Tudor Troubles Two
The Tudor dynasty was a religious roller-coaster ride and York, as a city of churches, suffered all the rapid changes in direction. Henry VIII's successors, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, each took radically different approaches, sometimes with violent results.
Unlike his father Henry VIII, Edward VI was a devout Protestant. He came to the throne in 1547 at only nine years old. The young king set about attacking Catholic beliefs and practises.
The widely-held medieval doctrine of purgatory was outlawed. And chantry foundations, which charged for offering regular prayers for the souls of the departed, were ordered to pay their revenues to the crown, effectively forcing them to fold.
In the 1530s and 40s it was quite normal for well-off York citizens to leave money in their wills for masses to be said for their souls by chantry priests. The 1548 act came as a shock to a city with around 100 chantries still functioning. But the city parishes appear to have complied with Edward VI’s legislation, taking down their chantry altars and removing statues and paintings.
St William’s College, built in 1465-7 as the college of chantry priests of the Minster, was granted instead to the Stanhope family.
After a failed attempt to put a Protestant, Lady Jane Grey, on the throne, the strong Catholic Mary Tudor became Queen in 1553. York corporation showed its support by welcoming the accession of ‘so noble, godly and most rightful a queen’. Almost immediately, priests in the north of England started celebrating mass again as the country returned to Roman Catholicism.
The Minster, the sole bastion of Protestantism in York, saw ten clergymen leave office for having married. Catholic services were resumed. In a return to Catholic decorative style the high altar was repainted and statues of the Virgin and St John were reinstated.
That same year the Minster founded a grammar school for 50 boys in a former hospital. The curriculum was a little one-sided, pupils were educated to put ‘to flight the rapacious wolves, that is devilish men, ill-understanding of the Catholic faith, from the sheepfolds of the sheep entrusted to them’.
The Mystery Plays, interpreting bible scenes, were resumed in 1554. York remained loyal to Mary and not a single Protestant martyr was burned in the city at a time when scores were murdered elsewhere in the country.
The strength of York's pro-Catholic feeling at the time is revealed by a comment made by the ambassador to Spain to the Spanish king, Charles V. He said that Mary had considered moving to York to live among the Catholic people.
After Queen Mary’s death in 1558, probably from influenza, her half-sister Elizabeth came to the throne and again the York Corporation unhesitatingly welcomed the new queen.
Religious direction changed once more and in the first year of Elizabeth’s reign laws were passed to require the use of a Protestant prayer book. Elizabeth was also confirmed as the Supreme Governor of the church, in defiance of the Pope. While almost all of York’s parish churches grudgingly accepted the latest changes, half the Minster Chapter refused to do so, depriving the cathedral of many of its leading officers.
To combat the influence of these disaffected York churchmen the central government strengthened the Council in the North. The council was to be permanently based at King’s Manor, and people attended its court from all over the region. Successive presidents enlarged the building and decorated it lavishly, as befitted a royal governor.
The High Commission Court for the northern province also began work in York in 1561: it was an ecclesiastical court to enforce religious conformity. Members included the President of the Council in the North and the Archbishop of York.
In 1572 Elizabeth appointed her Protestant cousin Henry Hastings, the Catholic-persecuting Earl of Huntingdon, as the council’s president – thereby keeping a very close eye on the city and integrating it fully into the Tudor state.
With the Council and Court, in spite of its Catholic past, York was established as the administrative and judicial capital of the north for more than 80 years. Not everyone was converted, however, and a resistance movement grew in the city.