Early Tudor North : 1485 – 1547

Henry VII and Henry VIII 1485 – 1547

From the late 14th Century, individuals like the North Yorkshire-born John Wycliffe (1320-1384) had challenged the rule of the Roman Catholic church and set in motion the religious changes that resulted in Henry VIII’s break with Rome. Henry is best known for his six wives, but it was the refusal of the pope to annul his first marriage that led to the establishment of the Protestant Church of England. Henry’s break with Rome was followed by the systematic dismantling of the old church and its monasteries. Priories were dissolved and looted of their riches, their treasures such as the Lindisfarne Gospels distributed for the acquisition of Royal wealth and the curiosity of collectors. It brought and end to a way of life that had dominated vast tracts of the north. The North would of course rebel, initially in the Pilgrimage of Grace but was heavily crushed and for better or for worse the region found its identity subsumed by an increasingly powerful, ‘enlightened’, yet uncompromising centralised state.


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Aug 22, 1485 – HENRY VII : First Tudor king

The Wars of the Roses end following the death of King Richard III at The Battle of Bosworth Field in Leicestershire. Welshman Henry Twdr (Tudor) is crowned Henry VII. Although much maligned by later historians and biographers, the late King Richard was, despite his flaws one of the most northern-focused of the medieval kings.

Jan 18 1486 – King marries Elizabeth of York

King Henry marries Elizabeth of York, Edward IV’s daughter at Westminster to solidify his status and right to the crown. It is intended to silence his Yorkist opponents.

Cathedral and castle Blackgate Newcastle
The Blackgate, part of Newcastle castle : Photo © 2015 David

1487 – Henry stays at Newcastle

Henry VII stays for some time in Newcastle while investigating people involved in a rebellion against him. In October last year, he visited York for the same purpose where he entered the city in grand style before huge crowds making a formidable impression. York is a city that had been a hotbed of Yorkist support.

1488 – Scottish king murdered

Scottish king, James III, a Stuart, is murdered following the Battle of Sauchieburn near Stirling by a man seemingly disguised as a priest, the king’s son James IV succeeds him.

April 28 1489 – Earl Percy killed

Henry Percy, the 4th earl of Northumberland who is an official of the king, is killed by rioters who are protesting against Royal taxes. His place of death is thought to be South Kilvington near Thirsk in North Yorkshire. Percy had commanded a Yorkist reserve at the Battle of Bosworth but had not been engaged in that affray.

1489 – South Shields salt

Lionel Bell of South Shields obtains a lease from the Priors of Durham for making salt near the town’s church.

1490 – St Luke’s Fair at Newcastle

King Henry VII grants a fair called St Luke’s Fair to the town of Newcastle.

Dec 21  1491 – Truce of Coldstream

A five year truce for peace is signed with the Scots called the Truce of Coldstream, named from the town on the Tweed. Tensions between England and Scotland are constantly on edge. Last year a naval battle was fought between the English and Scots in the Firth of Forth.

1492 – Master and Mariners

The Society of Masters and Mariners is established at Trinity House in Newcastle and will have jurisdiction over all port activities from Whitby to Lindisfarne.

1495 – Stockton mayor

A Robert Burdon is recorded as the first mayor of Stockton. The Burdon family will have considerable influence in the eastern and south eastern areas of Durham in the centuries to come.

Durham Cathedral Sanctuary Knocker
The Sanctuary Knocker at Durham Cathedral/ Photo © 2017 David Simpson

Dec 16 1495 – Murderer seeks sanctuary at Durham

A Gateshead labourer called John Bonar arrived at Durham Cathedral seeking the right of sanctuary for a murder he committed fourteen years earlier in Hexhamshire. The victim was Alexander Stevenson who had been stabbed in the chest.

