and made merry, an optimistic Aske returned north after Christmas. Many, however, were frightened and angered with what they perceived to be false promises. Sir Francis Bigod raised another rebellion. He planned to take Hull and Scarborough but his uprising was short lived; Cromwell’s threats rang in his followers’ ears and the effort collapsed. Bigod was arrested, tried and executed.
Cromwell’s took his revenge the following year. Hundreds were executed in a show of force that remained a source of fear to all subjects while their lives endured. Darcy, Hussey and Aske were among those slain.
Notes and Links Part 31
The Lesser Monasteries – Those with a Yearly Value of Less than Two Hundred Pounds.
The First Royal Injunctions of Henry VIII
Lincoln Articles Henry VIII’s Reply to the Demands
Reply Shown with Each Article – For ease of reference
Pontefract 24 Articles