History's HEROES? Dated 1500? - 1549

Robert Kett

Created by

Matt Champion

Location

Norwich
Led a rebellion that captured the city of Norwich.

Achievements

  • Established fair government for the commoners of Norfolk
  • Stood up for what he believed in
  • Brought the Tudor government close to collapse
  • Highlighted the plight of the lower orders

Characteristics

  • Brave / Courageous
  • A good and strong leader
  • Altruistic (puts other first e.g. risks or gives life for others)
  • Visionary (has far reaching ideas)
  • Good or moral (strong beliefs or principles)
  • Has integrity (stands up for what they believe and act accordingly)
  • Inspiring / Charismatic
  • Determined
  • Honest
  • Kind and compassionate
  • Just and fair minded

External link

Norwich site about Kett

Quotations

"a notable and couragous leader in the long struggle of the common people of England to escape from a servile life into the freedom of just conditions" - Plaque erected on Norwich castle, 1949

"I am ready to do whatever not only to repress, but to subdue the power of great men" - Robert Kett (reported 1549)

Hero of the common people

Robert Kett led a rebellion of the common people to overthrow the injustices of the Tudor government. He captured the city of Norwich and defeated one Royal army before finally being beated himself at the battle of Dussindale.

Robert Kett was born in the Norfolk market town of Wymondham. He came from a middle class family and made a large amount of money in business. In 1549, the local commoners rose in revolt against what they saw as the injustices of the Tudor government. Their first act was to tear down the hated fences that had enclosed the common lands. Robert Kett, as a wealthy local landowner, had erected his own fences and enclosed local common lands. When the rebels arrived to pull down his fences Kett listened to their arguments and heard of their hardships. Moved by their story, he actually helped them to pull down his own fences.

From that point Robert Kett became the leader of the rebellion. From Wymondham, the rebels marched towards the important city of Norwich, gathering support as they went. By the time they reached the gates of the city they were several thousand strong. The city authorities refused to let them enter - and so Kett led his men to camp on Mousehold Heath and started to negotiate with the city leaders. Thousands more flocked to join his camp. However, after orders from the King, the city closed its gates to the rebels and prepared to defend itself.

Kett moved quickly, attacked the city and captured it. Once Norwich was under his control, he set about righting many of the wrongs that the common people claimed had been done. He set up a form of local government and established a court that would hear the cases brought to it by the commoners. The court was held in the open, underneath the 'tree of reformation', and many local gentlemen were dragged before it to be tried, found guilty and imprisoned. Kett's rebellion spread from Norwich and soon the whole of East Anglia was in open revolt.

The government, already dealing with a war in Scotland and a rebellion in western England, were worried. They sent an army, led by the Marquis of Northampton, to Norwich to suppress the rebellion. However, the soldiers were no match for the rebels. The Royal army was soundly beaten. Kett and his rebels remained in full control of Norwich and the surrounding countryside. For several weeks more the rebels continued to hold their courts and dispense justice - righting their wrongs. Finally the government sent a much larger army to Norwich, commanded by the Earl of Warwick.

After bitter and bloody fighting, Warwick recaptured the city and forced the rebels back onto Mousehold Heath. However, Warwick did not have enough men to beat the rebels in open battle and now found himself inside the city and virtually besieged. Each night the rebels would come down from the heath, break into the city, gather supplies and attack Warwick's soldiers. Then government reinforcements arrived. With more men to defend the city, Warwick could begin to counter-attack the rebels.

Kett's rebels could not survive for long without access to the city's markets and warehouses, so he decided to gamble everything on one big battle at a small valley called 'Dussindale'. The Battle of Dussindale was fought on the 27th of August 1549. The rebels, although outnumbering the Royal troops, had little or no cavalry and were quickly broken by the strong Royal forces. The rebels ran and, during the chase, many thousands were slaughtered. Thousands more were taken prisoner.

Robert Kett was captured a few miles away and was taken to London. He was held in the Tower,  tried and found guilty of treason. He was sentenced to be executed. He was then taken back to Norwich for his execution. He was hung in chains from the walls of Norwich castle and left to die of hunger and cold. His body was left hanging there for many months as a reminder to the people of Norwich of the fate that awaited traitors.

Life in Robert Kett's world

The world that Robert Kett grew up in was one of huge change. Under Henry VIII the monasteries were dissolved, new landlords took over large tracts of the countryside and the common people, who had small farms that relied upon access to common land, found themselves being pushed out. More

Was Robert Kett a Hero?

  • He was a man of courage and principle who stood up for what he believed to be right - despite it causing him personal loss
  • He believed in justice for all people, no matter whether they were born commoners or gentlemen
  • He had the chance to surrender to the government and be pardoned - instead he chose to stand by his men and fight
  • He became the inspiration to a generation of freedom fighters and rebels

Things you might not know about Robert Kett

Later writers tried to make people believe that Robert Kett was a lower class peasant, as they were worried about the idea of rebels being led by minor gentlemen. They variously described him as 'traitor Kett' and 'Kett the tanner'. However, Robert came from a prosperous family, owned several manors himself and, before the rebellion, had actually been involved in land deals with the Earl of Warwick himself.

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