Was Lord Protector Somerset Responsible for Kett's Rebellion?
Jez Ross corrects misunderstandings about the origins and significance of disturbances in 1549.
There are two main elements to this question. First, the extent to which Somerset’s policies caused the outbreak of Kett’s rebellion through his ‘commonwealth’ policies. Second, the extent to which he was responsible for the failure to contain or end the crisis earlier than the end of August 1549 because he was reluctant to use force. Somerset’s fellow councillors certainly blamed him on both counts. William Paget’s letter of 7 July 1549 informed him that ‘I know in this matter of the commons every man of the Council hath misliked your proceedings’. These ‘proceedings’ referred to his ‘opinion to be good to the poor’ which had apparently persuaded the commons to take the law into their own hands and rebel. It had also led Somerset to try to win over the rebels through pardons rather than to crush them with force so that, as Paget put it, the ‘commons is become a king… saying, “Grant this, and that, and we will go home”…’. But how much of this is accurate? Were his socio- economic policies really driven by his ‘good meaning and honest nature’, by a genuine attempt to find a remedy for the grievances of the commons? Was it true that his attempts to tackle the decline of tillage and illegal enclosure led directly to Kett’s Rebellion? To what extent was he reluctant to use force to end the rebellions in East Anglia where the commonwealth agenda and religious outlook of the commons seemed to match his own?