You are dealing with a total of 19 rebellions. (Yes, there are other things you could consider, like the Evil May Day of 1517, but frankly there’s more than enough to worry about – and write about – with these 19.) The rebellions and their dates and locations can be tabulated as follows: Rebellions To begin with, you’ll need to think some general thoughts about these rebellions. Which were serious and which were minor – and why? Why did some last a long time while others were over in a matter of hours or days? What were the grievances of the rebels – where do they differ and where can they be compared? How did the type of leadership that the rebellions had influence the way they panned out? In addition to knowing about each of the rebellions, you will need to master some of the basics of several underlying topics that explain how rebellion ties in to the broad history of the period. These can also form the basis for questions. There are three of them and they are:

  • Government and order
  • Protests and disorder
  • Reactions to protest

The first point that needs to be made is this: All rebellions had more than one cause, but for the purposes of this paper each – maybe with the exception of the Pilgrimage of Grace – can be ascribed a “primary cause”, and the rebellions that took place can be divided into broad groups by cause. You’ll need to know these groups so you know where to draw examples from in essays that ask you to argue whether “x” was the main cause, or most serious threat arising from, rebellion in this period. The primary causes we are going to be dealing with are as follows:

Local economic issues – taxation & enclosure

  • Yorkshire tax rebellion
  • Cornish rebellion
  • Amicable Grant
  • Kett’s rebellion


  • Pilgrimage of Grace (also about tax & independence)
  • Western Rebellion
  • Wyatt’s Rebellion

Independence from the centre

  • Silken Thomas *
  • Northern Earls
  • Shane O’Neill *
  • Munster Rebellion *
  • Geraldine Rebellion *
  • Tyrone’s rebellion *

[* = Irish rebellion]

Dynastic & influence at court

  • Lovell & Staffords
  • Simnel
  • Warbeck
  • Lady Jane Grey
  • Essex’s rebellion

This classification gives you a broad categorisation which can form the basis of a structured answer, but a sophisticated (high-scoring) answer will push a stage beyond this by looking at other factors. We’ll come back to this point later. The second point to make is this: There are 3 broad interpretations of the impact that rebellion had in the Tudor period as a whole. You need to choose ONE of these, or create YOUR OWN COMBINATION of these, and make it the basis of the thesis (argument) of each essay that you write. The interpretations are:

  1. The Tudor state was severely threatened by protest and rebellion
  2. The Tudor state was never seriously threatened by protest and rebellion
  3. The Tudor state not only survived the threat of rebellion, but also grew stronger as a result of them

Personally I favour a combination of ii and iii, along the lines of

The Tudor state was rarely threatened by rebellion, and never decisively, but it always feared it. Because of that, it developed a stronger central government, more efficient intelligence service, better propaganda, more sensitive understanding of what the people would find affordable and fair, and greater stability… all of which ensured it was far stronger in 1603 than it had been in 1485.


1486: The Stafford/Lovell Rebellion


One month


York + Worcestershire

Main cause

Dynastic – wanted restoration of House of York

Subsidiary causes

None of any significance – hence lack of support


Viscount Lovell, Sir Thomas and Sir Humphrey Stafford

Main aims/causes

Overthrow of Henry VII & his replacement with unspecified Yorkist claimant


Attracts little support. Lovell escapes, Staffords both captured and Humphrey is executed

Level of threat

Very low – rebel numbers derisory

Success or failure? 

Entirely unsuccessful. Henry’s concerns had more to do with the general instability of his rule in these early days than any significant threat from the rebels


Lovell was one of Richard III’s councillors and a close ally of the king. After Bosworth he fled, with the brothers Humphrey and Thomas Stafford, to sanctuary in Colchester abbey. Eight months later (April 1486), the three left to try to raise a rebellion. Lovell travelled to Richard’s old stronghold of Yorkshire to raise troops while the Staffords did the same in Worcestershire.

The rebellions gained little traction because there was no Yorkist pretender to rally around. Henry VII, who was in Lincoln when word of the rebellion reached him, hurried to York and sent his uncle Jasper Tudor into the countryside with a pardon for every rebel but Lovell himself, which drained all support. Support for the Staffords collapsed when word reached them that the king was on his way south with an army.

Lovell escaped, rallied to support Lambert Simnel, and after Simnel’s defeat escaped to Flanders. The Staffords fled to sanctuary again but were dragged out and tried – Humphrey was executed, Thomas imprisoned.

Reasons for failure

  1. Lack of credible alternative candidate as king – very few of the commons were willing to rise in support of the noble leaders
  2. Lovell and Staffords were only minor nobles – had no great wealth and no large group of followers/servants on which to base a rising
  3. Henry already had an efficient intelligence operation – successfully tracked the rebels when they fled and did not give them time to become a threat
  4. No backing from overseas

Key stats, quotes and views

  • Total support raised was in dozens, not even hundreds

1486-87: Lambert Simnel


One month


Ireland; invasion of England through Lancashire

Main aims/causes

Dynastic rebellion. Attempt by Yorkists to place a pretender on the throne

Subsidiary causes

Dissatisfaction of Yorkist faction with their treatment by Henry VII, especially loss of lands and hope of preferment


  • First: Richard Symonds, Oxford priest
  • Later: Backing from Irish Earl of Kildare, who has Simnel crowned king in Dublin; Earl of Lincoln


  • Simnel captured – spared, but his status as pretender made clear by being given job in king’s kitchen
  • Symonds escapes execution but is imprisoned for life

Level of threat              

High – despite lack of significant support from commons in England, Yorkists have Irish military aid and are able to raise sufficient funds to hire a mercenary army. Rebellion took place early in Henry’s reign; few actively supported him and the Battle of East Stoke was pretty closely fought


In retrospect, it is easy to see the Battle of Bosworth as decisive and marking the end of the Wars of the Roses. This is not how it appeared to contemporaries; there had been several rounds of dynastic upheaval and the throne had repeatedly changed hands. Henry VII, moreover, had a very weak claim to it; his greatest advantage over the Yorkists was that almost all of the claimants on the Yorkist side were dead.

It was against this background that Lambert Simnel emerged in Oxford, for long a town with pronounced Yorkist sympathies. Simnel was the student of an Oxford priest, Richard Symonds, who saw in him some resemblance to the family of Richard III. Simnel was taught good manners and bearing and was claimed to be Edward, Earl of Warwick, Richard III’s nephew and arguably legitimate heir to the throne.

Simnel’s claim was supported by the Earl of Lincoln, who had been the Yorkist heir in Richard’s reign; many historians suspect he planned to claim the throne himself.

With Lincoln’s help, Simnel was taken to Dublin in January 1487, which was [i] mostly Yorkist in sentiment and [ii] well out of the reach of Henry VII. He was acclaimed by Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, who had been Lord Deputy – de facto ruler of Ireland – since 1479. Kildare had Simnel crowned in Dublin as Edward VI while Lincoln raised support in Flanders from Margaret of York, the Duchess of Burgundy. He was joined there by Viscount Lovell.

Henry responded by putting the real Edward of Warwick on show, but the Yorkist forces landed in Lancashire.

Simnel’s army consisted of

  • 2,000 German mercenaries paid for by Burgundy
  • About 4,500 ill-disciplined Irish kerns (light infantry) sent by Kildare
  • A much smaller force of Yorkists under the command of half a dozen local gentry which joined after they landed in England

It’s very notable that no major English noble declared for Simnel and that the rebels failed to raise enthusiasm for their cause despite landing in the Yorkist heartland only two years into Henry VII’s reign and touring widely – Simnel marched through England for two weeks. The Earl of Northumberland, the leading Yorkist in the north, refused to join the rebellion and instead led Henry’s forces in the area.

In June 1487 the rebels met Henry in battle at East Stoke in the Midlands.

The battle was close. Henry had 12,000 men to the rebels’ 8,000, but not all were fully committed to his cause. It was only when Lincoln, the Irish leader, Geraldine, and the German mercenary commander were killed that it became clear that the rebels would lose. It is likely that, had Simnel’s forces won, and Henry been killed, many undeclared nobles would have switched their allegiance back to the Yorkists.

Lovell escaped and was never heard from again. Simnel was captured and put into the king’s service in the royal kitchens. Many captured Irish troops were hanged, but the king chose to punish the other Yorkist leaders with fines rather than arrests.

Reasons for failure

  • Simnel was not clearly legitimate and was only 12 years old – a child, not an inspiring leader
  • Simnel depended on foreign support – Germans and Irishmen – and this made it much harder to raise support in England. He seemed to be a puppet for foreign interests
  • Yorkist leadership very weak after Bosworth, eg Duke of Norfolk was killed there
  • Henry’s treatment of the Yorkist nobility after Bosworth was effective. Few were executed or left without hope. He confiscated land but allowed men such as the Earl of Surrey to prove their loyalty and regain their property. This limited the number desperate enough to rebel. Especially key was Northumberland’s decision to stay loyal – he had fought for Richard at Bosworth
  • Exhaustion and poverty – the north had been devastated by war and most were focused on survival for themselves and their families, not another bout of dynastic fighting. Like many of the rebellions in this period, therefore, there was no common enthusiasm for the cause among all classes
  • Bad behaviour of the undisciplined Irish troops

Key stats, quotes & views

  • The difficulty of ruling in Ireland is shown by the fact that Henry had to reinstate Kildare as Lord Deputy despite his support for Simnel – and his outright treason in having him crowned king. No other Irish magnate was powerful enough to hold the country down

If you want to show Simnel was not a threat

  • Simnel’s lack of support in England can be gauged by the fact that he raised no more than 1,500 men there in two weeks, despite landing in the Yorkist heartland

If you want to show Simnel was a threat

  • The Battle of East Stoke was closely fought and lasted for 3 hours – a long time in this period. While Henry had the bigger and more experienced and better equipped army, it was by no means absolutely certain he would win. Had he lost, he could have lost his throne
  • Although the Yorkists had little support from major nobles, the same was true of Henry’s army. His only two big supporters were Oxford and Derby. Northumberland joined Henry’s army but his loyalty was so suspect he and his troops were never ordered into battle
  • “That such a ridiculous scheme almost succeeded shows how fragile was Henry’s grip on the crown.”
    • Roger Turvey

1489: Yorkshire Rebellion


Under one month



Main aims/causes

Protests at collection of subsidy for foreign policy purposes.

  • Yorkshiremen felt Brittany was not their concern
  • New sort of tax was an additional burden in a poor area

Subsidiary causes

Poor harvest of 1488 increased degree of poverty

Yorkist sympathy of region – this was certainly Henry’s fear


  • First: Robert Chamber, a yeoman (gentleman) of York
  • Later: Sir John Egremont, bastard member of the Percy family


  • No more efforts to collect the tax in Yorkshire
  • Some salutary executions, but Egremont made his peace with Henry and later received several manors from him
  • Henry recognises north remains Yorkist in sentiment – spends more of his time there
  • Establishment of Tudor’s Council of the North

Level of threat

Low – limited support, no influential leadership, and no march south

Success or failure?