1496 – Twizel Castle destroyed

In September King James IV of Scotland invades England to support the Yorkists who are attempting to overthrow Henry Tudor in the Perkin Warbeck rebellion. The Scottish king destroys Twizel Castle in northern Northumberland along with other small border towers but the rebellion fails and James’ troops are dispersed by the arrival of an English army at Norham. The Perkin Warbeck rebellion, which has been ongoing since 1491 is named from a man claiming to be Richard, the son of Edward IV, who makes a claim to the English throne

Sep 30 1497 – Another Border Truce

A border truce ‘The Truce of Ayton’ is signed once again between England and Scotland. It is signed at Ayton, Berwickshire, in the Borders and is intended to last seven years.

Apr 4 1502 – Prince Arthur dead

King Henry VII’s eldest son, Prince Arthur dies aged only fifteen at Ludlow Castle in Shropshire. He leaves a widow, Catherine of Aragon, who will be betrothed to Arthur’s brother, Prince Henry, the following year

Durham Cathedral and castle from Leazes Road, Gilesgate
Durham. Photo © David Simpson

July 1503 – Margaret Tudor stays at Durham

Margaret Tudor, the eldest daughter of Henry VII is due to marry the King of Scotland, James IV, as part of an agreement to quell tensions between the two nations. On her way north she stays at Durham where she is entertained by Bishop Fox in the Great Hall of Durham Castle. During her journey she had also visited Northallerton and Darlington before continuing north to Newcastle, Morpeth and Alnwick. Margaret will marry King James on August 8

1508 – Scottish border warden murdered

Sir Robert Kerr of Cessford Castle (between Jedburgh and Kelso), an unpopular Warden of the Scottish Middle March who was employed to keep peace in the central borderlands is murdered by John ‘The Bastard’ Heron of Ford Castle. Heron was assisted by two other English Border Reivers by the name of Lilburn and Starhead.

1508 – Defensive renovations at Berwick

Henry VII encourages renovations to the fortifications at Berwick.

Apr 21 1509 – KING HENRY VIII

Following the death of his father, King Henry VII at Richmond in Surrey, King Henry VIII succeeds as King of England. He will be crowned at Westminster on June 24. The new king’s reign will be remembered for centuries to come.

1512 – Guild of Mercers

The Guild of Mercers is established in Newcastle.

Norham Castle
Norham Castle Photo © David Simpson 2018

29 Aug 1513 – James invades Northumberland

With King Henry VIII heading a military campaign against Louis XII in France, the French have secretly requested the military assistance of King James IV of Scotland. Although James has been married to Henry’s sister, Margaret Tudor, since 1503 and is supposedly at peace with the English, he invades in support, crossing the Tweed into England on August 29 and seizing Norham Castle.

Ford Church and Castle
Ford Church and Ford Castle. Photo © David Simpson 2018

Aug/Sep 1513 – James makes Ford his headquarters

The pretext for James’ invasion of England is the murder of Sir Robert Kerr, a Scottish Warden of the Marches by John Heron of Ford, back in 1508.  James seizes the castle at Etal in the valley of the Till along with the nearby castle of Ford itself, the stronghold of the Heron family. James makes Ford his pre-battle headquarters as his troops encamp on Flodden Hill. Heron, the owner of Ford is not present, being imprisoned in Scotland. It is said that James engages in a brief affair with Lady Heron while occupying the castle.

Sep 9, 1513 – English cross Till, Scots switch position

An English army hastily gathered together at Pontefract in Yorkshire, under the command of Sir Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, heads north. On September 9, they gather reinforcements at Newcastle and Alnwick. Reaching the far north, they gather on the eastern flank of the River Till and cross in two sections via two separate bridges. As they do so, observed by James, the Scots create a smoke screen and switch positions from Flodden Hill to nearby Branxton Hill.

Sep 9, 1513 – The English cross the marshes

Having crossed the Till the English have to cross a considerable marshy area to reach Branxton Hill. The Scots expect this to hinder the English, however there are people with local knowledge in the ranks of the English army. Unbeknown to James there is a bridge over the bogs at Branxton which the English utilise.

