Wednesday, March 20, 2019


Both the long-term and the immediate causes of the Rebellion of 1549 were almost entirely economic. They were: the enclosures of the common lands, together with the enormous increase in sheep grazing, and the impoverishment of not only the peasants but many yeomen farmers, and even some smaller landowners caused mainly by inflation due to the debasement of the coinages. The Dissolution of the Monasteries also exacerbated the situation.

Feudal agriculture had been largely collective, based on the plough team and joint cultivation of the common lands. The system of cultivation during the Middle Ages was a communal system of largely unfenced fields and strips. A serf would graze his cattle on the common pasture. Nevertheless, the open field system was wasteful; in any one year one of the three fields was out of cultivation, and the serf's various strips of land were often scattered. It was not surprising therefore, that the system had been slowly, but ineluctably, breaking down since the Black Death in the fourteenth century. But the effects of this breakdown and the enclosure of many of the common lands only really became apparent during the reign of Henry VIII. The old feudal landowners wanted the land and the peasants; the new landowners of the sixteenth century wanted the land of the peasants, and without the peasants. The reason was that it was becoming increasingly profitable to put sheep out to pasture, on account of the growing wool trade with the Continent. The centre of the traffic in wool was the city of Norwich in Norfolk. Croome and Hammond comment:

"During the fifteenth century the demand for English wool fluctuated violently, but after 1476, when the export markets were recovered, it began to increase, until at one time the export of Norfolk wooll at any rate, had to be forbidden by law. There was thus every encouragement for lords who wished to make money to specialise in sheep-farming, which provided a good investment for capital earned in trade, a prospect of a rapid profit at a high rate, and low labour costs; one shepherd could look after 1,000 sheep. It was far more profitable, if more speculative, than even the highest arable farming on enclosed land promised to be; more profitable still than living on tenants' rents, which in many cases had become fixed by custom, while prices were rising. Moreover, though we can easily exaggerate the indifference of the Middle Ages to worldly wealth, it remains true that as the sixteenth century proceeded. The profit motive became more obvious in men's actions, and more and more the object of preachers' denunciations."

Indeed, land which had formerly been ploughed and sown, now changed to pasture and many ploughmen lost their livelihood. Small farmers were deprived of their land. Peasants' pigs and cows had less and less grazing land. Villages often became deserted; and cottages were pulled down. Many peasants starved. Popular sayings of the time were:

"Horn and thorn are making England all forlorn", and "Silly sheep are now become the devourers of men."

Sir Thomas More, in the first part of his 'Utopia', published in 1516, described how noblemen and gentlemen, and even certain abbots,

"leave no ground for tillage; they enclose all into pastures; they throw down houses; they pluck down towns and leave nothing standing, but only the church to be made into a sheep fold... They turn all dwelling-places and glebe land into desolation and wilderness... by one means therefore or another, either by hook or by crook, they must needs part away, men, women, husbands, wives, fatherless children, widows... Away they trudge, I say, out of their known and accustomed houses finding no place to rest... And when they have wandered abroad till the little they have be spent, what can they do but steal, and then justly by hanged, or else go begging? And yet then they can be cast into prison as vagabonds, because they go about and work not; whom no man will set a work, they never so willingly proffer themselves thereto. For one shepherd or herdsman is enough to eat up that ground with cattle, to the occupying whereof about husbandry many hands were requisite."

This was England in the early years of Henry VIII. And in spite of royal proclamations against enclosures in 1526, the situation worsened for rural folk. Following a series of bad harvests, starving peasants rioted in Norfolk in 1527 and again in 1529.

KING Henry VII was adept at acquiring, saving and hoarding money; Henry VIII, on the other hand, was more than adept at spending and wasting it. In the words of Dr. Goldsmith: "...all the immense treasures of the late king were soon quite exhausted on empty pageants, guilty pleasures, or vain treaties and expeditions." But Henry soon found a way to replenish his much-depleted coffers - the Catholic Church and its monasteries. We are not interested here in. Henry VIII's disputes with the Church, over the status of his wife, Catherine of Aragon, or in his successive marriages; nor did they particularly interest or affect the lives of the ordinary people of England at the time. Nevertheless, Henry’s break with Rome, and the subsequent Reformation, was universally welcomed, and in 1531, when he proclaimed himself Head of the Church in England, there was little opposition.

