What’s on : Lectures

Henry VIII and York

5 Apr 2023
Start time
7:00 PM
The Yorkshire Museum
Professor Bill Sheils, University of York
Henry VIII and York

Event Information

“Henry VIII and York”

Professor Bill Sheils, Professor Emeritus in History, University of York

This year the Theatre Royal are putting on a community play based on CJ Sansom’s novel Sovereign, which is based on Henry VIII’s visit to York in 1541, part of what has been called ‘the most extravagant royal progress of his reign’. The king, accompanied by a retinue of over 4000, was received by the mayor and corporation, who offered money and gifts in part as penance for the city’s role in the rebellion, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, which took place throughout the north  in response to the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536. This has been identified by some historians and the most serious threat to the Tudor regime in the period and, following their surrender to royal forces, the rebels and the communities they came from were punished harshly. The 1541 progress was a very public show of royal power to a defeated people. The lecture will explore the background of the City’s relations with the Crown, and of its involvement in the religious upheavals of the 1530s. In doing so it will discuss the nature of relations between provincial governors and central authority in the period and provide a context for the royal visit for those intending to watch or participate in the Theatre Royal’s production, which will take part in King’s Manor, formerly the lodging of the Abbot of St Mary’s in the latter half of July.

Joint lecture with guests from Glasgow Royal Philosophical Society

Lecture to be held in the Tempest Anderson Lecture Theatre, Yorkshire Museum, YO1 7DR at 7pm

Member’s report

This lecture was given by special request of the Glasgow Royal Philosophical Society, several of whose members were the invited guests of the YPS.

Professor Bill Sheils divided his lecture into two parts, starting with a description of York in the early sixteenth century. He painted a picture firstly of a city with a reduced population of 8000 after a long period of stagnation. York was losing out to both Hull and the West Riding in terms of trade and it was mostly attractive only to those from the North Riding. Nevertheless, there was a solid ecclesiastical base with a multiplicity of churches and four orders of friars, not to mention the Minster. In all, there were approximately three hundred clergy in York in the 1530s.

York had survived its dilemma following the defeat of the favoured Richard III in 1485 and the accession of Henry VII, though its relationship with the Crown was far from straightforward, especially following the death of the Duke of Northumberland in 1489. With the accession of Henry VIII and his break with Rome in 1536, rapid and dramatic changes occurred with the dissolution firstly of the smaller monasteries which provided a springboard for their larger counterparts. This gave rise to the Pilgrimage of Grace and the brief reinstatement in York of two smaller monasteries. At first, all seemed well and Robert Aske, the leader, was entertained in London over Christmas. However, a further outpouring of dissatisfaction with the King’s policy led to a cruel intervention by the Crown and Aske was left hanging in chains from Clifford’s Tower. Robert Holgate was then appointed President of the Council in the North.

By this time, Henry was feeling somewhat isolated and wanted to sever the relationship between Francis I of France and James V of Scotland (The Auld Alliance) and formed the idea of a Royal Progress to York to meet with James and which would match the splendour of the Field of the Cloth of Gold. However, owing to a conspiracy uncovered in Wakefield which planned to assassinate Holgate, Henry made it clear that he wanted to be accompanied by men from the south and their northern counterparts were warned to stay away. Taking a detour through the East Riding, the Royal Progress arrived at Fulford Cross in 1541 where the City’s aldermen prostrated themselves before the King before leading him to the hastily refurbished abbey where he was accommodated. In the event, James V did not show up and, pausing only to confiscate the monastic lands and to order the dismantling of St William’s tomb, Henry returned to London with an increased fear of a northern threat. Further religious reform had to wait until Henry’s son, Edward VI came to the throne in 1547.

Dorothy Nott