Insurrection: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace
An intriguing new book by historian Susan Loughlin is about to be published by The History Press on April 4th of this year (2016) detailing an event in world history that has perhaps gone unnoticed by some historians and those who run with the history blogs and bloggers.
I first “met” Susan Loughlin on the popular Facebook group “Ricardian” administered by author Stephen Lark that has over 1,000 members and counting. (I’m one of the 7 moderators of that group.) Susan has always brought her serious and knowledgeable input to issues relating to King Richard the Third and is known for her spunky attitude towards historians and others who dare to hand out misinformation about this much maligned king. But her new book is not about Richard but relates the story of Henry VIII and a popular rebellion that occurred in 1536 when 30,000 men took up arms against the king during the dissolution of the monasteries. Her book “Insurrection: Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell and the Pilgrimage of Grace” is available for pre-order at Amazon.com and will be available in the USA/Canada in June/July:
I was lucky enough to interview Susan this past month. Here are some of her thoughts on her life, her new book and Ricardian issues.
Susie, can you tell us something about where you were born and grew up?
I was born in London, the daughter of Irish immigrants and grew up in the northern suburbs of the city. I was educated at primary and secondary schools in Muswell Hill and Finchley.
Tell us something about your education.
I am grateful to the wonderful teachers I was fortunate enough to have – in particular, Mr. Steven Lilly, who encouraged my curiosity and love of the Humanities. I vividly recall being taught the ‘traditional’ version of the Wars of the Roses at secondary school and recently had a conversation about this with my old school friend, Lydia. We both remember being unconvinced by the narrative we were told with regard to Richard III.
I received eight O Levels and three A Levels (including one in History) and obtained a place in three UK universities to study History. However, I decided to go to work for a year and deferred my places. I then got used to a regular salary: I took driving lessons, holidays, and in particular, a wonderful trip to California. I remained working and changed careers to work in Local Government in London. I also studied for my professional qualification whilst working and spent a number of years delivering front-line services in the London Borough of Barnet; the second largest borough. Of course, Barnet was the site of one of the most prominent battles of the Wars of the Roses. There are many roads in the area which bear testimony to this: Gloucester Road, Warwick Road, Plantagenet Road, York Road, Lancaster Road and Woodville Road! In addition, the local County Court sessions were held in a building named Kingmaker House!
When I relocated to Ireland, I decided to embark upon my study of History at the National University of Ireland, Galway. This institution began life by Royal charter in the reign of Queen Victoria and was originally known as Queen’s University, Galway – a sister to the institutions in Belfast, Dublin and Cork. Following the establishment of the Irish Republic, Galway became known as University College of Galway and most recently, the National University of Ireland, Galway.
I decided to pursue my passion for History, Classical Civilizations and Political Science. It would have been tempting to take a pragmatic approach and opt for a potentially safe and lucrative path, such as Law, but I decided to pursue my own interests, for my own pleasure. Academia is incredibly competitive and most people do not enter it in expectation of materialistic dividends. It is, in fact, a labour of love.
I studied many different modules of History, including Irish, European, and English. My A Level included Early Modern history, so I was drawn, in particular, to these subjects. I was fortunate enough to study under many fine lecturers, including Professor Steven Ellis, a Tudor expert and the head of both the History department and the School of Humanities. I am grateful for being endowed with the title University Scholar during my BA degree and graduated with First Class honours in both History and Political Science. I then began studying for my research PhD, under the direction of Professor Ellis and obtained a scholarship and the title Galway Doctoral Research Fellow.
And here I was so proud of my little BA! But I’m so happy to hear you defend the study of History and other areas of intellect when so many of people think University’s raison d’etre is to end up in a well-paying job. That attitude is one of my pet peeves.
Please tell us what made you a Ricardian?
As I mentioned, I remember being taught the standard version of events regarding Richard III, the Battle of Bosworth and how Henry VII reunited the Houses of Lancaster and York. However, like my school friend, I had misgivings with regard to the portrayal of Richard III. He just appeared like a pantomime villain character and actually reminded me of the cartoon character ‘Dick Dastardly’ from ‘Wacky Races’! Something just didn’t sit right and I was left with a lingering curiosity about the man. I met a friend at work, who had actually studied Richard’s reign for both her BA and MA. She was utterly convinced that the king was a victim of a Tudor smear campaign.
When I started studying Henry VIII in depth, I realized what a deeply insecure individual he was. His father’s ‘claim’ to the throne was, at best, flimsy and by all accounts, Henry VII was extremely paranoid. This trait was evidently passed on to his son. Henry VIII was totally obsessed with securing the Tudor dynasty by providing a male heir; something which eluded him until the birth of Prince Edward in 1537. It occurred to me that only interlopers would be insecure and systematic in their attempt to conceal the truth and justify their own positions. It is well known how Henry VII behaved in eradicating Plantagenet claimants; a task completed by his son with the obscene execution of the sixty-seven year old Countess of Salisbury, Margaret Pole. (Margaret’s son, Reginald, was in exile on the continent and managed to avoid capture, despite Henry having assassins in pursuit of him.)
That has got to be one of the more grisly of Henry VIII’s many grisly acts! There is a paucity of evidence for Richard’s reign – why is this?
