The Pilgrimage of Grace was a religious uprising in York, England which started in late 1536 and finished in early 1537, where people lead by Yorkshire lawyer Robert Aske staged protests and demonstrations in opposition to King Henry VIII’s dissolution of monasteries and break from the Catholic Church. This rebellion was mostly aimed at Thomas Cromwell, who was Henry’s High Chancellor; and many of these marchers influenced Cromwell’s policies. The participants of the Pilgrimage of Grace had a goal to reinstate the Catholic Church, and a concern of the economic impacts caused by losing monasteries; those who opposed the movement had a goal to punish leaders and anyone associated with the movement and a political concern of losing power for the king. Documents 1, 3 and 5 demonstrate the marcher’s religious purpose and desire to bring power back to the church. Documents 4, 6 and 11 prove the marcher’s concerns about the economic impact that the dissolution of monasteries caused. A goal to punish anyone associated with the Pilgrimage of Grace can be found in Documents 8 and 10. Documents 7 and 9 indicate the oppositions’ concerns of the king losing power.
Commoners who were a part of the movement participated in protests to oppose King Henry VIII’s new policies. In Documents 1, 3, and 5, the marcher’s goal to reinstate the Catholic Church is evident. Document 1 is extracted from the “Oath of Honorable Men”, which was taken by marchers for this rebellion lead by Robert Aske, and within this oath, marcher’s state that their purpose for participating in the Pilgrimage of Grace is not for “worldly gain” (individual gain in terms of wealth, reputation, jobs, etc.), but rather for the better purpose of the “love of God, for the Holy Catholic Church militant”. In Document 1 there are many religious references which prove that the supporters of this rebellion had an ultimate goal to gain back the Catholic Church, in sentences such as “Take before you the Cross of Christ, and in your hearts His faith.”- the ultimate message conveyed through this document is that a key goal in the uprising is to protest for the Church and for the love of God, to keep God’s faith and help spread love of God and the “Cross of Christ” through the Catholic Church.
In Document 3, a banner carried by peasant marchers depicting the “Wounds of Christ” is shown. The focal point of this banner is a heart with 2 hands and 2 feet protruding out of it which have wounds to represent the 5 wounds that Christ had when he was crucified. This banner is representative of the Christian religion and has a very religious point of view to show that marchers were fighting in Christ’s cause for restoration of the Catholic Church. Other specific symbols on the banner such as a communion chalice (with a halo on top showing holiness and god-like qualities) symbolizing members of the clergy (those who pray), a plow symbolizing the commoners (those who work), and a cattle (hunting) horn symbolizing nobles (those who fight) signified that the Pilgrimage of Grace affected a wide variety of people, and several different social classes were on board with the movement.
From Document 5, taken from selected articles from a petition (Pontefract articles) presented to members of the King’s Council, one specific article in the petition written by Robert Aske (leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace) addresses the king and outlines specific points/goals of the movement in terms of reinstating the Catholic Church; Aske “beseech[es]” the “Sovereign King” to “have the supreme head of the Church be the pope in Rome as before”. Since the pope in Rome during this time period was known to be Catholic, the marchers support him being reinstated as the head of Church. Also, punishments for heretics are mentioned in “heresies…annulled and destroyed” and “heretics consigned to punishment by fire”-heretics are professed believers who maintain religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church, the mention of punishment for people who reject the faith of the Church proves that religion was important to the marchers, and therefore reinstating the Catholic church and restoring their faith was of utter importance.
Within this document grouping, Document 1 is unreliable due to bias. In Document 1, since it is extracted from the “Oath of Honorable Men”, the source is biased because this oath was required for marchers to take if they wanted to be a part of the movement; therefore we are not surprised that the marcher holds these opinions because if they wished to participate in the movement but did not necessarily agree with every statement said within the oath, they would have no choice but to repeat it due to pressures from other marchers and desire to fight in the uprisings for several other reasons than simply to reinstate the Catholic Church.
Participants in the Pilgrimage of Grace had many concerns about this negative impact that the King’s actions were causing. In Documents 4, 5, and 11, the shared concern of participants was for the negative economic impact of the dissolution of monasteries, caused from King Henry VIII’s break from the church (since the Church did not allow him to have his marriage annulled). Document 4 is a source from a Marcher’s ballad; it expresses participant’s concerns of the economic impacts of losing monasteries during to the 3 or 4 lines of the ballad, stating “…robbed, spoiled and shorn of cattle and corn, houses and lands.” These lines signify concern of economic impact since due to King Henry’s actions, the monasteries which were “held in bonds” by the church are removed and therefore the people who held the land are robbed of their houses and land as well as other resources that they would use to gain profit and contribute to the economy, such as their crops (“corn”) and their livestock (“cattle”).
Document 6 extracted from a pamphlet does not directly address the economic concern of losing monasteries, but indirectly does when the source says that the “current Parliament has no authority or virtue. It is little more than a council of the King’s appointees. “-this signifies the concern that since the parliament is ruled by the king and do not “speak on [it’s] own behalf”, instead it is a parliament “where men may not speak of the King’s vices but only say what Cromwell says is right”, and this means that the participants of Pilgrimage of Grace are afraid of what the current parliament will dominate. Since parliament and the King controlled the economy, the source shows that it is concerned that due to the changes the King made (like removing monasteries) the negative impact could affect things like the economy, and “knights and burgesses” or “counties and towns” will just go by what Cromwell (second to the King) and economy will be negatively impacted because all decisions in parliament are based on Cromwell or the King’s opinions.
