The ‘Pilgrimage of Grace’ sounds like a peaceful march but it was actually a rebellion. In 1533 Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church so that he could divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. He declared himself head of the church and decided to close down the monasteries on the advice of his minister Thomas Cromwell. Catholics in the north of England banded together to protest.
The rebellion started in Louth in Lincolnshire and then spread to Yorkshire in October 1536. The leader of the Yorkshire rebellion was Robert Aske. The Yorkshire rebels called themselves ‘pilgrims’ or 'commoners’. The pilgrims took York on the 16th October; the townspeople were on their side so the men in charge had to let them in. Towns like Beverley and Hedon were already rebel towns, but Hull was resisting. Kingston upon Hull was a favourite of the King and the men in charge didn’t want to risk falling into his bad books. The pilgrims (mostly from East Riding towns nearby) threatened to set fire to the town so they were allowed in.
After taking Hull, the pilgrims had control of all of Yorkshire and up to Newcastle, except Bridlington and Skipton. The King sent the Duke of Norfolk to deal with the problem. The duke only had 8,000 men and Aske had over 30,000 so he asked Aske to negotiate. Aske explained that the pilgrims wanted the monasteries reopened and for the Pope to be the head of the church again. They also wanted Thomas Cromwell, who they thought was a bad influence on Henry to be dismissed. The Duke allowed two of the pilgrims to travel to see the King and negotiate in person.
The Duke read the pilgrims a pardon but it was full of loopholes and many of the pilgrims were unhappy about it. Two of them, Francis Bigod and John Hallam plotted to take over Hull and Beverley but they were both unsuccessful and captured. The King had no reason to stick to his pardon anymore and sent his soldiers to carry out his revenge and the leaders were executed.