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Kett’s Rebellion – what happened and why?

Introduction

This activity was developed by Donald Cumming, an AST who teaches in Calderdale, for use with students taking the Edexcel GCSE course on Crime, Punishment & Protest. It could also be used with A level students, as an introduction to the event itself or to a wider study of Tudor protests, although with A level students you would clearly be wanting to use it as the basis for developing greater depth and complexity of understanding.

Here is Donald’s description of the activity:

Students find Kett’s rebellion easy to understand on a simple level but can have problems with both chronology and detailed knowledge. This activity is aimed at addressing both issues, as well as to aid analysis of the King’s reaction to the protest.

The activity should be done well within one session but I would certainly want to follow up by reflecting in more detail on the reaction of the King and his government – both how they reacted and why they reacted in such a manner. If you have time, there would also be great value in doing the Dissolution of the Monasteries activity on this site, and comparing the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 with Kett’s Rebellion.

The class I trialled this on are a year 11 mixed ability group.  All engaged completely with their roles and the activity, and can still recall a great deal of the detail – particularly about Kett’s leadership, the range of response by the authorities and when it evolved from a protest to a rebellion – studying this from textbooks has traditionally resulted in understanding of these areas being weaker.  Their answers have been more sophisticated as a result, and I wish I had similar activities for the other two core protests!  I would also recommend taking digital photographs at key points – stick these into PowerPoint and add speech bubbles for revision, and then display outside the exam hall. 

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Support

A formatted version of this activity should print from your browser (omitting this support section).

Or, a WORD version of this activity can be downloaded, click here.

This activity is based on the ’Role–play’ style of model; for more examples of this model, click here.

Objectives

By the end of the activity, students should have developed initial ideas about:

  • why Kett and his followers protested in 1549
  • how they protested
  • why the King and his advisers reacted as they did

Setting Up

The activity involves you leading the students through the events in Norfolk in summer of 1549. Initially you will need to set your room up with tables standing for towns: Wymondham, Norwich, Yarmouth and London further off. The King will be in London so a plastic or card crown is also handy. Wymondham, a market town near to Norwich, would benefit from signs to represent the Abbey Church, the town, the town sign, the pub & common land. If you have a toy sheep or two, so much the better.

You also need to identify the main characters by giving them name-cards to put in front of them or tabards to wear.

The characters named specifically in this activity are:

  • Robert Kett
  • King Edward
  • Earl of Warwick & 10,000 soldiers
  • Duke of Somerset, the King’s chief adviser
  • A Herald (King’s messenger)
  • Flowerdew (landowner)
  • Earl of Northampton & 2,000 Italian soldiers

If you have more students in your group you can add/use as required:

  • William Kett
  • Mayor of Norwich

Student Numbers

Aside from the key characters, other students should be used for

  • peasants/townspeople in Stage 1 and
  • Kett’s followers & King’s soldiers in the other stages.

You could also utilise one or two students as reporters whose job is to record key events and decisions and feedback at the end.

The Activity

Stage 1 – Introduction and discussion - Wymondham

Choose a King, Somerset, Robert Kett and Flowerdew and set out the town. King & Somerset will be on your London table. The rest of the class can be a mix of villagers and townspeople for now. You introduce the topic, following a script along these lines:

“It's July 1549 and you are all living in and around the town of Wymondham in Norfolk. Some of you are townspeople and some are peasants from nearby villages. You have been celebrating a religious festival, and some of you may have consumed a quantity of ale. Your town had a prosperous Abbey right next door, until Henry VIII closed it down 11 years ago. The abbey provided work for the local people and helped the poor, sick and old. A local landowner, Flowerdew, was involved in closing down the abbey and even took the lead from the roof! The current King is Henry’s young son Edward who is 11 years old. Part of the old abbey is used as the town’s church. Another local landowner and businessman, Robert Kett, is very involved in the church and in the community.

Ask villagers and townsfolk how they feel about the closing of the monastery and then what sort of people they think Flowerdew and Kett are – which of them would they trust? Which of them would be likely to be involved in protest?

[Students were able to answer with thoughts about Kett’s involvement in the church – they had a conception of him as respectable and very unlikely to be involved in any protest.]

Now return to your commentary:

1549 has not been a good year for you. Landlords have been putting up their rents in Norfolk. Also harvests were poor and food prices are rising. Previously the abbey would have helped out the poor and hungry when times were hard. What will they do now the abbey has gone?

Ask villagers/townsfolk for ideas e.g. do they expect to get help from the King?

Lastly, just like in every town and village there is common land. Traditionally everyone has been allowed to let their animals graze on this land. For the townspeople it is useful; for the country folk it is essential for your survival – you are poorer than your urban friends. However, recently landowners, including Flowerdew, have been enclosing this land with fences and hedges and saying it is their alone. They have used the land for farming their own sheep.

[put toy sheep on table]

The landowners now make lots of money, but you have lost your chance to feed your animals. There have been riots across the country about this terrible practise called Enclosure, with many hedges being torn down in protest!

