Ossett - the history of a Yorkshire town

16th and 17th Centuries

The 16th and 17th centuries were a time of great change, not least the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, which greatly reduced the influence of the Church and the power base of wealth and privilege of the Yorkshire Cistercian monasteries such as Rivieulx and Fountains Abbey. The 17th century brought the English Civil War and the execution of Charles 1st. Ossett was close to much of the action and it is rumoured the Oliver Cromwell stayed overnight at Low Laithes Farm in Ossett, now the present Golf Clubhouse, although this has never been proven.

Dissolution of the Monasteries

There were Civil War battles near to Ossett at Wakefield, Seacroft, Bradford, Selby, Tadcaster and the big one at Marston Moor near Wetherby. Sandal Castle was destroyed by the Parliamentarians after a siege. It appears that there was strong support for Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentarians in the cloth towns of Yorkshire, although both Leeds and Wakefield were captured by the Royalists before Fairfax took Wakefield back for the Parliamentarians in 1643. These events must have affected the residents of Ossett.

Bubonic Plague and the 'Jolly Rant'
The plague visited Ossett in the late 16th century and entries in the Dewsbury Parish Register for 1593 show that Jane Wilson and the 'uxor' or wife of a man named Pickering were both buried in Ossett 'of the plague' on the 18th December 1593. Christopher Denton of Sowood Farm died of the plague on the 18th July 1593 and was buried at his own house. His sons, Christopher (23) and William (18) died 13 days later. On the 3rd August, Alice his wife and the rest of the Denton children, Isabel (21), Elizabeth (19), James (15), Thomas (11), Margaret (4) together with neighbours Joanye Brook and Ann Ward all died of the plague and were buried at 'Denton's House' . On the 10th August Alice Nowell and Agnes Ward died of the plague and on the 21st September also died of the palgue. They were all buried at Sowood Farm. Thomas Sykes was buried at home in Sowood Green on the 27th August 1593 after succumbing to the plague. On the 17th February 1594, George Naylor of Ossett was buried at night in Dewsbury Churchyard after dying from the plague.

After the death of the owner, Christopher Denton, was Sowood Farm perhaps used as an isolation area for those poor Ossett citizens who had contracted the deadly disease? We know for sure from the Wakefield Manor Rolls that all these people were buried at Sowood Farm in 1593, but is seems unlikely that they all lived there.

The bubonic plague killed many people in the Wakefield area in 1625 after the unusually hot summer of 1624. There was another outbreak of the plague again in 1645 when 245 persons are reported to have died in and around Wakefield that year. It is likely that the disease was brought into the area by soldiers fighting in the Civil War, since Leeds suffered first before the plague reached the Wakefield area. The great plague of 1665 also affected Ossett. It was reported that a family had fled their home in Ossett to another village in the Parish (of Dewsbury) where they were incarcerated in a wooden cabin for three weeks. This was to make sure that they did not spread the disease or carry it. The officers of the village applied for and obtained an Order for all the Parish of Dewsbury to support the family until the danger of the plague was past.

There was an influenza epidemic in 1675 that killed many people in the Wakefield area and was known at the time as the 'Jolly Rant' or the 'New Delight'. All the major towns in Yorkshire were affected and the epidemic lasted a full four months.

Ossett's population had risen slowly from only about 30 in 1086; 55 in 1300 to about 1,200 in 1700.

Ossett Wills in 1549 and 1561
Records from 16th century Ossett are available and the extracts from two Wills give us an indication of life at that time. First, the Will of Richard Bradford of Ossett, dated 24th September 1549 and proved on the 15th November:

"My soul to God and my body to be buries within the Churchyard of Dewsbury nye to the Diall. Also I bequeath to the high altar of Dewsbury for my tithes and oblations forgotten 12d. Also I bequeath to my sons John, William and Richard, two yron Chymnayes and a braspott to be equally divided among them."

And then on 30th May 1561 Robert Bradforth of Ossett made his Will, which was proved on July 8th and in it, he left to his son, also called Robert "one Chymne and great arke."

Iron chimneys would be difficult and expensive to make, but evidently the Bradford family had them and valued them. An iron chimney and a brass pot would greatly improve the quality of life. A seventeenth century writer, unfortunately not identified described chimneys as one of the greatest blessings known to man, a view that most people would share.

