The Tudor Society

12 July 1537 – The execution of Robert Aske

Robert AskeOn this day in history, 12th July 1537, Robert Aske, lawyer and rebel, was hanged in chains outside Clifford's Tower, the keep of York Castle. Aske was one of the leaders of the rebels in the 1536 northern uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace - click here to see a Pilgrimage of Grace timeline and here to read an article on the rebellion.

Being hanged in chains was an awful way to die. Those executed this way were usually hanged alive in chains - rather than being hanged first in the usual manner and then put in chains on display - and took several days to die, being slowly suffocated to death.1 Horrible!

I haven't found an eye-witness account of Aske's suffering, but Hilda Prescott, in her novel The Man on a Donkey imagines Aske's final moments and last words:

God did not now, nor would in any furthest future, prevail. Once he had come, and died. If He came again, again He would die, and again, and so forever, by His own will, rendered powerless against the free and evil wills of men.

Then Aske met the full assault of darkness without reprieve of hoped for light, for God ultimately vanquished was no God at all. But yet, though God was not God, as the head of the dumb worm turns, so his spirit turned, blindly, gropingly, hopelessly loyal, towards that good, that holy, that merciful, which though not God, though vanquished, was still the last dear love of a vanquished and tortured man...

By this time that which dangled from the top of the Keep at York, moving only as the wind swung it, knew neither day nor night, nor that it had been Robert Aske, nor even that it had been a man.

Even now, however, it was not quite insentient. Drowning yet never drowned, far below the levels of daylight consciousness, it suffered. There was darkness and noise, noise intolerably vast or unendurably near, drilling inward as a screw bites and turns, and the screw was pain. Sometimes noise, pain, darkness and that blind thing that dangled were separate; sometimes they ran together and became one.

But in his dying, his consciousness moved on, beyond a point where any of us are ever entitled to knowledge [...]

[...] For now (yet with no greater fissure between then and now than as a man's eyes are aware, where no star was, of the first star of the night), now he was aware of One - vanquished God, Saviour who could as little save others as Himself.

But now, beside Him and beyond was nothing, and He was silence and light.2

Also on this day in history, 12th July 1543, King Henry VIII married Catherine Parr, Lady Latimer, at Hampton Court Palace - click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

Image: Gerard McSorley as Robert Aske in "The Tudors" series.

  1. Tracy Borman in The truth behind 'TheTudors', History Extra, August 2009, writes of "the agonising torture of being hung in chains for several days until he died of suffocation" but Stephanie Mann, in her article May 11, 1537: Hanging in Chains writes of H.M. Prescott's "description of Robert Aske's sufferings while hanging in chains, dying slowly by hunger, thirst, and exposure".
  2. Prescott, H. M. (1953) The Man on a Donkey, Eyre & Spottiswood, p. 688-90, quoted by Spufford, Margaret (1996) in Celebration: A Story of Suffering and Joy, Bloomsbury Academic, p. 84-5.

There are 54 comments Go To Comment

  1. P

    Some accounts say Robert Aske was hung drawn and quartered, others that he was hung in chains. Which is it? Or both ?

    1. C - Post Author

      I’ve never read of him being hanged, drawn and quartered, which account says that? That’s interesting. Chronicler Edward Hall, who I’ve always found to be very accurate, states that “Aske was also hanged in chaynes at Yorke on a Tower” (p. 825).

    2. A

      I think you may be confused with John ball

  2. A

    Cruel English barbarity, this poor man was mocked and betrayed by this vile monarch.
    Robert Aske was too trusting and Susdsex betrayed him in the most cruel way.
    He was avery decent soul, may he rest in peace he had the intelligence to realise Henry was surrounded by snakes as Cromwell the Seymours to name but a few.
    Henry was too thick to know better employing brawn and power over brain.
    Why did Robert and others always had to ask forgiveness even at the scaffold of this evil regime.
    RIP Robert Aske

    1. R

      While I agree about the barbaric method of this execution, I must point out that there is no evidence that Cromwell was anything but intelligent and he was the sort of minister that Henry needed. He may have been ruthless and corrupt but he was an excellent administrative servant. I also believe that there was nothing gentle about Robert Aske as his own brutal methods showed during the rebellion. That does not excuse his terrible execution, but that was the penalty for treason, which rebellion was.

    2. E

      Vile ? Evil regime? Let’s talk of the inquisition how many were tortured and murdered in Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe? Henry VIII was a amateur compared to the filth that ran the catholic church. It’s fortunate that Henry took the course he did and changed history. His daughter Elizabeth stood up to the Spanish and won . Those two leaders Henry and Elizabeth were the bedrock in the formation of America. Our history in the United States would be very different if it would have existed at all. It all started with Henry the VIII .Some respect for him would nice.

      1. A

        I think Henry 8th was a cruel and evil man. He will always be remembered as a tyrant.

        1. A

          I think of the innocents accused of sleeping with Anne Boleyn..trumped up charges….in his quest for a new son and heir…hardly a christian act….where is Henry now?….he had to answer to God re his doings!

