hello again, my 18xGreat Nephew Keith tells me he has finished writing what he calls a Novel about the activities of 1536 in Louth and I have now had a read of what he has written, he certainly seems to have caught the atmosphere as I remember it. So, this post is what he has called a “Synopsis” – I would have called it a summary of what he wrote….
This book tells the story of the 1536 Lincolnshire Uprising against King Henry VIII, but from the viewpoint of one of the leaders of the uprising, a Louth cobbler, Nicholas Melton. (He is my namesake – but I have yet to establish whether he might also be an ancestor – my family is a Lincolnshire family, so the chances are fair that he was a relation. I have adopted him for the purposes of the book) The relatively little known Lincolnshire uprising was the precursor to the much better known Pilgrimage of Grace.
The first prologue introduces Catherine of Aragon as a little girl before she leaves Spain and she and her friend Maria are central to the story as a means of telling the wider story of the years of Henry VIII’s reign through to the instability which led to the uprising.
The second prologue tells the story of the very start of the Tudor Dynasty and the last days of the Plantagenets including the grisly death of Richard lll whose recently rediscovered body has revealed new forensic details of his manner of death on the battlefield.
Chapter one, proper, starts at the story’s end with Nicholas in the Tower of London about to be hung drawn and quartered (he was) as a traitor (Henry VIII decided he was – but the book shows him and his fellows as good-hearted but naïve men) – and then keeps flashing back to his early life. This sets part of the pattern of the book with each “Nicholas” chapter providing several paragraphs covering the day of his death, following them with longer reflections of his life as he remembers it during that day – the excitement of his first visit to London to deliver cattle for the coronation; life as a lively extrovert youth; his second visit to London for a couple of years apprenticed to a London cobbler; the death of his father and elder brother in a plague (1520) and his return to Louth to take over the business, an unusual visit to the Netherlands where he bought his multi coloured coat of Motley, and so on.
Nicholas was not part of the Gentry of Lincolnshire but he was well enough off to have two servants and was a leading light in the local community of craftsmen (hence his “leadership” in the “uprising”) so in these flashbacks we will see the development of his participation in and leadership of this strata of community, much of which revolved around the church. (It would be a mistake, by the way, to see this in terms of Protestantism versus Catholicism – all THAT happened after this story has been told, with the bitterness of Henry’s daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, towards each other and their two versions of the rightness of religion, helping to define much of the history of England for the following four hundred years.)
The story told here is of the life of the community and the naiveté of the “commons” in seeking to question the King and his subsequent brutal repression of this “rebellion” – but also their gullibility as unscrupulous priests and radical reformers take advantage of their innocence and irritation against change, to ‘stir up trouble’.
Interspersed with these chapters of Nicholas’s life are chapters covering Henry’s progress through life to explain the personal background of the times from a royal perspective and we follow the life of Catherine of Aragon and, in particular, Maria de Salinas who was the strongest, most consistent companion of her life. Between them they had a significant impact upon the commons view of their evolving monarchy. Through her daughter Catherine, Maria de Salinas is the 17Xgreat-grandmother of Princess Diana and the 18X great-grandmother of a future King of England
Then there are chapters dealing with the “uprising” itself when there was a great march by the commons of Lincolnshire into the County town of Lincoln. The tale is one of naive common folk thinking the King is being badly advised and discovering from his actions that not only is he really his own master but that he is a vicious vindictive oppressive monarch – not that they are likely to have thought to say as much then?!
Real People and Fictional Characters
The majority of the people in the book are real although, of course, the interaction between them has been fictionalised to a considerable extent in order to tell Nicholas Melton’s story. The overall sweep of the book, however, is as correct, historically, as I can make it with the key events and times and so on being as nearly accurate as my researches allow.
Quite a lot of direct quotations are known to be true from the investigation Henry Vlll set up to discover the extent of a “conspiracy” he thought was responsible for the uprising. To a very large extent it now appears that the rebellion was instigated and moved forward by many ordinary people of the ‘Commonweal’ and not by the grand lords and gentry of the time – such an occurrence being outside the experience of Kings prior to that date.
Henry VIII could not believe, therefore, that there was NOT a conspiracy and spent much effort to uncover which of his aristocracy and gentry must have been responsible. We therefore have access to voices of the people subjected to this inquisition that do not generally appear to this degree in historiography before the Lincolnshire Uprising and the Pilgrimage of Grace.
Historians academically, now seem to be coming round to believing that these really WERE events promulgated by ordinary people of the time after all and I wanted to tell the story from inside the mind of one such “ordinary person” who happens to be a namesake of mine and who might be an ancestor (We have traced the Melton family tree back to North Lincolnshire of about 1690 or so but cannot get back to a Nicholas Melton in Louth, although “Melton” is not that common as a name in Lincolnshire even now – suffice to say I have “adopted” Nicholas Melton, the book’s Captain Cobbler, as my own!)
Certainly I have made Nicholas behave as if he were a Melton of the family I have known through my own lifetime of 60 years or so and from details of ancestors back to the 1880s for which we have good genealogical evidence and family papers. We would have got involved in the community (and did) in the ways Nicholas does and we would have wanted things to have been better than Nicholas found them in his lifetime and we have been prepared to get up and say so in different ways for at least 130 years as lay-preachers, community leaders, business people and/or political activists (so why not 500 years ago too?!)