The Rising of the North :


When Mary, Queen of Scots abdicated, she fled Scotland to England and put herself under the protection of Elizabeth I, who subsequently imprisoned her for about 19 years until her execution; this was because Mary was devotedly attached to the Catholic religion and many Catholics considered her to have a better claim to the crown of England than Elizabeth, as the latter was illegitimate according to the views of the Catholic church, and had been bastardised by an Act of Parliament.

In the late autumn of 1569, in the 11th year of Queen Elizabeth's reign, an insurrection, known as the "Rising of the North" took place at the head of which were Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland and Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland; the aim of this movement was to re-establish the religion of their ancestors, to remove Evil Counsellors, to release the Scottish Queen Mary from her unjust imprisonment and to restore the Duke of Norfolk and other peers to their liberty and to the Queen's favor.

Northumberland and Westmoreland, both ardent Catholics and declared friends of Mary, revealed their views and objects to the most trusty of their adherents, George and Christopher Neville, the two uncles of Westmoreland, to Leonard and Edward Dacre, to Egremont Ratcliffe, a brother of the Earl of Sussex, to the Nortons, Markenfields, Tempests, Swinburnes, and other gentlemen of wealth and influence.

From all of these and from the majority of Catholics, who cherished a hope of relieving themselves from persecution and restoring the ancient worship and from numbers of men of generous and chivalrous feelings, who offered to risk their lives and fortunes for the deliverance from prison of the young Queen, they received promises of co-operation.

The first meetings of the conspirators were held at the Earl of Northumberland's seat near Topcliffe, whence the two Earls published a manifesto in which they declared that they intended to attempt nothing against the Queen to whom they avowed unshaken allegiance but that their only object was as just stated:

"We, Thomas, Earl of Northumberland, and Charles, Earl of Westmorland, the Queen's true and faithful subjects, to all that came of the old Catholic Religion, know ye that we, with many other well-disposed persons, as well of the Nobility as others, have promised our Faith to the Furtherance of this our good meaning. Forasmuch as divers disordered and well-disposed persons about the Queen's Majesty, have, by their subtle and crafty dealings to advance themselves, overcome in this Realm, the true and Catholic Religion towards God, and by the same abused the Queen, disordered the Realm, and now lastly seek and procure the destruction of the Nobility; We, therefore, have gathered ourselves together to resist by force, and the rather by the help of God and you good people, to see redress of these things amiss, with the restoring of all ancient customs and liberties to God's Church, and this noble Realm; lest if we should not do it ourselves, we might be reformed by strangers, to the great hazard of the state of this our country, whereunto we are all bound. God save the Queen."

There can be no doubt that one of their objects was to carry off Mary Queen of Scots from her prison at Tutbury; Mary was hurriedly moved south to Coventry, arriving there on the 25th November.

Queen Elizabeth received repeated intimations of the Earls' disaffection and the two were summoned to Court to answer for their conduct; they had already gone too far to trust themselves in the Queen's hands and they therefore, preferred to die fighting in the field rather than on the scaffold; this royal order precipitated the rising before their plans were fully matured, or the probable strength of the forces at their command had been calculated.

One of the instigators of this outbreak was Leonard Dacre, who instigated the two earls to rise and then betrayed them to Elizabeth, whom he persuaded to entrust to him a share in putting down the rising; he fortified Naworth Castle and collected some 3000 men who rallied to the old border slogan of "A read Bull, a read Bull" Lord Scrope, relying on Dacre's loyalty, moved out from Carlisle to intercept the two earls, should they march for Scotland, leaving Bishop Best in command of the castle of Carlisle.

Among the disaffected Richard Norton of York was one of the most eager for immediate action together with several of his sons, his brother Thomas and other relations; Norton was at Topcliffe, when the Earl of Northumberland acting under fear of immediate arrest, left that place in company with Norton and joined the Earl of Westmoreland at Brancepeth;
Thomas Markenfeld, the Tempests, John Swinburne and Westmorland's uncles had assembled there with great numbers of armed retainers; Northumberland thought the time inopportune for insurrection but the fiery eagerness of Norton and his sons to begin the struggle urged on the two Earls who were nominally their leaders.

They were still uncertain whether to flee, to fight or submit; in a forceful letter the Earl of Sussex gave them a final chance before proclaiming them as outlaws, but at Brancepeth Lady Westmorland swayed the waverers, when it seemed they might once more depart to their houses, and in tears harangued them: ‘We and our country were shamed for ever, that now in the end we should seek holes to creep into'; and so they marshaled their army and took the field with the avowed object of restoring the religion of their ancestors.

At the head of a small body of armed horsemen they marched to Durham and their first step was the occupation of that city; the Earls of Northumberland and Westmoreland entered the Cathedral with their followers armed to the teeth; Lady Northumberland and Lady Westmoreland were with the troops when they took the city of Durham and sacked the cathedral there, tearing up all the English translations of the Bible and all the Reformation prayer books they could find; behind them Norton followed with a massive gold crucifix hanging from his neck and carrying an old banner of the "Pilgrimage of Grace" which displayed the crucifixion with Christ's five wounds.

The insurgents after their entrance to the Cathedral threw down the Communion Table and tore the English Bible and Prayer Book; they then proceeded to erect two altars, one in the old place of the high altar and one in the south transept; one of the great stone altar slabs was brought from behind the house of the Prebendary of the first stall and the other was discovered in the Centry garth under a heap of rubbish; the people of the town gave their help in removing the ponderous stones and masons were induced to set them up.