Lees Hall, Thornhill
By the time of the 16th century, the country had become more settled and secure. Lees Hall, at Thornhill Lees, was the home of the Nettleton family from the early 15th century until Robert Nettleton sold the estate in 1665 to Thomas Hobson, who died three years later. It is likely that Lees hall was first built about 1420, given the close parallels to Shibden Hall, which was built some time before 1420. This would tie up with the Nettletons building themselves a new house when they first arrived in Thornhill. At this time the Nettletons were rising in status with income from lands and rent, and they would require housing on a scale like that of families of similar standing, for example, the Kayes of Woodsome Hall, the junior branch of the Saviles of Elland New Hall and the Otis family of Shibden Hall.

The Nettletons, who for generations, have been prominent in Ossett's affairs, are directly descended from William Nettleton, the man who built Lees Hall. Alderman Hampshire Nettleton was Mayor of Ossett when Ossett Town Hall was built and a small copy of the family coat of arms is carved in the stone above the window on the right-hand side of the old Court Room entrance. It depicts a tun (a large barrel) with serpents and nettles issuing from it, mounted on a shield and surmounted by a crown. The original, a very large carving in oak, together with valuable wooden fireplaces and panelling was removed from Lees Hall and sold to America in the late 1930s after the building was sold by the Yorkshire Electricity Power Company.

The Hall itself, throws a lot of light on the manner of life of a well-to-do family in this area in Elizabethan times. It was built of stone and had a thatched roof. There was a large room where the owner and the servants and workpeople had all their meals together. There was no chimney, but the fire, which in older houses was in the middle of the floor, was in a separate small room with a large space in the wall through which the hot gases from the fire, and possibly the flames as well, could pass into the living room and warm it up. This arrangement reduced the risk that the wood fire would set alight the thatched roof - an ever present danger in those days. But lack of a chimney inevitably meant that soot and dirt in the room would be liable to fall on people and food. To minimise this, the owner and his family sat at a table protected by a canopy. Later a family bedroom was built, but all servants, workpeople and their families continued to sleep together on a rush-covered floor.

Lees Hall

Above: Lees Hall as it looks now after a comprehensive restoration programme by mushroom farmer Reg Mortimer, who sadly died in 2004. His restoration work on the building has been carried on by his son-in-law and daughter, John and Susan Lyttle. The original building was originally a timber-framed, inverted U-shaped structure with a large walled courtyard. In the 17th century a detached, stone-built West Wing was added and this was extended in the mid-19th century.

There was no house in Ossett as big and important as Lees Hall, and it has been concluded that no Ossett family enjoyed the small degree of comfort that Lees Hall provided. Lees Hall was occupied until about 1844, when it began to fall into a state of disrepair. It was pronounced derelict in 1947 but was later bought by the Mortimer Brothers who used the timber-framed portion as office space and the stone-built West Wing for agricultural storage. In 1962, they began a programme of restoration work on the timber-framed portions of the building.

Around 1600 AD, the deer park beyond Lodge Hill was still preserved and was said to contain 200 deer, whilst another park near Sandal was said to contain 40.

The privilege of the Soke, compelled all inhabitants of the Wakefield Manor to have their corn ground at the Soke Mill, which was naturally owned by the Lord of the Manor. In 1607, the Manor of Wakefield was in the ownership of the Duchy of Lancaster and in that year a lease was granted to Edward Savile for two corn-mills and one fulling mill at a cost of £57 6s. 8d. per annum plus a one-off payment of £286 13s 4d. The fulling mill was in Horbury and one corn mill in Sandal called "the mill on the dam". Not surprisingly, Savile charged accordingly for corn to be ground at the Soke mill. Three years later, Robert Gill and other tenants of Wakefield disputed Savile's right to compel them to have their corn ground at his mill. A decree was issued at the Duchy Court ruling that "all freeholders, copyholders and tenants inhabiting the towns of Wakefield, Stanley, Alverthorpe, Gawthorpe and Ossett shall at all times hereafter bring all such corn as is growing upon any of their lands lying with the manor to the Soke mills to remain thereat by the space of 24 hours, but if the corn is not ground within that time, they may take the corn to any other mill to be ground thereat". It also stated that Sir John Savile had lately erected a water corn-mill in the New Park and that if they sent corn to Sir John's mill first and not to the Soke mill they would be fined £100.

The perennial war between the miller and ordinary folk continued and in 1753, the Duchy Court tried a man called Webster and others from the area for "grinding corn, grain and malt for the purposes of making bread, and for brewing beer at other mills than at the Soke mill."

