The Northern Rebellion of 1569

The Northern Rebellion was short-lived: it reached its peak in November 1569 and by January of the new year it was at an end, its leaders fled into Scotland or in custody, while the ordinary rebels dissipated. Nonetheless, the significance of the Northern Rebellion of 1569 should not be underestimated: some 6000 men rode with the rebel leaders, towns and cities including Durham were successfully taken and crucially its impact reached far beyond its limited lifespan, influencing the Elizabethan authorities for years to come.

This page will briefly set out the events of the Northern Rebellion itself. More detailed considerations of why the rebellion broke out and its consequences will follow separately. Look out also for our Northern Rebellion timeline.


The Rising of the North

Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland (1528-1572), English School (1566), Petworth House, ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland (1528-1572), English School (1566), Petworth House, ©National Trust Images/Derrick E. Witty

On 10th November 1569 Thomas Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex wrote to Queen Elizabeth complaining that Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland had departed from his estate at Topcliffe in Yorkshire. Northumberland’s wife, Lady Anne Percy, claimed that he had gone out of fear “upon intelligence from London or the Court” that he was to be arrested and sent to the Tower for his intent to raise a rebellion against the Queen (Letter from Sussex to Queen Elizabeth dated 10th November 1569 in Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth, Domestic, Addenda, Vol.15, No.18, p.101). Northumberland was not wrong since Queen Elizabeth had indeed ordered him to appear before her and if he should fail do so, Sussex was to detain him. It had reached the Queen’s attention that Northumberland had conspired alongside Charles Neville, Earl of Westmoreland, and other members of the northern nobility and gentry, to lead an uprising against her.

Northumberland’s flight from Topcliffe can be seen as the beginning of the Northern Rebellion since from here he rode to Brancepeth to join Westmoreland. That night they hastily discussed their options, deciding that they must now openly rebel since they were under suspicion for refusing to attend the Queen when she ordered their presence at court. Various members of the northern gentry were gathered at Brancepeth encouraging the earls to rebel, including Richard Norton of Norton Conyers and his sons, Thomas Markenfeld and John Swinburne and Westmoreland’s uncle Christopher Neville. It was reported that the earls remained anxious and it was the intervention of Westmoreland’s wife, Lady Jane Neville, which set them firmly on their course. She was alleged to have cried out the earls “and our country were shamed forever” and that they “must seek hides to creep into” when she heard their continued reluctance to ride out in rebellion (Northumberland’s answers to interrogation in Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth, Dom. Add. Vol. 21, No. 56.I, p. 405-407).

Having set out the earls managed to rally a force of some 6000 men and rode to Durham on 14th November 1569 where they rose their banners of revolt. Whilst in Durham the rebels entered Durham cathedral, destroying the reformed altar there, tearing up Protestant hymn books and hearing mass in the Catholic fashion. From Durham they marched to Barnard Castle and surrounded the castle. After a siege of over a week, the castle was surrendered to the rebels. Hartlepool, an important port from which it was hoped aid would be forthcoming from the continent, was also taken by the rebel force (see Roger N. McDermott, ‘Neville, Charles, sixth earl of Westmorland (1542/3–1601)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography). Following these successes the rebels travelled to Clifford Moor in Yorkshire aiming to surround and eventually seize York itself.

During the rebellion the earls issued three proclamations defending their uprising. In each they stated that they had three aims;

1. The earls and their followers sought to restore the true Catholic faith to England

2. They sought to restore the ancient nobility to their rightful place in the north as well as at Court

3. They wished to remove ‘evil disposed counsellors’ from Queen Elizabeth so that she might be able once more to return to the true faith

The earls maintained that they did not rebel against their monarch for they did not wish to remove her from her throne, instead they argued that they were simply defending their faith and their own nobility, both of which they considered to be under threat from the influence of counsellors such as William Cecil who encouraged a policy of centralisation. That is to say the transfer of power from regional institutions to royal control. This policy had begun under the rule of Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII and his advisor Thomas Cromwell and was the approach favoured by Elizabeth herself in regards to the northern borders.

