The City of York in the time of Henry VIII



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The Pilgrimage of Grace:

Undoubtedly, the largest consequence from the dissolution of the monasteries was the rebellion it inspired in Lincolnshire and the northern counties in the autumn of 1536 and early 1537. An uprising erupted in Lincolnshire on 1 October 1536 when up to 40,000 nobles, gentry and commoners marched to the city of Lincoln. News of the protest spread north where men from Durham, Lancashire and Northumberland joined rebels from Yorkshire who convened at York on 16 October. Under the leadership of Yorkshire lawyer Robert Aske, the force of 10,000 strong rebels then marched on Pontefract Castle, which they took following a short siege. There they were met by the Duke of Norfolk and the Earl of Shrewsbury sent by Henry VIII to dispel and prosecute the rebels. Aske and his fellow leaders (a total of over 200 men) were executed for treason for their part in the rebellion. Aske was hanged by a chain outside York on 12 July 1537, where his bones still hung when Henry and his progress came in 1541 (pp. 35, 41-3). Sir Robert Constable was also executed for his part in the rebellion and his bones were still hanging outside Hull when the progress arrived there (p. 431).

The motivations behind the pilgrimage are various, and it is likely that the commons and gentry had different priorities. Among these demands, the restoration of the north’s monastic houses was prominent, as was the demand that Henry cease taking the advice of evil counsellors, such as Thomas Cromwell, who orchestrated the closure of the religious houses. Complaints about recent excessive taxation also featured, alongside a request for parliament to be held in York, demands which have led some historians to conclude that the Pilgrimage was not motivated by religious but economic and political concerns.

In January 1537, a separate rebellion broke out in Yorkshire under the leadership of local gentleman, Sir Francis Bigod. Bigod had been inspired by the recent rebellion, but unlike them, desired greater religious change. He was an evangelical, having been a scholar at Oxford University, although without taking a degree. Bigod was unable to garner much support among the populace, and his proposed siege of Hull was pre-empted when his forces were attacked outside of Beverely. He was executed at Tyburn on 2 June 1537.



The Progress of 1541:

Henry VIII’s progress in 1541 was largely a response to the northern unrest of the previous 5 years, as Shardlake explains on p. 17. In addition to the Pilgrimage of Grace, the ‘Wakefield Plot’ had recently been uncovered, in which gentry sympathetic to Catholicism intended to raise support in Pontefract for a rebellion against the crown. Historians have debated whether a proposed meeting with the Scottish King James V was also a motive for Henry’s progress. Barack and Shardlake notice the Scotch flag on p. 190 and speculate that Henry is awaiting James’ arrival for a ‘meeting of kings’. Regardless of whether James V ever actually intended to meet with Henry at York, the defence of the north, both against the Scots, and from internal rebels and conspirators was a real concern. Political events in the capital in 1537 and 1540 had delayed Henry from undertaking the journey when initially proposed, but diplomatic events on the continent between the Holy Roman Empire and the French King, stimulated Henry into finally making the trip.

Henry, half of his privy councillors (the other half were left in London to govern), his royal household, and an entourage of 4-5,000 horsemen (as well as various hangers-on), left London on 30 June 1541. With the prospect of meeting James at York in mind, Henry delayed in East Yorkshire, twice making unscheduled visits to Hull, before entering the city of York through Walmgate Bar on 16 September. Normally, royalty visiting the city entered through Micklegate, however, because the progress was coming from the east, rather than due south, their approach to the city was different. The king was met by the city officials at Fulford Cross which marked the south-eastern boundary of the city’s jurisdiction. There the mayor and aldermen made a submission to the king, begging forgiveness for previous transgressions, and presented the king with a gold cup containing £90 in gold coins, and a similar cup with £40 of the same to Catherine Howard. After waiting in vain for James to arrive for 9 days in York, Henry returned to Hampton Court on 24 October.

Further Reading:



  • Aylmer, G.E. and Reginald Cant, eds., A History of York Minster (1977). 

  • Clark, Peter and Paul Slack, eds., Crisis and Order in English Towns 1500-1700: Essays in urban history (1972) 

  • Crouch, David J.F., Piety, fraternity, and power: religious gilds in late medieval Yorkshire, 1389-1547 (2000). 

  • Dickens, A.G., ‘The Yorkshire Submissions to Henry VIII, 1541’, English Historical Review, 53:210 (Apr., 1938), 267-75. 

  • Dickens, A.G., The English Reformation (1964). 

  • Dyer, Alan, Decline and growth in English towns, 1400-1640 (1995). 

  • Galley, C., The Demography of Early Modern Towns: York in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1998). 

  • Guy, John, The Tudors: A Very Short Introduction (2001). 

  • Heal, Felicity, Reformation in Britain and Ireland (2003). 

  • Hoyle, Richard W. and J.B. Ramsdale, ‘The Royal Progress of 1541, the North of England, and Anglo-Scottish Relations, 1534-1542’, Northern History, 41:2 (2004), 239-65. 

  • Knowles, David, The Religious Orders in England, vol. 3, The Tudor Scene (3 vols., 1961). 

  • MacCulloch, Diarmaid, The later reformation in England, 1547-1603 (1990). 

  • Marshall, Peter, The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction (Forthcoming, Oct 2009). 

  • Palliser, David, Tudor York (1979). 

  • Sansom, Christopher J., ‘The Wakefield Conspiracy of 1541 and Henry VIII’s Progress to the North Reconsidered’, Northern History, 45:2 (Sep., 2008), 217-38. 

