Henry VIII's attacks on the Catholic church and the power of Rome (more details here) had much popular support. But not everyone was happy with Henry's vigorous dismantling of Catholic power in England.

The first wave of discontent surfaced in October 1536, when a large force of rebels occupied the city of Lincoln. The king did little more than express his displeasure, and the rebels dispersed.

The Yorkshire Revolt
A much more serious outbreak arose almost immediately in Yorkshire, led by lawyer Robert Aske, whose men occupied York and then Doncaster. Aske was supported by no less a personage than Henry Lee, Archbishop of York. In addition to their complaints against religious policy Aske's rebels added objections to the high rents and taxes faced by the poor.

The rebels, which contemporary accounts number as high as 40,000 men, carefully avoided any personal attacks against Henry himself (a wise move) but made a villain of Henry's chief advisor, Thomas Cromwell.

This was a common approach by rebels throughout the medieval and Tudor period - rather than risk even the perception of an attack upon the monarch, they proclaimed themselves loyal subjects who were simply trying to rescue their king from evil advisors.

Rebel demands
The rebels proclaimed that the revolt would "extend no further than to the maintenance and defence of the faith of Christ and the deliverance of holy church, sore decayed and oppressed, and to the furtherance also of private and public matters in the realm concerning the wealth of all the king's poor subjects. " To emphasize the religious nature of their motives, the rebels decked themselves out with badges and banners depicting religious symbols.

In other words, they portrayed themselves as defenders of the church and the poor, not as overt rebels against the king. Henry VIII was not moved by such fine distinctions, and he moved quickly to put down the rebellion. He sent an army led by Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, north to confront the "pilgrims". Howard played for time, receiving the rebel demands and negotiating while he brought more troops into position.

The rebels at first defied the royal troops, and a battle seemed inevitable. Before the conflict could take place, a sudden downpour caused a stream separating the armies to deepen so much that no troops could cross.

Perhaps the rain dampened the rebels spirit, for they accepted the duke's offer of pardon for the leaders, in exchange for vague promises that the king would hear their petitions and hold a parliament at York within a year.

Once that agreement had been reached, Aske naively persuaded his men to disperse, assuming that his demands would be favourably received. The rebels melted away to their northern homes, and the revolt was over as suddenly as it had begun.

Treatment of the Leaders
Aske was received by the king in London and treated well. But the story does not end there. A few months later another Yorkshire landowner, Sir Francis Bigod, led a fresh uprising at Beverley. Although Aske and other leaders of the original Pilgrimage of Grace tried to defuse Bigod's revolt, they were held responsible.

Aske and his friends were arrested, tried for treason, and executed at London in June 1537. The entire north of the country was placed under martial law and roughly 250 people were hanged, many on the merest suspicion of sedition.

The vigorous repression of the Pilgrimage of Grace and its aftermath effectively ended any popular resistance to Henry's religious policies, and the Dissolution of the Monasteries proceeded without further serious difficulty.

Henry VIII
The Dissolution of the Monasteries