Tudor rebellions; The Kett rebellion

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.


Edward Seymour

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.


Tudor Rebellions; The Pilgrimage of Grace

During Henry VIII’s reign, he forced his country through a whirlwind of religious reform, and faced intense factional rivalry from subjects  in his own court. All his moves, whether political, religious or personal, were scrutinized by his court and by his people, and though they tended to acquiesce, Henry sometimes went too far and the public could not hold their tongues for any longer.


During the Henrician Reformation, a number of measures were taken to eradicate Papal influence in England. One of these measures was the Act for the Dissolution of the Greater Monasteries. This followed the Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries, and shut down all remaining Monasteries. In the eyes of the people of Yorkshire, this was wholly unacceptable, and they made Henry painfully aware of this. This was part of a larger string of measures Henry took to take the title of “Head of Church and State”. This is often referred to as the “Royal Supremacy”, and caused England to lean heavily toward Protestantism; this was not popular at home or on the continent.

The predecessor to the Pilgrimage  was the Lincolnshire rising in October 1536. This is considered to be less religiously motivated, instead  seemingly triggered by bad harvests in 1535 and 36, together with political concerns and a fiery sermon by a local priest. This brought up lingering feelings of resentment towards government interference in local affairs.
After a short flurry of activity, the rebels drew up a list of grievances, citing high taxes and the hatred of the Statute of Uses. The rising was quickly dissolved after the Duke of Suffolk arrived with a royal army.

enlighs bibl

The English Bible, showing Henry VIII at the head, and God floating among the clouds, much smaller. This was another step in the religious reform.

Later the same month, Yorkshire saw a similar rising, but bigger and, on the surface at least, more of a threat to Henry VIII.
Under the leadership of Robert Aske, a middle class lawyer, 30 000 men marched on York. This was an organised band of men, some of whom had fought in the Scottish War. The rebels swore an oath that contradicted the Royal Supremacy and drew up manifestos calling for the removal of “evil councilors” from Henry’s government, the restoration of the Old Faith (Catholicism) and protection of the monasteries.


An illustration of the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Norfolk was sent to put down the rising, it became clear that his 8 000 strong army was not fit to take on the 30 000 rebels that Aske was leading. Norfolk retreated and told Henry about the strength of the rebels. After lengthy discussion, Norfolk convinced Henry that negotiation was the only way to placate the rebels. Henry offered the rebels a full and free pardon if they dispersed immediately, and agreed to hear their demands in a court. True to his word, negotiations were held, but no deals were going to be made. The rebels had put their trust in Henry, but he had not followed through.

Henry had survived the largest numerical uprising of the Tudor period. However, we cannot credit him nor Norfolk for any quick thinking; the rebels had no intent to harm Henry or his regime, and in fact professed their loyalty to him profusely throughout the whole fiasco. Henry had been given the first taste of what his people thought of his religious reform. Subsequent monarchs would have to face the same treatment.