Henry VIII

Last Update: 21 March 2003
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Robert Aske
Source: The Old Haberdashers Association Website

Henry VIII wanted a male heir. His first wife, Catherine of Aragon, did not produce
one, so he decided to marry again. Catherine's nephew, Charles V, controlled Pope
Clement VII who refused to grant an annulment; thus Henry repudiated the Pope's
authority and set up the Church of England. In May 1533 Thomas Cranmer, the
Archbishop of Canterbury, obligingly annulled Henry's marriage to Catherine and
declared his secret marriage to Anne Boleyn to be valid. From 1534 Thomas
Cromwell, Henry's right hand man, began to challenge Catholic beliefs and
practices, and in 1536 established commissions to assess and collect taxes, to
dissolve the lesser monasteries, and to investigate the clergy. The commissions
aroused hostility and suspicion.

When on 2nd. October 1536 the Bishop of Lincoln's registrar arrived in Louth to
investigate its clergy, he was seized by parishioners who feared that he was about
to confiscate their church's treasure, and within two days a popular rebellion had
swept through north Lincolnshire. On 4th. October Robert Aske, who was returning
from Yorkshire to London for the Michaelmas law term, crossed the Humber at
Parton and heard about the rebellion from the ferryman. Later that day Aske returned
to Yorkshire and tried to restrain the rebels there, but by 10th. October was regarded
as their "chief captain" and on the 16th. led 10,000 armed men into York. By then
almost the whole of Yorkshire, parts of Northumberland and Durham, and Cumberland
and Westmorland were in revolt; the most formidable of all the challenges to Henry

Aske seems to have been a devout man who found that he agreed with the
Lincolnshire rebels' opposition to Henry VIII's religious policies, and objected in
particular to the dissolution of the monasteries. Able and energetic, and with a
charismatic personality he used his legal skills to draft a statement of the rebels'
aims, and devised an oath by which they swore not to seek their own profit but to
take part in a quasi-religious Pilgrimage of Grace, the confusing and enigmatic name
by which the Yorkshire rebellion has been known ever since.

He did everything possible to prevent the use of force: only one man was killed
during the Pilgrimage. He did not want to overthrow Henry VIII, but to present him
with the Pilgrims' views, persuade him to reverse his religious policies, and to
dismiss evil councillors such as Cranmer and Cromwell.

Aske was a younger son of Sir Robert Aske of Aughton near Selby. The family was
well-connected. One of Aske's cousins was the earl of Cumberland (whose eldest
son, lord Clifford, had married the earl of Suffolk's daughter, the king's niece ), and
he had served the sixth earl of Northumberland as secretary. The gentry with whom
he cooperated had a mixture of economic, financial, legal, political and religious
grievances against Henry VIII's regime, but may have associated with the rebellion
in order to control it and prevent bloodshed and disorder, for they were certainly
reluctant to fight.

On 27th. October four of their leaders met the Duke of Norfolk on Doncaster bridge.
He commanded the royal army and knew that he was outnumbered by about 30,000
to 10,000 so agreed to a truce and to allow two of the four (Robert Bowes and Sir
Ralph Ellerker, another of Aske's cousins) to travel to Windsor to put there case to
the king. After their return without any concessions the rebels lost confidence. On 6th.
December Aske and his fellow leaders' met Norfolk in Doncaster, fell to their knees
and begged for a free Parliament to discuss their views. Norfolk saw his chance,
accepted their request, invited Aske to persuade the rebels to disperse, and kept
the royal army ready for further trouble. By 8th. December the Pilgrimage of Grace
was over.

Whether out of curiosity thanks for his part in ending the rebellion, or a cynical
desire to detach him from the rebels, Henry VIII invited Aske to spend Christmas
with the court at Windsor: but after further outbreaks in the north had him
arrested in April, tried in May and executed on a specially built scaffold at
Clifford's Tower in York on 12th. July 1537.


