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Kett's Rebellion

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Kett's Rebellion

Kett’s Rebellion was an uprising in Norfolk in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI, mainly in response to the increasing enclosure of common land. Although the rebellion was ultimately unsuccessful, it demonstrates the instability that underlay the reign of Edward VI and the entire middle Tudor period.

Who was ‘Kett’, what exactly did he want, and how was the rebellion put down?

Enclosure

The fencing off of common land by private landlords.

Kett’s Rebellion timeline 1549

Here is a brief timeline of the events in Kett’s Rebellion.

Date

Event

8 July 1549

The rebellion began with the tearing down of enclosure fences in Wymondham, Norfolk – Robert Kett was one of the targets.

9 July 1549

The demonstrators began marching toward Norwich with Kett as their leader.

12 July 1549

The rebels camped on Mousehold Heath, overlooking Norwich. Other camps were set up throughout East Anglia.

21 July 1549

The rebels fire on Norwich.

22 July 1549

Norwich falls into the hands of the rebels.

1 August 1549

The Marquis of Northampton fails to subdue the rebels and retake Norwich.

27 August 1549

In a second attempt, the Earl of Northumberland defeats the rebels.

7 December 1549

Robert Kett is captured, found guilty of treason, and hanged on the walls of Norwich Castle.

Robert Kett

Robert Kett was a yeoman from Norfolk. Although the rebellion is named after him, he did not start the rebellion. As a local landowner, he was initially a target for the rebels.

Yeoman

Someone who owns and cultivates their land

He admitted that it was a mistake to erect the fences and agreed to take them down. Then he offered to lead the rebels and help them convince other landowners to take down their fences.

By the time the rebels got to Mousehold Heath, he commanded about 16,000 men. The tree under which he spoke to the rebels became known as the Oak of Reformation. Kett was eventually captured, imprisoned, and hanged for his involvement in the rebellion.

Ketts Rebellion Image of the Oak of Reformation StudySmarterKett's Oak / the Oak of Reformation, Wikimedia Commons

Ketts Rebellion: The policies of Edward Seymour

Ketts Rebellion Portrait of Edward Seymour StudySmarterEdward Seymour, Flickr

When Edward VI became king in 1547, he was only nine years old. He could not rule alone, so Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Edward’s uncle, was appointed Lord Protector. He would take care of the country’s day-to-day affairs until Edward was old enough to do so himself.

When he died, Henry VIII had left behind a complicated situation. Religion was perhaps the most unstable aspect. Although England was officially a Protestant country, the death of Henry VIII triggered fears of renewed Catholic uprisings. Economically, there was a shortage of jobs coupled with a growing population and crop failures. In addition, Henry VIII had nearly bankrupted the state after pursuing extravagant foreign policy goals, especially in the last years of his reign.

Edward Seymour largely fell short of his potential. His foreign policy efforts were largely unsuccessful. He failed to implement much-needed reforms to England’s financial situation. He lost the support of society’s poorer and landowning strata through the enclosure.

Lord Protector

The person who rules a kingdom when the monarch cannot do so.

Landed class

A class in society that owned land

Ketts Rebellion: Enclosure

As the main reason for the rebellion, we need to understand enclosure. So what was it that made the common people so opposed to the enclosure that they instigated a rebellion?People felt eclosure it interfered with their ancient rights to work and farm the land. Enclosure mainly affected the poorest in society because they could not afford to buy land. Enclosure deprived them of any chance to grow food and earn a living.

The Sheep Tax

In 1549, a law was passed that taxed the number of sheep kept by a farmer to discourage people from using land for grazing. The conversion of arable land to pasture often led to the enclosure and the eviction of the poor.While this may have worked in some areas, it was especially limited in hilly and mountainous areas where land was well suited for livestock but not crops. Many poorer farmers in these areas then struggled even more to make a living.

Ketts Rebellion: Edward Seymour’s reaction

Edward Seymour tried to solve the problems that enclosure brought, especially in the face of crop failures that led to food shortages among the population. He sent commissioners to study the effects of the enclosure on food prices. However, this did more harm than good.When they saw that commissioners were being sent out, the poor gained hope for change. They expected legislation that would prevent the worst of the Enclosures. On the other hand, rural people were concerned the government blamed them for food shortages.The eventually introduced legislation increased the tax on wool and extended leases, which angered the rural population even more, as it affected their profits. On the other hand, the poor were upset because they expected even more reforms, which never came.

Edward Seymour’s attempts to mitigate the effects of the enclosures made him the enemy of two large segments of society. The common people, angry at the reforms, joined Kett's rebellion.

Kett’s Rebellion demands

Robert Kett drew up a petition for Edward Seymour and Edward VI, which listed the rebels’ demands. The petition contained 29 clauses and was written diplomatically and in a language that corresponded to the new religion.

The petition asked for:

  • Limitation of the power of the nobility

  • Restriction of the rapid economic change

  • The prevention of the overuse of communal resources

  • The reformation of clergy values in accordance with the Protestant faith.

Ketts Rebellion: Mousehold Heath and the Siege of Norwich

With Kett as their leader, the ever-growing group of rebels began marching to Norwich on 9 July. Denied entry into the city, they encamped on Mousehold Heath, just outside the city, on 12 July. It is estimated that between 15,000 and 20,000 people participated in the rebellion at this time.

Ketts Rebellion: The Capture of Norwich

When Edward Seymour presented the rebels’ demands, he promised them a free pardon if they returned peacefully to their homes and threatened them with violence if they did not comply.

