Why did the Northern Earls revolt in 1569?

After a decade of living under Elizabeth’s religious settlement, a number of influential Catholics in the north of England attempted to overthrow Elizabeth in 1569. Why did this happen, what were the events of the revolt, and why did it fail?

You can download the worksheet for this homework lesson below.

– I can explain three main reasons for the northern earls revolting.
– I can produce an answer to a 12-mark question on this content.
– I can explain the consequences of the Revolt of the Northern Earls.

TASK ONE: Why did the northern earls revolt in 1569?

Read the information below. You will see that there are three main reasons why the northern earls revolted in 1569. They are:
– Religion
– Politics (power)
– The question of succession (who was going to be the heir to the throne).

On your worksheet, input SPEND information in the table to show that this is the case.

Why did the northern earls revolt in 1569?

The issue of religion

Elizabeth introduced the religious settlement in 1559, striking a balance between Protestantism and Catholicism. The settlement appeased many Catholics, but others felt as though Catholicism should be completely reinstated in England.

The north of England was mostly Catholic, and important earls in the North, such as the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Westmorland, held on to their Roman Catholic faith after the religious settlement.

In the hope that the North would eventually become Catholic, Elizabeth appointed James Pilkington as archbishop of Durham (The most important Bishop in the north). He was a committed Protestant, and his job was to strengthen Protestant belief throughout the north of England. His actions were very unpopular with the northern earls.

The issue of politics

Both the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland were very influential under Mary I. They were part of Mary I’s court, but under Elizabeth they were replaced by the more inexperienced Protestant earls, such as Robert Dudley and William Cecil.

The Earl of Northumberland also lost valuable copper mines to Elizabeth in 1567, and also lost his role as protector of the border between England and Scotland. He felt undermined, and had a strong desire to win his power back.

The issue of succession

Elizabeth I was 36 years old in 1569. She had failed to marry, and it was looking more and more likely that an heir to the throne would not be produced. The northern earls were deeply worried that, if the situation stayed the same and if Elizabeth died, the country could fall into a civil war for a fight for power.

Mary Queen of Scots had arrived in England in 1568, and was imprisoned by Elizabeth in the northern town of Carlisle. She was already a good candidate for the throne as she was directly related to Henry VII. The plan was for Mary to marry the Duke of Norfolk (Elizabeth’s second cousin) to strengthen her claim to the throne. Mary already had a son, James, meaning that the question of succession had already been answered.

TASK TWO: Exam style question

Write an answer to the following 12-mark question.

Remember that you need three paragraphs! Your three paragraphs should be on religion, power and succession.

Explain why the northern earls revolted in 1569.
You may use the following in your answer:
– Mary Queen of Scots
– The Earl of Northumberland
You must use information of your own.
[12 marks]

TASK THREE: Why did the Revolt of the Northern Earls fail?

Read through the events of the revolt.

On your worksheet, explain why the revolt failed.

Why did the Revolt of the Northern Earls fail?

The northern earls hatched the following plan for their revolt:

– The earls of Northumberland and Westmorland will raise the rebel forces from their lands in the north of England and take control of Durham.
– The rebels will then march south towards London to join with the Duke of Norfolk.
– Several thousand Spanish troops will land in the town of Hartlepool to support the rebel troops.
– Any resistance will be dealt with by the Spanish.
– Meanwhile, Mary Queen of Scots will be freed from her imprisonment in Carlisle, and will marry the Duke of Norfolk in preparation for the English throne.

The events of the Revolt played out very differently, however.

  1. Robert Dudley, one of Elizabeth’s key Privy Councillors, informed Elizabeth of the plot.
  2. Elizabeth arrested the Earl of Norfolk and was sent to the Tower of London on 1 November 1569.
  3. Under pressure, the northern earls pushed on anyway. The earls of Northumberland and Westmorland took control of Durham cathedral. James Pilkington, the archbishop of Durham, fled south.
  4. Catholic mass was held in Durham cathedral and across the north-east.
  5. Mary Queen of Scots was moved from Carlisle to Coventry on Elizabeth I’s orders. This was to ensure she could not be freed by the northern earls.
  6. The northern rebels took the town of Hartlepool, hoping that the Spanish troops will arrive.
  7. The Spanish reinforcements failed to turn up.
  8. Elizabeth successfully raised 14,000 men in the midlands to push into the north. They met just 5,400 rebels at the River Tees and successfully pushed the rebels back North.
  9. Eventually, the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland are pushed back and they lost control of the north. The rebels fled into Scotland.
A map detailing the important counties and cities relevant to the Revolt of the Northern Earls

TASK FOUR: What were the consequences of the Revolt of the Northern Earls?

Look at the consequences of the Revolt of the Northern Earls. For each one, explain the consequence, and show how positive or negative this was for Elizabeth.

Consequence one: Elizabeth deals with the rebels.
Following the failed plot, Elizabeth ordered 600 rebels to be executed. 450 rebels throughout northern towns were executed in total. This was carried out in public with the aim of terrifying the population and preventing another rebellion.

Consequence two: Elizabeth handles the northern earls.
Westmorland escaped over the Scottish border, but Northumberland was captured. He was executed in York in 1572, and his head was placed on a spike above the city’s gates. The event effectively ended the power and influence Catholic northern earls had in England, removing a large part of strong opposition in the North.
Elizabeth’s Privy Council demanded that Elizabeth execute the Earl of Norfolk. However Elizabeth instead decided to release him.

Consequence three: Elizabeth handles Mary Queen of Scots.
Elizabeth’s Privy Council also urged Elizabeth to execute Mary Queen of Scots. She was a threat to Elizabeth, and her legitimacy to the throne meant that she could inspire another plot against her.
Elizabeth was unsure what to do. She needed to protect herself, but also she could anger Catholics further by executing Mary. Mary was technically the anointed queen of Scotland, meaning that she had been chosen by God to lead. If Elizabeth killed Mary, it would be an extremely bold move. Elizabeth decided to keep Mary in prison for the next 14 years.

Consequence four: The Pope excommunicates Elizabeth.
In 1570, the Pope issued a papal bull (a written order) that excommunicated Elizabeth. This meant that he officially did not recognise Elizabeth as queen, and neither should other Catholics. He hoped it would encourage another rebellion.
Elizabeth dealt with this decisively by calling Parliament to pass new laws to protect her. In 1571, parliament passed Acts widening the definition of treason. It became treasonable to say that Elizabeth was not the queen or was a heretic. It also became illegal to reprint the papal bull in England.
However from 1570 on, the loyalty of Catholics in England was always in doubt. Who should they listen to – their spiritual leader, the Pope in Rome, or their political leader, Elizabeth at home?

Consequence five: Elizabeth begins harsh treatment of Catholics in England.
Before the revolt, Elizabeth had hoped that Catholicism would die out slowly. She was happy for Catholics to pray at home therefore.
The revolt led her to set up the Council of the North. This was used to implement Elizabeth’s demands and laws in the north of England, as it was often hard to do this from London which was far away. The Earl of Huntington was given the job to lead this Council. He implemented laws that made it very hard for Catholicism to continue.

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