The Lincolnshire Rising was a sudden protest of the suppression of the monasteries. Shortly after the closure of Louth Abbey, the local villagers were at evensong at St. James Church in Louth and…well… next thing you know they were revolting and the unrest quickly spread to neighboring towns. Their numbers and organization grew until some 40,000 protesters marched on Lincoln and occupied Lincoln Cathedral. The King quickly sent threatening orders for the rebels to disperse, which they by and large did. By October 14 the leaders had been captured and hung. It all seemed over…
Until it wasn’t.
While the Lincolnshire Uprising was failing, the rest of the North was mobilizing into the Pilgrimage of Grace, which has been called the “most serious of all Tudor rebellions.” The Pilgrims wanted the breach with Rome to be repaired, they wanted the abbeys to be restored – and they wanted Thomas Cromwell gone (Cromwell was blamed for the changes). This kind of questioning of policies drove Henry into a rage. On October 19, he would send off two letters. First, to the Duke of Suffolk detailing the lesson he wanted them to be taught:
After this, if it appear to you by due proof that the rebels have since their retires from Lincoln attempted any new rebellion, you shall, with your forces run upon them and with all extremity “destroy, burn, and kill man, woman, and child the terrible example of all others, and specially the town of Louth because to this rebellion took his beginning in the same.”
Second, to the rebels themselves:
I have never heard that princes’ counsellors and prelates should be appointed by ignorant common people nor that they were meet persons to choose them. “How presumptuous then are ye, the rude commons of one shire, and that one of the most brute and beastly of the whole realm and of least experience, to find fault with your prince for the electing of his counsellors and prelates?” Thus you take upon yourself to rule your prince.
As to the suppression of religious houses we would have you know it is granted to us by Parliament and not set forth by the mere will of any counsellor. It has not diminished the service of God, for none were suppressed but where most abominable living was used, as appears by their own confessions signed by their own hands in the time of our visitations. Yet many were allowed to stand, more than we by the act needed; and if they amend not their living we fear we have much to answer for.
As to the relief of poor people, we wonder you are not ashamed to affirm that they have been a great relief, when many or most have not more than four or five religious persons in them and divers but one; who spent the goods of their house in nourishing vice.
As to the Act of Uses we wonder at your madness in trying to make us break the laws agreed to by the nobles, knights, and gentlemen of this realm, whom the same chiefly toucheth. Also the grounds of those uses were false and usurped upon the prince.
As to the fifteenth, do you think us so faint hearted that ye of one shire, were ye a great many more, could compel us to remit the same, when the payments yet to come will not meet a tenth of the charges we must sustain for your protection?
As to First Fruits, it is a thing granted by Parliament also. We know also that ye our commons have much complained in time past that most of the goods and lands of the realm were in the spiritual men’s hands; yet, now pretending to be loyal subjects, you cannot endure that your prince should have part thereof.
We charge you to withdraw to your houses and make no more assemblies, but deliver up the provokers of this mischief to our lieutenant’s hands and submit yourselves to condign punishment, else we will not suffer this injury unavenged. We pray God give you grace to do your duties and rather deliver to our lieutenant 100 persons than by your obstinacy endanger yourselves, your wives, children, lands, goods, and chattels, besides the indignation of God.
I kept the full text of this second letter in – even some five hundred years later you can feel yourself being cowed by his anger and threats. I can only imagine what the Pilgrims must have felt on reading this (even without knowing about the letter to Suffolk)!