What were the Aims, Causes and Consequences of the Tudor Rebellions?


Lambert Simnel / Perkin Warbeck 1487-1499

Henry VII 1505 at the National Portrait Gallery.
Henry VII 1505 at the National Portrait Gallery.

The aims of the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions were to replace Henry VII on the English throne with what the people saw as the “true heir”.[1] Henry VII was a usurper, and the only Lancastrian claimant left since the death of Henry VI in 1471.

The cause of the Simnel and Warbeck rebellions was the fact that Henry VII was a usurper with no real claim to the throne. He had taken the throne from the Yorkist Richard III, who had usurped it from the rightful heir, the son of Edward IV – Edward V – and supposedly then had Edward and his younger brother, Richard, killed in the Tower of London. Henry’s claim to the throne came through his mother, Margaret Beaufort, who was descended from the illegitimate line of John of Gaunt and his mistress, Katherine Swynford. The Beaufort line had been legitimised but barred from succeeding to the throne.[2] The people of England weren’t entirely convinced that the Princes in the Tower were dead and, even if they were, the Earl of Warwick was another contender with a claim to the throne. Simnel pretended to be the Earl of Warwick, the son of Richard III’s elder brother, George Duke of Clarence.[3] Warbeck pretended to be Richard Duke of York, the younger of the Princes in the Tower.[4] Neither were entirely convincing.

The consequences of the Simnel rebellion included the death of the Earl of Lincoln, who had a claim to the throne himself. He was killed at the Battle of Stoke, which also ended in Simnel’s capture. Simnel was put to work in the royal kitchens and eventually rose to become royal falconer.[5] Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen Mother, was suspected of involvement in the conspiracy, and was deprived of her lands and possessions and sent to Bermondsey Abbey, where she would die.[6] However, there is no surviving evidence to link her to the plot. The consequences of the Warbeck rebellion included the execution, not just of Warbeck himself, but also of the Earl of Warwick in 1499, who had been in the Tower since Henry VII’s accession to the throne in 1485.[7] The death of Warwick also allowed the marriage of Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon, as Henry VII wrote to Katherine’s parents that not a drop of doubtful royal blood remained in England.[8] Katherine would later claim her marriage had been made in blood and was cursed.

Pilgrimage of Grace 1536-1537

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

The aims of the Pilgrimage of Grace were complex and varied – the rebels wanted the restoration of the monasteries and to stop the destruction of any more religious houses; they also wanted the restoration of the Princess Mary, a return to Rome, and the overthrow of reformist councillors like Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer.[9] There were also some demands related to land law and taxation.[10] However, the religious demands were at the forefront of the rebellion; the rest seemed to stem from this central problem.

What prompted the outbreak of rebellion is unknown; several pivotal moments have been suggested by different historians. Leanda de Lisle claims that the spark for rebellion was a visitation to churches concerning the worshipping of saints.[11] Richard Rex claims that it was started by a sermon given by Thomas Kendall in Louth on 1 October 1536.[12] Jasper Ridley says that it was the dissolution of Hexham Abbey that started all of the trouble in the north.[13] Desmond Seward claims it was prompted by rumours that the people would be taxed for births, marriages and deaths.[14] Historians can’t seem to agree on one pivotal moment, but it became the most dangerous rebellion of the Tudor period. It was likely a combination of the above that prompted risings in different areas which combined into the Pilgrimage.

The main consequence of the Pilgrimage was the execution of thousands of people who had been involved, including the leader, Robert Aske at York, Francis Bigod at Tyburn, Lord Darcy on Tower Hill and Thomas Constable at Hull.[15] The main pilgrimage prompted a second rising, led by Francis Bigod, who wanted to resurrect the Pilgrimage. This second rising gave the king the excuse to punish the leaders and rebels from the first Pilgrimage.[16] As a result of the revolt, Henry VIII, with his fifth wife, Katherine Howard, visited the north for the only time in his reign in order to receive apologies from those involved, and give gifts and pacify the area.[17] Although there was another small rebellion in the area in April 1541, Henry VIII’s visit seems to have calmed tensions, and he doesn’t again experience problems with the north of England.