Quite successful. Attempts to collect the tax were abandoned and there was no widespread retribution. The north came under firmer government control as a result, but this did not prevent further trouble flaring in the same region during the Pilgrimage of Grace.


Henry VII had sheltered at the court of the Duke of Brittany during the reign of Richard III. In 1489, when Brittany was threatened by France, he decided to send aid and parliament voted a £100,000 subsidy to fund an expedition.

A subsidy was a form of income tax and there was widespread resistance to it, especially in the north, which was required to fund defences against the Scots and saw Henry’s desire to help Brittany as his own business. When previous exceptional taxes had been raised, the north had generally been excused the need to pay. Northumberland, Westmoreland and Cumberland were all made exempt from the tax because of their poverty.

Henry called on his lords to help enforce the subsidy, but the scale of opposition to the tax nationally can be gauged by the fact that only £27,000 was raised. This increased pressure to collect from areas that had yet to contribute

The Earl of Northumberland, who supported the tax, was placed in charge of leading a commission to decide on its collection in the north. He was confronted at Cock Lodge in north Yorkshire by a group of rebels led by Robert Chamber. There was a scuffle and Northumberland was killed – the only person to die in the course of the rebellion.

The rebels wrote asking for a royal pardon but this was denied. Instead, Henry VII sent an army of 8,000, led by the Earl of Surrey. The rebels dispersed as it approached.

Chamber was tried and hanged, but there was no general retribution against those who had protested.

Reasons for success

  • Recognition that the subsidy was both unpopular and difficult to collect
  • Concern that the north, with its traditionally Yorkist sympathies, needed to be handled carefully to prevent further trouble
  • Lack of a prominent leader was probably both a pro and con for the rebels. It limited any chance that the rebellion would become more widespread, but made it easier for the king to treat the rebels leniently

Key stats, quotes, and views

‘The first Tudor, his formative years spent in Brittany and France, was unfamiliar with the careful compromises and structures of consent on which English government rested.’

  • Fletcher & McCulloch

Northumberland’s death is best seen as the result of a row or a riot rather than the planned outcome of a rebellion

The Yorkshire rebels were not organised. No manifesto or demands were issued

1497: Cornish Rebellion


About 3 months


  1. Original “head captain” was a blacksmith called Michael an Gof.
  2. Later leaders were Thomas Flamank, a gentleman from Bodmin, and then Lord Audley – discontent Somerset minor noble. No major figures emerged as leaders


  1. 5,000 rebels marched more than 250 miles to London. They attracted no extra support but were not stopped – the largest force they faced was only 500 strong
  2. Rebels defeated at Blackheath, outside London – at the symbolic spot where Peasants Revolt and Cade’s Rebellion men had camped.
  3. Henry punished only the rebel leaders – all 3 were executed – but levied large fines on the county. Cornwall was quiet until 1549.

Main causes

Raising of a subsidy – forced loan – for “irrelevant” war vs Scotland

Subsidiary causes

Henry had issued new regulations on tin mining and suspended the privileges of the Stannaries – the local Cornish court and parliament. This hit both at the key contributor to the Cornish economy and at local independence from the centre

Degree of threat

Moderate – 15,000 rebels reached outskirts of London. However they did not garner support outside West Country and did not intend to overthrow the king. Their army was not professional or well equipped


Cornwall was distant from London – indeed from England as a whole – and inhabited by a different race of people – Celts, related to the Welsh and Bretons. Even in the 1490s many commoners spoke Cornish as their first language. They felt different and had their own local courts and parliaments (stannaries) which administered strictly local interests, such as managing investments in Cornish tin mines.

Westcountrymen were concerned by the threat from France but had little interest in the threat of Scotland – which Henry felt acutely once Warbeck based himself there. There was bitter resentment when parliament voted £120,000, in the form of one subsidy of £60,000, and two fifteenths and tenths (taxes on property, 1/15th in the country and 1/10th in towns) to fund a Scottish war. This was three times the amount demanded by Henry in any earlier year.

Encouraged in their early protests by a lawyer, Richard Flamank – whose father was actually one of Henry’s 4 tax commissioners for Cornwall – an orderly army of commons marched north to Wells in Somerset, where an impoverished and embittered local noble named Lord Audley, seized the chance for greatness by agreeing to become their leader.

The determination of the Cornishmen was impressive – they reached London, 250 miles from home, and their army was probably the largest raised by rebels in this period – and took Henry (who was in the north) by surprise. But they raised no support. Devon was traditionally hostile to the Cornish (which makes the two counties’ coming together in 1549 more impressive). Kent failed to rise in support despite the Cornish symbolically making camp at the spot outside London chosen by Jack Cade’s Kentish rebels in 1450. This was a major disappointment to Cornish hopes, and the Londoners refused to open their gates to them.

Henry marched hastily south with an army of about 8,000, gathering more men on the way until he had 20,000+. At least a third of the Cornishmen deserted on hearing of his approach. The rest stood their ground, but the battle that followed was very short, compared to East Stoke, and the Cornish quickly fled. About 1,000 were killed.

The leaders – An Gof, Flamank and Audley – were all captured and executed.

Henry then fined all others involved with special severity. A total of £15,000 was raised. But Cornwall remained unhappy – as shown by the support Warbeck raised there some months later. Henry was forced to cancel plans to send the quartered bodies of An Gof and Flamank to Cornwall for fear that that would cause more trouble.

Reasons for failure

  • Cornish were “too different” to attract support in the south of England. Many spoke a different language
  • Poorly equipped. Cornish had no cavalry or artillery, or even good weapons and armour. They were faced by a professional army
  • No support from any nobles with any resources.
  • No sympathy for the rebel cause among Londoners

Key stats, quotes & views  

  • Rebel force was twice size of initial royal army (but much less well trained)
  • Henry raised £15,000 in fines from Cornwall and the counties along the rebel route as punishment. ‘The less blood he drew, the more he took in treasure.’ Francis Bacon

1491-99: Perkin Warbeck


Active eight years

  • In Ireland:        2 sieges of Waterford
  • In England:     3 separate invasions:
  1. Tries to land at Kent 1495
  2. Invades from Scotland 1496
  3. Lands in Cornwall 1497


In Ireland

  • Cork 1491

In England

  • Kent 1495
  • About a mile south of the Scottish border 1496
  • Cornwall 1497


Warbeck was a tool of Yorkist and foreign interests. He received mostly foreign backing:

  • Emperor Maximilian
  • James IV of Scotland
  • Margaret of Burgundy
  • Charles VIII of France
  • Earl of Desmond (Ireland)


  • Landing at Deal in Kent is a fiasco. No local support – Kentish forces rout Warbeck’s army and he doesn’t even land himself
  • Scottish invasion is backed by James IV. It is poorly resourced and ends after a week when the north fails to rise in support and an English army approaches. This Scottish invasion forces Henry to raise the tax which was the cause of the Cornish Rebellion
  • Warbeck fails twice in his attempts to capture the English castle at Waterford in Ireland – total of 11 days of siege. After the second attempt he flees Ireland for Cornwall
  • Despite landing in Cornwall only 3 months after the Cornish rebellion ended, Warbeck failed to attract significant support. He fled, was captured, and – after two escapes – eventually executed.
  • The failure of two imposters was decisive – there were no more serious Yorkist threats to Henry’s throne

Main causes

Dynastic. Attempt by House of York to create a plausible pretender to rally support around

Subsidiary causes

European politics. Warbeck’s extensive foreign support was a product of attempts to neutralise England (the French) or even take it over (the Holy Roman Emperor)

Degree of threat

Medium. Warbeck was active for many years and a more convincing pretender than Simnel. He obtained support from France, Burgundy, Ireland and Scotland. His great failure was to fail to generate significant backing in England – there was no equivalent of the Battle of East Stoke. All his backers, whether kings or Cornish commoners, had motives other than believing in Warbeck as king


The origins of Warbeck’s rising are obscure and historians still argue as to how far he was manipulated by his shadowy backers. He appeared in Cork, Ireland, in 1491 as a 17 year old working for a Breton silk merchant. His dignified bearing attracted attention and when questioned he claimed to be Richard, Duke of York – one of the Princes in the Tower supposedly murdered by Richard III.

His known backers at this stage were humble. However, SB Chrimes, biographer of Henry VII, argues that his appearance and acclamation in Ireland was “no accident”, Chrimes argues that Warbeck was the tool of Charles VIII of France and Margaret of Burgundy, who sought to destabilise Henry VII – Charles to prevent Henry supporting Brittany as he attempted to swallow it, and Margaret because she was a major Yorkist leader.

When Henry became aware of Warbeck, he sent an Irish force to Cork, but the pretender fled to France. It is notable that Kildare had learned his lesson by this point – there was no show of Irish support for Warbeck. This was quite a contrast to his reception overseas. He was received by Charles VIII and later by the Holy Roman Emperor. This reflects not real support for his cause, or belief in his claim to the throne, but cynical political reality – support for Warbeck destabilised England and stopped Henry from attempting to intervene in Burgundy

Henry signed the Treaty of Etaples (1492) to limit the threat. This ended his support for Brittany in exchange for a large subsidy and French agreement to expel Warbeck. The treaty is a sign of how dangerous Warbeck and his backers were – Henry had been sheltered in Brittany while Richard ruled and had been anxious to help the Duke of Brittany.

Warbeck travelled on into Imperial territory, visiting Vienna and Burgundy.

Overall, he was only a pawn in Charles VIII’s attempts to absorb the duchy of Brittany – a distraction to prevent Henry from aiding the Bretons. He received support from Margaret of Burgundy for the same reason – she had not received half her dowry and would only get the money if it was granted by an English king. Maximilian’s support came in exchange for a signed promise that the emperor would be Warbeck’s heir and inherit England if Warbeck died childless.

Meanwhile Henry was unleashing a sophisticated intelligence operation

  • Agents in England identified possible allies and he required bonds of allegiance (cash deposits) from these men
  • His spies in Flanders were able to show who Warbeck really was – that he was the son of a boatman from Tournai
  • He uncovered a cell of English supporters at court. Sir William Stanley, the former Yorkist who had won Bosworth for Henry with his intervention, was executed

Warbeck’s July 1495 attempt to land a mercenary army at Deal in Kent was a complete fiasco. The landing was opposed by local Kentish forces and the invaders were routed in an initial skirmish. Warbeck never even made it ashore.

Warbeck returned to Ireland, where he found it more difficult now to attract support. Henry was also working actively to deprive him of backing – for example the earl of Desmond, who had received Warbeck but offered little encouragement, was persuaded to swear loyalty to Henry in 1496. (When Warbeck returned to Ireland in 1497, both Kildare and Desmond attempted to capture him, forcing his flight to Cornwall.) An attempt to besiege the royal castle at Waterford failed – Henry had supplied the city with heavy cannon and many rebels were killed. Warbeck had to flee again, and moved on to Scotland.

