During this period the Northern Earls were very powerful. When Elizabeth came to the throne she tried to limit their power by putting Southern lords in charge of some of their lands.
The Northern Earls were also strong Catholics and were upset at the interference of Elizabeth in their affairs from distant London. These factors, and the arrival of Mary, Queen of Scots in England in 1568, pushed them to the brink of rebellion.
In 1569, Charles Neville (6th Earl of Westmoreland) and Thomas Percy (7th Earl of Northumberland) began to gather their forces. In November they rode into the fortress city of Durham with over 4,500 men, stormed the cathedral and destroyed the English Bible and Protestant communion table. A Catholic Mass was then celebrated – an act that was illegal in England and Wales.
However, they lacked a coherent plan, whilst in comparison Elizabeth’s reaction to the rebellion was swift. Most of the rebels retreated as soon as they heard that the Earl of Sussex and several thousand troops were marching north. Prisoners were severely punished with over 800 rebels being executed in a warning to other potential rebels.
The Earls fled to Scotland, and although Westmoreland managed to evade capture by escaping to Flanders, Northumberland was captured, handed back to the English in 1572, and executed. Rebel lands, and those of other Catholic families, were confiscated, and the power of the Northern Earls was broken.