Robert Kett (Western) 1549

Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Earl of Hertford.
Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Duke of Somerset

The aims of Kett’s rebellion were to keep the old ways. He wanted a halt to enclosure, and the repeal of the Book of Common Prayer.[18] Some historians, like David Loades, dispute the importance of the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer.[19] Although the rebellion did start before the introduction of the new prayer book, it had boiled down and the rebels had dispersed but the rising reared its head again when the prayer book was introduced, so at least some of the concerns were over the prayer book.

There were two simultaneous rebellions under Kett – one over enclosure and one over the Book of Common Prayer.[20] However, David Loades suggests that the real cause of the rebellion was actually a failure to implement policy by the local gentry.[21] The most important cause seems to have been the Book of Common Prayer. This was the first move by Edward VI’s government to move the country in a more protestant direction. When Robert Kett sent his list of demands to Protector Somerset, they were mainly against enclosure, however.[22] Richard Rex claims that social and economic grievances were the main cause with the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer as a catalyst.[23] This appears to be the most logical explanation.

The consequences of the Kett rebellion were that hundreds of rebels were hanged, including Kett, who was hung in chains from the wall of Norwich Castle.[24] As a result of the rebellion, Protector Somerset’s influence and authority within Edward VI’s Privy Council was diminished.[25] This is probably partly what led to his downfall later that year. It gave people like John Dudley Earl of Warwick (later Duke of Northumberland) a weakness to take advantage of, and they exploited it. Kett’s rebellion didn’t really achieve anything at all – the Second Book of Common Prayer was introduced in 1552 and this one aimed to be more radical than the last.

Thomas Wyatt 1554

Mary I 1554 by Antonio Moro
Mary I 1554 by Antonio Moro

The main aim of Wyatt’s rebellion was to stop Mary I’s proposed marriage to Philip II of Spain. A secondary aim was to prevent a return to Catholicism and Rome.[26] It was said that the rebels intended to depose Mary I, possibly assassinate her, and raise Princess Elizabeth in her place.[27] However, the involvement of the Duke of Suffolk could suggest that Jane Grey was the intended replacement.

The causes of the rebellion were that it was feared that England would become an outpost of Spain, if any child of Mary and Philip gained the English throne. There were also fears that England would become involved in Spanish wars.[28] The English people didn’t want the Spaniards to have any influence in their country. Many people also didn’t want to return to Rome and the pope, although this was a secondary aim – the main one was the Spanish marriage.[29] It wasn’t primarily a religious rising, but a fear of Spanish influence in England.

The main consequence of the Wyatt rebellion was the execution of Jane Grey.[30] She had been imprisoned in the Tower since her aborted nine days reign in July 1553. Mary I finally signed the death warrants of Jane and her husband, Guildford Dudley, in February 1554 with Wyatt at the city gates. Mary realised that Jane would always be a focus for rebellion and discontent and it was too dangerous to leave her alive. Another consequence of the Wyatt rebellion was the imprisonment of Princess Elizabeth in the Tower of London.[31] Mary I suspected her sister was involved in the rebellion, but nothing could be proven and she was eventually released to house arrest. On the scaffold, Wyatt proclaimed Elizabeth’s innocence.[32] This carried weight with the people, even if Mary wasn’t convinced.

Earl of Essex 1601

Elizabeth I 1588 Armada portrait by George Gower
Elizabeth I 1588 Armada portrait by George Gower

Essex’s rebellion is different from the other Tudor rebellions because its aims weren’t those wide-ranging ones of taxation, religion or foreign intervention. It was pretty much a selfish rebellion. Jasper Ridley suggests that the aim of the rebellion was that Essex wanted to protect himself from the Privy Council who wanted to arrest and kill him.[33] Essex intended to gain access to the Queen and demand the removal of his enemies from court; otherwise he wanted a recall of parliament to give him justice.[34] He believed the people were on his side.

