The involvement of the Markenfields and Nortons
Richard Norton had inherited the Norton-Clifford disputes over lands and rights in Kirkby Malzeard and Rhylstone. He had been brought up in the household of the Percy Earl of Northumberland and his first wife Susan was a relative of the Neville Earls. There is some evidence that he too had suffered economic pressure. As a staunch Catholic, Richard had also been involved in the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 but had been pardoned by Henry VIII.
Thomas Markenfield was only 17 on his father’s death in 1550 and it is highly likely that his uncle Richard was his guardian. Thomas’s father had led the men of Ripon from Markenfield Hall to join the Pilgrimage of Grace, and his aunt Eleanor had married Robert Aske, nephew of Robert Aske the leader of the Pilgrimage. However Thomas’s father did not suffer for his actions and Thomas inherited the Markenfield estates in 1550.
Thomas shared a strong Catholic faith with his uncle and in June 1566 Thomas left the country on a pilgrimage to the Holy lands where he was made a knight of the Order of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. He returned home in 1568 in the company of Dr Nicholas Morton, a Catholic priest, who had been sent to England to assess Catholic support in the North, this at a time when the Pope was considering excommunicating Elizabeth. Morton’s presence may well have encouraged the mood to revolt.
Richard Norton had been involved in Catholic plots against Elizabeth from the early 1560s. Richard was steward of the Earl of Lennox’s properties in Yorkshire and Lady Margaret Lennox, niece of Henry VIII and cousin of Elizabeth I, was a staunch Catholic and had a claim to be considered as Elizabeth’s heir. In 1561-2 Richard Norton promised to support the Earls if they rebelled against Elizabeth, to support Lady Lennox and her son Henry Lord Darnley’s claims to the throne. Nothing came of this. In 1564 Darnley married Mary Queen of Scots so uniting the two claims to the English throne making Elizabeth ‘incandescent with rage’.
A year later, in 1565, Richard Norton again promised 700 of his men and the help of the Scots if the Earl of Northumberland would rebel in support of Darnley and Mary – his plans came to nothing.
In May 1568 a Scottish rebellion forced Mary to flee to England and seek Elizabeth’s help to regain her throne. Seeing her as a threat to her own throne, Elizabeth replied by placing her in the custody of Lord Scroope of Bolton Castle.
The presence of Mary in England became a new focal point for discontented Catholics and within three weeks of her arrival at Bolton Castle in 1568 a plan to rescue her involved Christopher Norton, Richard’s son. Christopher was a member of the Scroope household helping to guard Mary, but the plot failed when Christopher was removed from the household.
In January 1569 Richard Norton, his son Francis and Thomas Markenfield plotted to free Mary from captivity in York but when Mary learnt of their plans she warned them off, as she did for their next proposal to free her on her move from Bolton Castle to Tutbury Castle in early 1569. Their plotting continued over the summer of 1569.
Despite all the political upheaval and the power struggles perhaps the main driving force behind the rebellion was the severe restrictions placed upon the devout Catholic community by a staunchly Protestant monarch.
Some historians have suggested that Elizabeth had initially demonstrated tolerance towards Catholics. The term ‘tolerant confusion’ has been used to describe the slow progress of the religious settlement of the Church of England in the years following her accession. But in the mid- to late-1560’s, Catholics began to see changes in this policy:
- Arrests of those secretly attending Mass increased
- Fines for those not attending established church services increased
- More and more Catholics went into exile and soon a seminary was established in Douai for those who fled from England
- The Court of High Commission and the bishops’ visitations demonstrated increased vigour in detecting and correcting recalcitrant priests
- Iconoclasm and punishment of those who had protected religious imagery offended and humiliated Catholics
- The Inns of Court expelled Catholics and barred them from commons and court.
The time of ‘tolerant confusion’ was over the Elizabethan Privy Council had a policy of ensuring religious uniformity in England.