In 1549 England was at war with both Scotland and France under the leadership of the Duke of Somerset, or Edward Seymour. The wars were financially crippling to England, which was made worse by poor harvests, inflation, and rising rents. Enclosures were also an important issue; where areas of land had fences put around them for sheep to be raised. This often led to peasants being forced off the land they were renting, and in many cases, areas that were meant to be common were taken by the gentry and enclosed. Somerset was further ruining the economy through his relentless debasement of the coinage, and insistence on continuing to fight the wars.
Eventually, disgruntled locals in East Anglia took matters into their own hands. Forming an angry, and somewhat inebriated mob, the marched to one of the local gentry’s house and began to tear down his enclosures. The house belonged to Robert Kett, a middle class land owner.
Instead of breaking up the angry mob, Kett joined it, tearing up his own enclosures before directing the rebels to one of his old enemies, Flowerdew. The locals were angry at Flowerdew for buying the local abbey that the locals thought they owned collectively and stripping it of its lead.
Eventually, the mob, that was beginning to number some 16,000 moved to Mousehold Heath, just outside Norwich, where they held a siege for a number of weeks. Local landowners who had broken rules about enclosing common land and such were tried at Kett’s “Tree of Reformation”. Rebels were kept organised and well behaved, and repeated attempts to disperse the rebels failed miserably.
Somerset began to get worried about the growing threat and strength of the rebels. His armies were insufficient and preoccupied with foreign wars, and failed to cope with the rebels despite sending the army multiple times under multiple different leaders. Eventually Somerset was forced to accept the significance of the rebellion and think more seriously about suppressing the revolt. Swallowing his pride, he sent the Duke of Northumberland with an army to subdue the revolt. Northumberland was not a supporter of Somerset and would eventually overthrow his rule.
After intense fighting in the streets of Norwich, rebels were forced to retreat back to Mousehold Heath, and then further as Northumberland’s army made gains, and around 3000 rebels had been killed.
Eventually, the rebels were forced to surrender. Kett was hung from Norwich castle and around 50 rebels were executed.
The rebels had hoped to achieve promises from Somerset to stop enclosure, improve the ruling of Norfolk and get back land owed to them. However, with the crushing of the rebellion and the execution of the leaders, the rebels were in no place to try and negotiate. Though the rebels had gained little, they had caused Somerset a whole heap of trouble and would be one of the pivotal factors in his downfall.