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18 June 2014
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Legacies - Norfolk

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Myths and Legends
A tale of two Ketts

An unlikely rebel

It was at this point that Robert Kett took centre stage, and gave the unrest direction. A landowner himself, Kett was an unlikely rebel, yet when the crowd began to attack his own enclosures, he decided to join and lead them rather than oppose them.

View of Norwich
The view of Norwich from Mousehold Heath
He marched them towards Norwich, with numbers swelling on the way, and some of Norwich's poor left the city to join them. By 12th July they had stationed themselves on Mousehold Heath overlooking Norwich, the site of a camp during the Peasants Rebellion of 1381, and it was claimed numbers reached 16,000 at one point.

Kett, whose real grievance was with the gentry and not the government, gave some legitimacy and discipline to the camp, sending out warrants styled from the king, getting them signed by important figures within the local government, and describing the rebels as "the kings friends and deputies". He organised the rebels into military units, and created a court of justice at the "Oak of Reformation". They also captured and imprisoned numerous Norwich gentry.

Short-lived success

Kett’s men took Norwich by storm. They defeated a government force sent to quell them, led by the Marquis of Northampton, and remained in control of the city for a month, even winning over some of its elite. Some of the narratives of the rebellion
Norwich Castle
Kett was hanged from Norwich Castle
© Courtesy of Norfolk Museums and Archeology Service
describe this time as one of levelling and anarchy, and although undoubtedly exaggerated, there may be an element of truth in them.

The rebels tried, unsuccessfully, to spark off a rebellion in Great Yarmouth, but their days were numbered. Another stronger royal army was despatched to Norwich, and after three days of heavy fighting the rebels withdrew from the city. They were defeated at nearby Dussindale on 27th August, and Kett was captured the following day. He was hanged from the wall of Norwich castle on 7th December, having being tried and convicted in London. His brother William was executed at Wymondham Abbey.

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