The Rebellions of 1549 - The Western Rising

The Rebellions of 1549 - The Western Rising

In the period 1548 and 1549 there had been a number of minor riots and skirmishes in various localities over England. The most common form of protest was the throwing down of hedges. In the past this has been interpreted as a protest against the enclosure of land. However, Jennifer Loach offers the interpretation that it was a means of protesting and that the protest was not necessarily directed against the hedge.

There was unrest in the Midlands, and also in Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire,Kent, Sussex , Essex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Yorkshire, Cambridgeshire, Rutland and Leicestershire. Two major rebellions occurred in Devon and in Norfolk - the Western Rising and Ket's Rebellion.

When the council heard that there was trouble in the West country, they at first treated it as they had done the other minor rebellions, and left it in the hands of the local lieutenants to deal with. They had no idea that it would escalate to such proportions, culminating in a battle with government forces.

  • The first signs of trouble were at Bodmin on the 6th June 1549.
  • Arundell, a local gentleman is persuaded to lead the rebellion by the local priests.
  • By the 10th peasants were demonstrating in the area. A local gentleman Sir Hugh Pollard attempted to send the demonstrators home.
  • 12th June, another gentleman, Hellyons, tries to send the dissidents home, but is beaten to death.
  • The Cornishmen move on to Devon.
  • 20th June the Privy Council hears word of a 'commotion'. The rebels have assembled at Crediton. Lord Russell and Sir Peter Carew are given the task of dealing with the problem.
  • Sir Peter Carew arrives in Exeter to meet with the rebels. He finds them arrogant and refuses further negotiations with them. The commons' mistrust of the gentry is given fuel!
  • The rebels send a set of articles to the Privy Council.
  • 25th June the rebels set out for Exeter. Important as it has a port and an armoury.
  • Exeter does not give in to the rebels. They try to mine the city walls but their plan fails.
  • The second set of articles is drawn up.
  • 8th July Battle of Fenny Bridge - more of a skirmish than a battle.
  • 9th July Russell considers withdrawing as he hears that Wiltshire and Hampshire had also risen (they hadn't).
  • 10th July the Privy Coucil gives Russell a free hand to crush the rebellion. Russell decrees that any gentleman found to be inactive in helping to crush the rebellion will be treated as a traitor.
  • Battle at Clyst St. Mary.
  • 5th August another battle on Clyst Heath. Lord Grey is moved to comment that he witnessed at this battle, the most ferocious fighting he had ever seen. The rebels are defeated and head back to Cornwall. Ringleaders are rounded up and hanged. Those clerical leaders that are found are hanged in their 'popish vestements', including Robert Welch.
  • 15th August the remaining rebels and Arundell are taken out at Stamford Courtenay.
  • 17th August the rebellion ends with a massive defeat at Stamford Courtenay, 4 000 rebel casualties.

There were two sets of demands made by the rebels. Different things are mentioned in the two. The first sets of demands are more concerned with social and economic concerns than the second set.

The first set of aticles demands changes, which will repeal the tax on sheep and cloth, countering dearth.

However, by the time that the second set of articles is written, the grievances are mainly of a religious nature. There is not a completes copy of the first set of articles for historians to analyse, and there are various versions of the second set of articles. Therefore, we can not be 100% sure of the full extent of the grievances.

The second set of Articles:

  • Holy laws of the past should be observed. Those who use the new service shall be treated as heretics.
  • The Six Articles to be used again so that religion is restored to the time of 'our Soverayne Lord Kynge Henry the VIII'.
  • We will have the mass in Latin. The priest will communicate on our behalf.
  • We will have the sacrament hung over the high alter. Those who do not consent will be treated as heretics 'against the holy Catholyque fayth.'
  • Baptism can be administered in the week as well as on Sundays.
  • Images and ceremonies to be restored.
  • "We will not receyve the newe servycee because it is but lyke a Christmas game." Matins and masses to be said as before. Services will not be in English, since many of the Cornish cannot understand English.
  • Prayers for souls in purgatory to be said.
  • In order to stop heretical thinking all of the Bibles in English to be called in.
  • Cardinal Pole should be pardoned and sent for to serve in the King's council.
  • Gentlemen should not have more than one servant. Any more servants he has should be appropriate to the amount of land that he has.
  • Reinstate two abbeys in every county. In order to do this they demanded the names of commissioners.
  • Rewards for Arundell and Henry Braye. They ask to have arms.