Sunday 14 November 2010

Good Queen Bess

On this day….441 years ago, a somewhat half-hearted uprising against Queen Elizabeth I began in the northern counties of England. This was a part of her realm she had never visited, and where attachment to Roman Catholicism remained strong.

On November 14, 1569, 300 armed horsemen rode into Durham. They entered the cathedral, ripped up English bibles and prayer books and declared that no more Protestant services would be held there. Then a huge crowd turned up to hear a Catholic mass.

All over the North, people began replacing communion tables with high altars and restoring Catholic services, while the rebels marched south, hoping to free the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, who was Elizabeth’s prisoner. But when they had got as far as Wetherby, their leaders lost their nerve, and told them to go home.

If the rebellion was half-hearted, the repression that followed it certainly wasn’t. The queen’s instructions were that rich rebels should be put on trial, while the poor were just to be summarily hanged. At one point, Elizabeth complained about how few executions there had been of the “meaner sort of rebels”, and in the end around 500 were put to death, while beggars became a common sight in the North, as many families were reduced to destitution.

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