The monasteries owned about fifteen percent of the cultivated land of England.

They were papal strongholds; the abbots, friars and monks recognised little, if any, loyalty to the King. During the early Middle Ages, the Monasteries had created schools, hospitals and inns; and the monks had often become skilful farmers. But by the beginning of the sixteenth century they had accumulated considerable wealth. The monasteries also employed thousands of servants and agricultural bondsmen and serfs.

Some of the monasteries were grossly mismanaged, and many of the monks were said to be "ignorant ruffians".

In the words of the historian, I. Tenen, "Their treasures and their loyalty to the Pope roused Henry's jealous attention." Commissioners were sent in 1535, to investigate the monks' morals and, more important, monastic and Church revenues. In 1536 Henry got Parliament to pass an Act (statute) dissolving between 350 and 400 of the smaller monasteries.

Henry VIII was chiefly interested in the gold plate, the jewellery and the furnishings of the monasteries. The treasures, which had been carefully registered by the Commissioners, were confiscated and many of the buildings, and often their libraries were destroyed. Many buildings were blown up or exposed to pillage. It was legalised looting on a grand scale! All this however, soon gave rise to protests by Catholics, particularly in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, where the monks were still popular. The Duke of Norfolk was sent north with a small army; a few of the rebels were executed, and the protest collapsed. Nevertheless, the unrest gave Henry sufficient excuse for proceeding with the dissolution of the larger monasteries which he had previously spared.

Over the next three years, the remainder - about 200 - were seized by various methods, and their confiscation ratified by Statute in 1539.

"Once more, as soon as the treasure wagons had left for London, pick, crowbar and gunpowder

shattered the triumphs of mediaeval craftsmanship", comments Tenen.

More than 10,000 people were ejected from the monasteries: about 7,000 monks, nuns and abbots, and 3,000 servants and agricultural workers. A huge army of unemployed, "sturdy beggars" and the like, roamed the land from village to village. In the words of Trevelyan: "..the stocks, the whip and the bed of 'short and musty straw' became their lot". On the other hand the Dissolution brought the Crown property worth over £100,000 a year for a number of years' and made Henry VIII a far wealthier king than his frugal father, Henry VII, had ever been. But by 1540, there started a wave of selling - often at "knock-down" prices! - which by the end of Henry's reign (1547) swept more than two-thirds of the monastic lands out of the Crown and into the hands of a thousand or so of its subjects. Tenen remarks:

"The vast estates of the monasteries were now at the King's disposal, Some he bestowed on his favourites but most he sold cheaply, so that a new, grasping, landlord class arose. With the proceeds he founded a few schools, and built a few coast fortresses; but most of it was squandered on his extravagant court, so that in a few years he was paying his huge debts in debased coinage."

Though Henry had completely shattered the authority of the Pope in England, he still regarded himself a good Catholic. He had Protestants tortured and burned for heresy, though, at the same time, he had Catholics who looked to the Pope rather than him, as head of the Church in England, hung, drawn and quartered. Nevertheless, Henry gradually realised that he could not put the clock back. He permitted the Bible in English to be placed, and read, in churches and kept in the homes of the "upper classes". And two years after his death, on Whit Sunday, 1549, England became officially a Protestant country; on that day, every church was ordered to use the new Prayer Book, written entirely in English. The most enthusiastic supporters of the Protestant "revolution" were the peasants and farmers of Norfolk. Indeed, it was not just the "upper" classes of the County who owned, and read, the Bible and Prayer Book in English, but also many husbandmen, farmers and small landowners.

THE Spaniards had not only discovered, and colonised, vast areas of the Americas; they had also discovered and then, subsequently shipped to Europe enormous quantities of gold. This naturally affected the value of money in circulation. It, furthermore, gave Henry an excuse for debasing England's mainly silver coinage. Moreover, it was so unskilfully done that -it made silver in England more valuable than gold.

The coinage was debased first in 1526, then in 1543, 1545, 1546 and 1549. Between 1543 and 1547, about £400,000's worth of silver coin of standard fineness (sterling) was reminted into £526,000's worth of coin, each piece of which contained less than one-half the quantity of pure silver.