[There are choices for both the people and the King at the same time – give each group time to make their decision]

a) What will you the people do about this? You must choose a leader and decide on some action! Ask the villagers and townsfolk to decide a) who they will choose as their leader and b) what they plan to do.

b) Ask the King what he will do (he is only 11 years old and may need to ask Somerset, his advisor)

In reality, the people of Wymondham elected Robert Kett as leader and, after smashing down Flowerdew’s fences, they marched to Norwich, the capital of Norfolk. March students to Norwich table.

The King set up a royal commission to investigate the problem of enclosure, led by his closest advisor Somerset.

Stage 2 – the protest.

The class will need to be divided into new roles. You will need a Warwick and a Herald. Some students will become the King’s army in London; the rest stay as Kett’s followers. Flowerdew is no longer needed. If there are enough students, ask one follower to become William Kett and one to be Northampton & his mercenaries.

You will guide them through events, asking them to take key decisions along the way.

“Following the poor harvest, the rising rents and particularly enclosure of common land, Kett and his followers have marched to Norwich. They are camped on Mousehold Heath, outside the city walls. 16,000 people have joined them from across Norfolk – suggesting strong feelings and organisation in the 16th century!

Decision time for both groups – King and people. Give each group its options (on paper for clarity?) and a set amount of time to think and decide.

Ask the King what he will do. Options could include: send an army to defeat them; go and talk to them about their problems in person; end enclosure immediately; send a messenger to offer them a pardon if they go home or something different.

Ask Kett what he will do. Options could include: attack Norwich; set up a camp and say you are loyal to the King; write a list of complaints; organise feeding your men; organise representatives from all parts of Norfolk to work as a council; have religious services just the way the King would like them; sit under an oak tree and keep law and order; or something different.

In reality Kett set up a camp and did everything to show loyalty to the King and keep law and order amongst his followers – he even had a prison! He and his council of governors drew up a list of 29 complaints which they wanted the King to deal with.

As for the King, he first tried to get a local nobleman to send the protestors home. They didn’t leave. So the king sent his messenger to tell them they would be pardoned if they went home. This offer was rejected by Kett (in the end it was offered three times!).

Stage 3 – the rebellion

Your script continues:

“After rejecting the royal pardon Kett and his followers are now rebellious subjects. What will each group do next?”

Decision time for both groups – King and people. Give each group its options (on paper for clarity?) and a set amount of time to think and decide.

Ask the King what he will do, suggesting these possible options: send an army to attack Kett; offer another pardon; go and speak to Kett; read their list of complaints and end their problems; something else

Ask Kett and the rebels, suggesting these possible options: go to London and see the King; go to London and fight (you have 16,000 men); go home; attack Norwich; something else

In reality Kett attacked and captured Norwich. The King sent an army led by the Earl of Northampton. On 1st August Kett and the rebels managed to defeat Northampton in battle!

Stage 4 – the climax of events

Your script continues:

“So Kett’s followers have fought and beaten one of the King’s forces. What will happen next? What move will King Edward make and, should Kett get captured, what will the King do to Kett? What move will Kett make and what happens if he ends up in charge of all of Norfolk?!”

Decision time for both groups – King and people. Give each group its options (on paper for clarity?) and a set amount of time to think and decide.

Ask the King what he will do, suggesting: send another army; surrender to Kett and give in to all his demands; pardon Kett if he goes home quietly; something else. Let the King choose a suitable punishment in case he captures Kett.

Ask Kett what he will do, suggesting: go home quietly and hope you are forgiven; attack another town in Norfolk; attack the King in London; something else. Ask Kett what he plans to do in the long term – does he have a plan? Ask him what he wanted in the first place.

In reality Kett tried to capture the town of Yarmouth but failed. King Edward sent a much bigger army under the control of Warwick up to Norfolk to attack Kett. Kett’s men fought the much better trained and equipped army and were completely defeated on 27th August. 3,000 rebels died. 50 rebel leaders were executed for treason. Robert Kett was hanged in chains from Norwich castle and his body was left to rot in public. His brother William was hanged from the top of Wymondham Abbey, where the protest began. Enclosure continued.

Debriefing

Some questions to pose, drawing out their ideas/experiences:

  • Why were common people upset in 1549?
  • What different methods did Kett and his followers use?
  • How well organised was the protest?
  • How did the King react to the protest?
  • Why didn’t the King just send in the army straight away?
  • What were the turning points in the protest?

This is where you set up further enquiry and reading – perhaps looking at sources on the Rebellion, practising exam questions and contrasting with methods/etc of other protests.

Notes & Variations

This activity could be extended by adding information about the other protests going on in 1549 (eg Western Rebellion), or about the young King or the Reformation or about punishments used for treason.

Reflections

  1. How did tackling this topic through this physical activity affect students’ learning? e.g. was understanding of the patterns of events deeper?
  2. Have students enjoyed this activity and was it of value for them beyond the specifics of the topic Kett’s Rebellion e.g. discovering different learning styles?
  3. Were students motivated to extend their understanding of the period more than usual?

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Feedback

Constructive feedback is always welcome, particularly anything that will help other teachers.

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This Page

Introduction

Support

Objectives

Setting Up

The Activity

Debriefing

Notes & Variations

Reflections

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