The sixteenth century: Political affairs before 1542

A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave, 'The sixteenth century: Political affairs before 1542', A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989), pp. 70-73. British History Online [accessed 17 June 2024].

A P Baggs. L M Brown. G C F Forster. I Hall. R E Horrox. G H R Kent. D Neave. "The sixteenth century: Political affairs before 1542", in A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989) 70-73. British History Online, accessed June 17, 2024,

Baggs, A P. Brown, L M. Forster, G C F. Hall, I. Horrox, R E. Kent, G H R. Neave, D. "The sixteenth century: Political affairs before 1542", A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley, (London, 1989). 70-73. British History Online. Web. 17 June 2024,

Political Affairs before 1542

Although the town's lord, the archbishop, seldom if ever visited Beverley, his advice and favour, and those of his agents, were valued by the governors and continued to be solicited by gifts and entertainment. (fn. 1) In 1502-3, for instance, when Archbishop Savage was consulted at York, an elaborate gift of birds was made to him and money was also spent on his councillors. Almost all of the expenditure on 'great men' in 1522-3 went to his receiver and his commissioners of array. (fn. 2) Otherwise, the town's most frequent beneficiary was the earl of Northumberland, with whom it seems to have achieved generally good relations. In 1502-3 the governors gave him birds, spent money on his councillors, and rewarded his household at Leconfield when they were entertained there. (fn. 3) Another festive link between the town and the Northumberland household was the visit which the boy bishop from Beverley minster paid to Leconfield at Christmas. (fn. 4)

In the early 16th century Beverley was frequently called upon for soldiers, usually to serve against the Scots. In 1522 the archbishop's commissioners held a muster on Westwood and selected 96 men, who were then clothed in white coats trimmed with red, green, and yellow and sent to York at a cost to the town of over £15. (fn. 5) At the muster of 1539 the town had 470 men liable for military service. (fn. 6) Beverley men were again deployed against the Scots in 1542 and ships of Beverley were among those assembled in Hull for an expedition to Scotland in 1544. (fn. 7) Nearly £28 was spent by the town in 1545-6 on 10 soldiers and on Sir John Ellerker, presumably their commander. (fn. 8) The town was, however, ill equipped to defend itself against attack, as the events of the Pilgrimage of Grace demonstrated, and there is evidence to suggest that such defences as it had were allowed to deteriorate during the century. (fn. 9)

The town was much involved in the rebellion in the northern counties which began in 1536. The main cause of the rising in Beverley in October that year was probably the disagreement within the town over its government which had erupted in disorder the previous year. (fn. 10) The rising was, however, sparked off by the example of Lincolnshire: 'if Lincolnshire had not rebelled, surely Yorkshire had never rebelled' was the view of the leader Robert Aske. (fn. 11) News of the revolt which broke out at Louth on 1 October was said to have been welcomed when it reached Beverley on the fifth. Two or three days later an appeal in the name of Aske for support was received by one of the governors but was at first suppressed. On 8 October, however, it became widely known and set off a series of events, including the swearing of townsmen to the rebel cause. One of the early acts of the insurgents was to send to Lincolnshire an offer of help (fn. 12) and a request for counsel. (fn. 13) For four days (8-11 Oct.) the rising was centred upon Beverley, where there were daily assemblies on Westwood for the swearing of adherents, (fn. 14) the making of plans, and the organization of the rebels. During the night of 9 October hotheads from Beverley fired Hunsley beacon, some 5 miles south-west of the town, and soon Holderness and the country areas as far west as Howdenshire and Marshland in the West Riding were also in revolt. The spread of the rebellion, shortly afterwards known to its supporters as the Pilgrimage of Grace, and the developing military objectives of its leaders soon removed most of the activity from Beverley itself. The company from the town was thus at assemblies at Hunsley and Market Weighton on 12 and 13-14 October respectively, (fn. 15) was stationed at Sculcoates for the seige of Hull from 15 to 20 October, (fn. 16) and briefly joined the main army in the West Riding until the end of the month, when that body dispersed under truce. Beverley evidently remained agitated during the truce, despite an agreement made between the archbishop and the townsmen on 5 November which settled their grievances about the government of the town. (fn. 17) There was reported to have been an assembly of the townsmen in one of the churches on 12 November at which an unsuccessful attempt was made to provoke another rising. (fn. 18) A few days later Beverley men took part in the renewed seige of Scarborough under John Hallam of Watton, near Beverley, who led local agitation for the Pilgrim cause into 1537. The town was again reported to be ready to rise on rumours that Hull was being fortified for the king but it was calmed by Aske at a meeting on 9 January. A few days later, however, the revolt flared up again. An unsuccessful attempt was made by Hallam and some confederates from Beverley to seize Hull on 16 January. Hallam's ally Sir Francis Bigod entered Beverley with several hundred men on 18 January (fn. 19) but the following day was driven out by Sir Ralph Ellerker. The local rising effectively ended with the execution in Hull a week or two later of Hallam and probably also another leader of the insurgents, Roger Kitchen of Beverley.

