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Reign of Edward VI page 8

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According to King Edward's journal, the rising took place first in Wiltshire, whence it spread into Sussex, Hampshire, Kent, Gloucestershire, Suffolk, Warwickshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, and Rutlandshire. Holinshed and Strype give different accounts of the first outbreak and progress of the insurrection through the country; but all agree that it was spread over the greater part of the kingdom. In Wiltshire, Sir William Herbert raised a body of troops and dispersed the insurgents, killing some, and executing others according to martial law. The same was done in other quarters by the resident gentry. The Protector, alarmed, sent out commissioners into all parts to hear and decide all causes about enclosures, highways, and cottages. These commissioners were armed with great powers, the exercise of which produced as much dissatisfaction amongst the nobility and gentry as the enclosures had done amongst the people. The spirit of remonstrance entered into the very Council, and the Protector was checked in his proceedings: whereupon the people, not finding the redress they expected, again rose in rebellion.

In Devonshire the religious phase of the movement appeared first, and rapidly assumed a very formidable air. The new liturgy was read for the first time in the church of Samford Courtenay, on Whit Sunday, and the next day the people compelled the clergyman to perform the ancient service. Having once resisted the law, the insurgents rapidly spread. Humphrey Arundel, the governor of St. Michael's Mount, took the lead, and a few days brought ten thousand men to his standard. As the other risings had been readily dispersed, the Government were rather dilatory at first in dealing with this; but finding that it grew instead of terminated, Lord John Russell was dispatched with a small force against them, accompanied by three preachers, Gregory, Reynolds, and Coverdale, who were licensed to preach in such public places as Lord Russell should appoint. What they hoped for by sending the reformed preachers is not very clear, as it was against this preaching that the rebellion partly directed itself; and Parker, who was sent for the like purpose to Norfolk, owed the preservation of his life to the liberality of the mob.

The rebels had sate down before Exeter when Russell came up with them; but conscious of the great inferiority of his force, and expecting no miracles from the eloquence of his preachers, he adopted the plan of the Duke of Norfolk in the late reign, and offered to negotiate. Upon this, Arundel and his adherents drew up and presented fifteen articles, which went, indeed, to restore everything of the old faith and ritual that had been taken away. The Statute of the Six Articles was to be put in force, the mass to be in Latin, the sacrament to be again hung up and worshipped, all such as refused it homage to be treated as heretics, souls should be prayed for in purgatory, images again be set up, the Bible be called in, and Cardinal Pole to be one of the king's Council. Half of the church lands were to be restored to two of the chief abbeys in each county; in a word, Popery was to be fully restored and Protestantism abolished.

In these articles the hand of the priest was more visible than that of the people; they were sent up to the Council, and Cranmer, at its command, replied to them, granting, of course, nothing. The insurgents then reduced their demands to eight, but with like success. A long reply was this time vouchsafed them in the king's name, and his father's letter to the men of Lincolnshire appears to have been the model on which it was composed. First, the little king was made to announce to them, the burden of care that lay upon his juvenile shoulders on their behalf. "We are," he wrote, "your most natural sovereign lord and king, Edward VI., to rule you, to preserve you, to save you from all your outward enemies, to see our laws well ministered, every man to have his own, to suppress discontented people, to correct traitors, thieves, pirates, robbers, and such-like; yea, to keep our realms from other princes, from the malice of the Scots, of Frenchmen, of the Bishop of Borne."

Yet the king repudiated the idea as extremely ridiculous that his youth made him incapable of settling the most abstruse questions. Though as a natural man, he told thorn, he had youth, and by God's sufferance should have age, yet as a king he had no difference of years. Having thus reasoned with them, he then assumed the menacing tone of his father. "And now we let you know that as you see our mercy abundantly, so, if ye provoke us further, we swear by the living God ye shall feel the power of the same God in our sword, which how mighty it is no subject knoweth; how puissant it is, no private man can judge: how mortal no Englishman dare think." He concluded by threatening to come out against them in person, in all his Royal state and power, rather than not punish them. The rebels, seeing that no good came of the paper war, turned their force more actively against the city. They had no cannon to destroy the walls, so they burnt down one of the gates, and endeavoured to force an entrance there; but the citizens threw abundant fuel into the fire, and whilst it burnt, threw up fresh defences inside of the flames. Foiled in this attempt, they endeavoured to sap the walls; but the citizens discovered the mine and filled it with water. Still, however, they kept close siege on the town, and prevented the ingress of provisions, so that the inhabitants for a fortnight suffered the severest famine.