James IV was his strongest supporter – he had most to gain by placing a puppet on the English throne. He gave him a high born wife, Katherine Gordon. But Scotland was too poor to offer much support. Again, Henry had a spy in the Scottish camp, and he confidently reported that the Scots’ war effort could last no more than a week. This was an accurate assessment – a small Scottish army crossed the border, but it ran short on supplies and as soon as it was clear the locals were hostile, and an army was marching north to meet it, it dispersed. Warbeck had been in England less than a week.

Foreign backers wanted to keep Warbeck alive, as a threat to Henry, but no longer offered money or troops for invasion. He was no use to Maximilian or Charles if he could not generate support in England. In July 1497, hearing that Henry had spent £60,000 equipping an army to invade Scotland, James expelled him from the country.

Warbeck sailed to Ireland – where there was famine and where his chief backer, Ormond, had recently been murdered. He had to go on to Cornwall, aiming for there probably because word of the Cornish rebellion had reached him.

The Cornish rising was over by the time he landed but there was still resentment in the region and a number of minor nobles and gentry

Because of this local connection, Warbeck was able to gather troops – 8,000 by the time he reached Exeter. But their support was more to do with wanting to run their county free from interference as real belief in Warbeck as a king.

Warbeck’s fatal error was to attempt a siege of Exeter. Without siege weapons or supplies, his forces drifted away. Warbeck fled to sanctuary in Taunton.

Henry persuaded him to surrender and treated him generously at first. But Warbeck’s repeated attempts to revive his cause ended the king’s patience. After attempting to escape from the Tower of London, he was hanged in 1499.

Reasons for failure

  • Warbeck depended entirely for others for his power – he was vulnerable to changes in their plans
    • Eg loss of foreign support after failed attempts to invade Kent and from Scotland
    • Support in Cornwall was due to ongoing resentment in aftermath of 1497 Cornish rebellion
  • Henry was much more firmly established on the throne – most nobles saw little point in risking all for Warbeck.
    • Not a single major English figure, or even member of the gentry, backed Warbeck
  • Henry’s intelligence service was very efficient. It found out who Warbeck really was and neutralised potential supporters with bonds before the landing in Kent

Key stats, quotes & views  

If you want to show Warbeck was little threat

  • Despite attempting to seize the throne for 8 years, Warbeck spent a total of less than 50 days on English and Irish soil, and failed to attract the support of a single important English or Irish backer – in stark contrast to the support he received from the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian, Margaret of Burgundy, and Charles VIII of France
  • Warbeck was treated well after his capture – kept at court rather than in prison. This suggests Henry did not see him as a major threat

If you want to show Warbeck was or might have been a threat

  • Warbeck’s threat was his persistence. He attempted five invasions and two escapes from his comfortable captivity. He was executed not for the threat he actually posed, but for he threat he might pose if circumstances changed. Specifically, his actions threatened Henry’s attempt to marry his son Arthur to Catherine of Aragon – the Spaniards complained of England’s instability
  • Foreign backing was substantial until after the debacle in Kent. At one point Maximilian gave his wife as surety for a loan (leaving her with the lender) so he could hire 6,000 mercenaries. Foreign leaders were then deterred by the clear lack of support for Warbeck in England

1525: Amicable Grant


About 3 months


Across at least 5 counties in eastern and south- eastern England


Locals below gentry status. No major leaders were identified because the king agreed pardons. Protestors told Duke of Norfolk: “You ask who is our captain… his name is Poverty”


  • Major protests in Suffolk, and taxpayer discontent elsewhere
  • Wolsey is forced to climb down and Henry abandons his aggressive foreign policy
  • Ringleaders appear before the Star Chamber but are pardoned
  • Henry puts all the blame on Wolsey – first step on road to his fall in 1529
  • Tudors change policy to collect more tax from the rich and less from the peasantry in future

Main causes

Tax. Henry VIII sought £800,000 of new tax – a huge sum – in the form of a forced loan, not ordered by parliament, to back his planned invasion of France

Subsidiary causes

Unemployment in the affected areas was rising sharply at the time, and inflation rising fast – 12% fall in peasant’s real income in this decade, prices up 60% since 1500

Degree of threat

Major – for policy, but not for the person of the king. A successful rebellion, but never a political threat to the throne


Resistance to the Amicable Grant can be seen as the product of a Tudor regime that had forgotten the lessons of the earlier tax revolts in Yorkshire and Cornwall.

Since 1497, the state had significantly increased its efforts to raise tax revenues in order to fund a growing administration and a much more ambitious foreign policy.

  • From 1515: Increased assessments on land, income and private assets Wolsey would collect from each individual on the basis of whichever of these would yield the largest sum; a fundamentally unfair process that was widely resented
  • A further hike in the 1520s – to catch the French at a moment of weakness after a severe defeat in Italy – saw Wolsey demand up to a sixth from the laity and a third from the clergy

It is notable that protests were are their strongest not in the poor north but the prosperous south – this was because most of the tax was collected from the relatively well off. There had been a series of good harvest in the early 1520s so there was no real dearth or suffering. However, there were economic problems – fast rising inflation and increased unemployment.

Resentment at the tax was the product of 3 main factors.

  • It was not a one-off. It followed several earlier large demands.
    • A huge loan of £250,000 had been raised in 1522-3
    • Four subsidies across four years had been granted by parliament in 1523 – the Amicable Grant was on top of all these
  • Despite promises, no loan had been repaid
  • It was non-parliamentary – a forced loan ordered by Wolsey. There was resentment that the commons had not had a chance to have a say on whether or not the tax should be granted

The scale of the protest and the unwillingness of the local nobles and gentry to force payment meant collection of the tax had to be first scaled back, then abandoned.

However… although taxation was at an unprecedented peak in the 1520s, you must note that even the failure to raise the Amicable Grant did not deter the government from pushing ahead with further demands. By the 1540s, 15 years later, taxation was at the highest it had been for more than two centuries. What had changed was that Henry took care to collect much more of it from the wealthy, not the peasants.

Reasons for success

  • Widespread protest – in at least 5 counties. Essex, Kent, Warwickshire, Norfolk and Suffolk
  • Rare example of multiple classes uniting – tax affected laity and clergy; nobility resented being made responsible for its collection and threatened with dire consequences if they failed
    • Lord Lisle threatened with execution for failing to collect tax in Berkshire
  • Protestors avoided violence and made it clear they were loyal to the crown and only protesting against this specific tax
    • Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk impressed by a calm demonstration in Suffolk – instead of attacking they wrote to London to request respite for the commons
  • Protestors were ready to march London, bringing the focus of the rebellion to the capital. And there was enough discontent and sympathy inside London for the king not to be certain of their loyalty – the Londoners were the first to be informed that the tax demanded would be halved
  • Because the protests went on for some time, the king’s councillors got good information from the countryside and warned Henry of the likely dire consequences of not backing down. There was much better understanding of the feelings of the commons than in other rebellions in this period.

Key stats, quotes & views  

  • There were large gatherings of protestors. 4,000 rebels assemble at Lavenham in Suffolk and are willing to march on London. The Lavenham rebels outnumbered the forced available to the Duke of Suffolk
  • Suffolk gauged the mood of his troops and realised they sympathised with the rebels. He told Wolsey his men “would defend him from all perils, but against their neighbours they would not fight”

1534-35: Silken Thomas


9 months of active rebellion – though dates of the rebellion are often given as 1534-7 because Thomas was not executed until the latter date


Ireland, starting in Dublin


Silken Thomas, son of the Earl of Kildare,

Main causes

  • Resistance from regions to attempts to increase power of centre
  • Especially distribution of patronage – Kildare family felt it was losing ground to rivals

Subsidiary causes

Fear that Reformation would be exported to Ireland – provided religious component that helped cement Kildares’ leadership. Rebellion labelled a “crusade” – but timing was more political than religious


  • Execution of Silken Thomas and his 5 uncles
  • Replacement of indirect rule with an attempt at “bureaucratic” Cromwellian methods, based on closer English control, especially appointment of Englishmen to major Irish posts – Lord Deputies, Treasurers. This would spark a whole series of later Irish revolts
  • The Kildare earldom was suspended until 1569 and Kildare lands were temporarily confiscated. The weakening of the family had negative consequences as they had kept other great Irish families down
  • English determination to install Cromwellian system fundamentally destabilised relations between London and the Anglo-Irish lords – C16th would become a century of rebellion in Ireland
  • Attempt to impose further reform in Ireland was much less successful – the Reformation Parliament of 1536-7 refused to grant a subsidy and threw out all bills reforming the administration. This showed the continued lack of English strength in Ireland – rule still had to be through the Irish
  • English were thenceforth very cautious about imposing religious change – this helps to explain why Catholicism survived as the main religion in Ireland
  • Creation of Ireland as a kingdom in 1542. Henry became King of Ireland rather than Lord of Ireland – claiming greater loyalty and power than he had done before

Degree of threat

Moderate. The battle lines were especially sharply drawn, but Thomas’s strategy was pants and he offered only a limited direct threat to major centres of Tudor power.


For hundreds of years, Ireland had been ruled by the “Anglo-Irish” – descendants of English invaders of the C12th who had intermarried with Gaelic clans and become “more Irish than the Irish.” The most powerful of these families in the Tudor period were the Fitzgeralds. They were Earls of Kildare, and had their power base in Ulster.

However, Thomas Cromwell’s policies seemed to threaten their position.

Cromwell sought to impose uniformity of practice and control of royal patronage that previously the Kildares had been able to control, guaranteeing their supremacy in Ireland. In 1534 Earl of Kildare was replaced as Deputy by a rival, Lord Skeffintgon. Cromwell intended this more as a way of ensuring no one Irish lord became too powerful rather than as a direct attack on the Kildares – but that was how it was taken.

Kildare resigned from the Privy Council and denounced Tudor rule. In previous years these would have been taken as they were intended – political manoeuvres designed eventually to reach a compromise. In the more dangerous atmosphere of the 1530 – with the Reformation in full swing – the move was seen as more hostile. Kildare was sent to the Tower of London.

His son, Silken Thomas, then proclaimed a Catholic crusade. This must have been inspired by fear of the reformation, so religious motives were significant in this rebellion

  • Demanded Irish take an oath of loyalty to the Pope and himself, not Henry
  • Hence required a transfer of allegiance from the Tudors to the Kildares
  • ‘Such an ideological component had no precedent in medieval Ireland’s frequent rebellions’ – Anthony Fletcher

He refused a summons to London, raised 1,000 men, and invaded the Palke (English controlled area around Dublin). Thomas had shipped weapons and gunpowder out of Dublin castle while he still controlled it and now returned to lay siege to Dublin.

