The Counter-Reformation

Scarborough Castle
Scarborough Castle
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Written by Dr Jack Binns

Edward’s premature death and the succession to the throne of his Catholic half-sister, Mary, in 1553, promised (or threatened) to return England to the bosom of the Roman church. Within months Parliament had repealed all the religious laws passed in Edward’s short reign.

At Scarborough, St Mary’s churchwardens’ accounts do not become a complete and continuous record until as late as 1622, but a copy of one isolated sheet, dated September 1555, has survived to tell us how the town’s parish church officers responded to Queen Mary’s Counter-Reformation. On that day, the borough’s two bailiffs, Thomas Lowson and Giles Heppell, and the Common Hall burgesses received and approved the annual 
expenses of St Mary’s churchwardens.

The total bill for the previous financial year since September 1554 came to nearly eight pounds, then a considerable sum. The most costly items were 28 shillings paid to “the Glacyers for mending of the church for the Ladye Isle upper” and 20 shillings to “the Glacyers for the toppe of the grete windows”. That so much work needed to be done on St Mary’s windows suggests more than normal maintenance or even exceptional storm damage: during past years it seems that deliberate destruction had taken place. Stained-glass church windows were particular targets for zealous Protestants.

Other parts of the parish church had also been in need of “mendynge”. John Walker and his son were paid six shillings for repairing “Saynte Clements Isle”.

Here “Isle” was not an earlier spelling of “aisle”: our ancestors used this word to describe a side chapel or a transept. What we now call the nave and the side aisles north and south of it, they spoke of as the “great allee” and “little allees”. So “Isles” belonging to Our Lady and St Clements were in fact side chapels with their own altars and images.

Money had been spent restoring, repairing and re-instating new and old bells. John Gibson got sixpence for “amendinge of the bells of all Hallowes day”; John Walker received twopence “for mendynge the Ladye bell whole”; and William Garwood fivepence for the bell clapper. Ringing for the dead on All Saints’ night was a practice specially forbidden by the 
Edwardian reformers.

Then there were the clerical vestments. Either the old, traditional garments worn by priests had been destroyed or sold, but now they had been re-made and restored.

There was a fee of twelve pence “for blewe Bukem [buckram?] to the best vestment”; John Haye was given the princely sum of 38 shillings and fourpence for “a sute of vestments”; and Mr Vicar’s two copes cost 23 shillings and fourpence. Out had gone the plain, simple white surplice; back had come the vestments of many colours for different occasions.

Finally, there were all those Catholic vessels and symbols. A new paten to the chalice cost 6s. 8d.; several more huge candlesticks at 4s.2d. each; altar cloths and censers had to be cleaned and scoured; and the most significant of all, it cost 20 shillings to make a new 

The judas was a tall piece of wood, painted like a candle, which rose from the central branch of the seven-branch Easter candlestick. At Easter, the judas, which stood next to the high altar, was blessed and lit on Holy Saturday and not extinguished until Ascension Day.

So whatever the beliefs and reactions of Scarborough’s parishioners, the church and town hall authorities had lost no time responding favourably to Queen Mary’s reversal of her brother’s reforms.

But there was an act of God they could not reverse: during the past year St Mary’s two western towers had been badly damaged in a fierce gale and had lost much of their lead cladding. It was an opportunity not to be missed. With Common Hall approval, the churchwardens decided to sell all the lead which amounted to 46 hundredweights. 
According to their accounts, 21 persons bought the lead, eight shillings for one hundredweight and 20 shillings for three.

So this was the source of the money that paid for St Mary’s restoration. The two towers were dismantled and never re-built. Surplus cash was spent on repairing the harbour pier.

Yet these were little more than superficial and symbolic gestures. There was no Protestant resistance and no need here for Catholic persecution. During Mary’s reign of five years, only one Yorkshireman suffered the ultimate penalty for his faith when Richard Snell was burned in Richmond’s market place in September 1558.

Ironically, rebellion against Mary came not from Protestants but Catholics whose objection was to her marriage to King Philip II of Spain. In April 1557, Sir Thomas Stafford, nephew of Cardinal Pole and distant claimant to the throne, 
arrived at Scarborough by sea from Calais. Taking advantage of the cover of Thursday market then held in “Castle Road” and the lack of a guard, with no more than 30 disguised followers, Stafford occupied the castle. From there he declared himself protector and governor of the kingdom in Mary’s place.

The government 
reacted with speed: Henry Neville, fifth earl of Westmorland, forced Stafford’s surrender within three days.

No mercy was shown to these rebels. Six of the leaders, including Sir Thomas, were taken to London, tried at Westminster and executed. As befitted his rank, Stafford was beheaded on Tower Hill. Of the others, only two, John Proctor, yeoman of Hackness, and John Sherlles, gent., formerly of Scarborough, are known to have been local. Four men were executed and their carcasses boiled, carved and displayed at York and four more suffered the same fate at Scarborough.

Stafford’s “seizure” of the castle by stealth added a new example of “Scarborough Warning” and Sir Richard Cholmley was rebuked by Queen Mary for not keeping a permanent garrison in her royal castle.