North Craven and the Pilgrimage of Grace 1536 -7 : the view from Giggleswick

Kathleen Kinder
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

The Pilgrimage of Grace is the name usually given to the popular uprising in the 1530s against the policies of Henry VIII and his officer Thomas Cromwell to dissolve the monasteries and acquire their assets for the Crown. Its full name was The Pilgrimage of Grace for the Commonwealth. In this instance, ‘commonwealth’ meant ‘for the common good’. The uprising first began in Lincolnshire and then spread to many places in the north of England, principally in Lancashire, North Yorkshire, and what is now Cumbria. Its focus, however, centred on York where a lawyer, Robert Aske, descended from an old, respected Yorkshire family, assumed leadership.

Throughout the Middle Ages, five monasteries, four Cistercian and one Benedictine, had acquired land and influence in North Craven. Jervaulx owned land principally around Horton in Ribblesdale. Fountains Abbey had land around Horton and Fountains Fell. Furness Abbey had land in Stackhouse and Giggleswick (Brigholm), while Finchale Priory, (the only Benedictine foundation) had Giggleswick Church and its living. The biggest landowner in the Settle-Attermire- Langcliffe - Rathmell areas was Sawley Abbey, situated just thirteen miles from Settle. The others were distant and absent landlords. There are several local place names which derive from the monastic period. Whitefriars from Settle refers to the Cistercian monks who stayed there during visits to their property in the Settle area, while Abbeylands in Stackhouse had similar monastic connections. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, the monastic owners were content to rent out the land for others to farm. There were also local landowning gentry like the Percies, Hamertons, Cliffords and Tempests, whose lands and properties were adjacent to those of the monasteries.

There is no doubt that by the early sixteenth century, many monastic foundations had seriously departed from their original religious aims. Some had accumulated vast wealth. Many monks lived lives that were relatively immoral, luxurious and corrupt. Nevertheless many monasteries still provided care for those in need. Sawley Abbey seems to have had a reasonably good reputation amongst local people, unlike many of the larger monastic institutions elsewhere. The residents of Giggleswick parish would miss the services offered by Sawley Abbey, particularly education for the poor, the spiritual teaching and pastoral care from the monks, the food the Abbey provided for beggars and the hungry, hospitality for travellers as well as medicines and care for the sick and elderly. North Craven’s communities were isolated, Roman Catholic in religion and a long way from the Protestant influences sweeping across London, the universities of Oxford and Cambridge and many areas of the South and Midlands, influences which motivated men like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Cromwell and his fellows.

The majority of local people were devout Roman Catholics, followers of the ‘old religion’ and supporters of a monastic system which in many cases provided their livelihood. All kinds of rumours were circulating regarding planned attacks from the Crown on local religious life. These added further to the unrest amongst the inhabitants of North Craven. What led Henry VIII to sanction the dissolution of the monasteries seems to have been principally greed and a desperate need to fill his empty coffers to support an extravagant lifestyle and to fund foreign ventures, military and otherwise. The king excused his actions by claiming, amongst other things, that the monasteries no longer fulfilled their original purpose. No doubt in many cases, that was true. The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion only strengthened his determination to speed up the destruction of the monastic system.

The abbeys needed a large number of retainers to look after their lands and properties in North Craven. With the abbeys gone, and until the lands were sold off to private owners, there would be no employment for the ordinary people who called themselves ‘the commons’. Some of the local landowners found themselves aligning with the ‘commons’; they too had their grievances against the Crown. Others were reluctant to take such a dangerous step. Even before the dissolution of the monasteries and the actual Pilgrimage of Grace there was serious agricultural discontent amongst the local folk who saw common land increasingly being enclosed by land-owning gentry. In June 1535, in North Craven, centring chiefly in Giggleswick parish, there was a riot involving over 300 people. Eighty-two men were indicted for three different riots and eighteen were imprisoned for destroying fences and enclosure dykes (walls) in the Giggleswick area. Amongst others involved were women and children intent on tearing down hedges surrounding enclosures of moors and ‘waste land’.