There were many independently owned farms with men to work them. Although there was no large scale industry, there was plenty of cottage industry, chiefly cloth-making and the district around Ossett was still lovely with the Wakefield Manor records containing reference to the beauty of the Calder Valley. This was the time when there was the first considerable increase in national wealth and the power of the Government could be exerted throughout the country. In the south of England, for some hundreds of years, life had been reasonably settled. In Wakefield, where protection was given by the Lord of the Manor and also Sandal Castle, there were until recently some wooden framed buildings 600-700 years old. The earliest buildings in Ossett and other parts of Yorkshire date back to around 1650. The oldest was the Manor House, which stood off Storrs Hill Road and was demolished a few years ago. It was partly built of stone since this material was now coming into general use.

A stone house had many advantages over one built of wood and plaster. It gave far greater security and cleanliness and it was much warmer. Further, a stone house, or even a house with a stone chimney could have an oven. The earliest ovens were deeply recessed into thick masonry. The recess was filled with fire and then, when the stone had become really hot , the fire was raked out and the bread or meat put into the cavity. This was obviously a very crude arrangement, but it was far better than cooking by covering with red-hot charcoal or relying on a spit in front of a glowing fire for cooking meat.

Even if you were lucky enough to own a house in the 1600s, it was an offence to take in lodgers and in 1650, it was reported in the Wakefield Court Rolls that an Ossett man had been fined 39 shillings and eleven pence for having a lodger. In order to prevent wayfarers and wanderers, the law stated that no-one should take in lodgers.

Civil War Battle

Ossett and the Civil War in Yorkshire
Constant arguments with Parliament over many issues lead Charles to lock out Members of Parliament for 11 years - from 1629 to 1640 (the so-called Eleven Years Tyranny). In fact, Charles as King could do this under what was known as Royal Prerogative. The fact that Parliament was locked out was not a cause of much anger to the people of England. Many Members of Parliament used their position for their own gain usually at the expense of the people. What did anger them were the methods Charles used to collect money. This he did by himself and without the support of Parliament. In November 1640, Charles was forced into recalling Parliament as only they had the money needed to finance a war with the Scots, but Parliament forced several demands on the King, challenging Charles' belief in the divine right of kings to govern as they saw fit.

Both King and Parliament were on a collision course. In 1642, Charles attempted to arrest his five leading critics in Parliament. They had fled to the safety of the city of London and it became obvious that conflict was all but inevitable and so the English Civil War started.

By March 1642, the quarrel between King Charles I and the Long Parliament had escalated to the extent that the King left the vicinity of London and travelled north. He established his court at York, which became the de facto capital of England, and set about consolidating support amongst his northern subjects. In August 1642, the Parliamentarians were able to raid Royalist positions at will from their strongholds at Selby, Hull, Scarborough and the West Riding cloth towns. Parliament's leading commander in the north was Lord Fairfax, who was proclaimed leader of the Yorkshire Parliamentarians in September 1642.

At the start of the war, the Yorkshire gentry tried to keep the danger of battle away from their county. The leading men on both sides in Yorkshire signed a neutrality treaty on the 29th September 1642 agreeing to disband their troops, to gather no more and to keep the peace. By the 13th October 1642, the first blood in Yorkshire was shed. The Parliamentarian, Sir John Savile of Lupset had gathered together his tenants and men from the Wakefield area, and this probably included men from Ossett, which of course was part of the manor. The small force, which was practically unarmed, was marching to join Lord Fairfax at Bradford when they were attacked by a Royalist force led by Sir Thomas Glentham. Sir John Savile was taken prisoner and three of his men were killed. This was in violation of the law against killing unarmed civilians and it really aroused feelings in Yorkshire to a high pitch. In Bradford, Lord Fairfax set about recruiting and training a Parliamentary army in the West Riding area.

The Royalist, Sir William Savile of Thornhill (the nephew of Parliamentarian Sir John Savile) seized the West Riding towns of Leeds and Wakefield without opposition. However, Savile met with resistance when he attempted to storm Bradford on 18 December 1642. Reinforced by volunteers from the surrounding region, the citizens of Bradford drove back the Royalists and forced Savile to retreat to Leeds. Although Bradford was unfortified and of little strategic value, it became a focal point for Parliamentarian support in the West Riding. Sir Thomas Fairfax made a daring night march through Royalist-held territory with a detachment from Selby to reinforce Bradford on 23 December 1642.

