1554: Wyatt’s Rebellion

Duration

About two weeks

Leadership

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

  • Earl of Devon
  • Duke of Suffolk

Main causes

Factional

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

Outcomes

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

Narrative

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
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