Although Thomas sought support from the Pope and Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, he was seeking support rather than mounting a genuinely religious campaign. The royal response was to send an army of 2,300 – the largest despatched to Ireland in 150 years. As it moved through Ireland, most other local nobles submitted rather than fight.

Thomas, holed up in Maynooth Castle, was promised his life would be spared and decided to offer his surrender – expecting mercy. Instead he was sent to London and executed along with 5 of his uncles and 70 other ringleaders. This unexpected outcome is ironically known as the Pardon of Maynooth.

Reasons for failure

  • Major English response in terms of troops sent and money expended
  • Thomas loses support of clergy by ordering execution of Archbishop of Dublin, who had tried to mediate
  • Thomas allowed himself to be besieged at Maynooth, meaning the relatively small English army could concentrate all its forces on one spot. Later Irish rebels would use guerrilla tactics to much greater effect

Key stats, quotes and views

  • The rebellion cost London £75,000 to suppress – a huge sum
  • The number of executions was high compared to earlier Tudor rebellions, but still far less than the Pilgrimage of Grace two years later or later Irish rebellions
  • The rebellion should be seen as serious because its aims were major – it was “an act of total opposition to what was going on” (Anthony Fletcher), and had Silken Thomas emerged victorious he would have set himself up as ruler of Ireland

1536-37: The Pilgrimage of Grace


Oct 1536-Feb 1537


Multiple, with leaders from Commons giving way to gentry (a pattern typical of many rebellions)

  • Shoemaker Nicholas Melton in Lincs.
  • Landowners such as Sir Robert Aske and Francis Bigod in Yorkshire.
  • Bush calls the rebellion ‘a rising of the commons’, stressing its manifestoes were issued “with consent of the commons” and that rebels swore to be true to “God, king and commons”

No noble leaders, but – conspicuously – local nobles did not actively try to suppress rebellion

Main causes

Religious change. Fear of dissolution of monasteries, which provided needed charitable social safety net – rebellion coincided with visits by King’s Commissioners; settling of local grievances

Fear of new taxes in a time of peace not war, prompted by passage of Cromwell’s Subsidy Act authorising the collection of £80,000

Subsidiary causes

Poor harvest the previous year

Shifts in power balances at court – old supporters of Catherine of Aragon losing out

Degree of threat

High (despite the ridiculously low death-toll, see below). An estimated 50,000 rebels in total, across a broad swathe of northern England. Some demands were met. But the risings were not co-ordinated or simultaneous, and there was never any intention to overthrow the king. This was a loyal rebellion


  • Local nobles forced to negotiate with rebels and a general pardon promised
  •  Subsidy dropped
  • Four sacraments resorted to prayer book (pro-Catholic outcome).
  • Second wave of rebels led by Bigod treated much more harshly – sign of how concerned government was by this rebellion


The Pilgrimage of Grace was the largest and most complex rebellion of the period. It took place in five separate locations, there were two different outbreaks of rebellion, in 1536 and 1537.

With so many different people involved over such a wide area, the Pilgrimage had no single leader or cause. It was both a religious and an economic protest, led in various places and various times by members of the gentry and the commons.

To make matters more confusing, most of the testimony we have comes from the aftermath, where there were strong motives for denying the rebellion had been organised – it also suited Cromwell to push the idea it had had economic and not religious motives. In this sense the Pilgrimage can be whatever historians want it to be, but perhaps the safest conclusion is that it reflected a wide range of discontent at an especially charged time.

  • Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell were implementing a wide-reaching programme adding to the power of the centre to control the regions
    • New taxes, London commissions looking at northern religious houses
    • Passage of the Act for the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries and the Ten Articles
  • The impact of the Reformation was increasingly being felt at a local level
  • There had been a very poor harvest in 1535
  • The pressure of population growth was causing unemployment – population rose 15% in this decade
  • Enclosure was spreading
  • The Subsidy was being collected – many opposed it because they felt an aggressive war with France was none of their business

Things were changing rapidly at this time. While the Break with Rome had taken place in 1532, there was absolutely no change in religious doctrine for a further two years. Henry’s Ten Articles (1536) changed this. They…

  • Cut the number of sacraments from 7 to 3 (baptism, penance, Eucharist)
  • Banned worship of images
  • Denied that it was possible for prayers to save souls from purgatory

The Articles were accompanied by a ban on the celebration of many Catholic holy days and moves to dissolve not only the few great religious houses, but also the many lesser monasteries, which provided most of what social “safety net” there was, especially in the north:

  • Charity for the destitute
  • Accommodation for men travelling in search of work

Trouble began in the autumn of 1536. The first violence was in Lincolnshire in October – the Lincolnshire Rising:

  • Three government commissions were at work in the county, dissolving the lesser monasteries, enforcing the 10 Articles and collecting the subsidy
  • The 4 commissioners enforcing the 10 Articles were seized
  • A popular revolt at first – the evidence suggests no pre-planning:
    • Priests were active in recruiting support
    • Rebellion spread organically from parish to parish
    • Rumour played an important part in mobilising support
  • Gentry assumed control after a week or so – they were seen as the “natural leaders” of society. Again the situation is confused, in part because after the revolt was over the leaders were anxious to downplay their involvement. Some claimed to have been forced to lead by the commons
    • This phase marked by oath taking and the drawing up of petitions

The first set of rebel demands was the Louth Manifesto (October 1536) – its mixed bag of demands was typical of the mixed motives of the rebels. It called for

  • An end to peacetime taxation
  • End to the dissolution of monasteries (16 of 55 northern monasteries had already been dissolved)
  • Restoration of ancient church liberties
  • A pardon for all rebels

The underlying pitch of the demands was effectively medievalthat there were low born councillors keeping the king from knowing what was really happening in his dominions.

This was followed by

  • riots in Cumberland over enclosure, and hedges pulled down in Giggleswick, Yorkshire
  • a rising in Yorkshire led by Sir Robert Aske. He was a lawyer and the younger son of an important Yorkshire family which had links to the Percy Earls of Northumberland

In all, it is estimated that 50,000 took part in some phase of the Pilgrimage, though the largest single gathering was the 30,000 strong rebel army assembled in Yorkshire.

Aske was elected “chief captain” of the Yorkshire rebels. It seems to have been he who termed the rebellion a “Pilgrimage” with its elements of peaceful and religious protest, rather than violent rebellion. The rebels thenceforth marched under the (Catholic) banner of the Five Wounds of Christ.

  • Seeing the rebellion as essentially peaceful is not a stretch – only one man was killed in the Pilgrimage of Grace

The Yorkshire rebels were nonetheless a formidable force, 30,000 strong, and they were threatening to march south if their demands were ignored. Henry sent the Duke of Norfolk to treat with them and there was a meeting at Doncaster. Aske found him willing to listen, and the outcome was an agreement for a truce. The rebel army disbanded and Aske convened a council at Pontefract (December 1536) to issue a new manifesto.

The 24 articles of the Pontefract Manifesto embraced many causes:

  • 3 were economic – including an end to enclosure
  • 6 were legal or administrative – including a parliament to be held in the north
  • 6 were political – including the removal of Cromwell and Cranmer (seen as a protestant ‘heretic’) and restoration of Mary to the line of succession
  • 9 were religious – including restoration of Papal authority

Henry wanted to refuse all demands, but Norfolk persuaded him this would lead to a march on London, so he agreed instead to a general pardon for the rebels and promised a parliament convened in York would consider grievances.

Before this could happen, there was a second outbreak of rebellion in the north led by a protestant minor landowner called Sir Francis Bigod (January 1537). He had a number of very local grievances over landholding but also feared the king’s pardon was just a ruse to get the rebels to disperse so that they could be punished.

Bigod’s rising gave Henry the excuse to crush the rebels by force and compel the local gentry & nobility to back him or face the consequences.

  • Aske and Bigod were arrested, convicted of treason and hanged
  • 50 Lincolnshire rebels and 130 northern rebels were executed, still a relatively small number considering the size of the rebel support
  • The rebellion thus remained entirely northern, though there was certainly sympathy in the south

Questions over whether the Pilgrimage was planned and led divide historians.

  • The banners used in the Pilgrimage were made in advance. On the other hand, Aske was on his way to London for the new law term when he got caught in the rebellion – no evidence of pre-planning
  • For Geoffrey Elton, it was the product of the northern gentry and emphatically not a ‘spontaneous combustion’ caused by discontent among the commons. There were spontaneous elements, but at root it was a planned rebellion
  • For Davies, it was predominantly popular, and there were genuine religious causes behind it. He accepts there was “a great deal of upper class prompting”
  • For JJ Scarisbrick, it was a conservative rebellion from below – the ‘largest rebellion in English history’, but “above all a protest against change – a desperate attempt to restore what had been pulled down and protect what still stood.”
  • For Dickens the “roots of the movement were decidedly economic, its demands predominantly secular”

Reasons for success and failure

To argue the Pilgrimage was a success:

  • Henry had to start paying more attention to the north – he was very careful to avoid a repetition

To argue the Pilgrimage was a failure:

  • Rebels failed to take advantage of their numbers of general sympathy for the cause; they did not march south

How to see the Pilgrimage

You really can take your pick, there are so many different views

  • It was local reaction to the centre
    • CSL Davies argues this
    • Says Percies were behind everything and fighting for their old power and independence
    • Religion was a useful cloak to win popular support
    • Points to Aske’s links with Percies –sees him as a catspaw
  • It was factional
    • Geoffrey Elton argues this
    • Says initial Lincolnshire rebels had links to local landowners who were part of Catherine of Aragon’s faction, who had lost favour and patronage at court
    • Idealism and religion cloaked naked political aims
  • It had social and economic causes
    • ML Bush argues this
    • Subsidy resented in a poor and famished north – three bad harvests since 1527 and starvation: “sheep do eat men” (More) – and there were rumours of new taxes on the way
    • Resentment at enclosure – though no widespread pulling down of fences
  • It was a religious rebellion
    • JJ Scarisbrick argues this
    • More of the rebel demands were religious than anything else
    • Monks managed to “wag the people” (Sir William Fairfax)

Key stats, quotes & views

  • There were at least 10,000 rebels in Lincolnshire.
  • Bush says total number of rebels was 50,000 in 9 different armies.
  • Fewer than 10% of rebels were directly affected by the Subsidy (you had to be worth more than £20 to pay it, it was not a tax on peasants)
  • Limit to desire to have old religion back – Aske’s rebels wanted the Pope to be “supreme” but also to limit the amount they paid to the church in tithes
  • ‘From the first, the real lead came from the local gentry’ – Geoffrey Elton

1549: Western Rebellion


4 months – May till August


  • Commons rising, later led by Sir Humphrey Arundell
  • Articles of Protest written by Robert Welsh, a Cornish vicar working near Exeter (thus joining traditionally hostile Cornish and Devonians. He was a man of action – a wrestler and good shot with a crosssbow

Main causes

  • Significant religious element – concern at introduction of new more strictly Protestant prayer book by Edward VI, bans on festivals and pilgrimage
  • Hatred of the government’s greedy and careerist main agent in the area, William Body – a protégé of Thomas Cromwell

Subsidiary causes

A heavily taxed sheep yesterday.