The rising of the Craven ‘commons’ began on Percy ground, in Giggleswick. The Percy family had been lords of the parish for most of the Middle Ages. In 1527 Henry Percy, sixth earl of Northumberland became lord of the parish, but King Henry VIII soon banished him to the northern Percy border lands for being secretly engaged to Anne Boleyn, with whom Henry was in love. At that time, Anne was maid-of-honour to Henry’s Queen Catherine of Aragon. Giggleswick was formally handed to the Cliffords of Skipton Castle in 1536, a family who were much more in the king’s favour. Certainly, in 1536, on several grounds, there was not much love for the king and his officers in Giggleswick parish.

Sir Stephen Hamerton belonged to one of the wealthiest families amongst the local gentry. It was said that you would pass through land owned by some branch of the Hamerton family all the way from Slaidburn to York. Today, Green and Kirk Hammerton, two villages just off the A59 near York, bear witness to the extensive land ownership of this family in the early sixteenth century. Note that the modern spelling of the place name is Hammerton. Sir Stephen held the manor of Slaidburn, where the fine Tudor building, Hammerton Hall, is still to be seen. At the time of the Pilgrimage of Grace, his residence seems to have been Wigglesworth Hall. He also owned Hellifield Peel. There is a chapel dedicated to the Hamertons in Long Preston Church and a farm called Hamerton in Wigglesworth.

In October 1536 Sir Stephen Hamerton’s attention was drawn to a notice nailed to the door of Giggleswick Church summoning the inhabitants of the parish to a muster to take place at Neals Ing, on the north eastern edge of Stainforth parish. The same, now ancient door, remains the main entrance to Giggleswick Church. Neals Ing was at the foot of Fountains Fell, on the road that led by Penyghent over to Littondale, then Wharfedale, and on to the Grassington road via Pateley Bridge to York. The farmhouse at Neals Ing is still there. Sir Stephen’s account states that he was seized by a band of Percy tenants and forced, so he said, ‘to take the Commons oath’. One gets the impression from reading all the accounts that some of the local land owners and nobility were initially hesitant about joining the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Around 400 people took part in the progress to Neals Ing, gathering reinforcements from nearby dales as they went. Some may have arrived first in Giggleswick from lower Ribblesdale and Bowland. Another muster had been called at Monubent, near Forest Becks, north of Bolton-by-Bowland. However, many moved north immediately, because they felt that to gather at Monubent would leave them vulnerable to attack from the pro-royal Cliffords at Skipton Castle. Two of Sir Stephen’s companions on the progress were John Catterall, lord of the manor of Rathmell, and Sir Nicholas Tempest of Bashall, near Clitheroe. Sir Nicholas was the younger brother of Sir Richard Tempest of Bracewell. Another branch of the Tempests held the manor of Stainforth. Like Sir Stephen Hamerton, Sir Nicholas seems to have been one who was ‘persuaded’ by a group of the ‘commons’ to join the rebellion. He and his companions were probably amongst those who moved from Monubent north up the Ribble valley, to join the North Craven muster.

As the Pilgrims moved from Neals Ing towards Penyghent, they carried a banner depicting the Five Wounds of Christ. They stopped at the ancient Ulfgil Cross, long since gone, although a large base stone was more recently to be seen on the Stainforth-Littondale road between Fountains Fell and Penyghent. There they sang a hymn, written specially for the Pilgrimage by a monk of Sawley Abbey. The first verse of this hymn is printed in Brayshaw and Robinson’s History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick which contains an account of the Pilgrimage of Grace as it affected North Craven. The verse is written in late Middle English and reads:
        Crist crucifiyid,
        For thy woundes wide,
        Us Commons guide
        Which pilgrimes be
        Thrughe Gode’s grace
        For to purchace
        Old welthe and peax
        Of the spiritualitie.

The North Craven muster was but one of many from the northern counties which moved to York to join the rebellion against the king’s actions against the monasteries. As Diarmaid MacCulloch wrote of the Pilgrimage of Grace in his book, Reformation: Europe’s House divided 1490-1700: ‘The whole ‘commonwealth’ of the north was making known its hatred of religious change’.

The outcome of the Pilgrimage of Grace was utterly tragic. The king acted swiftly and brutally against the rebels. In 1537 Robert Aske, the main leader, was hung, drawn and quartered in York, while Sir Stephen Hamerton and Sir Nicholas Tempest were hanged, being spared the more horrific death of quartering and disembowelling because they were gentry. Sir Stephen’s son Henry died of a broken heart on the day of his father’s execution. He is buried in York Minster. Sir Stephen’s wife Elizabeth died in the same year of her husband’s execution, and so came to an end this particular branch of the Hamerton family, and an end too of the ill-fated rebellion against Henry VIII called the Pilgrimage of Grace.

