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Was religious change the foremost cause of rebellion during the Tudor period, 1485-1602?

Throughout the period 1485-1602, it is evident that there were many causes of rebellion. However, of these factors, it is clear that Religious change, following the schism between Henry VIII’s church of England and the papacy in Rome, became the factor which attracted the largest number of Protestors, zealously Protestant and Catholic alike, from a range of social classes, from the peasantry to nobility. However, it is also important to note that prior to the turning point of the reformation, Religious change did not play any part in causing rebellion, instead this was the issue of Dynastic quarrelling and attempts to remove Henry VII. Later in the era, political faction and ambition became catalysts for rebellion and, perhaps most importantly, socio economic grievances, such as opposition to taxes and the imposition of enclosures.

Religious change was undoubtedly a primary motivation of many rebellions in both England and Ireland during the Tudor rule between 1485 and 1603. However, it is arguable that this only became a cause for rebellion after schism between England and the Papacy in Rome and Henry VIII’s decision to name himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, resulting in the Supremacy act being passed in 1534. Undeniably, the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace was the largest rebellion faced by any Tudor Monarch, attracting some 30,000 rebels. It was primarily motivated by ecclesiastical commissioners closing Parish churches and monasteries in the counties of Lancashire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Furthermore, many rebels were against the Supremacy act, and the banner of the five wounds of Christ was paraded, a symbolic defence of Catholicism, and a feat which would later be repeated in the Western rebellion (1549) and the rebellion of Northern Earls (1569). Therefore, the fact that the largest rebellion of all in Tudor England was primarily motivated by religious change indicates that religious change was an incredibly important catalyst for rebellion. Similarly, the Rebellion of Northern Earls wished to restore Catholicism to England by replacing the protestant Elizabeth by ascending Mary Queen of Scots to the throne in her stead. Likewise, the rebels who took part in the Western rebellion rejected the new Book of Common Prayer and William Tyndale’s translation of the bible into English, instead wanting the restoration of Papal images and monasteries. Each of these rebellions again demonstrates the importance of religion as a main cause of rebellion. A further example of zealous religious motivation is evident in Kett’s 1549 rebellion. This was a protest at the slow rate of Protestant expansionism under Edward’s rule, and while it was a Protestant rebellion as opposed to a Catholic rebellion, it does again demonstrate the importance of religious change in causing rebellions. In addition, many of the Irish rebellions were influenced heavily by religious change; from 1532 onwards, the likes of Kildare and Silken Thomas rejected Henrician reforms, and this continued through to 1595 with Hugh O’Neil encouraging this rejection of Protestantism also. Other rebellions, such as Shane O’Neil, also called upon the preservation of Catholicism. This once more shows that religion was a primary causation of rebellion.

While religion was clearly a key motivation for many rebels, there were also other dimensions to these uprisings which sparked rebellion. Many of the rebellions previously discussed were multi-causal. Socio-economic factors were evident in several of the religious rebellions across the Tudor period. In the 1536 Pilgrimage of Grace, many opposed taxations such as the first fruits and tenths tithe and the proposed white meat tax. Opposition to taxation was also apparent in the Western rebellion 1549, when many rebels rejected the imposition of the Sheep tax. Similarly, both Kett's (1549) rebellion and the Western rebellion were to some extent motivated by hatred of illegal enclosures, this being the primary catalyst for Kett's rebellion and this indicates the importance of an underlying socio-economic motive for the religious rebellions. However, there is some evidence to suggest these issues were not as important as religious issues in sparking rebellion. Kett's 'Demands being in rebellion' contains only three articles protesting against enclosures and taxation. In addition, while there was opposition to the 1534 subsidy act in the Pilgrimage of Grace, in reality, the 1536 subsidy yield of £80,000 was relatively small and affected few people. This implies that while socio-economic factors played a role in causing rebellion, they were significantly less severe than religious motivation and used more as justification for rebellion, rather than as a primary catalyst. A further common factor of religious rebellions was the issue of succession. The Northern Earls (1569) sought to restore Catholicism to England through the means of replacing Elizabeth I with Mary Queen of Scots. Moreover, a large portion of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the Aragonese faction, wished to see Mary Tudor secured in the line of succession as justice for Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon. It is no surprise, therefore, that there is an inextricable link between religious and succession rebellions; almost every monarch altered the religion of England upon their ascension to the throne during the Tudor reign, each their own turning point and each leading to rebellion, both over the religious change and other motivations. This indicates that while religion was a main factor in causing rebellion, there are other factors which were at play which cannot be overlooked.