A heavily taxed sheep yesterday.

  • Long term economic problems – population, inflation, enclosure
  • Government introduction of a poll tax on sheep
  • 1548 was the first poor harvest for 16 years. (NB there are other examples of trouble happening the year after a poor harvest – 1489 was another such year.)


  • Siege of Exeter by rebels, battle afterwards in which 4,000 rebels are killed by a government force of German mercenaries.
  • Government does not make concessions to the rebels

Degree of threat          

Medium. There was widespread discontent, but no rebel advance into southern England as in 1497. Somerset was distracted by Kett or things would have been over sooner


Cornwall and Devon were among the poorest areas of England and, being peripheral and conservative, were also bastions of Catholic feeling. Discontent there was exacerbated by difficult economic conditions, especially an especially poor harvest in 1548. This combined with rumours that the government planned to introduce a new ta on every sheep – a major threat to farmers, especially in Devon.

William Body arrived in Cornwall in 1548 to ensure that government orders that all Catholic images in the local churches were destroyed had been carried out. One spark was provided in the parish of St Keverne, where a mob led by the local priest attacked and killed him. This provided an example when a second order arrived, proclaiming that the Anglican new prayer book and English-language Bible would be introduced on Whitsunday 1549. This inspired a major local landowner, Sir Humphrey Arundell, to draw up a petition demanding the reinstatement of the old forms of worship. (This petition places the Western Rebellion in the same tradition as the Pilgrimage of Grace.)

Protesters began to gather. The main drivers of rebellion were…

  • Imposition of the new Book of Common Prayer and introduction of a new English bible
  • Fear that religious foundations would be shut down and their church goods seized by Protestants
  • Threatened introduction of the Sheep Tax – and fear it would be extended to pigs and geese
  • Spread of enclosure in the west country
  • General economic discontent. Harvests had been good, but population was up 15% since 1520 and prices had more than double

Lord Protector Somerset was slow to respond. He promised to redress grievances but the rebels failed to disperse and it was only after 7 weeks that he sent in troops.

There were 3 possible reasons for this delay …

  • A power vacuum in the west country… Henry and Thomas Cromwell had purged the main local landowners, the Courtenays, 10 years earlier
  • Distance from London, and distractions caused by protests elsewhere in the country – Somerset felt he could not afford to leave London
  • Somerset may have sympathised with the rebels’ anger at the thoughtless way the religious reforms were being implemented (according to AF Pollard)

Taking advantage of government slowness, Arundel and his rebels set up a camp on Bodmin Moor (shades of Kett’s rebellion) and 2,000 men eventually decided to lay siege to the largest city in the area, Exeter. In doing this they made the same error as Kett, turning protest into open rebellion; they also slowed down any move that might have been made against government forces – the siege lasted 6 weeks (which is a sign that the rebels had far from complete support even in the west).

This gave Lord Russell time to arrive with an army of 8,000 well armed and ruthless German mercenaries. They attacked the rebels in August 1549 and killed more than 4,000 in a general massacre. Robert Welsh and Humphrey Arundell were executed.

Reasons for failure

  • No clear achievable aims – rebels’ articles demanded things the government could not grant, such as abandonment of the Reformation. This forced the government to fight
  • Rebel leadership poor – moved slowly and allowed themselves to be bogged down in siege of Exeter

Key stats, quotes & views  

  • As in the Pilgrimage of Grace, the rebels marched under Catholic banner of 5 wounds of Christ
  • Unlike Kett’s rebellion, there was no strong undercurrent of class conflict – this was partly because there was no strong local nobility or gentry, hence no significant problems with eg enclosure

1549: Kett’s Rebellion


June to November 1549


Commons rebellion led by Robert Kett, a Norfolk yeoman, but part of a much wider outbreak of disorder across much of England where the leadership was low level and low born

Main causes

Enclosure. Kett’s rebels were heartened by royal commission looking into the problem and thought they were supported by government in acting against enclosures

Subsidiary causes

  • The character and stubbornness of Somerset
  • Poor quality of local government – failed to clamp down on enclosure


  • Disturbances throughout midlands and eastern England
  • Kett raises a large force – 16,000 men. Norwich falls to rebels; rebellion eventually crushed by Warwick in battle outside Norwich at spot – Mousehold Heath – where 1381 rebels had camped
  • Kett and up to 300 rebels executed – sign of how seriously government had been frightened
  • Results in fall of Somerset

Degree of threat


  • Disorder was widespread – Amanda Jones book recovers contemporary label, “Commotion Time.” Trouble in 25 counties from Yorkshire to Cornwall (Kett was an example of a problem, rather than the leader of all these outbreaks of disorder). At least 20 rebel camps where disgruntled commons assembled. At least 16 rebel petitions.
  • There is a sort of regime change – Protector Somerset falls. But this doesn’t happen as a direct consequence of the rebellions and there are no calls to overthrow the king
  • Threat heightened in part because of the incompetence of the local authorities in putting Kett down – allowed rebels time to gather strength


The disorders of 1549 were very widespread, and for this reason cannot be ascribed to a single cause. Rumours of disorder in other areas spread widely and must have encouraged disgruntled commons to consider acts of rebellion. One reason why the trouble did not have greater effect, however, was the fact that there was no communication or planning between different groups. The rebels had local grievances and the rebellions were put down one by one, often by local rather than central government forces.

Kett’s rebellion in Norfolk is one of the best known of this serious of outbreaks of trouble because…

  • It lasted a long time – June till November [5 months]
  • It took place in summer, in weather suitable for camping outdoors (Anthony Fletcher: “a dangerously sunny June”)

At the root of the trouble in Norfolk was the issue of enclosure. This had been a concern to the commons for a long time, and the issue had resurfaced the previous year, 1548, when there was a major riot in Hertfordshire over Sir William Cavendish’s success in obtaining a royal warrant allowing him to enclose a large area of common land where he planned to farm rabbits for fur. 2,000 of Cavendish’s rabbits were killed and their burrows blown up with gunpowder.

The Hertfordshire riot caused Protector Somerset to create 3 royal commissions to travel through the midlands investigating cases of illegal enclosure. News of this travelled throughout England and encouraged the commons in many areas to begin tearing down hedges and removing enclosures, on the impression that they had state backing for this. In this sense, Kett’s rebellion can be clearly seen as a loyal rebellion not intended to bring about (as it did) the fall of Somerset himself.

Word of the commissions reached Norfolk and let some commons there to take matters into their own hands. One of the properties attacked belonged to Robert Kett. Kett was not a member of the nobility and was only barely gentry – he worked as a tanner and his brother was a butcher, but they owned a lot of land and had enclosed some common land as well. When his hedges were thrown down, however, Kett transferred his loyalty to the rioters (it’s possible to speculate this was a matter of self-preservation) and agreed to lead them – there are parallels here with the way in which leaders emerged during the Pilgrimage of Grace.

Kett proved a good leader. He decided to assemble as many commons as possible and march on Norwich – then the second largest city in the country after London. He set up camp on Mousehold Heath outside the walls and discontented commons flocked there. At least 3 other rebel camps sprang up in Norfolk soon afterwards.

Disorder was so general that summer that the government was unable to assemble forces to tackle every flashpoint, and this meant that Kett’s numbers continued to rise. The Mousehold camp soon numbered 16,000. A petition containing a set of demands – both economic and religious – was issued there.

By late July the rebels felt strong enough to attack Norwich, and a general assault by men armed with pitchforks and spears took the city. It took a further week for a small government force under the Marquis of Northampton to arrive, and the discovery that this was made up of Italian mercenaries only further enraged Kett’s men. Only 20 accepted an offer of surrender, and when the Italians attacked next day there was an indiscriminate massacre in Norwich, with the rebels emerging victorious – Fletcher says this “turned a vast popular demonstration into a full-scale rebellion”.

It took a further month for a large government army (12,000 English levies and a further 1000 mercenaries) to appear. Kett made the fatal mistake of moving his force to a less well defended position at Dussindale and was overrun by a cavalry charge (end of August). 300 men, including Kett and his brother, were condemned to death.

Reasons for failure

  • Although 25 counties saw disturbances, London remained entirely loyal to the crown; of course there were no agrarian grievances in a city!
  • Kett failed to hold back the rebels. The government was willing to negotiate with protestors but felt it had to treat outright rebels harshly. The attack on Norwich was the point where the rebellion became treason

Key stats, quotes & views  

  • Amanda Jones: all the 1549 rebellions together were “the most extensive outbreak of disorder in the 16th century, and arguably the most serious disturbances since the Peasants’ Revolt.”
    • This means it’s possible to make a strong argument for 1549 as the main turning point in this period – rebellions get less serious afterwards because this is the last great commons rising (compare to Oxfordshire 1596)
  • 7 articles among Kett’s demands relate to religion, so this is an important subsidiary cause
    • Demanded that priests live with their flocks not with local gentry, and teach more
  • 3,000 rebels were killed at Dussindale – so this was a major rebellion
  • “The closest thing to class war in English history” – John Guy

1553: Northumberland and Lady Jane Grey


Lady Jane lasts 9 days on the throne


Earl of Northumberland engineers attempted coup to keep control after death of Edward VI

Main causes

Factional: Faced by the accession of Mary, Northumberland fears losing hold on power

Subsidiary causes

Almost equally important is Northumberland’s strong espousal of Protestantism. He has grave concerns at the possible accession of the Catholic Mary


  • All classes show considerable loyalty to Tudor dynasty, irrespective of Mary’s religion
  • Northumberland and Lady Jane are executed

Degree of threat

High. Coup might have succeeded had there been any popular support, as it was aimed at the heart of the government. Northumberland was able to seize control of power for a week


Edward VI had not been the sickly child of legend, but his final illness in 1553 was sufficiently drawn-out for the Lord Protector, Northumberland – real ruler of the country while Edward was still a minor – to draw up plans for his death.

Dudley had been Lord Protector since 1547 – initially with Somerset – so he had had six years to get used to being in power. With Edward, who was genuinely devout, he had implemented strongly Protestant religious policies.

As Edward lay ill, Northumberland supervised the drawing up of a “devise” – or document setting out new rules for the succession. This stipulated that Mary (who was only Edward’s half-sister, being the daughter of Catherine of Aragon, while Edward was the son of Jane Seymour) and Elizabeth were to be cut out of the line of succession, in line with the stipulations of Henry VIII’s Succession Acts of 1534 and 1536.

