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BIGOD (BIGOT), Sir Francis (1507-37), of Mulgrave Castle and Settrington, Yorks.
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Family and Education
b. 4 Oct. 1507, 1st s. of John Bigod of Settrington by Jane, da. of Sir James Strangways of Harlsey. educ. Wolsey’s household, Oxf. m. disp. 4 Nov. 1528, Catherine, da of William, 1st Lord Conyers by Anne, da. of Ralph Neville, 3rd Earl of Westmorland, 1s. 1da. suc. gd.-fa. 1515. Kntd. aft. 21 Dec. 1529.2
Servant, Wolsey’s household by June 1527; j.p. Yorks. (E. Riding) 1532; commr. for tenths of spiritualities, Yorks. 1535; steward, liberty of Whitby Strand, Yorks, by 1537.3
Sir Francis Bigod was ‘a man that no doubt loved God, and feared his prince, with a right obedient and living fear’. Of gentle birth, he could trace his descent from two former baronial families, the Bigod earls of Norfolk and the Marshal earls of Pembroke. His paternal ancestors had been settled in the north for over 200 years, and during that time they had forged links with the leading families in the region. Bigod followed their example by his own marriage with the daughter of a lesser nobleman.4
Before Bigod reached his sixth birthday his father had been killed in action against the Scots, and within another two years the death of his grandfather Sir Ralph Bigod had made him head of the family and given him a substantial patrimony. His wardship was immediately acquired by Wolsey, who took care to see that his custody was incontestable. Wolsey brought Bigod up in his own household and interested himself in the boy’s welfare: if Anthony Wood is to be believed it was the cardinal who sent him to Oxford, whence he emerged apparently without a degree but with a scholarly grasp of Latin and strong legal and theological interests. It was perhaps while there that he encountered the Protestant opinions which were to attract him in later years: Cardinal college, Wolsey’s own foundation, became a hotbed of Lutheranism, and among its first members were several of Bigod’s closest friends and his chaplain. His aptitude for learning and his diligence commended Bigod to his guardian, whose service he entered, but not only were his hopes dashed by Wolsey’s fall but on coming into his estates in the autumn of 1529 he found them neglected and burdened with debt, an incubus that was to afflict him for the rest of his life. It was perhaps to compensate this victim of the cardinal’s greed that the King soon afterwards knighted Bigod, although the honour turned out to be one that he could barely afford.5
Despite his financial troubles Bigod began to cut a figure in the north, where he was closely associated with his brother-in-law the 2nd Lord Conyers and with the 5th Earl of Northumberland. His sojourn in Wolsey’s household had introduced him to Cromwell, with whom he stood on a footing of intimacy: the minister kept his creditors sweet and lent him money, and in return he strove to enforce the religious changes. Bigod welcomed the break with Rome, supported John Rastell in several projects and dedicated his own Treatise concernyng impropriations of benefices to Queen Anne and Princess Elizabeth. His enthusiasm ‘in setting forth God’s word’ was such that he undertook the translation of Latin works for use as sermons and maintained several preachers at his own cost, often going on tour with them: in April 1536 he considered becoming a priest himself. In the letter to Cromwell discussing this possibility Bigod referred to his services in Parliament and said that as it was now dissolved he would have no occasion to return to London from Yorkshire for some time. This is the only direct evidence for Bigod’s Membership of the Parliament of 1529, to which he had evidently been returned at a by-election. With no vacancy unaccounted for in his own county, either among the knights of the shire or among the citizens and burgesses, he must have found a seat elsewhere; his association with Rastell’s schemes suggests that he had entered the House by the sixth session (January-March 1534) and the subsequent linking of his name with the Act dissolving the lesser monasteries (27 Hen. VIII c.28) is all but proof of his attendance and activity in the eighth and last (February-April 1536). It was presumably in the same capacity that, contrary to his expectation, he came south again to attend the short Parliament of June 1536 in accordance with the King’s request for the re-election of the previous Members: he is known to have been in London while it was in session and he used the occasion to persuade Cromwell to recommend him for an under stewardship at Whitby abbey, not far from Mulgrave Castle.6
Bigod’s relations with several of his neighbours had never been good, and with the Eure family they were particularly sour. His meddling in the affairs of the religious houses in the East Riding was resented and in the months following the dissolution of Parliament in July 1536, when no longer protected by privilege, he was hounded by his enemies and creditors. He turned to Cromwell once more, and also to another friend Sir Roger Cholmley: they were evidently able to help him and in the autumn he performed his local duties without interference. The respite was to be shortlived for in October the north erupted. In an effort to avoid the rebels he took to sea, but his ship was driven back and he was taken prisoner. His captors led him to York and later to Pontefract where he submitted to them a book on
what authority belongs to the pope,what to a bishop, what to a king, saying that the head of the Church of England might be a spiritual man, as the archbishop of Canterbury or such, but in no wise the King.
