Monday, 21 December 2015

Henry VIII’s Christmas Present

On Christmas Day 1536 the Mayor of Hull, William Rogers had a visitor. The visitor went by the splendid title of Rouge Dragon Pursuivant and he was a messenger from King Henry VIII. He had something for the Mayor: a General Pardon for all the inhabitants of Hull (and indeed for the rest of the North of England) for rebelling against the King during what is now known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

The Pilgrimage of Grace had been a huge challenge to the Henry’s authority and his religious changes. The rebellion had started in Lincolnshire in October 1536 and soon spread to Yorkshire and much of the rest of the North. Thousands of people were in revolt. On 15 October a group of them laid siege to Hull, and on 20 October the authorities in Hull negotiated the town’s surrender. It can’t have been a comfortable feeling for the Mayor and his colleagues, knowing that they had abandoned the King, however reluctantly, and handed the King’s Town over to the rebels.

So the news of a General Pardon to everyone who’d rebelled must have come as a relief to the Mayor. The Pardon was issued by the King on 9 December after the rebels and government representatives had negotiated a truce at Doncaster and the insurgents dispersed.
General Pardon (ref C BRH/5)
The document took over a fortnight to arrive in Hull. In it the King pardoned everyone for “all maner treasons, rebellions, insurrections…” and gave permission for individuals to request their own specific pardons. Copies went to all the counties in the North, including Hull, then a county of itself. It didn’t arrive unscathed; at some point the seal had been torn off, and subsequently stitched back on. We know this because Rouge Dragon or whoever also attached a little note, in Latin, recording the damage and repair, and noting that the Pardon had been delivered on Christmas Day.

The receipt of the Pardon wasn’t the end of the story of the Pilgrimage of Grace however. Events in Hull a few weeks later on 16 January 1537, when a little group of rebels under the command of John Hallam from Cawkeld near Hutton Cranswick tried to seize the town on market day, gave Henry the excuse he need to crush the rebels and ignore his own Pardon. Poor Hallam ended up hanged in chains on Hull’s Beverley Gate. 

On which note…all the staff at Hull History Centre would like to wish all our visitors a Merry Christmas, with the hope that none of you get a Christmas present from anyone as terrifying as Henry VIII!

Martin Taylor
City Archivist

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