The rising was said on the first day to have been caused by 'old grudges and quarrels . . . by reason of a great suit' between the archbishop of York and some of the townsmen about the town's liberties. (fn. 20) One of the first alleged objectives of the rebels was the murder of the archbishop, and soon after the outbreak his officers in the town, Robert Crayke and William Babthorpe, (fn. 21) fled. A supporter of the archbishop called 'Wythes', probably William Wise, (fn. 22) was nearly killed on the first day and there were arguments with another, Robert Raffles, while the second day was spent partly in settling old quarrels. As late as January 1537, however, two of the leading insurgents proposed to disrupt a meeting of 'some of the most ancient men' of Beverley 'because they were of a contrary faction in a dispute concerning the privilege of the town'. (fn. 23)

The role of the archbishop's late opponent Sir Ralph Ellerker and his family is obscure, like that of most of the gentry involved in the rising. Ellerker's son-inlaw Oswin Ogle and several junior members of the family were, however, early active with the rebels. Ellerker himself, who apparently withdrew from the contest with the archbishop after his defeat in the court of star chamber in November 1535, (fn. 24) remained loyal throughout the rising. He died in 1539. His son, also Sir Ralph (d. 1546), (fn. 25) was evidently trusted by the archbishop on the eve of the rising and stood aloof from it until the fall of Hull. It was indeed the younger Ellerker's refusal to join the Beverley insurgents that led to their appointment as captain of a visitor to the town, William Stapleton of Wighill (Yorks. W.R.).

At least two of the promoters of the rising had taken part in the earlier disorder. Richard Newdyke or Endyke (fn. 26) was involved in breaking the archbishop's park in 1535 and in the disputed election of 1536, in which Richard Wilson was chosen as a governor. (fn. 27) Wilson, who was a confederate of Hallam's in 1537, was expressly excepted from the pardon of that year (fn. 28) but fled to Scotland and was eventually pardoned in 1544. (fn. 29) Richard Newdyke's restoration to favour may have been speedy: a man of that name was evidently bailiff of Beverley in 1541-2. (fn. 30) William Woodmansey, who was one of the first insurgents, was the other Beverley man excepted from the pardon and, like Wilson, he fled to Scotland; (fn. 31) his role in the earlier dispute is unknown. Christopher Sanderson supported Ellerker in April 1535 and may then have been re-elected as governor, for after the special election of the following December the new governors sent to him for one of the keys of the common chest. He also participated in the 1536 election against the archbishop's faction. Despite his involvement with the rebels he was nevertheless a governor again as early as 1537-8. (fn. 32) Other men of influence drawn into the rising included Richard Faircliff and John Horncliffe, who were archbishop's officers for Beverley, and Richard Wharton of Hull Bridge, described as 'the most honest and substantial man' with the rebels and, in the plans for Hallam's revolt, as a leader of Holderness. (fn. 33)