All this time Lord Russell lay at Honiton, not venturing to attack them, the Government sending him instead of troops only proclamations, by one of which a free pardon was offered to all who would submit; by another, the lands, goods, and chattels of the insurgents were given to any who chose to take them; by a third, punishment of death by martial law was ordered for all taken in arms; and by a fourth, the commissioners were commanded to break down all illegal enclosures. None of these produced the least effect. Lord Russell had sent to court Sir Peter Carew to urge the Protector and Council to expedite reinforcements; but the Protector and Rich charged Sir Peter with having been the original cause of the outbreak. The bold baronet resented this imputation so stoutly, and charged home the Protector in a style so unaccustomed in courts, with his own neglect, that men and money were promised. Nothing, however, but the proclamations just mentioned arrived, and at length the rebels dispatched a force to dislodge Russell from his position at Honiton. To prevent this, he advanced to Fennington Bridge, where he encountered the rebel detachment and defeated it. Soon after Lord Gray arrived with 300 German and Italian infantry, with which assistance he marched on Exeter, and again defeated the rebels. They rallied on Clifton Downs, and Lord Gray coming suddenly upon them, and fearing they might overpower him, he ordered his men to dispatch all the prisoners they had in their hands, and a sanguinary slaughter took place. A third and last encounter at Bridgewater completed the reduction of the rising of the west.

Once broken up, no mercy was shown to the rebels; and with them perished or suffered numbers of the innocent. The whole country was given up to slaughter and pillage. A body of 1,000 Welshmen, who were brought by Sir William Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, did immense damage. Gibbets were erected, and the ringleaders were hanged upon them in various places. Arundel, the chief captain, and some others were taken to London and there executed. The provost of the western army, Sir Anthony Kingstone, made quite an amusement of hanging rebels, and did it with much pleasantry. Having dined with the Mayor of Bodmin, he asked him if he thought the gallows were strong enough. The mayor said he thought so. "Then," said Sir Anthony, "go up and try;" and he hanged him by way of experiment. It was calculated that 4,000 men perished in that part of the country in the field or by the executioner.

In Oxfordshire the insurrection was put down by Lord Gray, who had 1,500 soldiers, including Italians, under Spinola.

But the most formidable demonstration was made by the rebels in Norfolk. It commenced at Aldborough, and appeared at first too insignificant for notice. But the rumours of what had been done in Kent, where the new enclosures had been broken down, gradually infected the people far and wide. They did not trouble themselves about the religious questions, but they expressed a particular rancour against gentlemen, for their insatiable avarice and their grasping at all land, their extortionate rents, and oppressions of the people. They declared that it was high time that not only the enclosure mania should be put a stop to, but abundance of other evils should be reformed.

On the 6th of July, at Wymondham, or Windham, a few miles from Norwich, on occasion of a public play which was annually performed there, the people, stimulated by what had been clone in Kent, began to throw down the dykes, as they were called, or fences round enclosures, and, according to Strype, one John Flowerdew, of Hetherset, gentleman, finding himself aggrieved by the casting down of some of his dykes, went and offered the people forty pence to throw down the fences of an enclosure belonging to Robert Ket, or Knight, a tanner of Wymondham, which they did. There was probably some private feud betwixt these individuals, or Flowerdew might have had reason to believe that Ket had promoted the attack on his fences. Be that as it may, Ket was not, as it soon proved, a man to take such a proceeding patiently. Although a tanner by trade, he was a wealthy man, lord of three manors in the county, and he found no difficulty the next morning in inducing the same mob that had torn down his fences to accompany him to the grounds of Flowerdew, and repay the compliment by a further onslaught on his hedges and ditches. Flowerdew came out, and earnestly entreated them to go away and do him no mischief; but the choleric Ket incited them to proceed, and became so heated in the affair, that he declared himself the people's captain, and offered to lead them to settle these grievances not for the parish simply but for the kingdom. The news of such a leader flew far and wide, thousands flocked to his banner, and they marched into the neighbourhood of Norwich.

