Adam Sedbar (Sedbergh) was born in about 1502. He was ordained subdeacon at York on 22nd September 1526. a deacon on 6th April 1527, and priest two months later. Sedbar became a Cistercian monk and in 1533 he was appointed Jervaulx Abbey. (1)
In January 1535, Francis Bigod became one of the Yorkshire commissioners whose task was to compile the Valor Ecclesiasticus, the great register of monastic wealth. Later that year Sedbar and Bigod, reported the Cistercian monk, George Lazenby, for preaching against the Royal Supremacy. Lazenby was arrested and executed for his beliefs in August 1535. (2)
On 28th September 1536, the King's commissioners for the suppression of monasteries arrived to take possession of Hexham Abbey and eject the monks. They found the abbey gates locked and barricaded. "A monk appeared on the roof of the abbey, dressed in armour; he said that there were twenty brothers in the abbey armed with guns and cannon, who would all die before the commissioners should take it." The commissioners retired to Corbridge, and informed Thomas Cromwell of what had happened. (3)
This was followed by other acts of rebellion against the dissolution of the monasteries. A lawyer, Robert Aske, eventually became leader of the rebellion in Yorkshire. People joined what became known as the Pilgrimage of Grace for a variety of different reasons. Derek Wilson, the author of A Tudor Tapestry: Men, Women & Society in Reformation England (1972) has argued: "It would be incorrect to view the rebellion in Yorkshire, the so-called Pilgrimage of Grace, as purely and simply an upsurge of militant piety on behalf of the old religion. Unpopular taxes, local and regional grievances, poor harvests as well as the attack on the monasteries and the Reformation legislation all contributed to the creation of a tense atmosphere in many parts of the country". (4) Within a few days, 40,000 men had risen in the East Riding and were marching on York. (5)
On 11th October 1536, Robert Aske and his army arrived at Jervaulx Abbey. Adam Sedbar, later recalled that the rebels wanted him to take the oath supporting the Pilgrimage of Grace. According to his biographer, Claire Cross: "With his own father and a boy, Sedbar fled to Witton Fell and remained there for four days. In his absence the rebels tried to persuade the convent to elect a new abbot, and in this extremity the monks prevailed upon him to return." (6)
At first Sedbar refused to take the oath but eventually agreed. It included the following: "Ye shall not enter into this our Pilgrimage of Grace for the Commonwealth, but only for the love that ye do bear unto Almighty God, his faith, and to Holy Church militant and the maintenance thereof, to the preservation of the King's person and his issue, to the purifying of the nobility, and to expulse all villein blood and evil councillors against the commonwealth from his Grace and his Privy Council of the same. And ye shall not enter into our said Pilgrimage for no particular profit to your self, nor to do any displeasure to any private person, but by counsel of the commonwealth, nor slay nor murder for no envy, but in your hearts put away all fear and dread, and take afore you the Cross of Christ, and in your hearts His faith, the Restitution of the Church, the suppression of these Heretics and their opinions, by all the holy contents of this book." (7)
According to Adam Sedbar he was forced to sign the oath as he was severely knocked about and there were cries of "Down with the traitor... Whoreson traitor, where hast thou been?... Get a block to strike off his head upon." Geoffrey Moorhouse doubts Sedbar's story and suggests that "Sedbar was in a much less supine mood than he admitted, confident enough of the popularity of this burgeoning cause". Sedbar agreed that Aske's army could take control of the abbey's horses. He also travelled with them to Darlington where he spoke in favour of the rising. (8)
Henry VIII summoned Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk, out of retirement. Norfolk, although he was 63, was the country's best soldier. Norfolk was also the leading Roman Catholic and a strong opponent of Thomas Cromwell and it was hoped that he was a man who the rebels would trust. Norfolk was able to raise a large army but he had doubts about their reliability and suggested to the King that he should negotiate with Aske. (9)
Thomas Darcy and Robert Constable took part in negotiations with Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. He tried to persuade them and the other Yorkshire nobles and gentlemen to regain the King's favour by handing over Robert Aske. However, they refused and Norfolk returned to London and suggested to Henry that the best strategy was to offer a pardon to all the northern rebels. When the rebel army had dispersed the King could arrange for its leaders to be punished. Henry eventually took this advice and on 7th December, 1536, he granted a pardon to everyone north of Doncaster who had taken part in the rebellion. Henry also invited Aske to London to discuss the grievances of the people of Yorkshire. (10)
Following the agreement to disband the rebel army in December 1536, Francis Bigod began to fear that Henry VIII would seek revenge on its leaders. Bigod accused Robert Aske and Thomas Darcy of betraying the Pilgrimage of Grace. On 15th January 1537, Bigod launched another revolt. He assembled his small army with a plan to attack Hull. Aske agreed to return to Yorkshire and assemble his men to defeat Bigod.