In Document 11 given by the leader of the movement, the economic concerns due to losing monasteries are evident. The source, Aske, explains how monasteries in the north used to give “great help to poor men and laudable service to God.” But since they were removed negative things have occurred, “farmers rent out farms and taverns for profit” instead of utilizing their own land to make a profit and contribute to the economy. Also, the source explains that “any monies earned from abbey lands are now going to the King” meaning that any small profit made goes directly to the King, so obviously the economy is impacted negatively.
The source describes more negative impacts on the kingdom, like the tenant fed and aided by abbeys (monasteries) “can barely live”, beggars and travelers have no help on roads and things maintained by monasteries for the benefit of the commonwealth like bridges and high walls are unattended. Document 4 is very reliable because it was written by Catholic monks who lived in an abbey, which shows that they have witnessed the effects of the economy on people living on monasteries firsthand-and they have experience which helps them to be reliable since they also inhabited abbeys in monasteries.
Document 11 is a biased source that is not fully reliable because the leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, Robert Aske, wrote it as a testimony shortly before he was executed. It is not surprising that Aske holds this opinion because he founded the movement, and therefore strongly disagrees with any changes that King Henry made (removing monasteries)-especially in this document he goes to great lengths to explain how negatively impacted the economy is due to dissolution of monasteries- it is not completely reliable since Aske was not a part of monasteries so he didn’t experience any of the impacts first hand, he just observed the damage around him.
People against the Pilgrimage of Grace had goals against the movement, since they supported the King. In Documents 8 and 10 the shared goal between those opposing the uprising was to punish anyone associated with the movement. In Document 8, although there are no direct quotations from the source proving that the person wanted to punish participants in the movement (and this document is pro-pilgrimage), the source itself was taken from a captive of the Tower of London where he was most likely tortured- this source proves that the opposition believed that the Pilgrimage was treason and by using imprisonment and torture methods in the Tower of London they were trying to coerce Nicholas Leche (the source) into admitting it, and therefore punishing him since he as a parish priest; this is also linked to Document 10 where 80% of the clergy were convicted of treason. Document 10 demonstrates that the opposition to the movement wanted to punish everyone associated with the pilgrimage, since members from every status (gentlemen/nobles, clergy, and commoners) were all tried, and for each more than 50% were convicted of treason.
The clergy in particular with 80% convicted shows the opposition’s goal to punish supporters of the pilgrimage, since because it was an religious uprising it makes sense that more religious people like the clergy (those who pray) would be convicted. Document 8 is not a reliable source because it was taken from a Catholic parish priest (someone who would most likely believe strongly in the movement and be against the King due to break with the church and dissolution of monasteries). Also, since Nicholas Leche (source) was in the Tower of London, a building where they tortured, imprisoned, or killed high profile/highly dangerous men (to English monarch), he may have been forced into saying things like “it was treason” and “the gentlemen could have stopped the rebellion then”.
Those who opposed the Pilgrimage of Grace were faced with many concerns. One primary concern for the opposition was that they would lose power for authority or for King Henry VIII, which is demonstrated in Documents 7 and 9. Document 7 from a pamphlet, expresses the general idea that if the Pilgrimage of Grace succeeds and the king is no longer in charge the kingdom will fall in to chaos because there will be no order, the source says “When every man rules, who shall obey?” meaning that no King leads to no obedience to anyone else. By arguing that having a king is “not only expedient, but also most necessary in a commonwealth” , the source shows its concern that the King will not have power after the movement, since there is an underlying tone of the source trying to persuade readers into believing the king is best since “the better [should] rule the rest” to convince them to obey the king (instead of him losing power). This relates to Document 10, extracted from a pardon.
This document is almost a silent plea for marchers to obey the king, with an underlying message of concern that the king will lost power after the movement; this is why the source is trying to twist around the situation and make it seem like the marchers are lucky to be granted this most “gracious pity and mercy towards you and to grant you to you his free pardon”, as long as the marchers “heartily repent offenses and make humble submission to his highness.”
Document 7 is not a reliable source due to bias; since the writer of this source is Richard Morrison, a writer hired by Thomas Cromwell he is very biased because he is hired to express the ideas of Thomas Cromwell who was second to the King and who strongly opposed the pilgrimage. Therefore, even if Morrison supported the pilgrimage he would not be able to express his ideas, since his writing would be passed on to Cromwell, then passed on to the king, and obviously Morrison would not want to be punished for opposing such high authority.
Overall, the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536 was an important historical event during the reign of King Henry VIII, where there were both participants and opposition for the movement. Participants strove to reinstate the Catholic Church and were concerned about the economic impacts of losing monasteries, while opposition of the pilgrimage had a goal of punishing people associated with the movement and a concern of the kind losing power. Through examples in documents presented in our document set, as well as bias/reliability analyzed, the goals and concerns of both participants and opposition of the Pilgrimage of Grace are evident.