The metal thus extracted from the coinage, valued at £126,000 represented the King's gross profit. In 1549 (two years after Henry's death) a further large quantity of silver coins of the 1546 standard were issued. Prices, already rising at the beginning of the 1540s, now soared. In 1547, the price, of wheat was four shillings a quarter; in 1548, it was eight shillings and in1549, it had risen to sixteen shillings. The price of barley increased from three shillings in 1547 to eleven shillings in 1549; oats from three shillings to six shillings, and oxen which cost forty shillings in 1546 cost seventy shillings in 1549. At Henry's death prices of most commodities had risen at least twenty-five percent in three years. Two years later, in 1549, they had doubled. Yet the wages of an unskilled agricultural labourer, which in 1546 were four-pence-half-penny, only rose to five pence a day by 1549. A few speculators in land values made fortunes, and cloth and textile exporters made large profits, but the mass of the people - particularly in Norfolk, the centre of the cloth trade - suffered great hardship and deprivation. At the beginning of Henry VIII1s reign, the peasants and yeomen farmers of Norfolk were the most prosperous in England and, possibly, in the world.

East Anglia had, moreover, some of the best arable land in the country, but slowly throughout Henry's reign, their standard of living declined, particularly with the increasing enclosures of the common lands. And, then, between 1546 and 1549, the conditions of the Norfolk and, to a lesser extent, Suffolk men deteriorated considerably. The Great Rebellion of 1549 was almost inevitable.


AS has already been mentioned, Henry VIII died, in January 1547. He was succeeded by his only son, Edward V1, aged nine years. During his minority, the Government of the King, and his kingdom, was entrusted to sixteen executors, the Duke of Somerset, as Protector, being placed at their head. Somerset, however, was a well-intentioned but weak man, who pledged his support of the "poor commons" as sporadic disturbances against rising rents and the encroaching of pastures spread. But he was surrounded by an entirely new class of mercantilist land-grabbers.

Well before 1549, there had been some unrest in Norfolk. There had been a small uprising in 1537, and another in 1540. In the latter, a certain John Walker of Griston attempted to rouse the Norfolk peasants with the cry: "To Swaffham! To Swaffham", adding the declamation that: "It were a good thing if there were no more gentlemen in Norfolk than there be white bulls." The writer, F.A.Ridley, adds that the author of the above notable contribution to the science of extinct species was incontinently hanged.

Nevertheless, in the summer of 1548, the appearance of a Royal Commission in the Midlands aroused in the "poor commons" a mixture of elation and exasperation. John Hales, the leader and spokesman of the Commission, pleaded with the peasants not to take the law into their own hands and warned them against imperilling a good cause. But within a year, much of Southern England was in an uproar. At the beginning of June, sporadic and, it would seem, spontaneous riots broke out all over Norfolk. The Duke of Somerset it was said felt considerable sympathy towards the men of Norfolk. Then, on the night of June the 20th, 1549 a party of men at Attleborough, in Norfolk, pulled down fences that a landowner named Green [2] had placed around land he had enclosed for sheep-grazing. But the next day, Green advised them to pull down, not his fences. but those of his neighbour, Robert Kett, against whom he had a grudge. Kett met the party at the boundary of his land, admitted his fault. expressed sorrow, and offered to lead a rebellion against the whole system of land enclosures.

Who, then, was Robert Kett?

The Ketts (sometimes spelt Kette, or Ket) were an old Norfolk family, who had probably lived in Wymondham since the eleventh century. Robert and William Kett's parents were Thomas, who was born in 1460 and died in 1536, and Margery, whose dates of birth and death are not known. William Kett was apparently born in 1485, and Robert in 1492. There were three other known surviving sons. The family was originally associated with Wymondham Abbey, where Robert had been a server at mass. 

Nevertheless,Robert Kett approved of the Protector's religious radicalism. And it is almost certain that he would have been able to read - the Bible and the New Prayer Book - in English. But, as we shall note later, he could not understand official documents and Acts of Parliament, which were still written in Latin. Robert and William Kett continued to live in Wymondham, in Norfolk, said to be at that time, the "wealthiest most populous, part of the realm" - at least, until the 1540s. Robert Kett had originally been a tanner and, sometime later, a tenant or yeoman farmer. By 1549, however, he had become a small, but quite prosperous, landowner. Indeed, John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick (of whom more later), owed both Robert and William Kett large sums of money. William was a butcher.

The oak tree, since called Kett's Oak, under which Robert spoke to the crowd in July 1549, still exists just outside Wymondham, on the old Norwich road, nine miles west of Norwich.