  • Tillott, P.M., ed., A History of Yorkshire: The City of York, in The Victoria History of the Counties of England, ed. R.B. Pugh (1961). 

  • Tittler, R., The Reformation and the Towns in England: politics and political culture, c. 1540-1640 (1998).

Primary Source Material:

  • York City Archives, House Books State Papers, The National Archives; catalogued in Letters and Papers, foreign and domestic, of the reign of Henry VIII, ed. J. Gairdner, et al (1920)

Printed Primary Sources:

  • Hall, Edward, Hall’s chronicle; containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, ed. (1809). 

  • Royal Commission on Historical Monuments in England. An inventory of the historical monuments in the city of York, 1 : Eburacum, Roman York; 2 : The defences; 3 : South-west; 4 : Outside the city walls east of the Ouse. 4 vols.; vol. 1 edited by J.C. Ede (1962-1975) 

  • Pattison, Ian R. and Hugh Murray, Monuments in York Minster: an illustrated inventory (2000)

  • The churchwardens’ accounts of St Michael, Spurriergate, York, 1518-1548, ed. C.C. Webb (1997).

  • Valor ecclesiasticus temp. Henr. VIII: Auctoritate regia institutus. Printed by command of His Majesty King George III in pursuance of an address of the House of Commons of Great Britain, ed. John Caley, with an introduction and indexes by Joseph Hunter (6 vols., 1810-34). 

  • Giustiniani, Sebastian, Four years at the court of Henry VII: selection of despatches written by the Venetian ambassador, Sebastian Giustiniani and addressed to the signory of Venice, January 12th 1515, to July 26th 1519, trans. Rawdon Brown (2 vols., 1854).

  • The Anglica Historia of Polydore Vergil, A.D. 1485-1537, ed. and trans. Denys Hay (1950).

  • Yorkshire monasteries: suppression papers, ed. J.W. Clay (1912).

Some notes on the main sources:

House Books

The City of York House Books are a selective record of the proceedings of the city’s council meetings. At these meetings, the mayor, aldermen, and council of Twenty-Four discussed the city’s most urgent business: where they managed the city’s finances; where merchants repaid their debts, and where craftsmen swore oaths. They regulated the city’s markets, made provisions for poor relief, maintained the physical aspects of the city, such as the walls and streets, and organised the city’s religious feasts and festivals, such as the Corpus Christi plays.

The House Books are not a verbatim account of the proceedings of the council meetings, but contains a record of the council’s most important business. The earliest surviving document in the House Books dates from 2 March 1474/5. The books were kept by the city’s clerk and contained formal documents such as bonds, recognizances, leases, copies of letters sent to and from the mayor and council, municipal laws and ordinances, appoint of civic officers and records of arbitration cases. The most frequent entry in the house Books were bonds to settle disputes by arbitration in front of the mayor and aldermen at the council chambers. Some guilds and religious houses also chose to make a record of their proceedings and charters in the city’s books.

The House Books are valuable as a record of city life beginning in the late fifteenth century. York’s House Books are particularly noteworthy for the rich variety of their contents. Before the House Books, the York council kept Memorandum books, the earliest of which dates from 1377. Other sources for the early history of York include the Freemen’s Register, which is an annual record of all those granted the status of freeman in the city, the Chamberlains’ Account Rolls and Books, the Bridgemasters’ Accounts, and the records of the individual craft guilds. The House books tell us not only about local life, but they give us a local perspective on national and international events and an insight into wider social values. They provide an auxiliary record to those of the central government: to parliamentary decrees, royal proclamations, and other central records.

Although York’s House Books are among the best in the country because of their variety, their value has not always been recognised. The books were held in the council chamber on Ouse Bridge until its demolition in 1738. The location of the council chambers so near to the river meant that the records suffered water damage. They were moved to the Guildhall, a place not much drier, where they were further damaged by flooding several more times before 1892.

In addition to having been repeatedly subjected to damage from flooding, portions of the House Books are missing, likely a result of the fact that they were occasionally loaned out to the city’s legal officers. In 1957 the House Books were moved to the city library, and then to their present location in the city archives when they were moved into the same building as the art gallery in 1981.



Letters and Papers and State Papers

Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. J.S. Brewer, J. Gairdner and R.H. Brodie (22 vols., London, 1862-1932) is a calendar, or series of short summaries, of documents relating to every aspect of the government of England, its outlying territories in the Irish Pale, Calais and Tournai, and its diplomatic relations with other European kingdoms and principalities, the Holy Roman Empire, and the papacy. The types of documents in Letters and Papers include private and official letters; reports; royal ordinances, instructions, proclamations, and orders; treaty papers; memoranda; council minutes; and drafts of parliamentary bills. Not all the official government papers from Henry VIII’s reign are in the State Papers at The National Archive (TNA), but some particularly from the later years of Henry VIII’s reign can be found in the Landowne, Harleian and Cotton Collections at the British Library (BL), and at Hatfield House, Hatfield, Hertfordshire (21 miles north of Central London).

The State Papers, which are the main archival collection relating to government under Henry VIII, are divided into 7 series; the main series is SP 1: Letters and Papers, Henry VIII, General Series, 1509-1547. These documents are bound into a series of volumes chronologically. Most of the documents are in English although some official papers were still written in Latin.



Recently, a new digital project has made the state papers accessible to a broader audience. State Papers Online: Part I: The Tudors: Henry VIII to Elizabeth I, 1509-1603: State Papers Domestic is a searchable database of over 380,000 facsimile manuscript documents from TNA, the BL, and Hatfield House.

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