Wakefield, 21st May 1643
The presence of a large Royalist force at Wakefield was creating difficulties for the town and and for the surrounding area including Ossett. In a letter to the House of Commons, Lord Fairfax complained about a worrying lack of provisions, the increasing number of poor people, the loss of faith in his army, and the mutinous state of his troops. Sir Thomas Fairfax was desperate and finally he led a raid on Wakefield on Whit Sunday, 21st May 1643. The Wakefield garrison was believed to be around 800 strong. Fairfax gathered a force of about 1,500 horse and foot from garrisons at Leeds, Bradford, Halifax and Howley Hall, setting out at two in the morning to make a surprise night raid. They marched from Howley Hall, near Batley via Ardsley, Lawns and Outwood towards Stanley. However, the Royalists were alerted to his approach and the Parliamentarian force arrived to find the defences manned and musketeers lining the hedges up Stanley Hill on the the outskirts of Wakefield at about 4am. Fairfax decided to press ahead with the attack. His infantry stormed the Royalist barricades in three places and, after two hours of fierce fighting, succeed in carrying one of them and tearing it down. Fairfax immediately led a cavalry charge through the gap and into the streets of Wakefield. Pushing too far ahead, Fairfax found himself almost alone in the market-place and surrounded by Royalist troops; he escaped by jumping his horse over a barricade to rejoin his own troops.

The Royalists in Wakefield were under the command of one Lieutenant-General Goring, who it was said was "a man without any scruples, uncertain, unprincipled, who valued neither promises nor friendships and would without hesitation, break any trust or perform any act of treachery to satisfy his passions." He also apparently drank to excess and debauched the local women virtually at will. In September 1642, he had been routed at Portsmouth by the Parliamentarians and had fled to Holland in fear of his life. Goring was incompetent and a liability, so Newcastle had given him Wakefield to look after in the hope that he couldn't mess up there as well. On the afternoon and evening before Fairfax's assault on Wakefield, Goring been at nearby Heath Hall with his officers. They spent the afternoon on the bowling green followed by a hard drinking session, so that most of them were still drunk at the time of the attack. It was reported that Goring was ill with fever, but rose from his sickbed to lead a counterattack. It is more likely that he had a hangover and that his officers were in the same incapacitated state.

In the event, the Parliamentarians succeeded in turning captured artillery to fire on the Royalists and a second charge by the Parliamentarian horse broke their resistance. By 9am it was all over and Wakefield was in the hands of the Roundheads. Fairfax and his men were astonished to find that the Wakefield garrison had consisted of 3,000 infantry and seven troops of horse as well as a huge store of ammunition. Fairfax gave orders that no wrong should be done to the townspeople of Wakefield and the inevitable plundering was quickly stopped. In the engagement, Fairfax only lost seven men killed and sixty wounded. The Royalists lost about fifty killed and many wounded. Knowing his forces were too weak to garrison Wakefield, Fairfax marched back to Leeds taking Goring, 38 of his officers 1,500 common soldiers, most of whom were Walloons (Belgians), French and Irish. They also took away four large brass cannons, three thousand guns, thirty barrels of gunpowder, one hundred fats of matches, all the Royalist wagons bar one and £1,600 in cash! The march along the road to Leeds must have been quite a sight since nearly all the Parliamentary soldiers had a personal prisoner-of-war.

Below: Sir Thomas Fairfax

Sir Thomas Fairfax

Nevertheless, the Royalists regrouped and successfully stormed the Parliamentary stronghold of Howley Hall, on the outskirts of Batley, built in 1590 by Sir John Savile. After a refusal of surrender terms by the Parliamentarians, the Royalists, led by the Duke of Newcastle stormed the Hall the next morning with much loss of life and destroyed the main portion of the Hall in their attack. On the 30th June 1643, the Royalists had another success on Adwalton Moor, south-east of Bradford and then quickly took Bradford. Sir Thomas Fairfax escaped to Leeds, where his father was desperately trying to organise an orderly retreat to Hull.