FIRST, Kett called upon each of the Hundreds of Norfolk to elect two representatives who, in turn, were to organise an armed contingent and "march" on Norwich. An encampment was to be set up on Mousehold Heath, just outside the city to the east. Altogether, twenty-four of Norfolk's thirty-three Hundreds, plus one delegate from Suffolk, were represented. The Hundred of Forehoe was represented by Thomas Rolff and both Robert and William Kett. The Hundred of Mitford (called Metforth at that time) was represented by Symond Newell and William Howlyng. Suffolk was represented by a man named Rychard Wright.

They first gathered on July 9th at Wymondham. On the 10th, Robert Kett took command of the 'army', which was barely 1000 men. After crossing the river at Cringleford, it lay encamped at Eaton Wood. Only one day was spent at Eaton Wood. Since the City fathers of Norwich would not admit the peasants, they skirted the north side of the city, via Bowthorpe and Drayton, having crossed the river at Hailsdon, and about a couple of miles south of Stratton Strawless. By July the 12th, all the delegates and most of the armed peasants and farmers had arrived at Mousehold Heath.

Kett proved to be a capable organiser, for between 16,000 and 20.000 men had ridden either on horseback or in wagons to the outskirts of Norwich within less than three weeks.

A.L.Morton comments:

"Such a body meant that the whole County was under arms. This is shown clearly when the total is compared with the estimates made later by the Government of how many men Norfolk could provide for the Army in case of war. In 1557, the number was put at 2,670. In 1560, it was put at 9,000, and this is the highest estimate ever recorded. It was an optimistic guess; men on paper, not men under arms."

Kett's peasant "army" was encamped on Mousehold Heath for nearly seven weeks. It was not, however, an army in the usual sense of the word. It has been variously called an armed communaute, a "miniature and rudimentary state" on democratic lines and a revolutionary "County Council." It called itself "the King's Camp". It was indeed a rudimentary or "grassroots" democracy. A Parliament comprising the representatives from each of the Hundreds, together with a number of advisers and two "governors", decided policy.

Orders were issued in the King's name, and from "the King's Camp" and were couched in the language of the Westminster Parliament. Kett also set up courts of justice to deal with offenders and "Wrong-doers". Rumours of daily executions proved not to be well-founded. Nevertheless the peasants and farmers were in truculent mood, declaring that: "We must needs fight it out, or else be brought to the like slavery that the Frenchmen are at present in". But, under Kett's leadership, they kept perfect order and discipline. Until later, when the Government showed its hand, there was little violence or bloodshed, Bindoff observes that "the punctiliousness of their religious observance was matched by the orderliness of their behaviour", and "the New Prayer Book was put to regular use by the men of Norfolk at what must have been some of the largest open-air services yet seen in England".

It is, however, interesting to note that, during their stay on Mousehold Heath, the peasants took special pleasure in slaughtering, and eating, more than 20,000 of the local landowners' sheep! But even the Duke of Somerset admitted that "these animals had ate the English peasant out of house and home."

The peasants' demands were fairly simple and straightforward. They were naturally concerned about the enclosures and the loss of common rights, and the enhancement of rents and fines. Some of the delegates demanded that all land should be held in common and that all private ownership be abolished, as had the hedge-priest from Colchester, John Ball, in the previous peasants' revolt of 1381. But some of the Norfolk men demanded the enclosure of those lands on which saffron (used for dyeing wool) was grown. There were also demands that "all bondsmen be made free, for God made all free with His precious blood shedding". Although serfdom and villeinage had been declining for many years, there were still some bondsmen in Norfolk and elsewhere in England, which was considered both an inconvenience and a social stigma.