      2. M

        You might want to read William Cobbet’s A History of the Protestant Reformation. Henry VIII was a rapacious and murdering monarch who cared nothing for his people and, however you may loathe the Catholic church, it was the poor who suffered most with the destruction of the monasteries and Henry and his crew who prospered.

      3. A

        No, you were late into both of them, and came into both when Germany was already going to be defeated. In world war one by the British Empire and France; and in WW2 by Russia. Put your John Wayne / Rambo delusional storybook away and educate yourself. As for racism and savagery, slavery and intolerance, the United States was forged on those things and still has major race issues today.

        1. A

          I agree with you and I want to laugh as I read, in these replies, the same hatred of each other’s religions that I see all over the internet-even on sites that are supposed to more cerebral. As a Muslim American, you can’t imagine what I read and hear said about members of my own religion’s barbarity, some of which is absolutely true, yet comes from mouths of the descendants of the very same (and sometimes much worse) behavior and ways of thinking. This thinking was so entrenched that these “civilized” Western Societies thought nothing of gathering at beheadings and selling charms and favors to the audiences, many of which contained children. I recall as well, that as late as the 1920s, some Americans were gathering with their children after church to watch the slow, torturous lynchings of Black Americans. Unfortunately, ISIS isn’t the only sick organization that burned people alive. We, ALL of us who belong to an “organized religion” carry the ugly, unforgettable, and unforgivable stain of our fathers before us.

          1. M

            We/ you do not have to carry the past. You can choose to drop it. Leave it where it is.
            Some people have and are evolving past this hellish behaviour. You are not them and neither are we . ❤️

        2. E

          Then leave if you feel that way. Go live in Africa or China.

      4. S

        No, Henry VIII was an absolute monster. Ask the estimated 57,000 to 72,000 people he executed, most in the truly grisly ways, but he died believing himself a Catholic. But this casualty count is minimal compared to the starvation and deaths after the dissolution of the monasteries. Lizzie executed an estimated 30-50,000 people and created a police state. When you discuss the Inquisition, you have to look at the Roman, the Spanish and the Portuguese one. The Roman Inquisition was forbidden to torture or to execute. They could release people to civil authorities, who had no such compunctions. The other two were combined government/religious entities. They could torture for a maximum of 15 minutes under the supervision of a physician and could cause no permanent injury. The execution rate was 2% of prisoners. Please look beyond the echo chamber of black legends and go to primary sources. You will find something much different from “what everybody knows.”

        1. E

          You are an uniformed idiot. First of all Henry Vlll did not execute 30,000, 52,000 or 70,000. The population would have not been able to support that type of killing. It barely survived the sweating sickness. These moronic numbers you claim are the result of the propaganda of the Catholic church. Go learn real history. Most anyone who died during Henry Vlll reign because of Henry Vlll were in rebellion against the crown. It is estimated that approximately 2,300 people were executed in England during his 37 year reign. Most of which Henry did not sign their death warrant as most were common criminals. You really need to read history and not YouTube, Wikipedia and other very unreliable and unvetted sources.

          1. B

            history is written by the victors ….. they controlled by force what history you read . Example : The National Security State killed JFK , and you got a Warren Commission that covered it up with BS , LBJ , JE Hoover , etc
            Pres. Eisenhower warned us to beware the Military / Industrial Complex aka : National Security State , one we failed to heed his warning ……

      5. l

        Well said Jake. Where would these arrogant dolts be today if not for the mighty US manpower and materiel of two world wars.

        1. U

          This is gonna sound rather simple. For the record I too am in need of learning accurate history.
          What I will say is that if one is found guilty of treason, in any country and is found to be a threat to said national security, it’s going to be painful. Doesn’t make it savory or right, at the end of the day, it is the way it has always been. It will continue.

      6. S

        Respect? He was a monster. Hope he rots and burns in hell

  3. A

    The sheer weight of the chains and noose would have killed him as soon as he was pushed over c,affords tower

    1. C - Post Author

      I hope so!

      1. G

        I hope so also.

    2. M

      Yes those chains were extremely heavy. He probably could barely stand up in them .

  4. C

    I thought that he was put into a gibbet and lowered over the wall and left to hang there to die. If as shown in the Tudors the weight of the chains and his bodyweight would have pulled his head off him when he plunged down over the wall. The term hanged in chains is misleading it should be suspended in a gibbet. He would have been unable to move his arms or legs and would have dangled there for days slowly dying. Horrid, a nightmare death

    1. C - Post Author

      There are various versions of hanging in chains, with it being used a posthumous humiliation or being used for a slow death. I think with Aske it was the latter. Yes, awful.

  5. C

    The term hanged in chains is misleading it should be suspended in a gibbet. He would have been unable to move his arms or legs and would have dangled there for days slowly dying. Horrid, a nightmare death

  6. P

    Did Robert Aske get married or have any children?

    1. C - Post Author

      There is no evidence that he was ever married.

      1. P

        What about children? The reason I ask is because a recent genealogy search shows that Robert Aske is my 12th great grandfather and I had read elsewhere that he never married. Because of this, I assume he had no children but doesn’t automatically rule it out. I am wondering if he may be mixed up with another Robert Aske? Thanks for your response.

