The causes of Tudor Rebellions from 1485-1601

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Western Rebellion 1549

Otherwise known as The Prayer Book rebellion this was undoubtedly a religiously motivated revolt. The people of Cornwall and Devon reacted strongly against the Edwardian reformation. The majority of the rebels demands suggest that the rebels wished for restoration rather than reformation and they like those during the Pilgrimage of Garce marched under the banner of the 5 wounds of Christ. There was no demand for a return of Papal authority however, everything that was new was heavily criticised including the new prayer book.

It could also be argued that the introduction of a new sheep tax only two weeks after the new prayer book added to the rebels growing grievances. The new tax in practice hit the peasant farmers as the wealthy were able to raise their prices to cover their costs.

Religious/Local issues: ‘The first insurrections of Cornishmen against Edwardian Reformation, in 1547 and 1548, sprang from fear of the loss of church goods and intense unpopularity of the government’s agent William Body’ [Fletcher] The Edwardian Reformation was introduced by protector Somerset and was a more extreme Protestant for than that of Henry VIII. Changes included the destruction of religious images, the closing of all chantries [places where prayers were said for dead men’s souls]. The people thought that the church and chantry goods were going to be confiscated. They suspected that Body ‘ an unscrupulous and avaricious careerist’ was trying to make himself risch by confiscating Cornish church property. Cornish men such as John Ressigh said that only a King could introduce new religious laws. ‘It was the announcement of the new liturgy in the prayer book to be uniformly used on Whitsunday 1547 that turned the opposition into a full scale rebellion’ [ Fletcher]. Demands in the rebels manifesto include: wanting to keep the Latin [or their own Cornish language and wafers instead of communion bread in services, wanting their children to be confirmed younger, complaints against inadequate clergy who withheld burials and baptisms to get higher fees.
Economic issues: Devon JPs had asked for a delay on the new poll tax on sheep – sheep counting had stated in May 1549, and there were rumours that geese and pigs would be taxed too. There were grievances about inflation.
Individual issues: Arundell was a known troublemaker and letters write of ‘riff-raff’ in the rebel ranks. The Samford Courtenay gentry families had a specific feud. Joyce Youings wrote ‘The motives of most of those that took part are still very unclear’.

In 1547 there was hostile demonstration against Body and the commissioners, dealt with mildly by the government. In 1548, Body was murdered by a mob in Helston. 10 of the ringleaders were hanged. In 1549, the commons persuaded a gentleman, Humphrey Arundell to lead them. They set up camp at Bodmin, drew up articles of grievance, and marched into Devon, where another rising started spontaneously in Samford Courtenay and joined the Cornish at Crediton. The leading JPs were powerless, but the opposition to the rebels was led by Sir Peter Carew, who started negotiations, but only provoked the rebels to block the roads to Exeter. Carew escaped to London to get help. Protector Somerset, faced with other disturbances and not having accurate information, sent Lord Russell with an inadequate force – he could not advance. The rebels set siege to Exeter- it was six weeks before Somerset took the situation seriously and gave Russell the men to relive it, while Russell could get no support from local people. The citizens of Exeter were divided, but those loyal to the crown won. Russell relived Exeter on 6 August, after skirmishes with 6,000 rebels but he did not dare follow them into the west. On 16th August Russell, now with 8,000 mercenaries, defeated the rebels at Stamford Courtenay, killing over 4,000 of them.

‘ The rebellion never had any real chance of forcing the government to make concessions in its religious policy’ The rebels got so far because Somerset was busy with other problems – rebellions in the midlands and east, and war declared by France on 8th August. Somerset may have made concessions, but he was losing his grip on the council, and other members would never have allowed them.

Very little – it distracted Somerset when he was dealing with Kett’s rebellion. Religious policies were not changed and Somerset’s others policies went when he lost power. Catholicism was restored only as a result of Mary’s accession [1553].


  1. Who are you quoting beginning 'The rebellion never'

    1. She is quoting Anthony Fletcher - Tudor Rebellions

  2. Brilliant, helped me out a lot! And thanks, both above, also helped. :)