Sep 9, 1513 – The Battle of Flodden Field

With the English assembled at the foot of Branxton Hill, both sides open fire with their heavy guns and it’s soon apparent that despite their inferior numbers, the English are more experienced in the accuracy of their gunfire. Both sides are assembled in three units and James orders the Scottish left wing, comprised mostly of Scottish Borderers under Lord Home, to swarm down upon the English right flank who are rapidly cut down. However an English reserve force – of English Borderers – under the leadership of Lord Dacre come to assistance. James, commanding the centre, then makes a charge down upon the English centre, which is headed by the Earl of Surrey. The charging Scots encounter unexpected ridges and bogs on the hill which slow their movement and bring the English centre crashing upon them at the base of the hill. The English left wing under Lord Stanley then take the initiative and charge uphill against the Scottish right flank which is mostly comprised of Highlanders under the Earls Lennox and Argyle.

Sep 9, 1513 – Disastrous battle for Scots

The Battle of Flodden or ‘Battle of Branxton’ as it was historically known left 10,000 Scots dead, amongst them King James himself. In a moment of impulse and desperation the king had charged towards the English banners that were held high, revealing the location of the English army leaders. He was quickly cut down and fell to his death. Around 10,000 Scots were killed and in addition to the king the Scots lost 12 earls, 15 lords, an archbishop and a number of Highland clan chiefs including the chiefs of the Macleans and Campbells.

1513 Infant king of Scotland

The infant James V succeeds his father as King of Scotland. He is a little over one-year old. Scottish politics will descend into a period of anarchy and the nation is severely weakened.

York Minster
York Minster © David Simpson 2021

1514 – Wolsey is Archbishop of York

Cardinal Wolsey, one of Henry VIII’s principal churchmen and advisers is appointed Archbishop of York. However, in many respects this historically important northern role is only a secondary one for Wolsey and exemplifies the Tudor king’s disdain for Northern affairs.

College Gate © David Simpson 2017

1515 – College Gate

The College Gate – the entrance to the cathedral close at Durham City is constructed about this year.

Auckland Castle
Auckland Castle Photo © David Simpson

1523 – Wolsey the absent Bishop of Durham

Henry VIII’s chief adviser Cardinal Thomas Wolsey becomes Bishop of Durham, which is still a political ‘Prince Bishop’ role. Wolsey has been Archbishop of York since 1514 but has yet to visit his diocese there, demonstrating what little regard the Tudors have for the North. Wolsey’s favourite plants, rushes, are planted at Auckland Castle in Bishop Auckland ready for his appearance but Wolsey will never visit Durham.

1523 – English burn Scottish Border abbeys

In June and September the English forces under the leadership of Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey, working for Henry VIII, burn the Scottish Border abbeys of Kelso and Jedburgh that were established by King David in the twelfth century.

1523 – Percy objects to son’s Boleyn betrothal

Henry Percy, the 5th Earl of Northumberland objects to the betrothal of his son, also Henry Percy to Anne Boleyn, a daughter of Sir Thomas Boleyn. Young Percy is a page to King Henry’s adviser, Wosley, who scolds him for not consulting with the king or the earl. The Earl Percy feels that Anne is not a suitable match or of high enough status for his son and will have his son married to Mary Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury, the following year,

Nov 1523 – Wark Castle relieved

The English castle of Wark on Tweed, occupied by French and Scottish forces under the leadership of the John, Duke of Albany is relieved by an English army under Thomas Howard, the Earl of Surrey.

St Nicholas Cathedral Newcastle
St Nicholas in Newcastle is now a cathedral., Newcastle. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1525 – Royal Grammar School

Newcastle’s Royal Grammar School is established by the mayor of the town. It is situated near St Nicholas church (the school will not move to Jesmond until 1906).

Oct 10 1525 – Peace truce at Berwick

A truce for three years of peace is signed at Berwick by the Commissioners of Henry VIII of England and King James V of Scotland.