Kett's Mousehold Heath "Parliament" drew up a document with twenty-nine Articles embodying an agrarian programme, with the request that the Government should appoint him and his nominees (which would certainly have included his brother, William, and a number of representatives from the Hundreds, such as Symond Newell) to carry it out. Kett and the representatives seemed to have shared the conviction that the Government was on their side and that it would approve or, at least, condone their action. Indeed, Kett really believed that the Government did not look upon him as a traitor or a dangerous rebel. He even solicited the support of a number of scholars and clergymen to help with the drafting of formal documents, which were then issued in Latin. One of the men who served the "King's Camp" in a clerical capacity was Thomas Godsalve, the son of Sir John Godsalve, Controller of the Mint. He was taken to Mousehold, where he assisted in the composition of documents issued by Kett and his council. Others associated with Kett were several prominent men of Norwich city; in particular, Mayor Codd, Alderman Thomas Aldrich and the preacher, Robert Watson. On occasional these men even took precedence over the elected representatives of the Hundreds, for the signatures of Codd and Aldrich appeared with Kett's own at the end of the list of demands, as well as on a few warrants and proclamations emanating from the Camp. That respected, experienced, officials of the city government should have been prominent in supporting Kett's council has surprised some; but it has been suggested that their support was really somewhat reluctant. In fact, initially Mayor Codd refused to permit the rebels into the city, but pretended to keep on friendly terms with Robert Kett. Yet at the same time, he secretly appealed to the government to send troops to suppress the rising. It is true, however, that, at least initially, both "sides" genuinely wished to keep order and avoid conflict. The leaders of the Norwich city government hoped to defend their interests without a confrontation. But, in fact, this was not to be.

On July the 21st, the peasants - or, at least, some of them - occupied Norwich.

BY 1524, Norwich was the second largest city in England (London was the first), with a population of about 13,000 inhabitants. And it was, as we have already noted, the centre of the wool trade. Many immigrant Flemish weavers helped in the development of the industry; though the weavers were still expected to leave their looms and assist, under severe penalties, in bringing in the harvest. They, therefore, had close contact with the peasants and farmers of Norfolk. Norwich also contained many Protestant refugees from the Continent, such as the Anabaptists from Munster, as Norwich was the natural port of entry. Furthermore, there were many artisans in the city - often runaway serfs or the sons of serfs - who were natural allies of the peasants. As elsewhere, unemployed "rogues and vagabonds", hoping to escape from branding, whipping or even execution, had sought refuge in Norwich. All these elements sympathised with, or openly joined, the Norfolk peasants and farmers.

The Government had been taken by surprise by the rebellion. It was, in fact, dangerously weak in the military sense. The State could no longer command the services of Feudal Knights and their retainers; nor could it afford a regular professional army. Hence, it was militarily quite unprepared. The Government decided to gain time by pretending to negotiate with Kett and his men, while, at the same time, it hired Italian and German mercenaries - to defend England against its inhabitants! A herald was cent to Kett, proffering him a pardon, which he scornfully refused, stating that the Norfolk men were no traitors, but free Englishmen defending their inalienable birthright. Shortly after, the Government sent the Marquis of Northampton with 19400 Italian mercenaries against Norwich. A few of the richer wool-merchants of the city opened the gates. But, as Ridley comments, "the English yeomen were not the men to turn tail and run before a pack of Italian hirelings". After a fierce fight, Kett and his men recovered possession of the city; and Northampton and his Italian mercenaries fled. The leader of the Italians was taken by Kett - and hanged.

The Government was now completely alarmed. Nevertheless, Kett's men did not take advantage of their victory. 'They were content to remain where they were. They were largely immobile. A few of them prepared to "make a feeble gesture against Yarmouth", but they did not attempt to march on London as the peasants did in 1381; nor did they contact the peasants and farmers of any other county except Suffolk. After further futile negotiations, the. Government again acted, this time decisively.

The Protector, Somerset, continued to placate the Norfolk men, but he no longer controlled the King's Council, which was then under the leadership of John Dudley, the Earl of Warwick, an "apostle of force", a capable general and a ruthless disciple of Niccolo Machiavelli, author of "The Prince". Warwick marched against Norwich with a considerable army, estimated at the time to be between 10,000 and 12,000 men, including, this time, more than 2,000 German and Italian well-trained musketeers. Many English nobles and their supporters accompanied Warwick and his mercenaries, most of whom were originally on their way to invade Scotland. The Earl of Warwick's 'international' army arrived at Norwich on Saturday, the 24th of August.

