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Tudor Rebellions


People in Tudor England suffered through famine, poverty, and immense religious changes. Life was uncertain and dangerous. Most riots in the country were small and local; they usually involved food or the hated enclosure policies. Enclosure was the process by which noblemen seized public land for themselves. They would build hedges around the land to keep people out. But peasants needed the land to graze their animals and would often tear the hedges down.

There were also larger rebellions throughout the 16th century. Here is a list of the most important:

The Pilgrimage of Grace (1536)

This rebellion occurred in November 1536 in the north of England; it was a result of King Henry VIII's religious changes. Northern England was always more conservative and Catholic than the rest of the country. When their monasteries were destroyed and the lands and money seized by Henry's prominent noblemen, the northerners rebelled. There were roughly 30,000 people involved, a mix of lords, middle-class laborers, and peasants. They called themselves 'pilgrims' and were led by an attorney named Robert Aske. They chose the five wounds of Christ as their symbol. They did not specifically rebel against King Henry VIII, but rather his councilors such as Thomas Cromwell. The king promised clemency if the rebels dispersed but eventually executed about 100 rebels.

Kett's Rebellion (1549)

In 1549, King Edward VI ruled England, though the government was under control of the Protestant Lord Protector Somerset. In East Anglia, a Norfolk gentleman named Robert Kett led a rebellion against the king's religious policies, the dissolution of the monasteries, and the very unpopular enclosure of common lands by greedy noblemen. The rebels were defeated at Norwich by an English army supported by foreign mercenaries.

Wyatt's Rebellion (1554)

In spring 1554, Sir Thomas Wyatt led a rebellion against Queen Mary I's proposed marriage to King Philip II of Spain. Despite an army of 3,000 men, Wyatt was unable to enter London. He was executed on 11 April 1554, after explicitly denying that Princess Elizabeth was involved in the rebellion. Nonetheless, Elizabeth is temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London and Lady Jane Grey is executed.

The Northern Rebellion (1569)

In 1569, the north of England again rebels against the Tudor monarchy, this time inspired by the imprisonment of Mary, queen of Scots and Catholic discontent. The rebels are led by the earls of Westmorland and Northumberland and the duke of Norfolk; they choose the five wounds of Christ as their symbol, as had the Pilgrimage of Grace rebels. The duke of Norfolk plans to depose Queen Elizabeth I and marry Mary, queen of Scots, thus becoming king of England. The rebellion is crushed and several hundred rebels are hanged.

The Throckmorton Plot (1583)

This was the second plot to free Mary, queen of Scots. In 1583, Sir Francis Throckmorton, a Catholic nobleman, works with the Spanish ambassador to use Spanish troops to depose Queen Elizabeth I and free Mary. He was arrested in November 1583 and later executed.

The Babington Plot (1586)

This was the third and final plot to free Mary, queen of Scots. In 1586, Sir Anthony Babington, a Catholic nobleman, conspired with a Catholic priest and others to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and proclaim Mary queen of England. The plot is discovered by the secretary of state Sir Francis Walsingham and Babington and Mary are executed.

The Kett's Rebellion (1601)

Robert Devereux, the earl of Essex, was a great favorite of Queen Elizabeth I's, but he was also arrogant and ambitious. Disgraced and sent from court on numerous occasions, he attempted to lead a rebellion against the queen on 8 February 1601. Essex protested that he did not intend to harm the queen but to free her from the bad influence of other councilors. He marched through London with 300 men but no others rallied to his side. He was later executed.

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