The account within the article was written by the Tudor chronicler Edward Hall.
The Pilgrimage of Grace was the worst uprising of Henry VIII’s reign. It was a direct result of the dissolution of the monasteries, a policy which confused and angered most Englishmen. The original rebellion began at Louth in Lincolnshire in early October 1536. The presence of a royal commission was the spark; the local clergy encouraged it to flame. The Lincolnshire rebellion lasted but a fortnight, but Yorkshire – led by the lawyer Robert Aske – was next. With the charismatic Aske as their leader, the rebellion spread quickly. Dissatisfaction with the king’s religious and fiscal policies was deep and widespread. An army of perhaps 30,000 men gathered in the north. The king ordered the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and the earl of Shrewsbury to respond. But there was no standing army in England; also, popular sympathy lay with the rebels.
The king’s forces were hopelessly outnumbered. Worse, their soldiers lacked equipment and the desire to fight their countrymen. And the rebel forces were far more experienced in battle, having fought the Scots near-continuously during Henry’s reign.
Faced with such odds, the king turned to diplomacy. The rebels, after all, did not seek to overthrow him. Their primary desire was for the dissolved monasteries to be restored. They also criticized the king’s ‘low-born’ advisers, particularly Thomas Cromwell. His policies of high taxation and forced enclosures had worsened poverty throughout northern England; it was already, as Norfolk told the king, ‘the most barren country of the realm’.
The king negotiated peace through Norfolk, conceding their demands and promising a free pardon to all rebels who dispersed. Monastic lands would be restored and a new parliament called to address their concerns. The rebels accordingly dispersed. And then, on the slightest pretext, Henry broke his word; martial law was declared, rebel leaders were indicted and put on trial (many faced a jury of their peers.) Several hundred rebels, including Aske, were executed.
[T]he king was truly informed that there was a new insurrection made by the northern men, who had assembled themselves into a huge and great army of warlike men, well appointed with captains, horse, armour and artillery, to the number of 40,000 men, who had encamped themselves in Yorkshire. And these men had bound themselves to each other by their oath to be faithful and obedient to their captain.
The also declared, by their proclamation solemnly made, that their insurrection should extend no further than to the maintenance and defence of the faith of Christ and the deliverance of holy church, sore decayed and oppressed, and to the furtherance also of private and public matters in the realm concerning the wealth of all the king’s poor subjects. They called this, their seditious and traitorous voyage, a holy and blessed pilgrimage; they also had certain banners in the field whereon was painted Christ hanging on the cross on one side, and a chalice with a painted cake in it on the other side, with various other banners of similar hypocrisy and feigned sanctity. The soldiers also had a certain cognizance or badge embroidered or set upon the sleeves of their coats which was a representation of the five wounds of Christ, and in the midst thereof was written the name of Our Lord, and thus the rebellious garrison of Satan set forth and decked themselves with his false and counterfeited signs of holiness, only to delude and deceive the simple and ignorant people.
After the king’s highness was informed of this newly arisen insurrection he, making no delay in so weighty a matter, caused with all speed the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, the marquis of Exeter, the earl of Shrewsbury and others, accompanied by his mighty and royal army which was of great power and strength, immediately to set upon the rebels. But when these noble captains and counsellors approached the rebels and saw their number and how they were determined on battle, they worked with great prudence to pacify all without shedding blood.
But the northern men were so stiff-necked that they would in no way stoop, but stoutly stood and maintained their wicked enterprise. Therefore the abovesaid nobles, perceiving and seeing no other was to pacify these wretched rebels, agreed upon a battle; … but the night before the day appointed for the battle a little rain fell, nothing to speak of, but yet as if by a great miracle of God the water, which was a very small ford which the day before men might have gone over dry shod, suddenly rose to such a height depth and breadth that no man who lived there had ever seen before, so that on the day, even when the hour of battle should have some, it was impossible for one army to get at the other.
After this appointment made between both the armies, disappointed, as it is to be thought, only by God who extended his great mercy and had compassion on the great number of innocent persons who in that deadly slaughter would have been likely to have been murdered, could not take place. Then… a consultation was held and a pardon obtained from the king’s majesty for all the captains and chief movers of this insurrection, and they promised that such things as they found themselves aggrieved by, all would be gently heard and their reasonable petitions granted, and that their articles should be presented to the king, so that by his highness’ authority and the wisdom of his council all things should be brought to good order and conclusion. And with this order every man quietly departed, and those who before were bent as hot as fire on fighting, being presented by God, went now peaceably to their houses, and were as cold as water.