Kett and his men had wisely taken up a strong defensive position on Mousehold Heath, and there proposed to wait for the attack. Unlike the Government forces, the Norfolk peasants and farmers were not very well-armed. They had swords, pikes and a few muskets - and that was all. Warwick's forces, under the command of John Russell, the Earl of Bedford, attacked them, but made little headway until Warwick took personal command. And, then, many of the Norfolk men made a disastrous tactical error. Emboldened by their partial success against the Earl of Bedford, they left their strong position on the hill, and chased Bedford's forces. This was what Warwick was hoping for! Known in English history as the Battle of Dussindale (a nearby village), Tuesday the 27th of August, 1549, spelt final defeat for the peasants and yeomen farmers not just of Norfolk but of the whole of England. The battle was quite one-sided. After an initial volley, which killed the Royal Standard bearer, the peasants in the open fields were almost as helpless as the sheep they had previously slaughtered. The German and Italian musketeers and the nobles' heavily-armed horsemen soon cut them to pieces. Over 3,000 of the Norfolk men were killed. Robert and William Kett attempted to ride out of the carnage, only to be pursued and captured at Swannington. The remnants of Kett's army drew together behind a barricade of wagons, and held out so stoutly that they secured a personal undertaking from Warwick of their safety before laying down their arms.

The contemporary Government account reads thus:

"Whereupon on Tuisday last, issuing out of their campe into a plaine nere adjoyning, thei determinede to fight, and like madd and desperat men ranne upon the sworde, where a very great quantity of them being slaine, the rest of the Rebbelles, casting away their weapons were content to crave their pardon, and were dismissed home by my Lord Warwich, without hurte and pardonede."

Nevertheless, many of the Norfolk landowners and gentry clamoured for a wholesale slaughter of the peasants who had surrendered. And, indeed, many of them were hanged; nine of the alleged leaders were hanged, drawn and quartered under the famous Oak of Reformation; and then another 300 were hanged on trees, and another 50 were later hanged at the Market Cross in Norwich. The chronicle which relates the story of the Rebellion says that Warwick was forced to remind the landowners that the Norfolk men were still the source of most of their wealth. "Will ye be ploughmen and harrow your own land?" he asked. The Kett brothers were taken to London, found guilty of "high treason" and taken back to Norfolk, where they were hanged at Norwich Castle early in December, 1549. [3]

And the outcome of the Great Norfolk Rebellion of 1549? Morton comments:

“Though suppressed, the rising had some surprising results. It helped to stay the progress of the enclosures, and to give East Anglia the predominately peasant character which it long preserved, and which made it a stronghold for Parliament and the most advanced section of the New Model Army in the Civil War. Its immediate effect was to bring about the fall of the Government of the Protector, Somerset, an aristocratic demagogue who had shown himself inclined to treat with the rebels rather than to suppress them, and whom the nobler, suspected of wishing to halt the enclosures."

Somerset was sent to the Tower and later beheaded. [4] He was followed by Warwick, who assumed the title of Duke of Northumberland who, a few years later, was also sent to the scaffold.

IN NORFOLK, though the rate of enclosures had indeed slowed down as a result of the rebellion, many peasant yeomen farmers and small landowners were still forced to leave the land and settle in the towns. Indeed, my own ancestors who lived in, or near, such villages as Shipdham. (Symond Newell's village), Feltwell, Weeting and Garboldisham, were no longer there a hundred years later, they had migrated to Thetford and, possibly, other towns in Norfolk. By 1640, three independent, but related. Newell families are recorded, and established, in Thetford and nearby Weeting. At least some of them remained in Thetford until the beginning of the twentieth century, and in Weeting and elsewhere in Norfolk, much later, though my own grandfather left Thetford around 1862, dying in Chelsea, in London, in 1928.


2: According to a number of accounts, there had been confrontations between some peasants and landowners, in June and July, at Attleborough and Harpham as well as Wymondham. A landowner and Crown agent named John Flowerdew was allegedly involved, and suggested the peasants pull down Robert Kett's fences Flowerdew had, it was asserted, been involved in despoiling Wymondham Abbey at the dissolution of the monasteries, and the Kett brothers had tried to protect the Abbey buildings.

3: Robert was hanged at Norwich Castle; one account has it that William Kett was hanged from the tower of Wymondham Abbey.

4: Somerset was executed by decapitation (in January 1552), rather than hanging, as it was considered a more aristocratic way to die. 


BINDOFF, S.T. "Tudor England", London,1950.

CARRINGTON, C.E. and HAMPDEN-JACKSON, "A History of England", London, 1946.

CROOME, H.M. and HAMMOND, R.J. "An Economic History of Britain", London, 1947.

GOLDSMITH, Dr. “History of England", London, 1843.

GOODMAN, Anthony. "A History of England from Edward II to James III", London, 1977.

