Perceived fears of Elizabeth's policy to weaken the position of the nobility sparked the rising in the north. This rising was guided by two individuals, the Earl of Northumberland and the Earl of Westmoreland, who themselves felt threatened by Elizabeth's encroachment upon their "ancient" nobility, that of land and lineage. There was a feeling among them that "the Queen's displeasure towards him [Norfolk] and others of the nobility," as confirmed by Francis Norton "would be some great stir, which caused us to confer together" (Fletcher & MacCulloch 105). Their anger increased with the summons by Elizabeth. Disregarding her summons, they struck out against her Protestant government assaulting "religious imagery and church furniture" (Fletcher & MacCulloch 105). Northumberland felt the rebellion was an attack on the "new found religion and heresie," being instituted by Elizabeth (Fletcher & MacCulloch 108). However this was not the case, as will be shown later in my response.
The primary causes behind the scenes of this rebellion centered upon Norfolk's planned marriage to Mary, Queen of Scots. It was with this marriage, that hopes of those associated with the court would be fulfilled. A faction of Norfolk supporters was growing within the court because of Elizabeth's lack of concern for her succession. This faction was made up of Arundel, Pembroke, and Lumley. The marriage of Mary and Norfolk was their hope to eliminate their fears. They saw in this marriage an elimination of the succession problem, but also securing the interest of the nobility. Another important individual to add to the puzzle was Leicester. He hoped upon her marriage, Mary would pledge herself Protestant. It is highly questionable if Mary would have given up her Catholic faith just to appease a few nobles. Leicester also saw the marriage advantageously from the foreign policy perspective. It would be possible to return to amity with Spain and begin negotiations with France, securing peace among the European powers. But this was hoping for too much. Mary was a tool that could be used by Spain to attack the heretic Queen and her subjects.
The rebellion was claimed to be based upon religious concerns, as had been stated earlier. Elizabeth religious settlement was "attempting to induce or maintain any form of conformity, however shallow" (Fletcher & MacCulloch 108). This is evident when looking at the percentage of JP's whom were Catholic, two-thirds. This represents a very large number, considering the Earls argued of Protestant infringement. The JP's were the representatives of the court instituting laws among her subjects. It is highly unlikely that they were basing their decisions on Protestant beliefs. The people to the north, however, were very conservative in their thinking. They refused to change their old ways, which were " a set of ingrained observances which defined and gave meaning," to their daily lives (Fletcher & MacCulloch 109). Those commoners who joined the rebellion did so because of long lasting memories of Protestant iconoclasm.
The supporters of Norfolk and his marriage felt Cecil's foreign policy shift was detrimental to the future of England. A disintegration took place among the aristocratic and semi-Catholic section of the court because of this shift. Cecil's seizure of Phillip II's bullion ships was a bold step for England to take. This move by Cecil broke an established peace with England and Spain. These individuals had fears of a potential "confrontation with Catholic powers" ((Fletcher & MacCulloch 95). England was in no position to face an all out war with the likes of Spain, especially if they formed an alliance with France. The problem of succession would not be an issue any longer, survival would be. It is for this reason they felt it was time for Cecil to be removed and issuing their support for Norfolk's marriage.
The Northern Rebellion posed no threat to Elizabeth in any way. It was more of a nuisance, which she had to divert valuable resources to take care of this problem. What the supporters failed to realize was Elizabeth's strength as a ruler. Upon hearing of the planned marriage, she angrily rejected the proposal. Fearing retribution, Leicester confessed of the plans behind the marriage. Elizabeth saw that it was a threat to her reign, as well as an attack upon her decision-making. Her refusal to support the marriage broke apart what support there was in the Court. Thus, the two Earls in the North were alone in their fight against the Elizabethan government.
The rebellion in the North lacked a very important element, leadership. The two Earls were not leaders but more along the lines of active participants. Additionally, they lacked the support they thought they could garner. I think the people realized there was no threat from Elizabeth upon their religious practices. In the end, Elizabeth would make an example of those who participated and supported the rebellion. Again, Elizabeth's coolness won this chess match, if you can consider it that.
Fletcher, Anthony. & MacCulloch, Diarmaid., Tudor Rebellions, (New York, 1997)