The Rebellion is Imminent
On 6th October 1569 the Earls were planning to rise in revolt but they abandoned this venture because they thought that Elizabeth had uncovered the full extent of their plotting. Their fears seemed to be justified when they received a summons to attend the Council of the North in York. They persuaded the Duke of Sussex that they were not involved in any plot and denied any rumours of a rising that may have come to the Queen’s ears. Sussex advised the Queen that a rebellion was not feasible during the winter months for logistical reasons.
left: The Council of the North
The Earls were requested three more times to attend court and each time they refused, heightening Elizabeth’s suspicions. By now the only decision was to rebel or flee. Both Earls were still reluctant to commit themselves to rebellion. Charles Neville was finally persuaded to lead a rebellion by his two uncles and his wife Jane. Jane was the eldest daughter of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey who was beheaded in 1547 at the age of 29. He had been found guilty of treason on the 13th January 1547, where evidence was given “which concerned overt conspiracy as well as the usurpation of the royal arms”. It was alleged that “he had on 7 October 1546 at Kenninghall displayed in his own heraldry the royal arms and insignia, with three labels silver, thereby threatening the king’s title to the throne and the prince’s inheritance” Clearly Jane had good reason to oppose the Tudor cause.
Only when he thought he was about to be arrested did Thomas Percy flee from his home at Topcliffe to join Neville and other plotters at Brancepeth Castle.
Despite plotting for many years, the rebels looked for justification for their actions. If the Pope had already excommunicated Elizabeth in the autumn of 1569, they could have claimed that she was no longer their queen and they could have considered that they had papal permission to rebel and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. Thomas Markenfield found a solution to their problem. He argued that as Elizabeth had refused to allow a papal ambassador into England she had effectively excommunicated herself. Not all were convinced by his arguments and they wrote to the Pope requesting his help. However Pius V did not issue a bull of excommunication until 1570, too late to ease the minds of the rebels.
The pertinent section of the bull, in translation from the Latin is as follows:
Therefore, resting upon the Authority of Him whose pleasure it was to place us upon this supreme justice-seat, we do out of the fullness of our apostolic power declare the foresaid Elizabeth to be a heretic and a favourer of heretics, and her adherents in the matters aforesaid to have incurred the sentence of excommunication and to be cut off from the unity of the body of Christ.
And moreover (we declare) her to be deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown and of all lordship, dignity and privilege whatever.
And also declare the nobles, subjects and people of the said realm and all others who have in any way sworn oaths to her, to be forever absolved from such an oath and from any duty arising from lordship, fealty and obedience; and we do, by authority of these presents, so absolve them and so deprive the same Elizabeth of her pretended title to the crown and all other the above said matters. We charge and command all and singular nobles, subjects, peoples and others aforesaid that they do not dare obey her orders, mandates and laws. Those who shall act to the contrary we include in the life sentence of excommunication.
So it seems that the Earls would not have been exactly commanded to rebel, but certainly to disobey.
Before finally committing themselves to rebellion, the Earls issued a proclamation saying:
left: The Earl of Westmorland
right: The Earl of Northumberland
We, Thomas, Earl of Northumberland, and Charles, Earl of Westmoreland, 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 manning. Forasmuch as divers disordered and well-disposed persons about the Queen’s Majesty, have, by their subtle and crafty dealings to advance themselves, overcome 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.
They then asked that all men between the ages of 16 and 60 muster with arms and armour to support their cause.
The proclamation ‘lest if we should not do it ourselves, we might be reformed by strangers’ may suggest that the rebels were expecting help from Spain which never materialised.
Some who may have been expected to join the rebellion did not commit themselves. These included Leonard Dacre, William Ingleby and Francis Slingsby. Many gentry families were divided in choosing between the rebels and the Queen.
During November 1569 both the rebels and the Queen’s supporters were gathering men and arms. On November 7th the Neville tenants started to gather at Bracepeth and the royalists at Barnard Castle with Sir George Bowes and in York with the Earl of Sussex. Bowes reported regularly to Sussex and identified both Richard Norton and Thomas Markenfield as being prominent among the rebel leaders.