1530 – Newcastle asserts rights to Tyne trading

For centuries the monks of Tynemouth and Durham had respectively developed port activities at North Shields and South Shields. Over the years legal challenges from Newcastle ensued. This year, the law finally came out in favour of Newcastle and the ports have been restricted in their trading rights. Salt manufacture and the sale of fish and wine will, however, be permitted at the mouth of the Tyne.

1530 – Wolsey arrested

Cardinal Wolsey is arrested on the orders of Henry VIII on suspicion of treason. He is arrested by Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland at Cawood Castle near Selby in Yorkshire – the Archbishop of York’s castle – and sent south to the king. Wolsey only came north in his capacity as Archbishop of York after he was stripped of the position of Lord Chancellor by Henry. Wolsey later dies at Leicester while being transported to London.

1532-34 – English ravage Scotland

Henry Percy, the 6th Earl of Northumberland ravages the Scottish Borders in 1532 and in 1534. The raiding is ruthless and brutal. In 1534 the English destroy 192 Scottish castles, towers and churches.

Jan 25 1533 – Henry marries Anne Boleyn

On Jan 25 King Henry secretly marries Anne Boleyn and then on May 23, Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury declares Henry’s previous marriage to Catherine of Aragon void.

Jul 11  1533 – Pope excommunicates the king

The Pope excommunicates King Henry from the Catholic church. He is no longer recognised as a legitimate ruler by the pope.

Sep 7 1533 – Elizabeth born

Princess Elizabeth is born to Anne Boleyn.

Tynemouth Castle and the bay
Tynemouth Castle and the bay Photo © 2018 David Simpson

1534 – Hylton is Tynemouth governor

Sir Thomas Hilton, the owner of Hylton Castle which overlooks the River Wear at Sunderland becomes the governor of Tynemouth Castle which overlooks the mouth of the Tyne.

Sea wall, Old Hartlepool
Sea wall, Old Hartlepool. Photo © David Simpson 2018

1535 – Hartlepool : Durham, Yorkshire or Northumberland?

As the king supresses church-held lands, some some dispute and confusion arises over which county Hartlepool belongs to. Hartlepool lies north of the Tees but was historically part of the Wapentake of Sadberge. This was a Viking settled region probably colonised by Vikings from Yorkshire. Strangely, the Wapentake formed an outlying part of Northumberland rather than Durham. Sadberge was acquired as part of Durham by Bishop Pudsey in 1189 but disputes occasionally arise over the status of the wapentake. This year an act declared that Hartlepool’s inhabitants, who claimed to be part and parcel of Northumberland, should from now one be considered part of Yorkshire. However records in 1545 show it still considered part of Northumberland. The Prince Bishops of Durham are clear it is part of their domain.

Apr 14  1536 – Smaller monasteries targeted

King Henry sees the monasteries as a great source of wealth and revenue and introduces an act of parliament to dissolve the numerous smaller monasteries across the country.

May 19 1536 – Anne Boleyn beheaded

Anne Boleyn is beheaded at the Tower of London after her marriage to King Henry is annulled by Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury on May 17. She had been found guilty of High Treason. One of the jury members in her trial had been Henry Percy, the 6th Earl of Northumberland, who had been betrothed to Anne in 1523. He is said to have collapsed upon hearing the verdict.

May 30 1536 – Henry marries Jane Seymour

King Henry marries Jane Seymour. He had been courting Jane during his marriage to Anne Boleyn. She will be the only one of his six wives to bear him a son.

Gateway Bishop Auckland
Castle Gateway Bishop Auckland Photo © David Simpson

Oct 13 1536 – Pilgrimage of Grace

The Pilgrimage of Grace takes place. It is a Northern English rebellion involving an army of around 30,000 Catholics against Henry VIII’s religious reforms with marches and demonstrations centred on Lincolnshire and York. Rebels, including gentry and commoners, march from throughout Yorkshire to York to hear the address of pilgrimage leader Robert Aske. Support also comes from Barnard Castle and Bishop Auckland in the County of Durham and other places further to the north. On December 8, the Duke of Norfolk, on behalf of Henry, promises the rebels a pardon. The Duke’s promises were designed to subdue the rebellion.