One wonders how the people in North Craven recovered after such a profound upheaval to their way of life. At least the king was generous enough to offer a general pardon to the ordinary folk who had taken part in the uprising. Monastic lands, however, passed to the king or to people who could afford to buy them, sometimes on generous terms, it seems. The ordinary peasant folk began to find employment with their new landlords. There must have been a realisation that the people of Giggleswick parish had to be thoroughly schooled in the Protestant faith to ensure that there would be no further rebellions like the Pilgrimage of Grace. In 1538, the great Benedictine Priory of St Cuthbert’s in Durham, was dissolved and so was the associate establishment of Finchale Priory which had held the living of Giggleswick Church for most of the Middle Ages. The living now passed to the Crown. Fortunately for the king and his Protestant advisers, the vicar, Robert Newton, who had been vicar since 1517, retired voluntarily in 1545. Although the living had been promised to another priest, it was James Proctor, who earlier had been chaplain to Thomas Cromwell, who in 1546 was appointed vicar of Giggleswick. He stayed just two years and was replaced in 1548 by another Protestant stalwart, John Nowell, who had been chaplain to the new King Edward VI.

Giggleswick School has reason to be grateful to John Nowell whose incumbency lasted for eight years, well into the reign of the Catholic queen, Mary Tudor. John Nowell was able to use his influence at court to recover the money from the Giggleswick chantries, appropriated by Henry VIII, to ensure that Giggleswick ‘Grammer Schole’ could continue to offer education at first to local boys, and then, from the late 20th century to the present day, function successfully as an independent public school for boys and girls.

People of Giggleswick, Settle, Langcliffe, Stainforth and Rathmell with Wigglesworth, residents of the ancient parish of Giggleswick, do not commemorate the involvement of their Tudor predecessors in the Pilgrimage of Grace, unlike the people of Aughton, near York, the home parish of Robert Aske. There has been for many years an annual service and presentation in Aughton Parish Church on the last Friday of June, commemorating the tragic events of 1536. In June 2015 a cantata entitled In the Year of Our Lord 1536, composed and directed by Carole Readman, was performed by the Weighton Waytes Choir in Aughton Church and Selby Abbey. For the first time the people of Aughton Parish learned a little about the people from North Craven who walked all the way to York to join the Pilgrimage of Grace under the leadership of their Aughton parishioner, Robert Aske. Bibliography

  • Baron J., 1895. Ribbleland Guide, J. Heywood *
  • Brayshaw,T. and Robinson, 1932. A History of the Ancient Parish of Giggleswick, London, Halton
  • Gudgeon, R.G..K., 1999. A History of Catholic Life in the Settle, Giggleswick, Lawkland and Surrounding Area, private publication
  • Haigh, C., 1969. Last Days of the Lancashire Monasteries and the Pilgrimage of Grace, for the Chetham Society, Manchester University Press
  • Hoyle, R.W., 2001. The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Politics of the 1530s, Oxford University Press
  • Jones, M.E., 1986. Society, Politics and Culture: Studies in Early Modern England, Cambridge University Press
  • MacCulloch, D., 2003. Reformation: Europe's House divided 1490-1700, Penguin Books
  • Moorhouse, G.., 2002. The Pilgrimage of Grace, Weidenfield and Nicholson,
  • Peel, A., 1922. A Short History of the Parish of Slaidburn, Beeley Bros, Lancaster.
  • Smith, R.B., 1970. Land and Politics in the England of Henry VIII, Clarendon Press, Oxford.
  • Trevelyan, G..M., 1958. Illustrated English Social History, Vol II, Longmans, Green and Co.,

Note: * A rare, antiquarian copy of Joseph Baron’s Ribbleland Guide is available for study at the Folly Museum, Settle. Please apply to the Honorary Curator

Acknowledgement: copyright-free illustration: Banner of the Holy Wounds, from

The wounds of Christ
St.Alkelda’s Church Giggleswick
Hamerton Hall
Neals Ing, Pen-y-Ghent

The wounds of Christ

St.Alkelda’s Church Giggleswick

Hamerton Hall

Neals Ing, Pen-y-Ghent