Review Article: The Rebellions of 1549 in England

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<ul><li><p>Review Article: The Rebellions of 1549 in EnglandAuthor(s): Roger B. ManningSource: The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Summer, 1979), pp. 93-99Published by: The Sixteenth Century JournalStable URL: .Accessed: 14/06/2014 09:21</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>The Sixteenth Century Journal is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to TheSixteenth Century Journal.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:21:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Rebellions of 1549 in England </p><p>Marc Bloch believed that peasant movements and rebellions were endemic to the seigneurial regime.' Most of the collective manifestations of peasant discontent were vented within the confines of one or two village or manorial communities. Being small in scale, spontaneous and brief, probably more of these instances of social protest escaped official notice than have found their way into surviving records. However, a conjuncture of disasters, beginning with bad weather and harvest failures and ending in famine, demo- graphic disasters and economic dislocation, a particularly burdensome tax, religious fac- tionalism or a millenarian movement could cause these popular tumults to become epidemic and to coalesce into regional rebellions.2 </p><p>The specific form of protest varied with time and place: game poaching was almost universal but necessarily limited in scale; social banditry flourished in those continental countries where authority was weak and protective cover was available. Revolts protesting royal taxation were especially common; England saw several such outbreaks in 1489, 1497 and 1513-1525.3 In the 1530s and 1540s extensive outbreaks of hedge-breaking or anti-enclosure riots are associated with population pressure, agricultural innovation and a fluid land market following the redistribution of monastic properties. In the North of England, the threatened dissolution of the monasteries and other unpopular policies attributed to Thoiras Cromwell helped to precipitate the Pilgrimage of Grace of 1536-1537 - a rebellion that eventually spread across several large counties. The Pilgrim- age was a relatively peaceful and disciplined demonstration. While there was some expres- sion of histility to the aristocracy expressed in the circulation of seditious rumors, it more closely resembled some of the late medieval and early Tudor rebellions insofar as it was held together by an uneasy alliance between lord and peasant. </p><p>The rebellions of 1549 differ from the Pilgrimage of Grace in several ways: they began in 1548 with enclosure rioting that had spread into more than half of the counties of England by 1549 and which continued into 1551; although the most serious resistance was encountered in Cornwall, Devonshire and Norfolk, the necessity of deploying military force to deal with lesser insurrections in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Leicestershire and Rutlandshire delayed the suppression of the principal rebellions. Moreover, these rebel- lions and the enclosure riots and seditious murmurings that accompanied them were specifically anti-aristocratic in nature and constituted the most serious questioning of the social order since the Great Peasants' Revolt of 1381. Although rebel armies in Cornwall, Devon and Norfolk conspicuously lacked the leadership of any members of the peerage or greater gentry, they were remarkably well armed, and Protector Somerset's inept handling of the situation brought about his downfall. </p><p>The rebellions of 1549 have never received the kind of systematic analysis they deserve, but the recent publication of two new books on the subject by Julian Cornwall4 and Stephen K. Land' both make significant contributions to our knowledge and suggest </p><p>I French Rural History: An Essay on its Basic Characteristics, trans. Janet Sond- heirner (Berkeley, 1966), pp. 169-170; see also Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, trans. S. Reynolds (New York, .1973), II, 735-739. </p><p>2 Roland Mousnier, Peasant Uprisings in Seventeenth-Century France, Russia, and China, trans. Brian Pearce (New York, 1972), pp. 306ff.; E. J. Hobsbawm, Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries (New York, 1965), pp. 57ff. </p><p>3Anthony Fletcher, Tudor Rebellions (2nd ed., London, 1973), pp. 13-20. 4Revolt of the Peasantry, 1549 (London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, </p><p>1977, pp. 254, $14.95). 