The contemporary accounts which do exist are contradictory and flawed. It is not the place for a discussion of the sources here but I would recommend Annette Carson’s Richard III: The Maligned King, The History Press, Stroud, 2013, pp. 330-348 for a succinct appraisal. What I would add, however, is that it is simply preposterous to any serious historian to accept either Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III or Shakespeare’s play, The Tragedy of King Richard III (written in 1592) as sources. More was born in 1478 and, as such, was five years old when Richard was crowned. In addition, his mentor had been John Morton. The same Morton who had conspired against Richard and was Archbishop of Canterbury by Henry VII in 1486.
More’s work was never finished. Why was this?
I find it incredulous that one of the leading Humanist scholars of the day (a frequent correspondent of Erasmus) should have included such demonstrably ludicrous ‘facts’ as Richard being born after a two year gestation, with a full set of teeth. My own view is that Thomas More was, to use a London colloquialism, ‘having a laugh’.
A central tenet of my own personality is contempt for injustice. Given the lack of credible sources and blatant Tudor propaganda, I believe Richard III has been vilified, without the evidence to support such claims.
Let me be clear, I do not hold a romanticized view of the man nor perceive him as a knight in shining armour. He was not a saint. Far from it. But let us place him in the context of his times and not project our own values onto him. Let us not assume to know him or his thoughts from small crumbs of evidence. He was a medieval magnate and king. He did things that were necessary to survive and protect his own interests. Did he love Anne Neville or marry for land and wealth? Frankly, I do not care! We cannot speculate about his mind-set. We cannot extrapolate grandiose theories from what little we have. He was not a Lollard; neither was he a Renaissance prince. He was simply a prince of the blood, forced into a situation where he had, I believe, no option but to accept the crown offered to him by the Three Estates of the Realm. What was the alternative? I leave you to ponder that.
Richard III is a ‘victim’ of injustice – caused not only by Tudor propaganda but the chaotic set of circumstances that his brother, King Edward IV bequeathed to him.
Yes, Edward certainly left a mess. Given your Ricardian bona fides, how did you turn to the subject of Henry the 8th and the dissolution of the monasteries?
My university did not offer a module on The Wars of the Roses, so, as discussed above, I studied English, Irish and European Early Modern History. Professor Ellis is a specialist in peripheral Tudor regions and administration and also in the religious aspects of Henry VIII’s reign. We decided that I would research the Pilgrimage of Grace – it combined a study of the North of England and the Henrician religious experiment.
Let’s talk about your new book. Perhaps because I’m American, I do not know much about the pushback of 30,000 men against Henry’s very famous actions. Can you tell us a little about these men and what they did or did not accomplish?
That’s interesting, Maire, because I was completely unaware of the Pilgrimage of Grace until I studied it as an undergraduate under Professor Ellis. It had obviously been ‘air-brushed’ out of conventional, general, Whig interpretations of the English Reformation. Hence, only those in academia or with an avid and thorough knowledge of the reign of Henry VIII would be familiar with it. And I shudder when I think of the inaccurate portrayal of the event in the TV series, ‘The Tudors’!
Essentially, the Pilgrimage was the largest popular rising against a Tudor monarch and had the potential to threaten Henry’s throne. 30,000 men, of all social orders took up arms against the king in the autumn of 1536. Their intentions were abundantly clear – they wished for a return to the ‘old ways’ of religious worship, for the monasteries to stand and for Princess Mary’s reinstatement as Henry’s heir.
The Pilgrims succeeded in so far as the king was forced to agree to a truce in order to cease hostilities and a copy of the rebels’ grievances were taken to him by two of the rebel leaders. Henry was indignant and felt that his honour was much diminished and reluctantly agreed to consider their grievances and convene a parliament in York to discuss the issues. He issued a pardon but it is apparent that he had no intention of honouring it – he only wished to stop the rising’s momentum. When some disenchanted rebels realized that the King and Duke of Norfolk had been duplicitous, further risings ensued in 1537. This afforded Henry the opportunity to seek retribution for the events of the previous autumn.
The Pilgrimage was a missed opportunity for religious conservatives and the book discusses the pitfalls that prevented the movement achieving its explicit aims. One rebel, however, is particularly interesting, in that he did not fit the usual Pilgrim ‘profile’ and is something of an enigma. Sir Francis Bigod was a Yorkshire gentleman and a known Evangelical. His behavior has been somewhat a puzzle to historians. In 1536, he was a staunch defender of King Henry’s religious innovations and expressed his desire to be a priest and preacher in a letter to Cromwell in April. A few months earlier, he had reported the Abbot of Whitby for denying the Royal Supremacy. Thus his involvement as one of the leaders of renewed rebellion in January 1537 is hard to reconcile with his previous behavior. He even wrote a treatise denouncing the Royal Supremacy and arguing the king could not have ‘cure’ of his subjects’ souls. Needless to say, he paid the price with his life.
The book also examines the punishment handed out by a vengeful monarch and explains why some former rebels managed successfully to rehabilitate themselves. The links between retribution and reward are examined in a study of patronage and the governance of the region in the aftermath of the rebellion.
Another rising in the North was not attempted against until 1569, in the reign of Elizabeth, but this, I would suggest, illustrates the latent conservative nature of the inhabitants and a lingering resentment with changes imposed upon them by force and betrayal. Historians Michael Bush and David Bownes have argued that if the Pilgrimage had succeeded the Anglican Church was ‘certain’ to return to Roman Catholicism and that the dissolutions would not have occurred (see Bush & Bownes, The Defeat of the Pilgrimage of Grace, University of Hull Press, 1999). Had the Pilgrimage been successful, the course of English religious history, would arguably have been very different.
As always, English history fascinates and perplexes at the same time. Thank you, Susie and congratulations on your new book.