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1 August 2014
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Legacies - Norfolk

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Myths and Legends
Kett sitting under the oak at Wymondham
© Courtesy of Wymondham Museum
A tale of two Ketts

On 6th July 1549, a crowd gathered at Wymondham, Norfolk, to celebrate the feast of St Thomas, a traditional holiday. Not the obvious forerunner to rebellion, you might think, but it was from these innocent beginnings that Kett’s rebellion developed.

The gathering allowed people to discuss their grievances, and feelings soon ran high. Chief amongst the complaints was enclosure – strictly meaning the fencing off of the common lands by the gentry, but really a term encompassing all the means by which the local gentry were increasing their landholdings at the expense of poorer farmers. This tendency made the lives of commoners – also hit by sharp inflation – increasingly precarious.

Re-enactment of the rebellion
Robert Kett and his followers marching down Market Street
© Graham Barrell
Failed promises

In truth this process of enclosure was nothing new. With hindsight we can see that the transition from a feudal economy to a capitalist one was almost complete in Norfolk – and England more generally – by this time. The real cause of grievance in Norfolk in 1549, was what locals saw as gentry’ intransigence in the face of promises made by the government to address the problem of enclosures.

So, instead of dispersing after the festival, on 8th July a number of men proceeded to break down enclosures in Wymondham. They may have sensed an opportunity to make their feelings known for there was something of a power vacuum in Norfolk at the time, with the Duke of Norfolk imprisoned in London, and the absence of strong noble leadership in the area.

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Enclosure fact file
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