The Tudor Society

7 April – Robert Aske, the rebel leader

On this day in Tudor history, 7th April 1537, Robert Aske and Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy, were sent to the Tower of London.

Both Aske and Darcy had been involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion of 1536, with Aske being "chief captain" of the rebels. Even though Henry VIII pardoned the rebels after negotiations in 1536, Darcy and Aske were arrested, imprisoned and executed as traitors.

Find out more about what happened and more about Robert Aske, the rebel leader, in today's talk.

Video from 4th October on the Pilgrimage of Grace:

On this day in Tudor history, 7th April 1538, Elizabeth Boleyn, Countess of Wiltshire and mother of Anne Boleyn, was laid to rest at St Mary’s Church, Lambeth. Find out more about her burial and resting place, and see photos of the former church, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1498 – Death of Charles VIII of France and accession of Louis XII.
  • 1571 – Burial of Richard Onslow, lawyer and Speaker of the House of Commons, in St Chad's Church, Shrewsbury.
  • 1589 – Death of Sir Henry Gates, member of Parliament, Gentleman of Edward VI's Privy Chamber, Controller of the Petty Custom at the port of London, Receiver-General of the duchy of Cornwall and member of the Council of the North.
  • 1590 – Burial of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's principal secretary, at St Paul's at 10pm in the same tomb as Sir Philip Sidney. He had died the previous day.
  • 1619 – Burial of Robert Rich, 1st Earl of Warwick, at Felsted.


On this day in Tudor history, 7th April 1537, Robert Aske and Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy, were sent to the Tower of London.
Both men had been involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion of late 1536. Aske was one of the rebel leaders, and Darcy became involved with the rebels after yielding Pontefract Castle to them. Darcy was beheaded 30th June 1537, and Aske was hanged in chains on 12th July 1537.
Let me tell you a bit more about Robert Aske and how he got involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Aske was born in around 1500 and was a Yorkshire man related to Henry Clifford, 1st earl of Cumberland. He studied law and in the late 1520s was secretary to Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland before working as a lawyer, handling cases in the Star Chamber. His biographer R W Hoyle notes that he was on his way to London for the start of the law term, travelling through Lincolnshire, when he became involved in the Lincolnshire Rising, which started the Pilgrimage of Grace. As I explained in my talk for 4th October on the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion – which I’ll give you a link to - the rising was sparked off by a sermon at evensong on the 1st October 1536 at St James’s Church, Louth, in which the vicar preached a sermon which is thought to have "affirmed that the church or its faith, or both, were in danger”, and by a visitation from the Bishop of Lincoln’s registrar on 2nd October. The registrar tried to read out Thomas Cromwell's commission to the townspeople. His papers were ripped from his hands and burned. Things escalated very quickly from that point.

On 4th October, Dr Raynes, the chancellor of the Bishop of Lincoln, who was staying nearby at Bolingbroke, after having held a session of the commissionary’s court there, was dragged from his sickbed and taken to Horncastle. He was then pulled from his horse and murdered by a rebel mob. One of Thomas Cromwell’s men was also hanged by the mob. On 5th October, at Sawcliffe, in North Lincolnshire, Aske, who’d arrived in the area, was taken by the rebels and after hearing their grievances swore his allegiance to them. The rebels sent their grievances in a letter to King Henry VIII. Their complaints included the dissolution of the monasteries, the grant to the king of the tenths and first-fruits of spiritual benefices, the promotion of Thomas Cromwell and Richard Rich to the King's Council, and the promotion of the archbishops of Canterbury and Dublin, the bishops of Rochester and St. David’s, and others, who, in their opinion, had clearly ‘subverted the faith of Christ’.

On 8th October 1536, Aske, who’d gone back to Yorkshire to muster people to the rebel cause, called the people of Beverley together, asking them to be true to “God, the king, the commonwealth” and “to maintain the Holy Church”, and by the time the king’s reply to the rebels arrived with a herald on 11th October, Aske was seen as the rebels’ “chief captain”. The king was furious with the rebels and did not give in to any of their demands.
R W Hoyle explains that “It was only after the disintegration of the Lincolnshire revolt that Aske wrote his own oath, gave the movement the title of the Pilgrimage of Grace, and shifted it from the broad commonwealth concerns of the Lincoln articles to the critique of Cromwell's religious policies contained in his oath”.

On 19th October 1536, Aske and the rebels arrived at Pontefract in Yorkshire and threatened an assault of the castle, which was owned by Thomas Darcy, 1st Baron Darcy. Early the next morning, Darcy surrendered his castle to the rebels and swore the rebel oath, along with other inhabitants of the castle, including Edmund Lee, Archbishop of York. Darcy sympathised with the rebel cause and agreed with their grievances, so no force had been necessary. Aske went on to rally other members of the gentry and by 24th October the rebel force numbered 30,000 and far outnumbered that of the royal force led by the Duke of Norfolk and Earl of Shrewsbury, which was about a fifth of the size. However, there was no battle as they decided to negotiate. Norfolk gave promises from Henry VIII that the people's demands would be met and that they would be pardoned. Robert Aske then dismissed his troops. Unfortunately, Henry VIII later broke his promises to the rebels after there was a further rebellion in Yorkshire in January 1537 led by Sir Francis Bigod. Robert Aske actually tried to prevent it, but he and other men who’d been involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion - such as Lord Darcy, Thomas Percy and Robert Constable - were arrested and convicted of treason.

On 30th June 1537, Lord Darcy was beheaded on Tower Hill. His head was displayed on London Bridge while his body was laid to rest, according to one contemporary source, “at the Crossed Friars beside the Tower of London”, although it must have been moved at some point to St Botolph's Aldgate. On 22nd July 1537, Darcy was posthumously degraded from the Order of the Garter. It was Thomas Cromwell who was elected to the Order in his place.
On 12th July 1537, according to chronicler Edward Hall, Robert Aske was hanged in chains at York. He was hanged outside Clifford's Tower, the keep of York Castle. In November 2018, a plaque to Robert Aske was unveiled at Clifford’s Tower in York. It reads “Near this place, Robert Aske leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace died for his faith in 1537, martyred by Henry VIII.”

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7 April – Robert Aske, the rebel leader