Robert Aske was born in Yorkshire but later became a London lawyer. In 1535 Henry VIII began to close the monasteries in England. Most people living in the north of England were still strong supporters of the Catholic faith. Many of them complained about the way monks were being treated.
In Yorkshire, in 1536, Aske formed an army to defend the monasteries. The rebel army was joined by priests carrying crosses and banners. Leading nobles in the area also began to give their support to the rebellion. The rebels marched to York and demanded that the monasteries should be reopened. This march, which contained over 30,000 people, became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Henry VIII's army was not strong enough to fight the rebels. Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, negotiated a peace with Aske. Howard was forced to promise that he would pardon the rebels and hold a parliament in York to discuss their demands. The rebels were convinced that this parliament would reopen the monasteries and therefore went back to their homes.
However, as soon as the rebel army had dispersed. Henry ordered the arrest of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace. About 200 people were executed for their part in the rebellion. These included Robert Aske and Lady Bulmer who were burnt at the stake. Abbots of the four largest monasteries in the north were also executed.
(1) Eustace Chapuys was King Charles V of Spain's ambassador in England. In 1537 Chapuys sent a report to Charles V on the Pilgrimage of Grace.
The monasteries must be protected... for in the north parts they give great help to poor men.
(2) Robert Aske made a speech about the monasteries in York in October 1536.
The prior is frequently drunk... The brothers of the monastery, especially the older ones, play dice and other games for money.
(3) Edward Hall, Chronicles (1542)
They called this... a holy and blessed pilgrimage; they also had banners whereon was painted Christ hanging on the cross... With false signs of holiness... they tried to deceive the ignorant people.
(4) Henry VIII, orders given to the Duke of Norfolk about what should happen to those who took part in the Pilgrimage of Grace (January, 1537)
Cause such dreadful executions upon a good number of the inhabitants hanging them on trees, quartering them, and setting the quarters in every town, as shall be a fearful warning.