The government's policies seem to have been relatively unimportant as causes of the rising, though there is some evidence of local dissent. The divine Nicholas Wilson, a local man, was probably proselytizing for the papal cause in the district in 1533, (fn. 34) and in 1535 the priest serving Winestead was gaoled in the town for supporting Rome. (fn. 35) One of the local leaders, Hallam, was evidently motivated in part by dislike of the religious changes and there is some evidence of the circulation in the town of the rumours and seditious prophecies (fn. 36) then common. Some of the religious may, however, have contributed much to the rising, especially by spreading news. An Observant friar living with the Franciscans, Thomas Johnson or Brother Bonaventure, played a leading role in early events in Beverley and Trinitarian friars from Knaresborough (Yorks. W.R.) allegedly promoted the rising then and again before Hallam's revolt in 1537. (fn. 37) A priest, John Tuvy, was also among those who first raised the town. (fn. 38)


  • 1. Above, Med. Beverley (Local Govt.); below (Relig. Life).
  • 2. H.R.O., BC/II/6/16, 19, 20.
  • 3. Ibid. BC/II/6/16.
  • 4. Northumberland Household Bk. (1905), 328, 423; for the boy bishop see also Poulson, Beverlac, 620, 638.
  • 5. H.R.O., BC/II/6/19; L. & P. Hen. VIII, iii (2), p. 1027.
  • 6. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xiv (1), p. 310.
  • 7. Ibid, xvii, pp. 432, 440-1; xix (1), p. 230.
  • 8. H.R.O., BC/II/6/21.
  • 9. Ibid. BC/II/7/2, f. 21; below, Fortifications.
  • 10. Above (Achievement of Self-govt.). The following acct. of the rising is based largely on M. H. and R. Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, passim.
  • 11. E.H.R. v. 571.
  • 12. The fullest acct. of events in Beverley is in Wm. Stapleton's confession (print. T.E.R.A.S. x. 82-105); cf. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xi, p. 333.
  • 13. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xi, pp. 254-5; xii (0, pp. 89-90.
  • 14. T.E.R.A.S. x. 85-6.
  • 15. Ibid. 93.
  • 16. V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. i, 91.
  • 17. Above (Achievement of Self-govt.).
  • 18. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xi, p. 434.
  • 19. The size of the force is variously given: see also L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), pp. 267, 496.
  • 20. T.E.R.A.S. x. 85.
  • 21. L. & P. Hen. VIII, v, p. 388.
  • 22. T.E.R.A.S. x. 85; Yorks. Sta. Cha. Proc. ii, p. 114.
  • 23. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), p. 97.
  • 24. T.E.R.A.S. x. 89; above (Achievement of Self-govt.).
  • 25. Yorks. Sta. Cha. Proc. i, p. 35 n.
  • 26. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), pp. 96-7, 168; T.E.R.A.S. x. 84. He prob. also occurs as 'Dendake'; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xi, p. 333.
  • 27. P.R.O., STAC 2/19/242; Yorks. Sta. Cha. Proc. ii, pp. 107-8, 111; T.E.R.A.S. x. 84, 86.
  • 28. H.R.O., BC/I/55 (print. Y.A.J. xxxiii. 411-15).
  • 29. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xvii, p. 24; xix (2), p. 475.
  • 30. H.R.O., BC/II/6/20-1.
  • 31. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), pp. 96-7; xvii, p. 24; T.E.R.A.S. x. 96.
  • 32. T.E.R.A.S. x. 83, 85; Yorks. Sta. Cha. Proc. ii, pp. 104, 111-12, 114; below, Lists of Officers.
  • 33. H.R.O., BC/II/6/19; Yorks. Sta. Cha. Proc. i. 34; T.E.R.A.S. x. 85-7, 91; L. & P. Hen. VIII, xi, p. 333.
  • 34. L. & P. Hen. VIII, vi, pp. 112-13; D.N.B.
  • 35. L. & P. Hen. VIII, viii, pp. 392, 400, 403-4; V.C.H. Yorks. E.R. v. 155.
  • 36. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (2), p. 427.
  • 37. V.C.H. Yorks. iii. 300.
  • 38. L. & P. Hen. VIII, xii (1), pp. 96-7.