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Four main rebellions happened in the years 1549 to 1571; the Western and Kett’s Rebellion during the reign of Edward VI, Wyatt’s Rebellion during Mary I’s reign and finally the Northern Rebellion under Elizabeth I. Mary’s succession in 1553 is considered by some historians to be a successful rebellion, but others see it as legitimate succession. These rebellions threatened the throne in various ways, depending largely on their causes and supporters. Although both Kett’s and the Western Rebellion were of a large-scale, they did not directly threaten Edward VI. However, Wyatt’s and the Northern Rebellion were largely focused on the Queens in power at the time and the rebels had plans to replace the monarch, making a much greater threat towards the Crown.
The Western Rebellion and Kett’s Rebellion in 19549 were limited threats towards Edward VI as it was mainly directed against his regent, the Duke of Somerset, and caused largely by local economic and religious issues. The Western Rebellion began in the summer of 1549 as a result of opposition to religious reform and economic problems that were plaguing the country under Somerset’s rule. Mobs in Cornwall and Devon began opposing the Reformation and tore down enclosure attempts. Local opposition to Protestantism had been present in many communities since 1547, showing that although it was the introduction of an English Prayer Book that had sparked a more organised rebellion in Crediton, larger social and economic discomfort was to blame. Inflation, Cornish opposition to enforcement of an English Prayer Book, the giving of former Church land to gentry, and enclosure inspired many rebels – especially in Bristol and Somerset where fences erected for sheep-farming were torn down by mobs. This shows that the rebellion was not directly threatening the Crown; much of the anger was directed towards the wealthy gentry of the area and Somerset’s economic policy rather than Edward’s fervent Protestantism. However, religious opposition to Protestant Reformation became a unifying factor for unorganised mobs which made them into a dangerous force. The Western Rebellion proved to be a limited threat as they did not advance to London, stopping instead near Exeter; they clearly had no plans to overthrow Edward – only to air their grievances to the government, similar to most rebellions of the period. This changed greatly when Kett’s Rebellion began in Norfolk, a result of similar causes to the Western Rebellion and also not marching on London, instead staying near Norwich. However, Kett’s Rebellion was even less of a threat to Edward – focused on exploitative government ministers, peacefully campaigning against enclosure and for improved local government, and showing some support for Protestant Reform although complaining of inadequate clergy. It was a large, well-organized rebellion with almost 15,000 men but it was not directly threatening the Crown, much like the Western Rebellion. In fact, only Somerset’s slow inefficient response made it seem like a real threat and many troops were engaged in combat against Scotland, leaving the Crown in a vulnerable position against two rebellions. Both were eventually defeated, with some difficulty. The rebellions proved to be a threat against the government and did alarm many ministers, resulting fear-mongering meaning Somerset was imprisoned for several months and distrust spread through the Council. However, there is no evidence that the two rebellions threatened or planned to oppose Edward’s rule in any way even though they shook his government.
Mary’s succession, when viewed as a rebellion against Lady Jane Grey is clearly a successful rebellion. Edward VI wished to protect his Protestant reformation and made Lady Jane Grey the legal heir to the throne before his death in July 1553 while both Mary and Elizabeth remained illegitimate according to Henry VII’s decision. Mary managed to be crowned only nine days into Gray’s reign and had many supporters. Most of the country believed that she was the rightful heir, chosen by God, while Lady Jane Gray was seen as a usurper. When viewed as a rebellion against a legitimate heir, appointed by the previous king, it is very clear that this was a successful threatening rebellion, especially as Lady Jane Gray was executed soon after. However, Mary’s coup-d’état can be seen as the succession of the rightful heir to the throne, overthrowing a ‘pretender queen.’ The large amount of support Mary had from the Privy Council indicates this was not an outside rebellion, many councillors seeing the succession of Lady Jane Grey as an attempt by Northumberland to keep his power by having his daughter-in-law as a queen. Mary’s popularity and strong claim to the throne indicate that this was not a rebellion but accession of a rightful ruler.