        1. B

          Read interesting article:

          Robert Aske I and II

          Robert Aske II was Haberdashers Company

          1. P

            Thanks for the link. Much appreciated. It is helpful.

        2. E

          Probably a different Aske. Robert Aske who was a leader of the Pilgramage of Grace had no wife or issue.

        3. L

          I thought I read somewhere that he was the son of a Sir Robert Aske. It may be his father you are descended from. Have many ancestors who are sons with the same name for generations.

        4. C

          He didn’t have children .His brother John Aske is my 15th Great Grandad

  7. R

    This is a harrowing description. I am only glad that Robert Aske didn’t have a wife or children to witness this terrible death

    1. C - Post Author

      Yes! An awful, awful thing.

  8. G

    I have found a reference recently on executions at York that says he was beheaded in The Pavement (a place in the centre of York} and next day hanged in chains upon Heworth Moor, near York ( now a built up suburb to the east of York).
    It appears on a web site “”.
    Does anyone have any further factual evidence of this?

    1. D

      Aske was low born he would not just be beheaded
      Hanging in chains was mercy for HT VIII

  9. G

    I don’t know about primary sources but The Gunpowder Plot and Lord Mounteagle ́s Letter by Henry Hawkes Spink (Google Books) says that we don’t know whether he was executed at Clifford’s Tower or at All Saints’ Church at The Pavement.

    1. E

      Aske had nothing to do with the gunpowder plot!

  10. d

    I also found a source claiming that Aske was hurdled, hanged, drawn, quartered, etc. This was a new one on me, as I always thought he was hanged in chains as stated here-the source is: Awful, either way!

    1. C - Post Author

      Contemporary source, Edward Hall, in his chronicle, writes “Aske was also hanged in chaynes at Yorke on a tower.”

  11. J

    Extremely interesting conversation.

    1. H

      Lighten up, Francis.

    2. J

      If the sons are blamed for the sins of the fathers, we’d all be dead.

      I am apparently related to Thomas Cromwell on my mother’s side and pirates on my father’s. Should I be blamed for what they did?

      No family is without dark ancestors and our current monarchy is about as biologically related to the Tudors as a chicken is to a dinosaur!

      1. D

        Windsors are krauts from the George’s Scots were plagued by non Englishmen

      2. D


      3. E

        Go look up who Queen Elizabeth is related to and you will find direct links to Queen Victoria, George III , the Stuart’s, Tudors and Plantagenets. Shocked that a British citizen would be so unaware of their monarchs ancestry

  12. L

    It was more than hanging.

    He was also quartered

    And his privies were cut off

    And then the rest of him was hanged on the castle to show the town what happens to protesters.

  13. B

    I remain confused about ‘hanged in chains’. Does it mean being suspended by chains wrapped around the victim’s body until the victim dies of hunger, thirst and exposure?
    Or does it mean being suspended by chains including chains around the throat until the victim dies of suffocation?
    If the first, then it might well take more than two days to die. If the second surely much less.
    I am tending to believe the first. If so, the article’s reference to suffocation is wrong.

    1. T

      Gibbeting is what it sounds like to me. Yeah, the victim dies of thirst probably, I’ve got zero sources, but I have read somewhere that he was tied in chains and then suspended over the crowd and left there for weeks.

    2. D

      Tudors got it wrong Aske was put in a framework and lowered over the wall to die of exposure

  14. D

    History is full of terrible people from all races and religions

  15. S

    Neither England nor the USA have changed very much. On a jumped up charge emanating in Washington, the American puppets in Westminster and Whitehall have caused the detention and imprisonment of a foreign national without charge or trial. on the pretext that the foreign national was guilty of espionage due to his business enterprise being given video footage of an American armed forces multiple murder in daylight in a country the USA & England assaulted jointly on false pretences, having constructed an elaborate childish lie to justify invasion and mass murder. Julian Assange remains in effectively solitary detention without trial or timely process from anybody, which includes Westminster, who appear incapable of snubbing their masters or making a decision. At all times Whitehall, Westminster and Washington have demonstrated behavior they subsequently condemn when similar is carried out by the Kremlin. I have lived in two former colonies where the brutal murderous consequences of England’s governance lie everywhere, and where many places classified by both USA & UK as secret for years still glow in the dark. Ask the inhabitants of any former colony, English or American where the bodies are. There’s a lot of them across the planet. The so – called civlized governments of both places remain murderous, untrustworthy dogs. Both places have stood aside with raised skirts while ethnic cleansing in Palestine and the West Bank occurs – most recently (and historically since 1948) and watched, waiting for something while the IDF did a bit of genocide on its own,.
    Both have been up on their kind legs condemning similar Russian activity in the Ukraine, but not apparently with their friends.
    My prime aspiration is that Trump will be re-elected in 2024 with a felony conviction at both federal and state levels against the delightful background of no complete constitutional remedy. Probably both USA and UK, being the principal running dog of the USA, will get a first class taste of what a crackpot presidential king looks like. I hope both countries enjoy it. Perhaps the populace of each will be motivated to decide on the suitability of both sets of governance – an unwritten constitution or one with great gaps in it.

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12 July 1537 – The execution of Robert Aske