Religious change, however, was not evident as a cause for rebellion prior to the turning point of Henry VIII’s reformation. Before his ascension to the throne, his father Henry VII faced seven rebellions, 4 of which were dynastic. These varied in regards to the threat they posed to Henry Tudor’s rule; both Lambert Simnel (1486) and Perkin Warbeck (1497) pretended to be claimants to the throne with a stronger claim than Henry (Simnel the Earl of Warwick while Warbeck pretended to be the duke of York). Both tried to raise Yorkist troops intent on removing the house of Lancaster from the line of the crownas well as garnering aid from abroad, such as Kildare in Ireland. Simnel gained the support of the Earl of Lincoln, nephew of Richard III, strengthening his legitimacy. Both wished to slay the King and take power and, though both were swiftly quelled, the threat they posed was potentially serious. In contrast, the rebellions of Lovel and Stafford both failed to press on with full rebellion; Lovel fled to Flanders while Humphrey, a leader of Stafford’s rebellion was executed after many had deserted. While these two uprisings posed significantly less threat, all four were monocausal, with the primary aim of overthrowing the King. However, post 1530, succession was still a primary motivation; in 1554, rebels under the leadership of Wyatt were worried about Elizabeth’s place in the succession under Mary and likewise the Aragonese faction of the Pilgrimage of Grace wanted to see Mary’s place guaranteed. Similarly, the Northumberland rebellion of 1553 saw rebels wish to place Lady Jane Grey on the throne after the third succession act of 1554 had seen both Mary and Elizabeth restored to the succession line. Therefore, while succession declined in its importance as a factor in causing rebellion as the Tudor claim to the throne was enforced and grew stronger, the presence of succession as a primary motivation was evident throughout the period, whereas religious change only featured after the 1530’s reformation, marking succession as a clear main cause for rebellion before the reformation and in the early Tudor years.

Moreover, the influence of political factions as a main cause for rebellion throughout the Tudor period, both in England and Ireland, cannot be ignored. This factor was the primary cause of Shane O’Neil’s multicausal rebellion from 1558-1603 as well as Silken Thomas’ earlier rebellion, both of whom wanted recognition as being the head of their clan by the English monarch. Similarly, the Earl of Essex’s 1601 rebellion shared this motivation, as it was his intention that Elizabeth deposed Robert Cecil and replaced him with Essex himself. In each of these rebellions, we see an intrinsic link between Political Faction and personal ambition sparking people to rebel, demonstrating the multicausal nature of these rebellions. Therefore, particularly towards the end of the Tudor rule, and with the replacement of the old consultations with the Great Council of Nobles, used by Henry VII from 1487-1502, with the new Privy Council used to effectively advise the monarch, political faction became a main cause for rebellion, although this was not to the same extent as Religious change or other factors, such as those which were socio-economic. Indeed, political faction was the catalyst for the fewest rebellions of all causes.

Finally, the role of socio-economic factors as a main cause for rebellion in Tudor England cannot be underestimated. Although this causation did not become extremely prevalent until 1549 when 27 counties revolted against illegal enclosures imposed on the lower classes and grievances over taxes such as the subsidy act of the same year and Somerset’s wool tax which motivated the monocausal Kett rebellion of 1549 and in part the Western rebellion, evidence for socio-economic issues being a primary cause of rebellion across the entire Tudor period can be seen. The monocausal Cornish rebellion (1497), Yorkshire (1489) and Amicable Grant (1525) rebellions were all primarily concerned with what they perceived to be unfair taxation to fund wars in Scotland and France and attracted large numbers of protestors, notably 10,000 to the Cornish rebellion. This supports the notion that it was a main cause for rebellion. Equally, the Oxfordshire rebellion of 1596 was monocausal; motivated by opposition to unfair enclosures which exacerbated the high levels of unemployment and rising grain prices as a result of the poor harvest of 1595. Therefore, socio-economic causes were present as either main or contributing causes of rebellion across the entire Tudor Period. Even the Pilgrimage of Grace (1536) cited enclosures and inflation ibn articles 13 and 14 at Pontefract. Economic grievances also appear to have attracted the widest range of social classes in the ‘Great Chain of Being’: for example, the only completely successful rebellion under the Tudor reign, that which opposed Wolsley’s Amicable Grant consisted of Farmers and Tradesmen as well as Politicians, which arguably led to its success. With English rebellions mostly having some socio-economic cause, to either a lesser or greater extent, suggest this was certainly a main cause of rebellion throughout the era; even in Ireland, unfair stealing of land by English plantation owners was cited as a cause of rebellion.

In conclusion, it was rebellions motivated by religious change which attracted the largest number of protestors, some 30,000 at the Pilgrimage of Grace, whereby the closing of monasteries and the act of supremacy had been the main motivation for rebels to assemble. However, each of the religious rebellions had other underlying causes, such as ambition and political faction, such as the Aragonese faction to the Pilgrimage of Grace, thus undermining the importance as a main cause of rebellion. Moreover, religious change was not a cause, be it primary or a contributing factor, of any rebellion before the 1530’s, whereas dynastic issues to a lesser extent and to a greater extent economic grievances such as unfair taxation were present in both England and Ireland throughout the Tudor era. I believe it was these socio-economic factors which were the main cause of rebellion throughout the Tudor period, as they affected all parts of society and often gave people the justification to join other partly religious rebellions, which they may not otherwise have joined, therefore indicating that socio-economic factors were the main cause of rebellion in Tudor England, and not religious change, although the importance of this factor still cannot be underestimated.

Michael M. GCSE Classical Civilisation tutor, GCSE History tutor, GCS...

2 years ago

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