Wyatt’s Rebellion in February 1554 was a direct threat to the Crown. Unlike Kett’s and the Western Rebellion it was directed at Queen Mary I, in particular, her husband, Philip of Spain and her Catholic reform. Although the cloth industry in Kent had been in decline for some time, resulting in much unrest which helped to further the rebels, the rebellion was undeniably anti-Spanish and anti-Catholic. The marriage between Philip and Mary was the key cause, many people fearing that this would result in England becoming a Spanish pawn due to Philip being King and Mary supposedly subservient to her husband. The marriage agreement in Parliament did prevent this but fears were exacerbated by xenophobia, making it a key cause. Contemporary sources such as John Proctor’s book identify Protestantism as a cause, supported by the Protestant rebel’s plan to replace Mary with the Earl of Devon, married to her sister Elizabeth who was Protestant. The fact the rebels had a plan to replace Mary, shows that it was a genuine plan to overthrow her, not just to air grievances as they later claimed under interrogation. This shows that it was a genuine threat to the Crown, also indicated in the fact that this rebellion was planned by the gentry, not dissatisfied commoners – in particular Sir Thomas Wyatt – who what genuine power and influence. The Rebellion was originally planned to be four rebellions in various parts of the country which could have potentially overthrown Mary successfully though these failed to materialise due to the advancement of plans. Although Wyatt’s rebellion failed within a week, the original plans show how widespread dissatisfaction was. That, and the fact that rebellion of 3,000 men got within half a mile of the Queen shows that it was a truly threatening rebellion which may have only failed due to the advanced timetable and Wyatt’s failure to find support in the capital – a result of Mary’s speeches. The rebellion was planned out and meant to overthrow Mary, and potentially could have been successful, making it a serious threat to the Crown.
Similar to Wyatt’s Rebellion, the Northern Rebellion in 1569 posed a significant threat to Queen Elizabeth I. Like Wyatt, the Northern Earls had plans to replace the Queen with another figure – in this case, the mostly Protestant Queen Elizabeth would be replaced by the Catholic Mary Stuart. This rebellion was also planned by gentry and nobility with access to troops and resources, now the powerful Earls of Norfolk, Northumberland and Westmorland. The Earls were undeniably Catholic in their motivations, marching to Durham Cathedral and using Catholic symbols and performing Mass. The threat was made even greater by the potential of foreign support for the rebellion – something no other rebellion in this time period had. As Catholic’s the rebels hoped for Papal and Spanish support, as Anglo-Spanish relations had soured in previous years. However, this support failed to be shown, partly due to Spain’s reluctance to have the French-supporting Mary Stuart on the throne. The Earls’ power and influence made the rebellion a significant threat; Sussex had difficulty raising troops in the area to combat the rebels due to local loyalty and had to write to the Privy Council to request use of the royal army. Despite poor planning and failure to mobilise all potential troops, the rebels did take important strong-holds such as Hartlepool and Barnard Castle and Haigh describes them as “pursuing a coherent strategy.” There were many Catholic nobles in the North of England such as Lancashire and Cheshire who potentially could have opposed Elizabeth. Although the rebels eventually fled to Scotland, scared of rumours of the approaching Royal Army and discouraged by Mary Stuart’s imprisonment, they had posed a significant threat. Unlike Wyatt’s rebellion, they failed to get close to the capital but the potential of a large Northern-Catholic uprising with foreign support was a significant threat to the Crown.
The statement that no rebellions between 1549 and 1571 threatened the Crown is false. It follows the traditional view of rebellions as a way for subjects to simply air their grievances about the government and the monarch’s policy rather than an attack against the monarch; a description which does not always fit during the period of religious tension and rapid change in monarchs. The Western and Kett’s Rebellions during Edward’s reign do fit with this concept of an impersonal protest movement, similar to Yorkshire rebellion of Henry VII’s reign, and did not pose a threat to the Crown and Edward’s place on the throne. However, both Wyatt’s Rebellion and the Northern Rebellion were personal, religiously-motivated attacks against the Queen’s, posing significant threats to the Crown and Mary and Elizabeth’s rule.
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