In July 1648, Ossett had one of its few contacts with national affairs. The Civil War was well underway and a Parliamentary army under Sir Thomas Fairfax passed through Ossett on its way to attack Thornhill Hall, which had been occupied and fortified by the Royalists under Captain Thomas Paulden. Cannons placed at the bottom of Runtlings (Runting) Lane, using farm buildings for cover, bombarded the Hall. Some of the defenders of the Hall were retainers and members of the Savile family and they were allowed to leave. What happened next is not entirely clear and, whether by accident or design, the powder store blew up and the Hall was destroyed before the surrender was completed. All that is left of the Hall today is part of the brick-lined, stone chimney stack.

Religious Troubles
The religious troubles of the day affected Ossett. It was dangerous to fail to conform to the Protestant official religion and great efforts were made to catch those of a different view, particularly Roman Catholic priests. These Parliamentarians were also keen to catch Royalists, so it was made an offence to take in a lodger, and in 1650 and Ossett man was fined 39s. 11d. for having a lodger. In 1665, Charles II having come to the Throne, the Officers of Ossett, Morley, West Ardsley and Rothwell were reported neglectful in "bringing in ye bodies of several Quakers and giving evidence against them". Since the representative of law and order was the Constable (who was appointed for one year and unpaid), it is not surprising that the system was inefficient. But, whilst Quakers were prosecuted, the greater resentment was against Roman Catholics, and on 18th April 1669, collections were taken in Ossett, Dewsbury and Soothill Churches for the ransom of captives taken by Roman Catholic priests.

QuakerUntil the Act of Toleration of 1689, attendance at church was compulsory and the severity of the religious laws caused much suffering. It was a serious offence to fail to attend church. At Barnsley Sessions in 1682, Thomas Cowper of Knottingley was fined £10 and, refusing to pay, was imprisoned. At the same sessions, Philip Hamerton and his wife; Henry Addison and his wife and two other couples were reported to the Court for being absent from church for three weeks. On the 4th October 1683, eleven Ossett people were prosecuted at Wakefield for being Dissenters. Two were described as Popish Recusants and nine as Quakers. One of the latter, John Rider refused to take the Oath of Allegiance and was fined £100 and sent to York Castle until the fine was paid. And, when the laws requiring church attendance were eased on the 24th May 1689, two Ossett Quakers, John Bradford and John Atacke, promptly applied for permission to hold meetings in their own houses and this was given on October 8th 1689. In general, however, the law was obeyed without too much protest, but, in addition to the teaching of the Church, there was still general belief in faries, the Devil, witches, and multitudes of evil spirits. The Devil was believed to appear at times in person and to be able to take human form at will. A fear, which persisted among young women for a very long time was that they might be deceived into marrying the Devil and then find themselves in a household of "young imps." There was virtually no scientific knowledge or belief in the unchanging links between cause and effect; when things went wrong, the Devil was blamed.

One of the last prosecutions and imprisonment of alleged witches was in the Pendle district of Lancashire in 1612. There was a witch trial at York Assizes as late as 1687 and in this particular case, the judge reprieved the poor old woman. But among the population as a whole, belief in witchcraft and all associated collection of superstition continued for at least another two centuries, even though the the Law had ceased to permit the drowning or burning of unfortunate old ladies and in some cases men too. This district was not immune from these practices; in the eighteen-thirties, people in Yeadon petitioned the Constable and the Local Authorities because of their failure to protect them, their crops and their farm animals from damage by witches!

In the seventeenth century, Wakefield became the great wool market of the clothing area. Wool growers and dealers sent wool from all parts of England to be sold at the Wakefield market to the local clothiers in the surrounding villages like Ossett. Many families in Ossett made their living by weaving cloth. In 1650, the wage, including food (meat), for a weaver was 3d. per day and only 1d. per day for spinning. If the wool spinner provided his own food then the wage was 4d. per day. Small manufacturers, making only one or two pieces a week, took their finished cloth to the market at Wakefield where they were bought by middlemen or "chapmen" to be sold at a profit in places like London or Cambridge.

In 1666, there was another change of special interest concerning the making of woollen cloth. The industry had been experiencing lean times and Parliament enacted that no person might be buried when wrapped in fabric made of cotton, linen, silk, gold, silver or any other imported material. All corpses had to be wrapped in wool and the lining of the coffin also had to be made from wool. The penalty for not doing so was £5, in the hope of improving the wool trade. In the Ossett area, this law was largely disregarded, so in 1678 it was further decreed that an affidavit of such a burial in wool must be handed to the vicar of the parish concerned within eight days of the interment. This seems to have convinced the local people and burials of this type were common in the area.