'Kett's Rebellion: The Norfolk Rising of 1549 (Totowa, N.J.: Rowman and Little- </p><p>field, 1978, pp. 165, $15.00). </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:21:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>94 The Sixteenth Century Journal </p><p>topics that need further investigation. Neither study will be considered the definitive treatment of the rebellions of 1549, but they do contain valuable material, which when synthesized with recent works on the mid-Tudor crises afford an interim explanation of the rebellions of 1549 in terms of social structures.6 </p><p>Put briefly, the structural explanation for the failure of the 1549 rebellions can be stated as follows. There existed in mid-Tudor England a social entity called the county community. Given the conjuncture of certain adverse circumstances isolated instances of popular protest and violence could coalesce into a larger insurrectionary movement within the county community. In late medieval England habits of deference and the exercise of "good lordships" normally maintained the social bonds between lord and peasant and prevented outbursts of protest from getting out of hand. But the deliberate destruction of lordship by the first two Tudor kings - especially noteworthy in the counties of Cornwall, Devon and Norfolk where the armed rebellions of peasants would be most formidable, as Julian Cornwall and Stephen Land reminds us - left the gentry in those counties in disarray and unable to deal decisively with the initial popular disturbances. In those counties where "good lordship" still functioned or where the aristocracy acted decisively the popular disturbances were easily suppressed. The Elizabethan system of lords lieutenant, deputy lieutenants and selected "trained bands" of county militia did not yet exist to quell riots, and the professional military resources of the government, consisting largely of foreign mercenaries recruited for the Scottish campaign, could not be deployed quickly enough to keep Kett's Rebellion in Norfolk and the Western Rebellion from growing to menacing proportions. The communications patterns and the social relationships within the county community permitted popular resistance, unchecked by a demoralized aristocracy, to spread quickly within the confines of the community. But such was the provincial exclusiveness of the peasant rebels that they gave little thought to joining forces with fellow peasants elsewhere. Like the peasant rebels of 1381 they frequently articulated their dislike of the gentry, but unlike their predecessors they made no attempt to march on London. </p><p>Mid-Tudor England was not yet a nation but something of a federation of county communities. Certainly more than a unit of government administration, perhaps geograph- ically isolated, but more than a territorial expanse, the county comprised a group of people who possessed and articulated a strong sense of community.7 The members of that community might have an ethnic identity or at least a distinctive dialect, they would share ties of kinship which cut across distinctions of social status, and they would be bound together by economic interests which they were prepared to defend against out- side interference. In sixteenth-century Norfolk opposition to the Merchant Adventurers of London, who connived to secure a monopoly on the export of woolen cloth, and to </p><p>6 In his discussion of seventeenth-century peasant "furies," Roland Mousnier sug- gests that it is simplistic to attempt to explain peasant revolts only in terms of structures (ie., oppressive social and political regimes), since when these structures characteristic of the Ancien Regime where swept away (as in France at the end of the eighteenth century) conjunctures of disasters (bad weather, harvest failure, famine and disease) still produced peasant movements of protest in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries until tech- nological improvements softed the impact of crises of subsistence (Peasant Uprisings, p. 318). Cornwall and Land have been faulted for ignoring recent work on the agrarian background of the rebellions - especially those studies appearing in the pages of the Economic History Review and the Agricultural History Review. Any definitive study will have to incorporate the literature on the circumstances or economic and agrarian back- ground of the rebellions of 1549. But even Professor Mousnier, having uttered his qualifi- cations about the relationship between structure and conjuncture as historical explana- tions, devotes many pages to analyzing the social and political structures. </p><p>7J. R. Maddicott, "The County Community and the Making of Public Opinion in Fourteenth-Century England," Transactions of the Royal Historical Soceity, 5th series, XXVIII (1978), 27-28. </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:21:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>The Rebellions of 1549 95 </p><p>predatory courtiers provided a particularly strong unifying force.' The county commu- nity was also the cockpit in which the gentry pursued their ambitions and rivalries. Indeed, down through the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century such feuds, inherited from one generation to the next, continued to distort the ideological issues and parlia- mentary politics that are supposed to have divided Roundheads and Cavaliers.9 </p><p>Medieval communities valued their ancient privileges and immunities and a monarch who ignored them invited rebellion. A case in point is the Cornish Rebellion of 1497. Henry VII had secured a large parliamentary grant to finance the Scottish war. The Cornishmen, who marched as far as Blackheath on the outskirts of London, thought that the king's ministers had violated Cornish immunities in two ways: firstly the government proposed to tax Cornwall at the standard rate of assessment instead of the reduced rate allowed to impoverished areas, and secondly they asked Cornishmen to help finance a war, which traditionally they believed ought to be paid for by those who inhabited the marches bordering Scotland. The argument was rather like John Hampden's protest against the extension of the levy of ship money into inland counties. Julian Cornwall argues that all of the popular revolts of the Tudo period grew out of local communities attempting to defend their ancient privileges and immunities against "the claims of a modernising government" which sought to rationalize and standardize the traditional relationships between the monarch and local communities. </p><p>Feuding within the county community could also contribute to rebellion. In Lincolnshire the attempt by Charles Brandon, duke of Suffolk to intrude himself into the void in leadership caused by death and lunacy among the peers of that county disrupted the patterns of patronage and marriage among the gentry and drove several of them into rebellion in 1536.' 1 Similarly, one of the precipitants of the Norfolk Rebellion of 1549 was the personal animosity between Robert Kett, the leader of the uprising and John Flowerdew, an unpopular lawyer who owned lands at Heathersett. This rivalry in turn had originated in a property dispute of three centuries standing between the monks of Wymondham Abbey and the parishioners of Wymondham Parish Church which together had constituted a double church. When the monastic church was razed in 1540, Flower- dew, acting as the crown's agent, had also destroyed portions of the fabric of the parish church. It was during this dispute that the smallholders of Wymondham found a leader in Robert Kett, a substantial yeoman. And when the Norfolk Rebellion began as a riot in Wymondham, the first enclosures that Kett and his followers levelled were those of Flowerdew at nearby Heathersett." 2 A leader of yeoman rank could emerge in Norfolk because the county possessed a fragmented manorial structure where the boundaries of a manor rarely coincided with a village community. This tended to weaken seigneurial control. Although the prosperity of late medieval Norfolk, founded as it was on the export of worsted cloth and grain, was in decline by the mid-Tudor period, it had lasted long enough to permit the growth of a large body of yeomen freeholders. The Norfolk yeomanry already had demonstrated that they were prepared to defend their interests by either violence or litigation or a calculated combination of both.' 3 </p><p>8A. Hassell Smith, County and Court: Government and Politics in Norfolk, 1558-1603 (Oxford, 1974), pp. 14-16. </p><p>9 Cornwall, Revolt of the Peasantry, p. 46. 'lIbid., pp. 44-46. 'M. E. James, "Obedience and Dissent in Henrician England: The Lincolnshire </p><p>Rebellion, 1536," Past and Present, no. 48 (Aug. 1970), 3-78. 12 Land, Kett's Rebellion, pp. 22-23; Cornwall, Revolt of the Peasantry, pp. </p><p>135-138. l3Cf. my "Patterns of Violence in Early Tudor Enclosure Riots," Albion, V </p><p>(1974), 120-133, and "Violence and Social Conflict in Mid-Tudor Rebellions," Journal of British Studies, XVI (.1977), 18-40. </p><p>This content downloaded from on Sat, 14 Jun 2014 09:21:23 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>96 The Sixteenth Century Journal </p><p>The county community provided both the framework of the rebellions of 1549 and prescribed their limits. This can be seen in the way Kett took over the administration of Norfolk. When Kett communicated the articles containing the grievances of the Nor- folk peasantry to Lord Protector Somerset, he professed to be doing nothing more than carrying out the protector's policies. Since the Norfolk gentry for the most part had fled into hiding, Kett to...</p></li></ul>


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