The causes of the Essex rebellion stem from his performance in Ireland. He was sent to quash a rebellion but instead made peace terms. On his return, Elizabeth froze him out.[35] The Ireland crisis meant that Essex was stripped of his offices and arrested, but wouldn’t accept the Queen’s choice and plotted a coup.[36] There was also a financial cause for Essex as he couldn’t afford to be out of royal favour as some of his ventures required royal approval.[37] A lot of nobles couldn’t bear the thought of losing their sources of income, and this was probably the last straw for Essex.

The main consequence of the Essex rebellion was the execution of Essex himself. Elizabeth I was unforgiving to any of her subjects who plotted against her, especially when she had patronised them and given them her favour. Essex was executed with five of his closest supporters – Meyrick, Blount, Danvers and Cuffe.[38] Essex could have been a great man as he had a lot of potential but Elizabeth had to execute him as he aspired above his station. Elizabeth killed potential in Essex.[39] Elizabeth also proved that she did have mercy, as she reprieved the Earl of Southampton.[40] The rebellion also demonstrated to Elizabeth how beloved she was by the people – they refused to rise against her when called to do so.

[1] Desmond Seward, The Last White Rose: the Secret Wars of the Tudors (Constable & Robinson, 2011) p.29

[2] Philippa Gregory, The Women of the Cousins’ War (Simon & Schuster, 2013) p.242

[3] David Loades, Tudors: History of a Dynasty (Continuum Publishing, 2012) p.10

[4] Jasper Ridley, A Brief History of the Tudor Age (Constable & Robinson, 2002) p.7

[5] Seward, Last White Rose, p.45

[6] Leanda de Lisle, Tudor: the Family Story (Chatto & Windus, 2013) p.87

[7] Dan Jones, The Hollow Crown: the Wars of the Roses and the Rise of the Tudors (Faber & Faber, 2015) p.346

[8] Giles Tremlett, Catherine of Aragon: Henry’s Spanish Queen (Faber & Faber, 2010) p.66

[9] Loades, Tudors, p.160

[10] Richard Rex, The Tudors (Tempus Publishing, 2015) p.122

[11] Lisle, Tudor, p.213

[12] Rex, Tudors, p.121

[13] Ridley, Tudor Age, p.59

[14] Seward, Last White Rose, p.268

[15] David Loades, The Seymours of Wolf Hall: a Tudor Family Story (Amberley Publishing, 2015) p.86

[16] Ibid, p.81

[17] David Loades, Catherine Howard: the Adulterous Wife of Henry VIII (Amberley Publishing, 2012) p.122

[18] Penry Williams, The Later Tudors: England 1547-1603 (Oxford University Press, 1998) p.49-50

[19] David Loades, Mary Tudor (Amberley Publishing, 2012) p.106

[20] Ridley, Tudor Age, p.234

[21] Loades, Tudors, p.162

[22] Peter Ackroyd, History of England Vol.2: Tudors (Macmillan, 2012) p.215

[23] Rex, Tudors, p.159

[24] Ackroyd, Tudors, p.218

[25] Chris Skidmore, Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart (Phoenix, 2011) p.18

[26] Lisle, Tudor, p.283

[27] Jane Dunn, Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens (Harper Collins, 2003) p.134

[28] Williams, Later Tudors, p.93

[29] Loades, Mary Tudor, p.143

[30] Ridley, Tudor Age, p.19

[31] Loades, Tudors, p.44

[32] Rex, Tudors, p.188

[33] Ridley, Tudor Age, p.236

[34] Ackroyd, Tudors, p.460

[35] Lisle, Tudor, p.384

[36] Rex, Tudors, p.263

[37] Williams, Later Tudors, p.372

[38] Ibid, p.375

[39] G.R. Elton, England Under the Tudors (Routledge, 2006) p.473

[40] Ackroyd, Tudors, p.462

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