Throughout the period under consideration, the power of the Church was enormous, but it was not always well organised. Ossett was first licensed to have a Chapel in 1409 as part of the Parish of Dewsbury, but little is known about the early years. In 1538, two years after Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries, the Curate of Ossett was probably Sir John Gillot, and in 1557 it was Sir George Maude. They were not Knights and "Sir" was a courtesy title.

In 1627, a marriage took place in the Ossett Chapel conducted by a clergyman from Leeds, and in 1637, and Ossett man's son was baptised at Thornhill "for want of a lawful minister in Dewsburie". The lack of a Curate in Ossett was perhaps not surprising, since in addition to the political difficulties, the endowment of the Ossett Chapel was only worth £2 per year.

Although there was no large scale industry in Ossett in the 1600s, the quantities of goods produced did grow and that meant an increased need for transport. Roads were still few in number and were little more than wide tracts of mud most of the year. Queen Elizabeth is said to have spent years travelling the country from one great house to another, but she never ventured as far north as Yorkshire. The usual means of moving merchandise was by pack horse, but as trade grew, pack horses became increasingly inadequate.

Pack Horses

Ossett shared in the growth of industry and was interested when a Bill was first presented to Parliament in 1625 for making the Rivers Aire and Calder into navigable waterways. Sadly, nothing came of this promotion. This was the year when Charles I came to the Throne and Parliament had many other things to worry about. However, it does show that the district was active and growing. After the English Civil War, there was a big improvement in the standards of living and the growth in production made men think of building canals. In other districts, men thought of being able to colonise New England and others were sent to trade in India in ships twice the size of those used by other countries.

In York, in 1682, they installed piped water. Their pipes were the bored out trunks of elm trees, joined together by sharpening one end and pushing it into the opened out broad end of the next one. A crude method of course, but it worked and the pipes lasted well and those who installed them showed the originality, the drive and determination that led us as a nation to increasing success.

Ossett does not appear to have had any part in these great enterprises; it was still a very small place, but it was growing, and our 17th century ancestors sensed that times were changing. They put up stone houses instead of wooden ones and many put looms into them.

In the 1690s West Yorkshire had an increasingly booming textile industry, but struggled to get the cloth to markets across the country. In 1699, Parliament at last passed an Act authorising the making of the Rivers Aire and Calder navigable to link Leeds and Wakefield to the River Ouse at Airmyn. This work was completed in 1704 and greatly helped the prosperity of the area because now wool could be brought from Lincolnshire and Leicestershire by boat up the Calder instead of on horseback to be sold in the busy market at Wakefield. The Aire and Calder Navigation was one of the first in England and similar ideas were copied across the rest of the country, helping the booming Industrial Revolution.

At the start of the 16th century, England was ruled by the infamous King Henry VIII (1491-1547). Henry was originally destined to join the clergy, being the younger son of Henry VII, but actually succeeded to the throne in 1509 after the death of his elder brother Arthur. He inherited 1.5 million pounds from his father and succeeded in the first peaceful transition of power after the Wars of the Roses. Henry also married Arthur's widow Catherine of Aragon, but he first had to obtain a dispensation from the Pope and that was the start of his troubles. Catherine of Aragon gave birth to their first child, a son named Henry after his father, in January 1511. The child died two months later, and was destined to be the first of many unhappy births the couple would suffer.

Henry VIII

King Henry became attracted to the young Anne Boleyn, while at the same time, he became increasingly infuriated with Catherine's inability to produce a healthy male heir. In 1519, Elizabeth Blount, his young mistress, bore him a healthy son. Henry was ecstatic. Here at last was proof that the king could father sons. Henry named the boy after himself, giving him the last name 'Fitzroy', the traditional surname of royal bastards. He asked the Church to annul his marriage to Catherine, but was unsuccessful. The Pope refused the King's request in fear that it would anger the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, who was Catherine's nephew.

In 1533, Henry went ahead anyway and married Anne Boleyn, with whom he had a daughter, Elizabeth. The Pope excommunicated him and parliamentary legislation confirmed Henry's decision to break with Rome. With the help of Thomas Cromwell, Henry established himself as head of the Church of England and ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries. York, as a major religious centre, suffered greatly. All the monasteries and friaries were suppressed. Half the houses in York, formerly owned by the churches, were seized by the Crown and sold to royal officials and London merchants. However, Henry did strengthen the old Council in the Northern Parts, basing it in York (at King's Manor) and thus helped York to regain its title as the second city in England.