Edward was unmarried and had no heir himself. After the document was drawn up, Northumberland had it secretly altered so that the succession would pass to Lady Jane Grey in the event that Edward died without heir. From Northumberland’s point of view, Lady Jane met several key criteria:

  • She was Protestant
  • She was young – only 15 – and without any experience of government, so she would need a Lord Protector to help her govern. Northumberland expected to fill that spot
  • She was part of Northumberland’s family – his daughter-in-law

Northumberland’s “party” at court included several important aristocrats – the Earls of Oxford and Huntingdon – but he had no real support from the commons and so had to rely on his own army: 2,000 of his and his supporters’ retainers.

Edward died in July 1553 and Northumberland acted quickly, sending his son and 300 men to seize Mary while placing Lady Jane on the throne. Mary acted unexpectedly decisively, however, fleeing to East Anglia and beginning to assemble a force of her own.

Northumberland lacked enough support to deal with this. He was the most experienced general in the country but feared leaving London to fight Mary. He was right – the London commons supported Mary, and the Council quickly proclaimed her queen and ordered Northumberland’s arrest. The majority of nobles declared loyalty to Mary, placing their adherence to the Tudor dynasty over any religious concerns.

Sensing his support had withered almost to nothing, Northumberland proclaimed Mary queen and allowed himself to be arrested. He was tried and beheaded for treason. Jane was also found guilty, but would probably have been spared had it not been for the outbreak of Wyatt’s Rebellion in February 1554.

Reasons for failure

  • Northumberland’s unpopularity – he lacked significant support even from other nobles – and his failure to arrest Mary when he had the chance
  • Timing – Edward died before the “devise” could be approved by parliament; it was technically illegal for a minor to alter the wishes of the previous king
  • The failed coup show the people of England preferred a legitimate Tudor to a Protestant queen who was not a member of the royal family
  • The Protestant reformation was not yet entrenched – many welcomed the accession of Mary and the return of the old religion

Key stats, quotes & views

  • Shows strength of Tudor position by this stage – Mary was female and Catholic but there was still substantial loyalty to her as legitimate heir
  • In common with other rebellions there was no common cause across social classes. Northumberland has noble support (Oxford and Huntingdon), but no real support among people. His army will not fight
  • Northumberland’s biographer John Loades argues the outcome was closer run than it appears in retrospect. He warns against believing “overwhelming support” for Mary was the decisive factor, suggesting Northumberland’s high-handed ways – hence unpopularity – in his years as Lord Protector had already lost him most of his support

1554: Wyatt’s Rebellion


About two weeks


Sir Robert Wyatt – but major nobles from the Northumberland regime were behind it

  • Earl of Devon
  • Duke of Suffolk

Main causes


Main aim was originally a change in policy – to persuade Mary not to marry Philip II. When it became clear Mary would not be moved, the aim shifted to placing Elizabeth on the throne

Subsidiary causes       

  • Protestant fear of consequences of there being a Catholic monarch
  • Fear of introduction of Spanish Inquisition


Rebellion went off half-cock and was unco-ordinated, but still proved dangerous. Focused in Protestant Kent; rebels reach London but city stayed loyal to Mary.

Mary agreed to abide by Parliament’s advice re. her marriage – Philip will be her consort, but not king

Nearly 100 executions, including Wyatt – indicative of the scale of the threat

Degree of threat

Moderate. Rebels were badly organised and not well supported. Government took them seriously because they threatened London, and without the support of Londoners, Mary might have fallen. That Protestant London backed a legitimate Catholic queen against Protestant rivals shows strength of Tudor “brand” after 70 years


The main aim of Wyatt’s rebellion was not regime change, but to force a change of policy – specifically, to prevent Mary’s planned “Spanish marriage” to Philip II. This was feared far more than her Catholicism in itself. Wyatt and the other leaders had actually all supported Mary over Lady Jane.

Wyatt issued a manifesto and his main demand was that Mary should receive “better counsel” – that is, listen to the nobility and gentry’s views.

The rising was timed for March 1554, to begin just before Philip was due to leave Spain for the royal wedding, but was put into operation earlier when word of the plot began to leak out. Wyatt’s rebellion was based in Kent – the English county most vulnerable to a Catholic invasion, being only 22 miles of English Channel away from Burgundy. However, the reach of the rebellion was wider than that, as Wyatt had three allies:

  • Earl of Devon in Devon
  • Duke of Suffolk in Leicestershire
  • Sir James Crofts in the Welsh marches

Help was also anticipated from the French, who had a strong motive to fear being encircled in Philip II became in any real sense ruler in England.

Wyatt was able to rouse the men of Kent and his army marched on London. The other conspirators failed to provoke risings in their counties, so the planned four-pronged march on London (which might have succeeded) never happened. The Duke of Suffolk never gathered more than 140 men, who came from among his own retainers.

But the Kentish men stood their ground when the Duke of Norfolk was sent with a force to intercept them. They cried “We are all Englishmen!” and – hearing this – many of Norfolk’s troops deserted to them. Fear of foreign Catholic invasion was therefore clearly strong.

Mary was concerned enough to offer to negotiate – if the rebels returned home. Wyatt refused; this turned his rebellion into outright treason in the eyes of government.

London backed Mary. This should be seen as a “vote for stability” rather than support for the Spanish marriage, but it shows how stable the Tudor regime was by mid century. London Bridge was blocked, so Wyatt circled around and approached the capital from the west. With the element of surprise gone, he was intercepted by a larger royal force and surrendered.

Wyatt was kept alive for a while in the hope he would indicate how much Elizabeth knew of the plot. When he refused to talk, he was executed along with the Duke of Suffolk

Reasons for failure

  • Unlike 1549, this was not a genuinely popular rebellion. Wyatt got little backing from the commons outside Kent, and not much there
  • Loyalty of London. When citing London’s position as a decider of whether rebellion will succeed or not, this is the classic example to quote.
  • Mary understood backing was for her, not Catholicism. She refused to listen to advisors who urged her to bring in a Spanish army to crush the trouble, and instead appealed for her subjects’ loyalty “as a mother to her children”
  • Cold weather. The rising began at the end of January – winter, a difficult time to rouse the commons for a long and uncomfortable march in the open with no shelter. Most successful rebellions take place in summer!
  • Bad security. Word of the plot leaked out two months early. Another example of the strength of the Tudor intelligence apparatus

Key stats, quotes & views

  • Loades sees the rebellion as political not religious. But the figurehead, Wyatt, had strong Protestant sympathies.
    • Wyatt: “You may not so much name religion, for that will withdraw us from the hearts of many”
  • Wyatt raised army of about 3,000
  • 480 rebels were tried and convicted, but 400 were then pardoned. There were about 100 executions – about the same number as in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and far fewer deaths than in 1549 (10,000 total)
  • Question of Elizabeth’s foreknowledge remains unanswered, but she restored Wyatt’s family to its lands on her accession

1558-69: Shane O’Neill’s Rebellion


Eight years


Ireland, from Ulster down to Dublin


Shane O’Neill, heir to the Earldom of Tyrone

Main causes

Local opposition to central power

Subsidiary causes

  • Internal Irish politics
  • Religion – O’Neill claimed to be true “defender of the faith” in Ireland


  • O’Neill’s successfully use guerrilla tactics – rebellion too difficult and expensive to put down
  • O’Neill eventually murdered by rival Irish, perhaps paid by English.
  • Elizabeth attaints O’Neill lands in Ulster, seizing extensive possessions but storing up future trouble with the Earls of Tyrone

Degree of threat

Medium. Rebellion was long lasting, but largely because it was financially and militarily impossible for English to bring decisive force to bear. Dublin was threatened but while O’Neill wanted to rule his part of Ulster without interference, there was no call for outright independence or regime change


Shane O’Neill was the eldest legitimate son of the Earl of Tyrone, but he had an older illegitimate brother named Matthew. Under Irish custom, only a legitimate son could inherit, but Shane’s father preferred Matthew and did a deal with the English Lord Deputy that would allow the bastard to succeed him.

Many of the O’Neills supported Shane and felt his father had betrayed their clan and Gaelic custom by using English law to get what he wanted rather than stick to Irish custom. In 1558, Matthew was killed in a fight with Shane’s men. When Shane’s father died shortly afterwards, the Earl of Sussex – Elizabeth’s deputy in Ireland – decided it would be safer to back Matthew’s sons, who would favour London, for the earldom of Tyrone.

Shane O’Neill accepted the Earldom after his father’s death – even though this acceptance implied willingness to conform to English law, a decision that had the potential to have serious consequences for his clan and his own children. However, he also saw himself as a Gaelic clan leader in the old tradition, and by the end of 1558 decided to reassert the traditional independence of his clan by rebelling.

The uprising coincided with a difficult year for Elizabeth, who faced the threat of a French invasion at the time. This meant she could not afford to send forces to deal with O’Neill immediately, and he made the most of a long delay, securing almost all of Ulster. It was not until 1561 that Sussex marched against him, and even then the English relied heavily on the O’Neill’s traditional clan enemies, the O’Donnells, for support.

O’Neill was a guerrilla fighter, avoiding head on battle with the English, but using surprise and targeting supplies. He even brought in 1,000 Scottish mercenaries – “Redshanks” – to fight for him, and with their help reached the outskirts of Dublin.

Elizabeth was forced to mount three expensive expeditions in response, and it was only in 1563, when attention was turned to destruction of O’Neill property – farms were burned and cattle killed – that Shane was persuaded to come to terms. Promised a full pardon and safe conduct, he visited London and was received and pardoned by Elizabeth, before being reconfirmed as Earl of Tyrone. On his return he mounted a self-serving show of “loyalty” to the crown by attacking the O’Donnell’s in the queen’s name, stealing 30,000 cattle.

The treaty signed with Shane lasted only two years before his rebellion began anew in 1565. A new English leader, Sidney, had only 1,000 men, and despite luckily capturing most of Shane’s treasury, he could not capture him.

By 1567, Shane was badly over-reaching himself, however, seeking alliances with France and Spain as well as the O’Donnells. Many historians believe that Sidney was sufficiently concerned by all this to pay the O’Donnells to murder Shane; whoever was behind the murder, Shane’s death in 1569 brought the rebellion to an end.

