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Last week the Death and Disease team were in Aughton in East Yorkshire, home to Robert Aske who, in 1536, led 40,000 Yorkshiremen in a peaceful protest – called the Pilgrimage of Grace – against Henry VIII, who was smashing up monasteries at the time.

Henry was wildly outnumbered so gave in to their demands however, the moment he was in a position of strength again, he had the ringleaders rounded up and hanged.

Robert Aske himself was hung in chains from York Castle and took three days to die – though not until (it is rumoured) a crow had pecked out his eyes.

So here at Death and Disease, we were wondering: is violent protest ever justified? Or should we always stick to peaceful persuasion?

Thank you very much for the many passionate and well-argued opinions we received. We have captured a snap shot of these below.

This is the first time that we have asked a more serious question, and you responded accordingly. We loved the serious and detailed responses – the average entry was just over seven sentences long (normally the average is about 1.5).

James made the excellent point that “40,000 Yorkshireman is hardly a peaceful protest”. In a way, parking 40,000 Yorkshireman on Henry’s lawn in 1536 is akin to the nuclear weapon batteries of the cold war. The missiles were never fired, but they could hardly be described as envoys of peace.

Liz notes that violence throughout the years has generally been at the hands of men. She’d like to have “knocked Robert Aske and Henry VII’s heads together” and wonders, “How the world might look if women ruled the world?” We might soon get a glimpse if Hilary becomes president.

Paul discusses the transition of Nelson Mandela from violent uprising to change by peaceful protest. There is concern amongst many in South Africa that with Mandela gone, the ANC is presiding over corruption and oppression in a similar way that the Russian Revolution got rid of one unjust regime, only to become one itself. See George Orwell’s Animal Farm for more on this…

Nick argues that short sharp violence early on can prevent much more significant loss of life later.  He also notes that peaceful protest doesn’t always work, and one size does not fit all! Attilla the Hun, Vlad the Impaler and Genghis Khan all dispensed with peaceful protests after establishing they were less effective for them personally.

Harriet agrees with Nick and says a “Sometimes a short, sharp, shock is exactly what’s needed.”

Clive believes we have to make a judgement. “It all depends on the thing being protested about” and opts for violence as a last resort. Very wise Clive, and PJ feels the same, while noting that sometimes violence sadly has to happen as we’re “dealing with human stupidity.” Hitler, Stalin and Chairman Mao in total are thought to have been responsible for nearly 100 million deaths. No amount of banner waving and civil disobedience is likely to have forced them to change course.


Mark “don’t nick my beer” Rowbottom. Do get in touch to claim your prize 🙂

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