The Tudor Society

20 October 1536 – The Surrender of Pontefract Castle

Pontefract_CastleOn the night of the 19th October 1536, Thomas Maunsell, Robert Aske and the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace threatened an assault on Pontefract Castle and its owner, Lord Darcy. By 8 o'clock on the morning of the 20th October, the castle had surrendered to the rebels and its inhabitants – which included the likes of Lord Darcy, Sir William Gascoigne, Sir Robert Constable, Edmund Lee, Archbishop of York, and Thomas Magnus, Archdeacon of the East Riding – had sworn the rebel oath.

No force had been necessary. Their leader, Robert Aske, had written down the grievances of the common people in a letter, on the 19th, asking the lords in the castle to intercede with the King on their behalf. He then visited the castle on the 20th and rebuked the lords for failing in their duty to their people by allowing heresy in their territory, and by not making the King aware of ‘the poverty of his realm and that part specially’. Lord Darcy replied that they would submit to him on the 21st, but Aske insisted on it happening that day, threatening action against the castle otherwise. Darcy surrendered.

Darcy had little choice when there were only around 300 men in the castle, and the rebels numbered in the tens of thousands, but historian M.L. Bush makes the point that the castle inmates could have tried to crush the rebels ten days earlier when the rebellion was in its infancy and its numbers much, much smaller. Bush explains that the elderly Lord Darcy actually sympathised with the rebel cause, because of his reservations about the dissolution of the monasteries and the power of Thomas Cromwell, whom he would have viewed as a heretic and an “upstart”. The grievances of the rebels were justified in Darcy's opinion, but he did not want to raise a revolt himself, or take an active part in one, so he fled to Pontefract Castle and hoped that he would not need to get involved.

Ruins of Pontefract Castle today

You can find out more about the Pilgrimage of Grace at the following links:

Notes and Sources

Images: Painting of Pontefract Castle in the early 17th century by Alexander Keirincx, Pontefract Castle entrance © Copyright derek dye and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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