In February, 1537, Bigod's men arrived at Jervaulx Abbey asking for help. Abbot Adam Sedbar gave them money for drink, and suggested they visited William Thirsk, the abbot of Fountains Abbey. (11) Bigod army was easily defeated and after being captured on 10th February, 1537, was imprisoned in Carlisle Castle. (12)
Adam Sedbar was arrested and tried on a charge of treason on 17th March. The main evidence against him was a compromising letter he had sent to Thirsk. He was kept a prisoner in the Beauchamp Tower. On the wall of his cell he chiselled in high relief - "Adam Sedbar Abbas Iorevall, 1537". (13) Sedbar was executed on 26th May 1537.
The Abbot of Jervaulx, Adam Sedbar, subsequently insisted that the horde which descended on his church did so with two ends in mind: one was to commandeer the abbey's horses; the other to make him take the oath. His first response was to run for it on to Witton Fell, accompanied by his father and a young boy; and there he remained for the next four days, only going home each night, when the rebels had dispersed, in order to obtain some food. Presently, they came back and threatened to burn down Jervaulx if Sedbar did not surrender himself, which caused his community to send him a message begging him to return. When he did, he was severely knocked about, though it could have been a lot worse, for there were cries of "Down with the traitor... Whoreson traitor, where hast thou been?... Get a block to strike off his head upon."...
It was a little later, at another muster in Barnard Castle, that an eye-witness gave an account of the abbot's behaviour that was at variance with Sedbar's own. According to this source, "there was an abbot, a tall lusty man... which said that I hearsay the king doth cry thirteen pence a day and I trust we shall have as many men for eight pence a day; and, as he troweth, it was the abbot of Jervaulx, and his chaplain had a bow and sheaf of arrows". If that was true, Sedbar was in a much less supine mood than he admitted, confident enough of the popularity of this burgeoning cause.
On 11 October 1536, soon after the outbreak of the Pilgrimage of Grace in the East Riding, insurgents arrived at Jervaulx demanding to see him. With his own father and a boy, Sedbergh fled to Witton Fell and remained there for four days. In his absence the rebels tried to persuade the convent to elect a new abbot, and in this extremity the monks prevailed upon him to return. Threatened with death by the rebels, Sedbergh took their oath and went with them to the great muster at Darlington where he spoke in favour of the rising. While the royal pardon might have extended to the abbot's behaviour in the first half of the pilgrimage, it could not save him from his actions early in the new year, when in February local agitators tried again to raise the commons and came to Jervaulx for a second time. On this occasion, before seeking refuge in Bolton Castle he gave them money for drink, and passed them on for a further reward to the quondam abbot of Fountains, then resident in the abbey. Once he had defeated the rebels Norfolk dispatched Sedbergh and the quondam of Fountains to London, where they were tried on a charge of treason, condemned, and put to death on 26 May 1537. On account of the abbot's attainder, Jervaulx Abbey and all its possessions reverted to the crown.
(1) Claire Cross, Adam Sedbergh : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(2) Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace (2002) page 245
(3) Jasper Ridley, Henry VIII (1984) page 285
(4) Derek Wilson, A Tudor Tapestry: Men, Women & Society in Reformation England (1972) page 59
(5) Anthony Fletcher, Tudor Rebellions (1974) page 26
(6) Claire Cross, Adam Sedbergh : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(7) Robert Aske, Pilgrimage of Grace Oath (October, 1536)
(8) Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace (2002) page 79
(9) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 59
(10) Jasper Ridley, Henry VIII (1984) page 290
(11) Claire Cross, Adam Sedbergh : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(12) Michael Hicks, Francis Bigod : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(13) Geoffrey Moorhouse, The Pilgrimage of Grace (2002) page 329