Tomb Twelve – ‘The Gentle Martyr’


‘There is a ghost here. A lonely, heartbroken spirit. The ghost of everything that could’ve been and never was.’

~ Jennifer Donnally


The Tale:

Gentle reader,

Standing in the shadow of the glorious Parish Church of St Mary here in Castlegate, the stylishly unique emporium that is home to the TWELFTH Brigante Tomb nestles in an oasis of fabulous galleries, delightful restaurants and fine Georgian buildings including Fairfax House.

However, this small parish was once one of extreme contrasts!

For despite the fashionable gentry who lived in the grand houses nearby, the parish was also charged with the ecclesiastical ministrations for the folk who lived in the three notorious Water Lanes which ran from Castlegate to the River Ouse and until their clearance in the early 19th century were considered to be a hotbed of crime and vice.

St Mary’s was also responsible for the spiritual well-being of the unfortunate inhabitants inside the York Prison.

And for those folk who share our Lady Brigante’s bloodline – this church over the past three hundred years would also bear witness to any number of baptisms, betrothals AND burials!

However, our tale is of the melancholy fate of a young man martyred on the order of a notorious Tudor – King Henry VIII.

As you walk along Castlegate towards Clifford’s Tower and although enveloped in scaffolding – can you imagine watching a man being tossed from the very top of the stone tower in chains?

For on July 12 in 1537, here at Clifford’s Tower, the keep of York Castle – Robert Aske an English lawyer and political rebel was executed on the orders of King Henry VIII for treason.

Although born into a well connected Yorkshire family and a distant cousin to Jane Seymour, the third queen consort to King Henry VIII – Robert was a devout Catholic who would eventually become the driving force of the 1536 northern uprising known as the Pilgrimage of Grace in objection to Henry’s religious reforms and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

‘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’

~ Robert Aske (October 1536)

Having negotiated a fragile peace after thousands of rebels had marched on York, and with an assurance of safe passage – Robert travelled to London for an audience with Henry in November 1536 to set out the requests from the insurgents including the recall of ecclesiastical legislation and the holding of a parliament in the North.

However, upon his journey home and as the fighting broke out once more – Henry changed his mind and ordered that Robert be arrested and brought to the Tower of London.

Following his conviction for high treason in Westminster, Robert was returned to York for what was to be a very public execution as the means by which to deter any further uprising.

With a special scaffold in place, Robert was hanged while still alive in heavy chains which meant that he would have slowly suffocated to death over a number of days.

A plaque in honour of Robert lies at the foot of Clifford’s Tower.

P.S. If you return from Clifford’s Tower and walk along Castlegate – why not pop inside the Blue Boar Inn and take a look at their tribute to that most notorious of highwayman – Richard ‘Dick’ Turpin?


The Location:

Clifford’s Tower. Tower Street. York. YO1 9SA