The Rebellion Begins
On 14th November 1569 the great gates of Branspeth (1) were flung open and Richard Norton was seen advancing holding the standard, a gleaming crucifix. His white hair streamed in the wind and his face was fired with high enthusiasm for what he deemed a holy and sacred cause. The rebels marched to Durham Cathedral (2), tore down Protestant images, overturned the communion table and celebrated a Catholic mass.
The rebels left a watch of 24 townsmen to guard the city and they then marched south through Darlington, Northallerton and Richmond (7), celebrating mass in each town whilst gathering more troops Four days later, with an army of 6000 men, they reached Ripon (3) having marched 70 miles.
On November 20th Thomas Markenfield gathered the leaders in the courtyard of Markenfield Hall and after hearing a Catholic mass in the chapel marched with his uncle Richard Norton to Ripon Cathedral where they destroyed the communion table, burned Protestant prayer books and celebrated a Catholic High Mass. Richard Norton is described as mounted on a battle stallion, leading the rebels through the Gatehouse, his white hair streaming in the wind, and holding aloft the banner of the Five Wounds of Christ to show that it was a Catholic rebellion. [A copy of this banner hangs on the west wall of the chapel at Markenfield].
The rebels then gathered at Boroughbridge (4) to determine their plan of action. They could have attacked York but considered it too well defended, or they could have marched south to engage with the royal troops moving north to support those in York but they were likely to be significantly outnumbered. However the main objective may have been to release Mary Queen of Scots from captivity in Tutbury Castle where she had been held since September 2nd of that year.
On 22nd November the rebels mustered on Bramham Moor (5) near Leeds, 90 miles from Tutbury which they could have reached before the royal reinforcements arrived. There is some evidence that a small body of troops may have reached Doncaster on 24th November, just 40 miles from Tutbury and two or three days march away. If that had been the plan they would have been disappointed since on November 22nd Mary had been moved south to Coventry, some 80 miles from Doncaster, evidence that Elizabeth had a very good intelligence network.
Realising that their plans had been thwarted the Earls turned back towards Knaresborough (6) with the royal army of over 20,000 on their tail. To add to their problems, Elizabeth had issued a pardon to all those who returned to their lands within three days, resulting in considerable desertion from the rebel band. Significantly, the pardon did not cover the leaders including the two Earls, Richard Norton, his son Francis and Thomas Markenfield.
By November 30th the main body of rebels were back at Branspeth. Still hopeful, Christopher Norton had taken 300 men to capture Hartlepool (9) to prepare for supporting troops arriving from Spain. This never happened.
On December 2nd, as a final act of rebellion, the Earls took 1,500 cavalry and 3,200 foot soldiers to lay siege to Barnard Castle (8), the home of Sir George Bowes. The siege ended with the capture of the castle on December 14th and Sir George Bowes and his small army of supporters were allowed to march to join the Earl of Sussex’s men in York. Then the rebel army headed north.
By December 13th 12,000 royal troops had arrived in Wetherby (10) to supplement the 7,000 raised by Sussex and Bowes. By 16th December the royalists had reached Darlington.
Also on December 16th the rebels had reached Hexham (11) where the leaders decided that their cause was lost and they abandoned their foot soldiers and fled to Alnwick (12). By December 19th they had fled to Naworth Castle and a day later they were in Scotland.