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How Henry VIII dealt with the Lincolnshire Rising and the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536-37)

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A Lincolnshire flag
[Lincolnshire] 'The most brute and beastly shire of the whole realm.'
- so spake the most brute and beastly Henry VIII1


As the old saying goes, Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It means something different to each person; it cannot readily be defined or set in stone. Grace is another such ethereal word which conjures up feelings in people, rather than being something solid. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, grace stems from the Latin word gratia, meaning pleasing. Grace is used to describe things which move in a pleasing manner, with no jarring or jerky movements, for example, a tree swaying in a light breeze can be described as graceful, as can the giraffe, which belies its ungainly shape with its graceful gait. 'Grace' is a thankful prayer said at mealtimes; a female forename2 and a family name3; a description of someone's behaviour (eg she's growing old gracefully); and a style (Your Grace) used to address someone in a position of authority, such as a direct representative of the monarch, a Duke/Duchess, and a bishop. Tuesday's child, from the nursery rhyme Monday's Child (1838), is said to be full of grace. The Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, is the Mediatrix of All Graces in the Catholic religion. 'Amazing Grace' is a well-beloved anti-slavery hymn, written in 1772. 'By the grace of God' is included in the title and style of a monarch. Someone can 'fall from grace', meaning out of favour. In the 16th Century there was the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536–37), when tens of thousands of people from Yorkshire rebelled against the actions of the tyrannical Tudor monarch Henry VIII. The Pilgrimage of Grace had stemmed from a smaller revolt which began in Louth, Lincolnshire, in October 1536.


The year 1536 was an eventful one for Henry VIII. His first wife, Queen Catherine (of Aragon), who became known as the Princess Dowager after their marriage was annulled, died on 7 January. Henry was, by then, married to his second wife, Anne Boleyn, but there were questions about the marriage's authenticity due to the previous annulment. As Queen Anne had failed to provide him with a male heir, Henry decided to get rid of her and pursue a fresh marriage. Queen Anne was arrested on trumped-up charges of adultery, incest and plotting regicide. She was found guilty of high treason and beheaded at the Tower of London on 19 May, 1536. Just 11 days later Henry married Jane Seymour, who was publicly proclaimed queen consort on 4 June. She was never crowned because of the plague ravaging London at the time (but she did have a queen's funeral the following year).

Through all these royal goings-on, changes were being made to religious orders and taxes had risen. The Reformation4 was biting, and hard. The common people were starving. Clergymen were suffering from having their places of worship stripped of valuable items like silver goblets and golden crosses by agents of the Crown. Some religious buildings, such as Louth Park Abbey, were decommissioned in the Act of Supremacy and closed on 8 September, 1536, with all monastic property confiscated by the Crown and the Abbot and monks pensioned off. One of those monks was William Moreland, who spent his time praying, meeting up with another monk, Nicholas Melton, in the grounds of the old Abbey, and attending services at St James' Church in Louth.

The Lincolnshire Rising

St James Church, Louth.

The sermon at evensong on 1 October5 at St James' Church by the vicar Thomas Kendall was concerning current events and the congregation feared for their own church. Gossip and rumour spread like wildfire. It was even thought that baptisms might be taxed. No-one knew for sure what the king's next decree would be. Frightened people, in fear of their livelihoods, gained strength in numbers. Word spread and thousands gathered. They walked from Louth to Horncastle, Caistor and Market Rasen, gaining more supporters as they went. Some 40,000 men joined the throng in a week, and more were on the way from Yorkshire. They were a mix of commoners, clergy and the gentry. Among them was Thomas Moygne, a lawyer from Willingham, who wrote a letter to the king on their behalf, professing their loyalty and asking for clarification of what was intended. Then the march continued towards Lincoln. The king replied that his army was on the way, the gentry should take control, arrest the leaders of the rebellion and send the rest of the rebels back to their homes.

We charge you, eftsoon, upon the foresaid bonds and pains, that ye withdraw yourselves to your own houses, every man; and no more to assemble, contrary to the laws and your allegiances; and to cause the provokers of you to this mischief to be delivered to our lieutenant's hands or ours and you yourselves to submit to such condign punishment as we and our nobles shall think you worthy.
- King Henry VIII in response to the rebel demands, October 1536.