Fight or Flight

The earls and their followers might proclaim that they were no threat to Elizabeth’s throne but the authorities weren’t about to leave anything to chance. A royal proclamation was issued condemning the actions of the force and making it clear that there could be no excuses; they were rebels and rebels only. The official proclamations relating to the rebellion ignored the earls religious concerns and focussed instead on their own personal failings for the decline of their positions, declaring that the nobles had wasted their patrimony on “hangers-on” who had encouraged them on a dangerous path (Krista J. Kesselring, “Mary Queen of Scots & The Northern Rebellion”, p.59). On 26th November 1569, the leaders of the uprising were declared traitors.

A royal army of approximately 10,000 men was sent north to confront the rebel force at York. At the same time the Earl of Sussex marched from Hull also intending to engage the rebels. Upon hearing of the royal army’s approach the leaders of the uprising began to retreat back to Northumberland. They reached out to Leonard Dacre, a fellow northern noble who had been an earlier collaborator, but were turned away from Naworth Castle in Cumberland during their retreat. Finally on 16th December 1569 the leaders fled from Hexham on the border reaching Liddesdale, Scotland around 20th December, leaving most of their followers to disband and fend for themselves.

In Scotland the Earl of Northumberland left his heavily pregnant wife (Lady Anne had ridden with the rebel army for most of their campaign and followed her husband into Scotland) with the Armstrongs of Liddesdale whilst he sought aid from one Hector Armstrong. However Northumberland was captured on Christmas Eve 1569 and handed over to James Stewart, Earl of Moray and Regent of Scotland at this time. Lady Anne was later rescued by Lord Ferniehurst and was joined by the Earl of Westmoreland at Ferniehurst’s estates in Roxburgshire. The Earl of Sussex reported that prior to her rescue by Ferniehurst, Lady Anne had suffered her horse to be stolen by Liddesdale men and that she had been left with ten others in a “cottage not to be compared with a dog kennel in England” (Letter from Sussex to William Cecil dated 22nd December 1569 in Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth, Dom. Add. Vol. 15, No. 177, p.161).

Execution and Exile

In the end Thomas Percy, Earl of Northumberland, having been held in the custody of Lord Lochleven for almost two years, was sold to the English on 6th June 1572. He was promptly sent to York where he was beheaded on 22nd August. He refused to renounce his Catholic faith and was ultimately beatified in 1895. His wife, Lady Anne, had successfully raised the ransom required for his release by petitioning Philip II of Spain and Pope Pius V, however the release of the money was delayed by the Duke of Alva and the Scots handed Northumberland over to the English. Lady Anne succeeded in reaching Flanders where she spent the remainder of her life in exile receiving a small pension from Phillip II of Spain and from where she campaigned vociferously for Catholic causes including intervention in Ireland and for Mary, Queen of Scots to receive the English crown.

Westmoreland also managed to escape into exile in Flanders where he too was awarded a small pension from the Spanish king. In 1580 he led an English regiment in the Spanish army and travelled to Rome in 1581 on pilgrimage. He was to die in exile. His wife, Lady Jane Neville, remained in England throughout the Northern Rebellion and sued for a pension from Queen Elizabeth which was granted and increased following Westmoreland’s own attainder for treason.

Fellow rebels, Richard Norton and his sons, Thomas Markenfeld and Christopher Neville also fled into exile on the continent and were later joined by Leonard Dacre.


References and Further Reading

Mary Anne Everett Green (ed.), Calendar of State Papers Elizabeth, Domestic, Addenda, 1566-1579 (London: Longman & co., 1871)

Krista J. Kesselring, ‘Mary, Queen of Scots and the Northern Rebellion of 1569’ in Leadership and Elizabethan Culture ed. Peter Iver Kaufman (Palgrave: Basingstoke, 2013), pp.51-72

Julian Lock, ‘Percy, Thomas, seventh earl of Northumberland (1528–1572)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2008 [, accessed 16 July 2014]

Roger N. McDermott, ‘Neville, Charles, sixth earl of Westmorland (1542/3–1601)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 [, accessed 16 July 2014]

Charles Sharp, Memorials of the Rebellion of 1569 (London: J.B. Nichols and Son, 1840)







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