Reasons for success and failure

If you want to argue that O’Neill’s rebellion was partially successful                                  

  • English lacked cash and political will to take strong action – the main English force was rarely more than 1,000 strong
  • Shane eluded all attempts to capture him – his eventual death was at the hands of other Irish
  • The length of the rebellion and the numbers willing to fight for Shane show there was still a strong element of Gaelic nationalism in Ireland
  • The Duke of Sussex was recalled to London in disgrace for his failure to capture O’Neill and end the rebellion

If you want to argue that O’Neill was in the end a failure

  • Shane was able to stay free, but never faced the English in pitched battle nor won any major territory from them
  • There was no real threat to English control over Dublin

Key stats, quotes & views

  • Sidney’s 1565 army was only 2,000 strong, but was the largest seen in Ireland throughout the rebellion – a sign of how little resource the Tudors were able to muster to suppress rebellion in Ireland
  • Despite her financial difficulties, Elizabeth had to spend £250,000 over 10 years on suppressing O’Neill’s rebellion
  • ‘Lucifer had never been more puffed up by pride and ambition.’
    • Sir Henry Sidney on Shane O’Neill

1569: Northern Rebellion


Three months


Earls of Northumberland and Westmorland

Main causes

  • Defence of Catholic faith. Protestantism was strengthening its grip on the country
  •  Dynastic and factional: Mary Queen of Scots was available as a possible alternate ruler, and her cause was championed by factions who felt frozen out of power

Subsidiary causes

Resistance to the centre. Resentment of northern earls at increased interference from London


  • Rebellion has no organisation or clearly defined aims; quickly collapses. Northumberland is beheaded
  • Earl of Huntingdon, an energetic Puritan, made President of the Council of the North – his 23 years in charge ends Catholic threat in this region

Degree of threat

Low. Far from London, and plot was betrayed before it got underway. Neither earl showed determination. Bad timing – took place in midwinter


The Northern Rebellion can be seen as the first important attempt to destabilise the Protestant regime in England. It was the first of a long series of conspiracies. There are a couple of reasons why this began to happen at the end of the 1560s:

  • Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s Catholic cousin, had been deposed by a rebellion of Scottish lords and arrived in the north of England looking for support
  • Protestantism was still not completely established, but the Anglican church was stronger and felt more able to persecute Catholics
    • Fines for non attendance at Anglican churches and arrests of those secretly attending Mass
    • Interception of priests sent from Spain/by the Pope – these were often effectively “secret agents” sent to rouse the country against the queen. These men were often executed after show trials – seemed to presage
  • Deterioration of relations with Spain – in 1568, desperate for cash, Elizabeth authorised seizure of a Spanish treasure fleet taking bullion to the Netherlands. This made it more likely a strong foreign power would back rebellion in England
  • Elizabeth was unmarried and had not produced an heir, which meant doubt and instability
  • William Cecil was now the most influential of Elizabeth’s councillors. His power was resented by other factions who felt frozen out of the distribution of patronage, and some feared he might provoke a costly war with Spain

There were also moves to marry MQS to an English earl. This would mean that – if Elizabeth remained unmarried – the Catholic Mary could give birth to an heir to the throne.

One of those who paid court to the exiled MQS was the Earl of Northumberland, a Catholic. He and the Earl of Westmoreland conceived vague ideas for a rising that – with the help of southern nobles – might put MQS on the throne. But the Duke of Norfolk, who had appeared willing to rebel, backed down, meaning the northerners had no realistic hope of success.

While they wavered, the efficient Elizabethan intelligence operation got wind of the plot. The Earl of Sussex, head of the Council of the North, tried to raise forces to combat a rebellion, but few responded to his calls for men. He had only 400 badly equipped cavalry and, emboldened, the Northern earls went to Durham, tore down Protestant symbols in the Cathedral and celebrated Mass before heading – slowly – south with 5,000 men.

In the end it was the Northerners lack of determination that proved decisive. Hearing – false – rumours than a large royal army was marching north, knowing that Mary was under house arrest, and realising that neither Scotland nor the south were going to join the rebellion, they dispersed.

Had it been better organised, the Northern Rebellion could have been serious. As it was, the total number of deaths was only 5 killed.

Reasons for failure

  • Lack of clear and achievable aims
  • Bad timing – rebellion was in winter, from November 1569-January 1570.
  • Poor organisation meant the march south began before Northumberland had even raised his own tenantry – his contribution to the rebel army was just 80 men
  • Support was limited to the north, well away from all centres of power
  • Elizabeth’s intelligence service, organised by Sir Francis Walsingham, made sure it was well informed and she was able to take steps to secure MQS and prevent her becoming the focus for rebellion

Key stats, quotes & views

Although the real threat was low, Elizabeth did not feel secure. She ordered the execution of 700 rebels

1569-83: The Munster and Geraldine Rebellions


Munster 1569-73; Geraldine 1579-83


Three separate bursts of rebellion across 10 years – active rebellion for less than one


Munster, in south-west Ireland


  • Earl of Desmond
  • James Fitzgerald

Main causes

Local resistance to the centre – resentment at English incomers seizing land

Subsidiary causes

Religion – Fitzgerald an ardent supporter of the Counter-Reformation


  • Destruction of the power of the Desmonds
  • English ‘plantation’ (settlement) of Munster

Degree of threat

Low. English counter-measures were effective; brutality worked. No threat outside Munster


Desmond ruled over Munster in the south-west of Ireland. His family had long been on bad terms with the neighbouring Butlers. The leaders of both clans were summoned to London to arbitrate a dispute, then detained there for 7 years on charges of plotting treason English settlers from the west country were quick to take advantage of the power vacuum and seize lands in Munster to settle on.

The remaining Desmonds attempted to eject the incomers and unsuccessfully besieged the English garrisons at Cork and Kilkenny.

The English responded brutally. Sir Humphrey Gilbert committed atrocities – forcing Irishmen who came to his tent to walk between two rows of severed heads. 800 rebels were executed. The initial rebellion was crushed in under a year. Desmond, released from captivity in London, converted to Anglicanism to appease the English, but soon signalled his intention to rebel again, symbolically throwing off English dress to clad himself as a Gaelic chieftain.

Trouble lingered until 1573 thanks to Desmond’s general, his cousin, James Fitzgerald. In that year, Fitzgerald fled to Spain. This is generally regarded as the end of the Munster Rebellion.

Fitzgerald returned to Ireland in 1579 at the head of a small army of Catholic mercenaries. An ardent supporter of the Counter Reformation, he proclaimed a Holy War in support of a Papal bull (1570) that had excommunicated Elizabeth. Pope Gregory had given him letters to support the crusade.

This phase of the trouble is called the Geraldine Rebellion but it involved the same two principal leaders, so the two can be considered together.

Fitzgerald was soon killed in a skirmish, but Desmond rose again and a 600 man Spanish force landed to support him.

English fear of Spanish intervention was acute and no quarter was given to the invaders. All 600 were massacred.

Desmond was murdered by a rival Irish family in a dispute over cattle rustling in 1583, putting an end to trouble in the district. His head was sent to Elizabeth I as a gift.

Reasons for failure

  • English spending – an army of 6,500 was eventually raised – and English brutality. Nearly 2,000 men were massacred over the course of the rebellion, including the whole of a Spanish landing force of 600
  • Failure of the Desmonds to secure significant foreign backing despite Fitzgerald spending several years raising funds and men in Spain
  • Internal squabbles between Irish clans – the absence of Desmond and Butler in London resolving a spat was the spark for English incursions. The Butlers then sided with the English and sent 4,500 men to besiege Desmond’s main castle

Key stats, quotes and views

  • By 1572 the English policy of executing any Irishman found bearing arms had reduced the rebel forces to “50 poor kerns and 10 or 12 bad horsemen” (contemporary chronicler)
  • Desmond’s anger at the English was fuelled by forfeiting a £20,000 bond he had been forced to lodge when called to London

1596-1603: Tyrone O’Neill’s rebellion


It is known in Ireland as the Nine Years’ War


Ulster, in the north of Ireland – the Kildare’s stronghold


3rd Earl of Tyrone (but just calling him “Tyrone” is OK)

Main causes

  • Local resistance to centre. Tyrone saw the only hope for Ireland being a complete break with the Tudors – with himself as the new Irish leader
  • Rebellion broke out when the English refused to give him the right to govern the whole of Ulster – 12 counties – himself

Subsidiary causes

  • Like Silken Thomas, Tyrone wrapped himself in religion, appealing for help from Spain and the Pope
  • Opportunism – English forces were especially weak at this time, and Tyrone scented opportunity


  • Tyrone gives up claims to overlordship in Ulster in exchange for effective independence that proves so worthless he flees Ireland for good in 1607
  • Final defeat of Irish chieftains. Most officials are now English-born. English common law applied to all Irish counties. But Ireland remains stubbornly Catholic

Degree of threat

High. Tyrone’s was the first Irish rebellion which had as its aim a truly island-wide campaign against the English. If successful, there would have been regime change in Ireland


England in the 1590s was a state under great economic strain. The cost of fighting the Spaniards (Armada 1588) had forced them to cut back on their forces in Ireland. Garrisons were under strength and there was no large English army in Ireland.

This presented opportunity. Tyrone was in contact with Spain as early as 1587, but the first sign of trouble came in the summer of 1594, when an Irish force raided an English supply column at the Battle of the Ford of Biscuits.

Rebellion proper broke out in February 1595. Elizabeth’s government responded by proclaiming Tyrone a traitor (June 1595) but other Irish clans took advantage of the disorder to make attacks of their own – including “RedHugh O’Donnell, Earl of Tyrconnel.

Tyrone was able to evade capture for three more years, and even win a military victory at the Battle of the Yellow Ford (1598) – this was the only major military defeat inflicted by a rebel on a government army in this period. 800 English troops were killed and 300 of their Irish levies deserted to Tyrone.

The defeat at the Yellow Ford forced Elizabeth to raise a large and costly army of 17,000 men, which was sent to Ireland under the Earl of Essex (1599). Essex was a very poor general and could not catch Tyrone – he was forced to agree a peace when his funds ran low. The Pale had paid so much towards the army that there was massive inflation – 80% – followed by near-famine in Dublin.

Essex was replaced by a more competent commander, Mountjoy, who ground down Tyrone and secured a victory over a 3,500 strong Spanish force that landed at Kinsale in 1601. The Spanish defeat robbed Tyrone of the hope of substantial help and in 1603 he surrendered, giving up all claims to overlordship in Ulster – the source of his power. In exchange, Tyrone was allowed to continue to rule in Ulster without paying any tax to the English crown – nominal submission but effective independence.

Tyrone’s rebellion left Ireland in a sense where it had begun: although the new Lord Lieutenant was English, Ireland beyond the Pale was still ruled for England by Irishmen in 1603, as it had been in 1485.

However, overall the Tudors had added hugely to their strength and influence in Ireland during the century. There was now…

  • A chain of English castles throughout Ireland
  • Far more English officials than Irish in the administration
  • English law, not Gaelic, throughout Ireland

That the Irish nobles had failed became clear in 1607 Tyrone and the Earl of Tyrconnell both left Ireland for France – the flight of the earls – and the 17th century would see plantation of Protestants from Scotland in Ulster (beginning from 1609) and more direct rule from London.