Kett and the rebels refused the offer of a pardon and again attempted to enter the city through a strategic point in the city’s defences. This time they were successful and Norwich, the second-largest city in England, fell into rebel hands.

Ketts Rebellion: Attempts at suppression

In Norwich, Kett established a new local government and tried cases accusing the nobility of injustice against the lower classes, and some were imprisoned.

News of Kett’s rebellion spread throughout East Anglia, and other minor riots and insurrections occurred throughout the region. Of course, the King could not let this go. The Marquis of Northampton was sent out with an army of 1400 men to retake the city. However, he was completely unsuccessful, and Kett held the city and parts of the surrounding countryside.Later in August, a much larger army was sent under the command of the Earl of Warwick. The army consisted of about 12,000 soldiers and 1200 German mercenaries. This force succeeded in penetrating the town, and after several days of bitter street fighting, the rebels were defeated and forced back into Mousehold Heath.

Ketts Rebellion: The Siege of Norwich

After the fighting in the city, Warwick and his troops were trapped and could not escape as the rebels surrounded the city. From then on, the rebels would sneak back into the city every night to steal food and supplies to keep the rebel army intact.

However, reinforcements soon arrived for Warwick’s army, and he now had the manpower to defeat the rebels once and for all. This also meant that the rebels were no longer able to get food and supplies from the city.

Kett decided to fight one last battle on 27 August 1549, known as the Battle of Dussindale. The battle was a disaster for the rebels. Thousands were killed and many simply fled. Eventually, the rebellion was crushed.Both Robert Kett and his brother William Kett were captured. Robert Kett was imprisoned, tried for treason and hanged on the walls of Norwich Castle.

Significance of Kett’s Rebellion

Kett’s Rebellion was significant because of its threat to Edward Seymour’s government. It is noteworthy that a rebel army, composed mostly of commoners, managed to defeat an army of the King, capture a large city and lay siege to it.

Kett's Rebellion shows the instability of Edward Seymour’s protectorate and is an example of one of the areas of government in which he was unsuccessful. It was just one of many crises that shook confidence in government and created an atmosphere of instability during the reign of Edward VI and the Mid-Tudor period. The rebellion also weakened edward Seymour’s authority and reputation.

Ketts Rebellion - Key takeaways

  • Kett’s Rebellion in 1549 was primarily a reaction to the enclosure policy and the failure of Edward Seymour as Lord Protector.
  • The rebellion was led by Robert Kett, who was initially a target of the rebellion because he was a landowner and had participated in the
  • Enclosure – he admitted his wrongdoing and offered himself as the rebellion leader.
  • Among the rebellion’s demands were: limiting the power of the gentry, curbing rapid economic change, not overusing communal resources, and reforming the clergy in the spirit of Protestantism.
  • The rebels succeeded in taking Norwich and defeating the army of the Marquis of Northampton sent by the king.
  • Eventually, the rebellion was put down, and Robert Kett was hanged for his role.
  • The rebellion showed how unstable the rule of Edward VI was, as a rebel army could take a city.

Frequently Asked Questions about Kett's Rebellion

Kett’s Rebellion was a rebellion in 1549 during the reign of Edward VI. It occurred due to popular anger about the enclosure of common land by the gentry. A local landowner called Robert Kett led the rebellion, and the rebels captured the city of Norwich. The rebellion was finally defeated by a force led by the Earl of Warwick after a failed attempt to suppress the rebellion by the Marquis of Northampton. 

Kett’s Rebellion was caused by popular anger over the enclosure of common land by the gentry. They felt that they were losing their ancient rights to farm and graze cattle on common land.

In the aftermath of the Kett rebellion, hundreds of rebels were imprisoned and executed. Robert Kett was hanged from the walls of Norwich Castle. Even though they sent a petition to Edward Seymour with a list of their demands, they were not acted upon.

Kett’s Rebellion ended on 27 August 1549, when the forces led by the Earl of Warwick defeated the rebels at the Battle of Dussindale.

Kett’s Rebellion failed because the rebels could not withstand the attack on Norwich by the Earl of Warwick and his forces. They were forced out of the city and back onto Mousehold Heath, where they were then defeated by Warwick’s reinforcements.

Final Kett's Rebellion Quiz

Question

When did Kett's Rebellion take place?

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Answer

July-December 1549

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Question

What was Robert Kett's profession?

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Answer

Landowner

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Question

What was the oak tree, under which Robert Kett dispensed justice during the capture of Norwich, called?

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Answer

The Oak of Reformation

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Question

Kett’s Rebellion took place during the reign of which monarch?

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Answer

Edward VI

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Question

How many rebels were camped on Mousehold Heath?


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Answer

Around 15,000

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Question

How many clauses were in Robert Kett’s petition?

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Answer

29

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Question

Who led the first, and unsuccessful, attempt to suppress the rebellion?


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Answer

Marquis of Northampton

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Question

Which was the primary cause of the rebellion?

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Answer

Enclosure

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Question

What position did Edward Seymour hold?

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Answer

Lord Protector

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Question

Where was Robert Kett executed?


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Answer

Norwich Castle

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Question

When did the Battle of Dussindale take place?


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Answer

27th August 1549

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Question

Who finally defeated the rebellion?


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Answer

Earl of Warwick

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Question

How did Edward Seymour react to Kett’s petition?


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Answer

He promised to pardon the rebels if they left.

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Question

How many men were in the Marquis of Northampton’s force on the first attempt at suppressing the rebellion?


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Answer

1,400

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Question

What happened when news of the rebellion spread?

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Answer

Smaller riots broke out in East Anglia

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