On the 30th November 1569 Mass was sung with the old ceremonies; they retained possession of the Cathedral and the parish churches for ten or twelve days, then they marched southward, restoring the ancient service at Staindrop, Darlington, Richmond, and Ripon, as far as Bramham Moor, where their forces amounted to four thousand foot and seventeen hundred horse, well mounted.

The Earl of Sussex, in York, was loyal to the Queen but was powerless to act without reinforcements from the South; he was short of horsemen and in any case was concerned that his own men would defect to the rebels if they had a chance; as he wrote to Sir William Cecil, Elizabeth's Secretary of State, on the 20th November: "He is a rare bird that, by one means or another, hath not some of his with the two Earls, or in his heart wisheth not well to the cause they pretend."; unfortunately, Sussex himself was a case in point; his half-brother Egremont Ratcliffe was involved in the rebellion and the Queen was suspicious of Sussex's own loyalty.

It would take some time to prepare an army and send it North, but the Queen dispatched her trusted advisor, Sir Ralph Sadler, to York; he arrived there on the 24th November, accompanied by Lord Hunsdon, Warden of the East March; Sadler quickly wrote to the Queen to reassure her of Sussex's loyalty and to support his view that confronting the rebels would be unwise; Sadler estimated the rebels' force at around 1000 horse and 6000 foot; Sussex had less than half that number available; at this time Sadler made a revealing comment to Cecil on the 6th December "There be not in all this country ten gentlemen that do favour and allow of her Majesty's proceedings in the cause of religion...".

The rebels proposed to proceed to York, in the hope of taking the episcopal city; but receiving intelligence that Walter Devereux, Earl of Essex had raised a powerful army against them, they turned first to Raby Castle one of the Earl of Westmorland's seats and thence to Barnard Castle which was shut against them by Sir George Bowes and his brother and which they besieged for eleven days before the fortress surrendered on honourable terms.

They then advanced to Clifford Moor, near Wetherby, where they found their troops consisted of around 4000 foot and 600 horse only; disappointed in the support that they had expected both in men and money, Westmorland began so visibly to despond that many of his men shrunk away, though Northumberland still kept resolute and was master of the field till the 13th December when Essex, been reinforced, marched out of York at the head of 7,000 men followed by a still larger army of another 12,000 under the Earl Of Warwick and the Lord Admiral Clinton.

On the 17th December, on Croft Bridge, Sir George Bowes met the Queen's leader, the Earl of Sussex and Sir Ralph Sadler; the rebels retreated northward first to Raby, then Auckland, then Hexham and lastly to Naworth Castle, where the wily Dacre gave them but short shelter; he was in no mood to compromise himself.

They disbanded their forces and with a number of attendants fled to Liddisdale, Scotland; most of the insurgents were killed or captured in flight; among the prisoners were Simon Digby of Aiskew and John Fulthorpe of Iselbeck, Esquires, Robert Pennyman of Stokesley and Thomas Bishop of Pocklington, gentlemen, who were imprisoned in York Castle, and afterwards hanged, beheaded, and quartered; and, according to the barbarous custom of that age, their heads were set up on the four principal gates of the city.

When the Queen discovered Dacre's double dealings: she gave Lord Hunsdon peremptory orders to apprehend that "cankred subtill traitor", as she called him; Leonard Dacre collected 3000 fierce Cumbrians and gave battle to a detachment of the royal army, under Lord Hunsdon, at Gelt's Bridge; but after a fiercely contested fight, he was defeated; among the insurgents were many women, who fought with a courage and determination that inflamed and animated their male companions to dare or to die; Dacre escaped and fled to Scotland, where he died in exile in 1575; on Lord Hunsdon's intercession the Queen pardoned the borderers who fought for Dacre; locally the Rising of the North is known as "Dacre's Raid".

The Earl of Northumberland was captured and shut up by the Regent Moray at Lochleven and in 1572 he was given up to Elizabeth and after being led through Durham, Raby and Topcliffe, he was conveyed to York, where he expiated his crime on the scaffold without the formality of a trial, beheaded in the Pavement at York on the 22nd August 1572; his head was set on a high pole over Micklegate Bar, where it remained for about two years and was then stolen in the night by some persons unknown; his body was buried without any memorial in the church of St. Crux; his countess escaped to Flanders, as did Lord Westmorland, who subsisted on a miserable pittance from the King of Spain, dying penniless and forgotten on the 16th November 1601.

Thus ended the Rising of the North, the last open attempt made by the Catholics to re-establish the faith of their fathers in this kingdom; instead of helping their cause it brought untold sufferings upon innumerable families and the publication of a bull from the Pope, in which Elizabeth was declared guilty of heresy and her English subjects absolved from their allegiance, which only served to increase the burdens and persecutions under which they groaned.

Little mercy was shown to any person implicated in the rising; though the insurrection was suppressed easily the Earl of Essex and Sir George Bowes put vast numbers to death; sixty six people were executed at Durham, many others were executed at York and London; upwards of 800 perished on the gallows and 57 noblemen and gentlemen were attainted by parliament and their estates confiscated; severe penal enactments were passed, by which anyone refusing to attend the reformed service was liable to fine and imprisonment; to become a priest, or to harbour one, or be present at mass, were crimes punishable with death; at York alone, 28 priests were hanged, disembowelled and quartered for exercising their sacerdotal functions, 11 laymen were executed for harbouring priests and one woman was barbarously pressed to death for the same crime.

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