His profession of these opinions did not placate his captors, who railed at his dependence on the King, his ignorance about the borough he represented in Parliament, his religious views and his learning. By the end of the year the Pilgrimage of Grace had failed, but in January Bigod, aware that his anti-Erastianism was dangerously in conflict with royal claims and sceptical of the King’s assurance of a pardon for all involved, took the desperate step of attempting to raise the East Riding. His efforts to seize Kingston-upon-Hull and Scarborough were thwarted by local opposition, and he was put to flight. For nearly three weeks he avoided capture but on 10 Feb. he was taken prisoner and committed to Carlisle castle. The 3rd Duke of Norfolk examined him several times before he was conducted by Sir Ralph Ellerker on 13 Mar. to the Tower of London; two months later he was tried at Westminster, found guilty of treason and executed at Tyburn on 2 June. His head was displayed on one of the gates of the City but his quartered trunk was buried in the Greyfriars’ cloister there.7
Some have deduced from his rebellion that in his last months Bigod reverted to Catholicism, but his contemporaries never called him a turncoat: John Bale remembered him as homo naturalium splendore nobilis et doctus et evangelicae veritatis amator. Bishop Latimer interceded with the King on behalf of Bigod’s widow and children but could not prevent Bigod’s inclusion in the Act of attainder (31 Hen. VIII, c.31) passed two years after his death. The stain on the family’s honour was removed after the accession of Edward VI, when Bigod’s son procured an Act restoring him in blood (2 and 3 Edw. VI, no. 46).8
Ref Volumes: 1509-1558
Authors: Alan Davidson / A. D.K. Hawkyard
- 1. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament; LP Hen. VIII, x. 742 citing SP1/103, p. 186.
- 2. Birthday given at gd.-fa.’s i.p.m., C142/50/115. Vis. Yorks. (Harl. Soc. xvi), 24, 75, 300; Test. Ebor. iii (Surtees Soc. xlv), 374; LP Hen. VIII. This biog. rests largely on A. G. Dickens, Lollards and Protestants in the Dioc. of York 1509-58, chap. iii, and Two Tudor Tracts (Yorks. Arch. Soc. rec. ser. xccv), intro.
- 3. LP Hen. VIII , iii-v, viii, xii.
- 4. Hall, Chron. 824; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxii. 172-99 passim.
- 5. LP Hen. VIII, i-iv; Emden, Biog. Reg. Univ. Oxf. 1501-44, pp. 48-49.
- 6. LP Hen. VIII, iv-x; A. G. Dickens, Robert Holgate (Borthwick pprs. viii), 8-9; SP1/112, p. 138.
- 7. LP Hen. VIII, xi-xii; SP1/112, p. 138; M. H. and R. Dodds, Pilgrimage of Grace, i. 205-6; ii. 57, 67-68, 75, 88, 106, 110, 135, 197-8; A. G. Dickens, Eng. Ref. 124, 127; Wriothesley’s Chron. (Cam. Soc. n.s. xi), 64-65; Grey Friars’ Chron. (Cam. Soc. liii), 40; Elton, Policy and Police, 317; Test. Ebor. v. (Surtees Soc. lxxix), 56-57.
- 8. LP Hen. VIII, xii; A. G. Chester, Hugh Latimer, 126; Yorks. Arch. Jnl. xxxii. 199.