Reasons for success and failure

You can argue that Tyrone was successful in several ways

  • His rebellion was the longest-lasting of the period – longer than Warbeck’s and a lot more intensive
  • When Essex was sent with a royal army and unprecedented powers as Viceroy, Tyrone outmanoeuvred him and Essex was forced to make an unconditional peace when funds ran low – Tyrone was able to exhaust English resources
  • The war provoked the English into major atrocities – Fletcher calls it ‘genocidal’ – which is an indicator of how seriously the English took it

Tyrone was ultimately unsuccessful because…

  • He failed to obtain significant support from overseas (this is true of every rebel in this period except Lambert Simnel, and even he only had 6,500 foreign troops)
  • He had tacit support from other Irish families, but most hesitated to back him militarily
    • A Tyrone victory would replace distant English rule with direct Irish rule for the other great clans
    • Joining Tyrone risked reprisals from the English
  • The English had superior financial resources. Overall Elizabeth spent £2 million on quashing this rebellion

Key stats, quotes and views

Tyrone was able to fight a successful guerrilla war because…

  • There were no good maps at all of the interior of Ireland
  • 25% of the entire country was bog
  • The highland areas were thickly covered in forest throughout
  • There were no important towns or ports in Ulster – it was then the most remote part of the country, and hard for the English to penetrate

Tyrone’s Ulster was where “English rule was most fictitious and Gaelic culture strongest” (Anthony Fletcher)

The Tyrone lands were valuable – his income was £80,000 a year, enough to fund a large army

Unlike earlier Irish rebels, Tyrone’s army was professional and well trained. By 1601 he commanded 6,000 men, trained by Spanish veterans and equipped with the latest weapons – muskets and pikes instead of the traditional axes and javelins.

The English army at this time was only 4,000 strong, and had to provide garrisons to a number of castles and guard supply lines – giving Tyrone an advantage in any open battle

One third of Tyrone’s men were equipped with guns, up from an eighth in Shane O’Neill’s rebellion a generation earlier

1596: Oxfordshire Rising


A matter of hours


Enslow Hill, Oxfordshire


Commons –   carpenter Bartholomew Steer


  1. Planned rebellion fails when only a handful of men assemble
  2. Plotters tortured to establish if there was a conspiracy. 2 executed, rest died in prison
  3. Act passed banning further enclosures

Main causes

Anger over enclosure

Subsidiary causes

Economic problems

  1. Famine caused by bad harvest
  2. Falling wages
  3. Rising population causes pressure on availability of land
  4. Epidemics
  5. Overall, worst conditions for some decades

 Degree of threat



Much of England was suffering considerable economic distress this year.

Problems had been escalating for several years in a number of parts of the country.

  • Enclosure continued to be a significant problem.
  • New enclosures at Hampton Gayer and Hampton Poyle, both close to the rebellion site
  • There had been rumblings about the fencing off of common land in Oxfordshire the previous year, 1595
  • And food riots in the south west and south east after two successive bad harvests.

Led by a local carpenter, several local men decided to protest this. Their plan was to march on the house of the Lord Norris, the lord lieutenant (government representative) of Oxfordshire. The protesters knew that weapons and artillery were stored there.

It is difficult to know exactly what was planned – much of the information we have was extracted under torture. According to the testimonies that were given, however, the plan was to murder 7 local landlords who had been involved in enclosing common land. The authorities feared that plans extended to attacking other local gentry and their property.

In the event, the rising fizzled out immediately. Only four men gathered at the appointed spot on top of Enslow Hill, and they dispersed when it became clear no one else was going to join them.

The rebels were betrayed when one of the men they had approached told his lord of their plans. The ringleaders – including one man who had had second thoughts and not even gone to the hill – were arrested soon afterwards. They were taken to London and tortured to discover what their plans had been and how serious a threat they posed.

The authorities’ reaction was severe – on four occasions they ordered Lord Norris to make further enquiries and arrests, though historians now believe a maximum of 20 men actually knew of the planned rising

The five were charged with treason. Two were hanged, drawn and quartered. The fate of the other 3 is not known.

In the aftermath of the rebellion, the Privy Council did prosecute several local landowners for illegally enclosing land and had the enclosed land restored to common use.

Reasons for failure

  • The protest was to be a violent one – the rebels confessed that they planned to murder 7 local landowners. This puts the Oxfordshire rising outside the normal run of economic protests and may explain the difficulty the men had in recruiting others
  • State security was good. Once one of the men approached by the rebels told his master of the plan, the ringleaders were quickly rounded up
  • Nonetheless it is remarkable, given the amount of economic hardship experienced throughout England at this time, that there was not more trouble. The fact that the rebellion was so tiny and that there were not other outbreaks is excellent evidence for the grip the Tudor state had on its people by the end of the century

Key stats, quotes & views

1596 was not only the third bad harvest in a row – it was the worst harvest for 40 years, and the second worst of the entire 16th century. There was a real threat of famine.

The index of food prices (with 1500 = 100) rose from 389 to 530 in this decade – meaning prices rose by 36%.

Only 4 men answered the call to rally at Enslow Hill and the group disbanded after 2 hours

1601: Essex’s Rebellion


A couple of days


Earl of Essex

Earl of Southampton

Main causes

Battle between court factions. Essex is a favourite of Elizabeth but fears losing influence to Robert Cecil

Subsidiary causes

He had also lost the main source of his income, a monopoly on the sale of sweet wine


Essex is irresolute and has almost no support – certainly none from the commons. His aim is not to challenge monarchy but merely to restore himself to favour. He is executed

Degree of threat

Very low, even though London-based


Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, was a man of great charm, immense pride, and limited ability. He could trace his lineage back to 1066 in the direct male line and saw himself as a representative of the chivalrous “old nobility” who was superior to the upstart new men of the Tudor period.

For these reasons, Essex was exceptionally sensitive to any perceived change in his status at court. He had for years battled with Elizabeth’s chief minister, William Cecil (Lord Burghley) for influence. Seeking to please the queen, he had led the expedition to Ireland ordered to put down Tyrone’s rebellion of 1595-1603. However, his real influence and wealth was far less than he claimed and believed it to be. He spent more than his income in an attempt to impress others with his wealth, and despite owning large estates in Wales, he had no real power base – his tenants hated him because he took a firm stance on the collection of rents.

All this combined with several factors limiting the availability of patronage, and indeed cash, at court:

  • War with Spain
  • Bad harvests of the 1590s
  • Cost of fighting Tyrone’s rebellion in Ireland

The death of Elizabeth’s chief minister, William Cecil (Lord Burghley) in 1598 resulted in a surge of competition for patronage and places at court. Essex began associating with a new group of young, rash and inexperienced courtiers who egged him on to take some sort of action. But he failed to get the additional patronage he sought and in fact he lost so much favour that the queen confined him to his home under house arrest and took away his chief source of income – the monopoly on the sale of sweet wine.

By early 1601 all this had placed Essex in a dangerous financial position. He plotted with the young Earl of Southampton to gain control over the queen by seizing her, the court and the Tower of London. A small group of 8 nobles and gentry made up the group of conspirators

The bizarrely ill-conceived plan depended on the support of Londoners – a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II, including a normally banned deposition scene, was supposed to fire up the local commons. But word something was up reached the court, Essex was summoned to explain himself, and the element of surprise was lost.

When Essex decided to continue regardless, his home was besieged and he was forced to surrender. The eight main conspirators were all executed.

Several key factors differentiate Essex’s rebellion from earlier aristocratic/factional risings:

  • It was London-based, because Essex was based at court. Earlier risings had been solidly based in the regions in areas where the nobles had considerable power bases
  • Tudors had removed the old noble power base, based on bastard feudalism and groups of armed retainers, almost entirely

Reasons for failure

  • Poor and unrealistic plan, out of touch with political reality
  • Essex badly over-estimated his popularity
  • Good Tudor intelligence network got wind of the plot
  • London commons were not sympathetic to the plotters and did not rise in support of Essex as anticipated
  • Essex’s power base in Wales was too far from London to lend aid
  • Essex had fallen out of favour with the queen (who preferred the Cecils), and she was not prepared to save him

Key stats, quotes & views

  • Essex’s group of rebels was only 140 strong in total – mostly the personal servants of the 8 main conspirators
  • ‘Although he failed to win any wider support, this was profoundly serious as it was the first attempt to challenge government in the capital for nearly half a century’ (Anthony Fletcher)

The rebellion was “tragedy, played out as farce” (Penry Williams)

Rebellions questions from past papers

Looking at all these old questions, you can identify some common themes. (In each case also think: how did the causes change or the responses change over time?)

  1. Were (or were not) rebellions serious threats to government in the period 1485-1603?
  2. What was the main cause of rebellion in the period 1485-1603?
  3. How did governments respond to rebellion in the period 1485-1603?
  4. In what ways did the nature of rebellions change in the years 1485-1603?
  5. What sort of rebellions were the most successful in the period 1485-1603?
  6. What were the most important factors in controlling rebellion and maintaining the peace in the period 1485-1603?
  7. `How similar (or different) were Irish rebellions to English rebellions in the period 1485-1603?

Sample paper

Social and economic conditions were always a factor, but rarely the trigger.’ Discuss this 
view of the causes of rebellions in England and Ireland under the Tudors.

How far did the political stability of Tudor England depend upon government legislation?

To what extent did the nature of rebellions change in the course of the Tudor period?

Jan 10

‘Tudor rebellions were essentially the responses of local communities to local grievances.’ How far 
do you agree with this view on the causes of Tudor rebellions?

‘English rebellions were far more successful than those in Ireland.’ How far do you agree with this 
view of the period from 1485 to 1603?

Assess the role of the nobility in maintaining political stability in Tudor England.

June 10

How far do you agree that rebellions with foreign support posed the most dangerous threat to Tudor governments?

’Tudor? monarchs maintained the obedience of their subjects in the same way.’ How far do you agree with this judgement

‘Disputes over the succession to the English throne were the most common cause of rebellion in the period 1485-1603.’ How far do you agree with this view?

Jan 11

‘Political faction was the most important cause of rebellion in the Tudor period.’ How far do you agree?

Assess the reasons for the decline in the frequency of rebellion in England in the period from 1485 
to 1603.

‘Government strategy in dealing with rebellions in England and Ireland changed little during the 
Tudor period.’ How far do you agree?

Jan 12

‘Political ambition best explains the involvement of nobles’ factions in Tudor rebellions.’ How far do you agree?

‘Propaganda was the most important strategy used by the government to control rebellion in Tudor England.’ How far do you agree?

Kildare’s rebellion in 1534 was the major turning point in maintaining political stability in Tudor Ireland.’ How far do you agree?

Jun 12

‘Taxation was the main cause of rebellion in the Tudor period.’ How far do you agree?

‘Most Tudor governments under-estimated the threat posed by rebellions in England and Ireland.’ How far do you agree?

‘Local authorities were more important than central government in maintaining political stability in the Tudor period.’ How far do you agree? 

Jan 13

To what extent did the objectives of Irish rebellions differ from rebellions in England in the period from 1485 to 1603?

‘Tudor governments in England and Ireland were slow to respond to the outbreak of rebellion.’ How far do you agree with this view?

‘The Crown was the most important factor in maintaining political stability in Tudor England.’ How far do you agree with this view?