The ringleaders were captured and handed over to the Duke of Suffolk to be put on trial. Over 100 men were executed: among them were Thomas Moygne, William Moreland and Nicholas Melton. For his involvement, the vicar of St James' Church, Thomas Kendall, was hanged, drawn and quartered.

The Pilgrimage of Grace

Meanwhile, there were another 40,000 in Yorkshire, who called themselves pilgrims, waiting in the wings. They too, consisted of a mix of commoners, clergy and gentry, who were protesting at the religious upheaval, higher rents, the rising prices of food and heavy taxation. Led by lawyer Robert Aske, they took Hull, then marched on to York. They had no intention of heading for London to confront the king, but instead, wrote to him with their demands. This time King Henry was more graceful. In December 1536 he invited Robert Aske and other ringleaders to London and granted them an audience. Robert Aske stayed long enough to write up a history of the uprising for the king, then was sent back to Yorkshire. The prolonged stay made the commoners suspicious and the gentry were nervous about being betrayed. By January 1537 many of the pilgrim rebels had dispersed. King Henry declared a state of martial law and sent the Duke of Norfolk to Yorkshire to arrest the rebel leaders. The ringleaders were sent to the Tower of London to await trial for treason. Anyone who refused to sign a new oath of allegiance to the king was executed. All of the ringleaders were found guilty and executed. The executions varied according to their status in life: hanging for commoners and beheadings for the gentry, but titled persons were hanged until almost dead, disembowelled while still alive, beheaded, then their heads were staked on London Bridge.

Some unfortunate souls suffered more than others: Margaret Cheyne (or Cheyney), the 26-year-old common-law wife of Sir John Bulmer and a mother of two infants, was the only female to be executed. She was chronicled as being burned at the stake, yet there was no evidence that she had even taken part in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Chief insurrectionist Robert Aske was made an example of. He was imprisoned at the Tower of London and endured three months of torture before being put out of his misery. He was hanged in chains from the wall of York Castle on 12 July, 1537, and left to rot. The Pilgrimage of Grace was effectively suppressed by King Henry although local grievances continued. Sir Francis Bigod, of Settrington, Yorkshire, led Bigod's Rebellion in 1537. That also failed. Sir Francis was arrested but thankfully escaped the sickening punishment of his peers - he was merely hanged.

'By the Grace of God'

Henry VIII lived another decade but he suffered ill-health due to his obesity. In 1545, his beloved flagship, the newly-refitted Mary Rose, was lost, along with the lives of over 600 sailors. The king was heartbroken. He may have won power struggles whilst he lived, but there were things even a king could not control. Henry the Eighth, by the Grace of God, King of England, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith and of the Church of England and also of Ireland in Earth Supreme Head, as he was styled, died in his bed at the Palace of Whitehall, Westminster, in January 1547 at the age of 55 years, attended by his sixth wife, Queen Catherine (Parr).

The king's body was transported to Syon Abbey, which had been desecrated in the dissolution of monasteries during Henry's rule. While it lay in state overnight, Henry's putrefying body erupted, spilling foul-smelling effluvia down the catafalque and onto the floor of the Abbey. When sepulture day dawned, it was discovered that stray animals were feasting upon the king's decomposing remains. Some witnesses thought this was divine judgement. Certainly, it was a far-from-graceful funeral. Finally, what was left of the mortal remains of Henry VIII was interred in St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle with his third wife Jane Seymour, according to his wishes, but the magnificent tomb he had planned never materialised. Also, the daily Mass (a sacrament6), including the Eucharist and prayers that the king had requested to be held for his soul 'while the world shall endure', ceased after a year.

1During his reign from 1509 to 1547, between 57,000 and 7­2,000 British subjects were executed upon his orders. Not all received a trial to prove guilt. Many were tortured prior to being put to death.2Grace Kelly, Grace Hopper, Grace Darling, and Grace Jones, who was a Bond villainess in A View To A Kill.3WG Grace was a famous cricketer.4In 1534 the Act of Supremacy declared Henry VIII to be the Supreme Head of the Church of England, cutting the final tie with Catholicism. 5Lincolnshire flags now fly prominently each Lincolnshire Day, 1 October, since the inaugural day in 2006. The date was chosen by local residents to honour the anniversary of the Lincolnshire Rising in 1536. 6A sacrament is a religious ceremony in which followers can make a personal connection with God, thereby receiving His divine grace.

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