Other reforms, included the uniting of England and Wales. Henry grew tired of Anne Boleyn and she was executed for treason in 1536. Jane Seymour became queen and in 1537 produced an heir, Edward, but she died in childbirth. Henry then married the "Flanders mare" Anne of Cleves in January 1540, hoping to sire further heirs. Henry found her so unattractive that he had the marriage annulled and married Catherine Howard in July 1840. Catherine, who was young and attractive, had an affair with a courtier called Thomas Culpeper. Henry was told of this by Thomas Cranmer and Catherine was executed in 1842.

Henry married his last wife, the wealthy widow Catherine Parr, in 1543. She helped reconcile Henry with his first two daughters, the Lady Mary and the Lady Elizabeth. In 1544, an Act of Parliament put them back in the line of succession after the Prince Edward, Duke of Cornwall, though they were still deemed illegitimate. The same Act allowed Henry to determine further succession to the throne in his will.

Later in life, Henry was grossly overweight, with a waist measurement of 54 inches (137 cm), and possibly suffered from syphilis and gout. Henry's increased size dates from a jousting accident in 1536. He suffered a thigh wound which not only prevented him from taking exercise, but also gradually became ulcerated and may have indirectly led to his death, which occurred on 28 January 1547.

Edward VI

Edward VI of England

Following the short reign of Henry VIII's son Edward VI from 1547-1553, there was the abortive attempt to crown Lady Jane Grey (1537- February 12, 1554), a great-grand-daughter of Henry VII of England. She reigned as uncrowned queen regnant of the Kingdom of England for nine days in July 1553. Lady Jane Grey was executed in 1554 some time after the coronation of the staunchly Catholic eldest daughter of Henry VIII, Mary Tudor, the rightful heir to the Throne.

Mary, the daughter of Henry's first wife Catherine of Aragon was the fourth and penultimate monarch of the Tudor dynasty. She is remembered for returning England from Protestantism to Roman Catholicism. To this end, she had almost three hundred religious dissenters executed; as a consequence, she is often known as Bloody Mary. Mary died at the age of 42, most probably of ovarian cancer.

Her religious policies, however, were in many cases reversed by her successor and half-sister, Queen Elizabeth I (1558 - 1603). Elizabeth was born in 1533, the daughter of Ann Boleyn. Elizabeth was a successful monarch, helping steady the nation even after inheriting an enormous national debt from her sister Mary. Under her, England managed to avoid a crippling Spanish invasion. Elizabeth was also able to prevent the outbreak of a religious or civil war on English soil.

Elizabeth I of England

Elizabeth I of England

She famously declared, "I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a King, and of a King of England too! And I think it foul scorn that Spain or Parma or any prince of Europe should dare invade the borders of my realm".

James VI and I (James Stuart) (June 19, 1566 - March 27, 1625) was King of Scots, King of England, and King of Ireland. He was the first to style himself King of Great Britain. He ruled in Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567; from the 'Union of the Crowns', he ruled in England and Ireland as James I, from 24 March 1603 until his death in 1625. He was the first monarch of England from the House of Stuart, succeeding the last Tudor monarch, Elizabeth I, who died without issue.

James Stuart of England was succeeded by his son Charles I (19 November 1600 - 30 January 1649) who was King of England, King of Ireland, and King of Scots from 27 March 1625 until his execution in 1649. He famously engaged in a struggle for power with the Parliament of England. As he was an advocate of the Divine Right of Kings, many in England feared that he was attempting to gain absolute power. There was widespread opposition to many of his actions, especially the levying of taxes without Parliament's consent. Charles was afflicted with a stammer and was England's shortest King at just 5 feet tall.

Charles I of England

Charles I of England

His de facto successor was Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658). Politically, he took control of England, Scotland, and Ireland as Lord Protector, from December 16, 1653 until his death. Cromwell defeated the supporters of the king's son Charles II at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651), effectively ending the civil war. Cromwell died on 3 September 1658 in London. After the Restoration his body was dug up and hanged.

Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell (warts and all!)

Cromwell's son Richard was named as his successor and was Lord Protector of England from September 1658 to May 1659. He could not reconcile various political, military and religious factions and soon lost the support of the army on which his power depended. He was forced to abdicate and after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660 he fled to Paris. He returned to England in 1680 and lived quietly under an assumed name until his death in 1712.