July 1537 – King executes 200 northern rebels

In January there was a further Catholic rebellion in the North, this time centred on the Lake District counties of Cumberland and Westmorland, led by Sir Frances Bigod of Settrington in North Yorkshire. In July, King Henry sets about the punishment of Northern rebels from both incidents. Over 200 men involved in the rebellions are executed including the Pilgrimage of Grace leader, Robert Aske and the Abbot of Jervaulx (a monastery in Wensleydale).

Oct 12 1537 – Edward born

Prince Edward, the longed-for son is finally born to King Henry VIII’s Queen, Jane Seymour.

Oct 15 1537 – Council of the North

Following the recent rebellions in the North, a ‘new’ Council of the North is created by King Henry to monitor and control the administration of northern affairs. In fact it is already established but its activities are stepped up. Cuthbert Tunstall the Bishop of Durham is its president. He has held the post before (1530-33). Tunstall, of course already holds some political powers as Prince Bishop and will be the Council’s President from 1537 to 1538. He was preceded by Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolk (1536-37) and Henry Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland (1533-36). Tunstall will succeeded by Robert Holgate from 1538 to 1549. In Holgate’s time there were four annual sessions held at York, Durham, Newcastle and Hull. The Council of the North was originally created in 1472 and operated until 1485 with Richard Duke of Gloucester (later Richard III) its first President succeeded by his nephew John De la Pole in 1483.

Oct 24 1537 – Jane Seymour dies

King Henry VIII’s favourite queen and third wife, Jane Seymour dies. She recently gave birth to Prince Edward.

1538 – ‘Coals to Newcastle’

The phrase ‘Coals to Newcastle’, to describe a self-explanatory pointless activity is first recorded this year.

1538 – Visitation of larger monasteries

Throughout 1538 an inspection was made of the larger, more powerful monasteries across the country to assess their wealth in preparation for the acquisition and sale of their lands and assets for the profit of the king.

Historic view of Darlington showing the Skerne and St. Cuthbert's church
Historic view of Darlington showing the Skerne and St. Cuthbert’s church

Dec 31, 1538 – Council of the North at Darlington

The Council of the North is held at Darlington this year.

Lindisfarne Priory
Lindisfarne Priory with Lindisfarne castle in the distance : Photo © 2015 David Simpson

1538-40 – Northern monasteries dissolved

Wealthy monasteries like Rievaulx and Whitby and many others in Yorkshire and in Northumberland like Lindisfarne and Tynemouth as well as the great monastery of Durham Priory are to be stripped of their wealth and power by Henry VIII. Monks will be pensioned off and most of the monasteries and their lands will be sold off to private owners. These are some of the biggest landowners in the North that have dominated huge swathes of the landscape, its agriculture and trade for centuries. Henry, who is determined to destroy the established monastic system sees the monasteries as a rich source of revenue.

Remains of Norman Priory Church, Tynemouth
Remains of Norman Priory Church, Tynemouth : David Simpson 2015

Jan 12  1539  – Tynemouth handed over

Tynemouth is one of the many monasteries where the lands and revenues are acquired by the king and its prior and monks pensioned off.  The lands of Tynemouthshire  which belonged to the monastery are quite scattered and often remote from the monastery itself. They include the village of Benwell to the west of Newcastle.

1539 – Salt pans

A Thomas Bell operates salt pans for the Prior of Durham at Howdon on Tyne, a reminder that the church is heavily involved in industrial concerns, which include coal mining, across the region.

