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Class warfare in Tudor England?: Ket's rebellion.

In the middle of the Tudor dynasty, England was a nation under stress. Populations were rising across the country for the first time since the Black Death, and agriculture was having trouble responding to the extra demand. Several factors contributed to a lack of food across the Kingdom -

  1. There wasn't enough land to support the increased population, and new land that was "drafted in" to be used as farmland was often of substandard quality and produced poor yields.
  2. There was a lack of good infrastructure to get the food to where it was needed in the cities.
  3. A lot of harvests during the period 1540-1559 were deficient.
  4. People were marrying earlier, and hence having more children. These children consumed food but contributed nothing to the economy.
  5. Enclosure of the common land by gentry was reducing the amount of food grown, and gentry were finding it more profitable to graze sheep on their land than grow crops.

The Reformation was also causing problems as the country underwent a confused period with regard to religious issues. It was somewhere between Catholic and Protestant, with many old Catholic traditions remaining but reformed practices also being put into play. The Bible was now being preached in English in many places, which gave many more people an understanding of the exact word of God. The role of the clergy was also being undermined, hence a fundamental organ of the state which was often used to retain social control was lost.

Ket's rebellion began with riots in East Anglia against enclosure, specifically against a local lawyer named Sir John Flowerdew. Flowerdew had been locked in a land dispute with one Robert Ket for some time, and when Flowerdew attempted to turn the rebels against Ket he seized the initiative and instead assembled some 16,000 men against Flowerdew. After dealing with this problem the rebel force proceeded to take Norwich, from where they issued their demands.

The demends of the peasantry were protestant and actually fairly socially conservative. They did not wish to overthrow the public order or social order. They respected the privledges of the gentry, but also hilighted that the gentry had certain responsibilites as well as rights. Each demand opened with a respectful "We pray", and the demands ranged from a call for reductions of rents to the rates of Henry VII, a call for the removal of corrupt or incompetent priests and a call for the discontinuing of enclosure.

During their brief reign in East Anglia the rebels looked as if they were trying to set up an alternative local government. They established camps at centres of local government and Ket issued writs and orders. Perhaps the most scary part of all this for the gentry was that the lower orders were proving they could rule themselves without degenerating into mob rule. They showed their concern with law and order with mistreatment of captured gentry kept to a minimum , and respected private property in Norwich.

However, despite their five minutes of fame which were fairly successful, they could not stand up to the government's brute force for long. After one attempt to take Norwich by Crown troops was successful but then driven out again, the Earl of Warwick brought the rebels to battle outside Norwich, killing 3,000 and capturing Ket, who was hanged.

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