(First published in the OHA Magazine 2001-02)

Robert Aske
Source: Spartacus Educational

Robert Aske was born in Yorkshire but later became a London lawyer.

In 1535 Henry VIII began to close the monasteries in England. Most people
living in the north of England were still strong supporters of the Catholic faith.
Many of them complained about the way monks were being treated.

In Yorkshire, in 1536, Aske formed an army to defend the monasteries. The
rebel army was joined by priests carrying crosses and banners. Leading nobles
in the area also began to give their support to the rebellion. The rebels marched
to York and demanded that the monasteries should be reopened. This march,
which contained over 30,000 people, became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Henry VIII's army was not strong enough to fight the rebels. Thomas Howard,
Duke of Norfolk, negotiated a peace with Aske. Howard was forced to promise
that he would pardon the rebels and hold a parliament in York to discuss their
demands. The rebels were convinced that this parliament would reopen the
monasteries and therefore went back to their homes.

However, as soon as the rebel army had dispersed. Henry ordered the arrest of
the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace. About 200 people were executed for their
part in the rebellion. These included Robert Aske and Lady Bulmer who were
burnt at the stake. Abbots of the four largest monasteries in the north were
also executed.

Source: Bloody Mary (Carolly Erickson)

The final provocation to rebellion, though, came with the destruction of the
monasteries. The rebel leader Robert Aske, when questioned about the grievances
of the Yorkshiremen who followed him, spoke eloquently about the different
meaning the religious houses had in the northern counties. The abbeys "gave
great alms to poor men", he said, and taught God's law to unlettered people
living in the "mountains and desert places." The monks had kept up the sea walls
and dikes, and had built bridges and highways -- something no one else did in the
remote regions of the kingdom -- and provided weary travellers with food and rest in
country where villages were sparse. Moreover the monasteries were the guardians of
tradition, both literally and metaphorically. For the nobility they were ancestral
graveyards, for the common folk they embodied the past in ways that defied
explanation. They were landmarks in both a historical and geographical sense.
In Aske's phrase, the abbeys were "one of the beauties of this realm to all men."

As the pulling down of the abbeys accelerated the climate of opposition in the
north grew more heated. Priests denounced Cromwell and his assistants as
agents of the devil in their thorough and efficient work of demolition and assured
their congregations that all who took part in the suppression would be damned.
Some clergy urged the monks to resist by force, andwhen this failed, encouraged
their own parishioners to take up arms.

The first risings were in Lincolnshire (...) (A) rebel army seized Lincoln, but failed to
hold the town after a royal herald arrived with a threatening message from the king.
The commons of Yorkshire, however, now defied their sovereign and supported the
lawyer and country gentleman Robert Aske, who with his "Pilgrims" took the city of
York and became the effective ruler of the county. Henry, who had dismissed both
the rebels and their petitions for reform as beneath his notice, now grew uneasy
and sent Norfolk and Suffolk to put down the revolt. Already the success of the
Yorkshiremen was encouraging unrest in East Anglia and Norfolk, and there was
always the danger of intervention from the Scots or from continental powers. (...)

(...) The rebels sent the king a (...) list of demands. Headship of the English church
was to be returned to the pope in matters that concerned the "cure of souls" -- that
is, spiritual and ecclesiastical affairs. Parliament was to be reformed, the recent
Act of Succession repealed, and the monasteries restored. Full pardon for all rebels
would have to be guaranteed before York would be surrendered to the royal forces.
The demands were stringent, but the king appeared now to take them seriously.
Through his deputy Norfolk he granted the Pilgrims the pardon they asked for -- or
so it seemed -- and Aske convinced them to disband.

Before the Pilgrims realized that the king had deceived them his agents were at
work rounding up all who believed they had been pardoned and bringing them to
trial. Hundreds were summarily executed, many of them sentenced by juries
coerced into rendering guilty verdicts. The rebel leaders (...) were beheaded and
Robert Aske was "hanged in the city of York in chains until he died".


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