"There were," says Holinshed, "assembled together in Ket's camp to the number of 16,000 ungracious unthriffs, who, by the advice of their captains, fortified themselves, and made provisions of artillery, powder, and other abiliments, which they fetched out of shops, gentlemen's houses, and other places where any was to be found; and withal spoiled the country of all the cattle, riches, and coin on which they might lay hands. But because many, as in such case is ever seen, did provide for themselves, and hid that which they got, laying it up for their own store, and brought it not forth to further the common cause, Ket and the other governors, for bo they would be called, thought to provide a remedy, and by common consent it was decreed that a place should be appointed where judgment might be exercised, as in a judicial hall. Whereupon they found out a great old oak, where the said Ket and the other governors or deputies might sit and place themselves, to hear and determine such quarrelling matters as came in question; afore whom sometimes would assemble a great number of the rebels, and exhibit complaints of such disorders as now and then were practised among them; and there they would take order for the redressing of such wrongs and injuries as were appointed; so that such greedy vagabonds as were ready to spoil more than seemed to stand with the pleasure of the said governors, and further than their commissions could bear, were committed to prison. This oak they named the Tree of Reformation."

Under this tree, which stood on Moushill, near Norwich, Ket erected his throne, and established courts of chancery, king's bench, and common pleas, as in Westminster Hall; and, with a liberality which shamed not only the Government of that but of most succeeding times, he allowed not only the orators of his own but of the opposite party to harangue them from this tree. Ket, it is clear, was a man far beyond his times, and one who was sincerely seeking the reform of abuses, and not destruction of the constituted Government. The tree was used as a rostrum, and all who had anything to say mounted into it, as we may suppose, with some convenient standing-place betwixt its first branches, and whence they could be seen and heard by the multitude. Into the tree mounted frequently Master Aldrich, the Mayor of Norwich, and others, who would use all possible persuasions to the insurgents to desist from their spoliations and disorderly courses. Clergymen of both persuasions preached to them from the oak, and Matthew Parker-after wards Archbishop of Canterbury, one day ascended it, and addressed them in the plainest possible terms on the folly of their attempt, and the ruin it was certain to bring upon them. He carried his plain speaking so far, that there arose loud murmurs and a clashing of arms around him, and he began to think that they meant to kill him. But not a man touched him, and the next day in St. Clement's Church, Norwich, he repeated his serious admonitions, there being many of the rebels present; but though they made signs of great dissatisfaction, no one interrupted him. Ho had been sent by the Government, and having discharged his commission, he got away in safety.

Perhaps the reported moderation of Ket and his coadjutors led the Government to expect that the mob would in a while disperse without further mischief, for nearly a month they permitted this to go on. The consequence was, that the mob grew so lawless, that neither Ket nor his subordinate captains could any longer restrain the disorders of their followers. They ranged over the whole country round, plundering and destroying. They are said to have drawn off 20,000 sheep, besides a proportionate number of cattle; killed and borne away multitudes of swans, geese, hens, capons, ducks, &c.; with all kinds of garden-stuff and provisions that they could lay hands on. These they brought into their camp and consumed in the grossest riot and waste. They broke down the fences of fields and parks, slew the deer, felled the woods and groves, and had such abundance that they sold fat wethers at a groat a-piece.

At length on the 31st of July, a Royal herald appeared in the camp, "and, standing before the Tree of Reformation, apparelled in his coat-of-arms, pronounced there, before all the multitude, with loud voice, a free pardon to all that would depart to their houses, and, laying aside their armour, give over their traitorous enterprise." Some of the insurgents, who were already weary of the affair, and only wanted a good excuse for drawing off safety, took the offered pardon and disappeared; but Ket and the chief part of the people kept their ground, saying they wanted no pardon, for they had done, nothing but what was incumbent on true subjects.

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