LAND, Stephen. "Kett's Rebellion - The Norfolk Rising of 1549", Ipswich, 1977.

MORTON, A.L. "A People's History of England", London, 1945 ed.

RIDLEY, F.A. "The Revolutionary Tradition in England". London, 1947.

ROGERS, James E. Thorold. "Six Centuries of Work and Wages", London, 1949 ed

RUSSELL, Frederic William. "Kett's Rebellion in Norfolk", London, 1859.

SOUTHGATE, George W., "English Economic History", London, 1934.

TENEN, I. "History of England", Vol 1, London, 1933.

TREVELYAN, G.M. "History of England", London, 1943 ed.

TREVELYAN, G.M., "English Social History", London, 1946 ed.

WILMOT-BUXTON, E.M. "A Social History of England", London, 1920.

also: Indexes of the Archdeaconry of Norwich; Boyd's Marriage Index; Norfolk and Norwich Genealogical. Society Compilation; Visitations of Norfolk: 17th Century.

Additional information from Alwyn Edgar of Stratton Strawless, Norfolk.

See also:

The Land is Ours - Historical Archives - Robert Ket and the Norfolk Rising. 1549

Historical Archives Index. The Land is Ours, a landrights campaign for Britain. 


George W. Southgate, in his English Modern History, describes what he calls the Agrarian Revolution of the Sixteenth Century in considerable detail (see Chapter VII). The transition from medieval to modern times in the rural economy was, he says, profound.

With passing of the Middle Ages, the largely co-operative or communal 'spirit' gave way to individualism. Guilds and manors decayed. Protestantism challenged the authority of the Catholic Church, and men began to think and act for themselves. Commercialism replaced custom. New occupations came into existence. Broadly true, medieval agriculture was carried on for subsistence' from the Sixteenth century tillage was conducted primarily for profit. Enclosures often resulted in the consolidation of larger holdings, and the enclosing of them by fences and hedges. Smaller cultivators were evicted. 

Serous consequences, claims Southgate, resulted in the extension of pasture farming. Indeed,

"This involved, in the first place, the conversion of the demesne and, if as was commonly the case, this had been consolidated, and enclosed in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, it was achieved without difficulty. It was followed by the addition to the lord's sheeprun of the common pasture, the 'waste' of the manor. The lord was bound by law to leave sufficient common for the use of his tenants, but he alone was the judge of what was enough, and in any case no effective means existed of enforcing the obligation. The customary tenants were attacked next. They were evicted from their holdings and expelled from the manor or, when the death of a copyholder occurred, his successor was faced with a demand for a relief so exorbitant that he preferred to abandon the holding. Finally, the freeholders, who could not legally be evicted, could be bought out." 

Many people were forced to leave the manors, which were then turned into pasture. Many men who were accustomed to work for wages found their occupation gone, and then left to seek employment elsewhere. "The depopulation of the countryside in those regions where sheep-farming was carried on was one of the most sinister effects of the movement." Land became more valuable, and rents tended to rise. Landlords in the Sixteenth century were severely criticised for their avarice in demanding higher rents for land as opportunity offered. The debasement of the coinage exacerbated the situation.

Southgate notes that:

"Men who left the manor in order to find employment elsewhere found conditions no better in other places, and were forced to beg for bread. Other factors contributed to the spread of vagabondage. The dispersal of the great baronial retinues by the early Tudors set loose upon the countryside hordes of men who were accustomed to fighting, but not to working. While the monasteries remained the evil was held in check. The almoners of the great abbeys and priories distributed bread and ale daily to destitute folk who cared to apply to them. With the dissolution of the monasteries these hangers-on of the religious houses swelled the already formidable bands of vagabonds. Pauperism became a problem with which the state was forced to deal, and in connection with which it was compelled to formulate a policy." 

The outcome was a number of revolts and rebellions in various parts of the country, but particularly in 1549, in Norfolk discussed in the previous account. According to Southgate, the economic effects of the dissolution of the monasteries were of great importance. Possibly one third of the agricultural land of the country changed hands

In the course of a few years. Manors which had been owned by the monasteries for hundreds of years passed into the hands of laymen, who frequently disposed of their property. The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries witnessed the transition from feudal to bourgeois society, and the beginning of the accumulation of capital in agriculture.

Peter E. Newell

Colchester, Essex

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