How dangerous were the rebellions of 1549 for Edward VI’s government?

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Catriona Ashley Miller
How dangerous were the rebellions of
1549 for Edward VI's government?
How should we view protest and disorder in Tudor England?
Fabric of Tudor society = essentially very weak. Ruling authorities had no police force and no standing
army to repress rebellion if it broke out. Deep insecurity felt by gentry/nobility and govt in London
explains why social unrest viewed with such fear and why they often reacted with such savage
punishments (e.g. at least 3000 people killed after WR crushed).
The many-headed monster
Educated/ruling orders saw vast mass of common people as irrational / stupid / fickle. Perception
created by fear and by authorities' failure to recognise common people allowed few opportunities
to voice political concerns. Therefore people could often only bring grievances to attention of govt
through violent/disruptive action.
Authorities failed to acknowledge that many rebellions were remarkably peaceful/passive. Violence
very specifically targeted at object of rebels' anger (e.g. enclosure fences and hedges in KR), and
only rarely were people from higher orders murdered. Widespread physical violence almost always
consequence of govt suppression.
Customs and traditions
Ordinary people accepted they were subordinate ­ not attempting to overturn order established by
Great Chain of Being. Had clear sense of rights/privileges they could expect within existing social
framework. Saw themselves as acting to defend positions. Rebellions should be seen as cries for help
from people to monarch and govt's response largely determined how dangerous uprising became.
Authorities' (both local and national) always tried to negotiate first. But rebellions still
tense/frightening for all parties.

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Catriona Ashley Miller
What happened in the Western rebellion and Kett's rebellion?
Events of the Western rebellion
Cornwall had own language and considered separate from Eng., largest town (Bodwin) only 1000
inhabitants, relied heavily on meagre profits made from tin mining. Poverty and vigorous sense of
regional identity triggered 1497 rebellion against H7's tax request ­ 3000 Cornish people joined
PW's attempt to claim throne later that year.…read more

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The descent into bloodshed
Loyalty to Crown led citizens of Exeter to defend city staunchly against rebel army for 6 weeks. LR
still stalled and 8th July made last attempt to reach settlement with rebels. 12th July reinforcements
under Grey delayed by another uprising in Oxfordshire. 28th July LR began advance against rebels
due to pressure from S. Aided by LG's forces 3rd August.
Government suppression
Confrontations between rebels and govt forces slowly pushed rebels back.…read more

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Size/speed of movement paralysed county authorities. Norwich uneasily attempted to keep
peaceful relations with crowd on MH. Sheriff nearly arrested when attempted to disperse rebels and
rest of gentry powerless against well-estab force.
The Government's response to Kett's rebellion
First Government response
21st July York Herald offered full pardon to all those who dispersed. Tone of offer conciliatory -
promised to prohibit landlords acting as farmers/clothiers, reduced wool price by 1/3, appoint
commissioners to reform abuses.…read more

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K tried for treason and hanged 26th Nov. Northumberland resisted bloodthirsty impulses of Norfolk
gentry and ensured rebels dealt with according to letter of law. He appears to have dealt leniently
with them: only clear evidence of 49 executions (MacCulloch).
What caused the rebellions?
Causes of the Western rebellion
Religious grievances
Religion was unquestionably central issue that sparked rebels (unlike KR).…read more

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May 1548 Royal deer park at Hampton Court disparked (fences erected to enclose land were
1st June 1548 Commission of enquiry estab under John Hales to investigate extent to which
existing legislation on enclosure was being enforced in Midlands.
June 1548 Proclamation issued against men being `driven to extreme poverty and compelled to
leave the places they were born' because of enclosure.
Summer 1548 Unusually large no. rural riots broke out incl. in Buckinghamshire where Hales
investigating.…read more

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gentry involvement in rebellion - led by those just outside governing classes, who may have been
ambitious for power themselves.
Religion and the clergy
Articles relating to religion are thoughtful calls for more competent/involved clergy, rather than
controversial doctrinal statements. There was clearly concern with poor quality of priests and failure
to fulfil duties. One article requests they do more to educate poor; another states clergy should be
priests for whole community and not just chaplains for gentry.…read more

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Catriona Ashley Miller
What can we learn about how dangerous Kett's rebellion was by examining it from the
rebels' perspective?
Tradit beliefs/practices/customs affected every aspect of KR. Began on tradit festive day - feast to
celebrate Saint Thomas Beckett's relics. Unrest often began on special days because crowds
naturally assembled. But there was no element of preplanning and no prior intention to attack
Flowerdew's enclosures. No record of rebels' thoughts on first day, but discussions/anger +
drink/group mentality = wanted to resolve problems.…read more

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Catriona Ashley Miller
to try to negotiate/reach compromise. Govt would intervene and take rebels and demands seriously.
Failing this and offer of royal pardon, troops were raised. Even when army arrived, would initially
offer pardon to all but ringleaders. Most 1549 uprisings ended by return of senior court figures to
localities to talk to rebels and offer money/pardons.…read more

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Catriona Ashley Miller
rebellions had important consequences - most important was fall of S, who was associated
with outbreak/poor handling of rebellions
not as dangerous as could have been because of absence of gentry/aristocratic involvement
authorities in 16th century saw mass protest as irrational/frightening event…read more


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