Durham Cathedral, Palace Green
Durham Cathedral, Palace Green Photo © David Simpson

Dec 31 1539  – Durham Monastery dissolved

Durham Priory, part of the Cathedral of Durham is the most powerful and wealthy monastery in the region. It ceased to operate from today with its revenues handed over to the king by the Prior, Hugh Whitehead. Priory lands across Durham will be sold off to private individuals. The Dissolution of the monasteries has the most revolutionary and far-reaching impact on land ownership in the North since the Norman Conquest.

Jan 6  1540 – Henry marries Anne of Cleves

King Henry marries Anne of Cleves on January 6 in the hope of creating strong ties with German Lutherans. However, Anne is not to the king’s liking and he divorces her on July 9.

Jul 28  1540 – Henry marries Catherine Howard

King Henry VIII marries Catherine Howard.

Durham Cathedral © David Simpson 2018

May 12 1541 – Dean and Chapter of Durham

King Henry VIII restructures the government and organisation of Durham Cathedral which is no longer a Priory church, though it remains the seat of the Bishop of Durham Cuthbert Tunstall, who still holds a role as Count Palatine (or Prince Bishop). Hugh Whitehead, the last Prior of Durham becomes the first Dean of Durham and is the head of the chapter, or ruling body of the cathedral.

Sep 29 1541 – Scottish king snubs Henry at York

A meeting between King Henry VIII and the Scottish King James V at York does not take place as James fails to turn up. King Henry and his enormous following have made a huge impression at York, camped outside the city walls but Henry will see James’ absence as a major snub.

York Minster
York. Photo © David Simpson

Oct 15  1541 – Margaret Tudor dies

Margaret Tudor (now a Stuart), the mother of the present Scottish king, James V and sister of Henry VIII has died at her home of Methven Castle in Perthshire.

Feb 13  1542 – Henry executes Catherine Howard

Catherine Howard is executed for adultery on the orders of her husband, Henry VIII.

Feb 13  1542 – Henry marries Catherine Parr

King Henry VIII marries Catherine Parr, his sixth and final wife, who will ultimately outlive the king.

Nov 24, 1542 – Battle of Solway Moss

During October an English army under the Duke of Norfolk attacked the Scottish Borders and burned the town of Kelso on the Tweed. Today, King James V of Scotland and his army of 10,000 Scots suffer a devastating defeat to a small army of English in Cumbria on the English side of the border near Gretna Green.

Dec 14 1542 – Mary Queen of Scots is 7 days old

King James V retires to Falkland Palace in Fife following his defeat at Solway Moss where he dies only a few weeks later on December 14. He is succeeded by his seven days old daughter (born December 7) who becomes Mary, Queen of Scots.

Dec 11  1543 – Marriage treaty rejected

Following the death of the Scottish King James V, a marriage treaty (the Treaty of Greenwich) proposes the marriage of Mary, Queen of Scots to King Henry VIII’s son, Edward for a unification of England and Scotland. It was agreed to by the Scottish Earl of Arran in July but in December it rejected by the Scottish parliament.

Tynemouth Gatehouse
Tynemouth Castle Gatehouse : David Simpson

May 3  1544 – Troops from Tynemouth sack Edinburgh

On March 21, an army under the command of Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford arrives in Newcastle and embark on a fleet of ships at Tynemouth delivered by the High Admiral, John Dudley. With 10,000 men aboard, they set sail at the end of April destined for the port of Leith from which they sack, burn and occupy Edinburgh on May 3 under Hertford’s command before returning to Berwick on May 18.

Ruins of Barnard Castle
Ruins of Barnard Castle’s castle above the River Tees : Photo © David Simpson.

1544 – Council moves

The Council of the North, intended to sit at Darlington this year moves to Barnard Castle in Teesdale because of the threat from plague.

Feb 27, 1545 – Battle at Ancrum Moor

An English army is scattered by the Scots under Archibald Douglas at the battle of Ancrum Moor near Jedburgh in the Borders.

Jan 28 1547 – Death of King Henry

Henry VIII passes away after one of the most momentous reigns in the nation’s history. Northern England has seen considerable changes in religion, landscape, industry, and political status during Henry’s time as king.


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